Category Archives: Music

Music Interview: Steve Sensenig

   Regular visitors here are doubtless familiar with Steve Sensenig of Theological Musings. Over the past year, Steve has become a good friend. We have enjoyed some invigorating and challenging exchanges on a number of theological topics.

    In addition to being a student of the Bible, Steve is also a very talented musician. I had heard Steve’s Christmas CD and then last December enjoyed the opportunity to hear Steve play in person as he and his dear wife, Christy, ministered to Pine Park Baptist Church.

   Steve graciously agreed to this interview and this will be the first in what I hope will be a regular series of interviews with Christian musicians.

HH:  Tell us a little about your childhood and upbringing.

Steve: I was born in 1969 in Coatesville, PA.  I was the fourth of four children, and the only boy.  I was raised in a home that emphasized church attendance and daily family devotions. My father was (still is) a truck driver, although he rarely was gone over-the-road.  He always tried to have jobs that allowed him to be home each night.  My mother was an elementary school teacher, although for most of my childhood, she did not work fulltime.
 

HH:  When did you first develop an interest in music?

Steve: Quite honestly, I don’t remember the start of my interest in music.  It has always been a part of my life.  My mother is a musician, and each of my three older sisters were involved in music, as well, so it was a very natural interest for me.  Some of my earliest childhood memories involve coming home from church, going to the piano, and picking out the melodies that we sang that morning.

There also was a lot of quality recorded music to listen to in my home growing up.  My mother loves classical music, and introduced me to it as a very young child.  We had one of those old record players that held 10 records at a time, and I would lay in front of it for hours on end, listening to lots and lots of classical music.
 

HH:  How did you develop your ability?

Steve: Because my mother is a pianist (she was the regular church pianist when I was a child), and my two oldest sisters had also taken piano lessons, there were lots of piano method books and other music books around the house when I came along.  I started learning to play at such a young age that I don’t even remember learning how to read music!  As long as I can remember, I’ve been reading music and playing the piano.

As a young child, I had a silly (and arrogant!) dream that one day I would be a famous pianist and be able to say that I never took lessons.  So, whenever my parents would ask me if I wanted to take piano lessons, I would say “no”.  With the help of my mother and older sisters, I basically was self-taught until the age of 11.  Somehow at that point, I had figured out that there was only so far I was going to be able to go on my own, and I asked my parents if I could get lessons.

By the point I started lessons at age 11, I was already playing quite a bit, but having a regular lesson and a teacher outside the home caused me to progress more than I would have on my own.  That first teacher (with whom I studied for two years) also introduced me to the concept of music theory.  I am very grateful for that, because I was able to learn in my pre-teen years what some college music students struggle to learn!  That foundation in theory really helped me advance even more during my high school years.

All in all, I studied with four different piano teachers prior to going off to college.
 

HH:  What were some of the early influences on your music?

Steve: In terms of classical music, I quickly fell in love with Mozart and Beethoven as composers.  But in terms of hymns, etc., my upbringing in a traditional church (were there any other kinds when we were kids?) introduced me to many of the classic hymns.  As a young boy (about 7 years old, I think), I had the chance to hear Dino Kartsonakis in concert.  That was a huge influence on me, because he was the only pianist I was really familiar with who played hymn arrangements.

After the concert, I met Dino and got his autograph.  I said to him, “Someday I hope to be able to play the piano like you.”  He smiled and said, “You will.”  As a young boy, that really influenced me.  I don’t know if Dino was being prophetic, or just being kind, but in my young heart, I took it very seriously and for many years remembered that assurance that he had given me.  It was fitting, then, that when I made my first recording at age 18, I included one of Dino’s arrangements on that recording.

As a teenager, I started listening to George Winston, and his style of playing has definitely had an influence on my current style.  Other pianists have been similar to him, as well, and I have followed in their footsteps stylistically.
 

HH:  Your talent has taken you to a lot of places and made a lot of opportunities possible for you. Can you tell us about some of your favorites?

Steve: Wow.  This is a tough question.  I have definitely been blessed in this area.  I would like to preface my comments on this, however, by pointing out the old adage that all that glitters is not gold.  Some of what would seem to be great opportunities on the outside were not such pleasant opportunities behind the scenes for various reasons.

However, having said that, there are several memories that I am fond of.  One is a trip I took with several other college students in 1992 to Ukraine.  Communism had recently lost its hold in the former Soviet Union, and there was an incredible openness to the message of Jesus there.  We had the opportunity to sing several hymns and other songs translated into the Russian language.  We would stand in front of crowds on the streets and ask them, “Did you ever dream that one day an American would stand here in your country and tell you about Jesus?”  Tears would stream down their faces.  It was powerful!

More recent experiences that have been positive have been opportunities to play with Phillips, Craig, and Dean.  A few years back, they called me to play on their live DVD, filmed up in Virginia Beach, VA.  While the process of recording and filming is far from worshipful at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to play “When God Ran” live with them in that recording.
 

HH: Where would you like for your music to take you in the future?

Steve: This is a tough question to answer because the honest answer is “wherever God wants me to be”.  I have dreams of my own, but only want them to be fulfilled if it honors God.

I would love to play with other groups like Phillips, Craig, and Dean if the opportunity arose.  But in terms of my own music, I have a dream of one day being able to compose the score for a major motion picture.  I think that would be an incredibly challenging, but quite enjoyable opportunity.
 

HH:  If you could have a jam session with any composer/musician from any time in history, who would it be?

Steve: Ohhhhhhh, so many here.  Obviously, some of the big names in classical music come to mind — Beethoven, Brahms…  But I also like a wide variety of styles of music, and would love to jam with Pat Metheny (jazz), Larry Carlton (also jazz), or Michael W. Smith, to name a few.
 

HH:  What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

Steve: Well, the first thing I would say is that it is very important to learn to understand your talent and craft.  By that, I mean, don’t take the shortcut to temporary success at the expense of becoming deeply intimate with the musical talent within you.

Today’s technology allows lots of people to be “musicians” who honestly don’t even understand what it is they are doing.  I love technology, and embrace much of it.  But the technology works best when it is a supplement to actual craft, not a substitute for it.

With music, that means that I place a huge emphasis on a knowledge of music theory and a variety of musical forms.  My son is getting very good at the guitar, and really enjoys playing a rock style of guitar.  I have no problem with that (most of the time!), but have also encouraged him to learn how music works in theory and to listen to other styles of music, as well.

It is also important, in my opinion, for a musician to be self-motivated to learn.  In this regard, I often discourage parents from insisting that their kids take lessons and practice.  If it doesn’t come from a desire within the child, it probably won’t be successful!  I am very grateful for parents who understood this and allowed me to develop my own heart and passion for music without it being forced on me.
 

HH:  Your music carries with it a certain pathos or emotion. Even though it is instrumental, the message of the song still seems to come through. Is this something of which you are conscious when you are playing or is it just a result of the passion with which you play?

Steve: Am I conscious of it?  Yes and no.  You have described very beautifully what I try to convey, though, and I’m encouraged that it is coming across in that way!  About 90% of what I play in concerts and recordings (at this present stage I’m in) is improvisatory.  I rarely know where the music will go.  This results in some very interesting things from a musical standpoint, such as unconventional chord progressions (and structures) and uneven meters.  I don’t consciously think in those terms, but that’s what comes out.

Sometimes when I listen to what I’ve recorded, I’m surprised at what I hear!  But I view my playing much in the way I imagine a painter views their painting.  There is an intangible “heart element” that drives the creation of the art.  I have a “palette” — a musical vocabulary, if you will — from which I draw in my musical “painting”, and I choose “colors” that fit the song that I’m playing.  It may mean that I’ll camp out on a certain chord or phrase in a hymn for a while, shading it and coloring it in different ways before moving on.  Sometimes this is the result of a conscious awareness of the lyrics at that point, and sometimes it’s merely a sub-conscious choice at the time to bring something out.
 

HH:  I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your website and your recordings?

Steve: Worship Keys (http://www.worshipkeys.com) is a site that I’ve put together to introduce my music to people and share a bit of my heart.  For me, worship is so much more than just music, and I try to convey that on the website.  The name “Worship Keys” is intentionally flexible in meaning.  It refers to keys on a piano, since I’m primarily a pianist, but also is meant to coincide with my desire to help people see different keys (important elements) in worship.

I have three CDs currently available (and a new one in process).  The first one, “To Worship You”, contains modern praise and worship songs, but played in the intimate styling that is currently my “trademark”.  Even songs that usually are more loud, such as “Shout to the Lord”, are brought into a very intimate interpretation.  One of my favorite tracks on that CD is the last track, called “Ivory Worship”, which is a 16-minute free-flowing improvised worship without any pre-existing melody or song in mind.  It is me just sitting down at the piano and playing from my heart.

The second CD is called “‘Tis So Sweet” and taps into the rich heritage of hymns from my youth.  This CD is presented as a continuous flow from one song to the next.  This was another way in which I was influenced by Dino from my youth.  He once did a record that flowed from one song to the next in continuous worship.  Of course, back then, it was only about 20 minutes per side of an LP, but the idea captured my attention.  On “‘Tis So Sweet”, I literally just sat down at the piano with a list of possible hymns, hit record, and began playing.  As I would near the end of a particular hymn, I would look at the list and pick another one, and flow right into it.  The result is about 62 minutes of non-stop music (although indexed by hymn as separate tracks on the CD, there is no pause between them).  During the recording process, I did actually stop two or three times to rest (and to click “Save” on the computer, so I wouldn’t lose what I had played!), but I always did it by leading up to a cadence that I then picked up from when starting to record again, so as not to break the flow of the music.

My most recent CD is “Christmas Solitude”.  As I explain in the liner notes of that CD, I intentionally chose Christmas songs that focused on Jesus and avoided the more generic “holiday” songs.  I wanted this Christmas CD to be a worship experience focused strictly on our Savior.  An added delight on this CD is a song written and sung by my beautiful wife Christy.  This track, a lullaby sung from Mary’s perspective, is a wonderful vocal oasis in the middle of all of the instrumental music.

Blog Updates

I just wanted to mention a few updates that I have made in the last couple of days. I have added a couple of links that I want to tell you about.

First, my lovely wife, Amy, has decided to start her own blog. She is calling it, Byway Blessings. Stop by and give it a read. Tell her I sent you and maybe it will get me some brownie points. 😉

Frequent visitor and commentor here, Tony Sisk, has a blog called “Rambling Prophet.” Bro. Sisk is a pastor from up in Virginia and is one who prefers not to let others do his thinking for him. We need more Christians like that. Be sure and check out his blog.

I have also added a link to the website of the Gold City Quartet on my music page. When it comes to singing quartet-style gospel music, these guys are tops.

In addition, you might want to check out a brand new blog. Brett is the son of regular visitor here, RBJ. He is sharing some of his experiences on the road as a truck driver. You can visit his blog here.

I hope these links will bless you as they have blessed me.

A Gift Fit For A King: Myrrh

The third gift brought by the wise men to Jesus was myrrh. This was an ointment that was used in preparing a body for burial. This gift obviously was a gift that foreshadowed the sacrificial death of Christ.

 Just before He died, another person brought a gift that anointed Jesus for His burial. One of His devoted followers broke an alabaster box containing an ointment an poured it upon Him. This was pleasing to Jesus.

While we can honor Christ with our possessions (gold) and our worship (frankincense), there is no need for us to anoint Him for His burial. He will never be crucified again, never die again.

How then can we honor the death of our Lord?

We can show our thanks for His sacrifice by living a life that demonstrates the transformation of the resurrection in us. Those who are in Christ have passed from death unto life. When we live in such a way as to reflect that life, it exalts the love seen in His death, the power seen in His resurrection, and the glory seen in His ascension.

In the words of Frances Havergal:

Take my life and let it be,

consecrated, Lord, for thee.

Take my moments and my days,

let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Merry Christmas, Lord. All that I have, all that I am, all of my worship belongs to you.

A Special Weekend

Every once in a while you make an acquaintance that you can sense will impact your life in a special way.

 Several months ago, Steve Sensenig at Theological Musings and I began engaging in discussion on various topics. There were some things where we have differing opinions, many others where we are of like mind. Regardless of the outcome of the discussions, we both felt a kindred spirit. Several times we discussed how it would be nice to be able to get together and fellowship.

This weekend it happened. Steve and his lovely wife, Christy, and their son Dylan drove all the way from Boone, NC, to Cairo, GA. After arriving about 1:00 A.M. Sunday, they ministered in music to the congregation at Pine Park Baptist Church. That afternoon, they came to our house for dinner and one of the most refreshing times of fellowship I have had in a long time.

I have mentioned this recently, but it bears repeating. Steve is an excellent pianist. He has several CD’s available that will bless you. You can listen to some samples at his Worship Keys site.

They are on their way back home now, but when they get there and read this Iwant y’all to know you are welcome here anytime. (They drank enough sweet tea while here to become honorary South Georgians!) 🙂

This was one of the highlights of my thus-far brief blogging career. I look forward to perhaps having the opportunity to meet some more of you at some time.

Bits and Pieces

I just wanted to share some gems that I have found around the web this week. Some are designed to bring a chuckle, some a blessing.

Check out my nephew’s blog. Will is the oldest son of my brother, Cameron. For 8 years old, he does a great job of blogging. Visit his blog and tell him that Uncle Gordon sent you.

T.A. Blankenship has been doing a wonderful series of sermons on the scriptural basis of a pre-millenial, pre-trib rapture. He is about to take a month’s hiatus from blogging, so take the time to read this series.

 Bill Scott has a wonderful devotion that will bless you. HT Janice.

 Ken Fields at World From Our Window has a humorous article about Irritable Clergy Syndrome. (A must-read for those in ministry.)

Bonnie Calhoun is at it again as she lists some altered titles to Christmas carols as provided by various disorders. WARNING: Any liquids in your mouth are liable to wind up on your monitor screen if you attempt to drink a beverage while reading this post.

Southern Gospel fans will enjoy this link. I had not seen Gold City in person in a few years until last Friday night. They have not missed a beat, but are still providing the same great quality music you would expect. Check out their website, particularly the clip of them challenging Ernie Haase and Signature Sound to a steel cage match.

Finally, the Baltimore Sun has published an article detailing one man’s quest to learn more about the erratic and sometime devious behavior of city squirrels. City squirrels may be difficult at times, but I still say that they lack the tenacity and ferociousness of their country cousins. All of this talk about squirrels is driving me NUTS!! (Get it? Squirrels? Nuts? Never mind)

Hope you have a great weekend. If any of you want to hear a great piano player, come visit Pine Park Baptist Church in our 11:00 worship service this Sunday.

Bits and Pieces

It has been another busy week with not much time to sit down and think about something substantial to post. Instead, I am going to give you some bits and pieces from around the web that I hope you will find enjoyable.

 During the Thanksgiving holidays, my boys attended a festival in Climax, GA, called Swine Time. They have a lot of festivities related to hogs including a hog-calling contest and a greased-pig chase. My son, Clay, entered the greased-pig chase and his efforts caught the attention of a reporter from the Bainbridge (GA) Post-Searchlight. His pictures graced the front page of the paper the next week.

If you want to read some funny stuff, go read the story that Bonnie Calhoun wrote about her husband’s encounter with a skunk. Joe Scoggins has an entertaining story about a couple of Cajuns that will tickle you.

Music always helps me get in the Christmas spirit. My good blogging buddy Steve Sensenig is a very talented pianist and has some CD’s available over at Worship Keys. Listen to the music samples, especially of his Christmas project. I have it and am really getting a lot of use out of it. Steve has been a good online friend and I am looking forward to making his acquaintance when he and his family come down for a visit in a few days.

Finally, if you have ever had the urge to whack a penguin, then you must give this game a try.

I hope to catch up on my serious posting tomorrow. Until then, God bless.

Answered Prayer

We had a special blessing in the form of answered prayer last night at Pine Park Baptist Church. The Shepherd’s Four, a quartet from Lakeland, FL, ministered in our evening service. Art Carlton, the bass singer for the quartet, had grown up and was saved in our church.

We had many visitors including a young woman in her late twenties who had been coming for the last couple of months. As the men sang, they each testified as to how God worked in their life to bring them to salvation and gave an excellent presentation of the Gospel. At the end of the service, we offered an invitation. This young lady did not come forward, but she did raise her hand to indicate that she wanted to be saved. After the service, she went to my wife who was able to talk with her for a while and lead her to the Lord. We had a little time of celebrating.

Please pray for this young lady as she has some real obstacles to overcome in her life. She really wants to do what is right. At least now, she has the Holy Spirit to empower her in her battles.

I just had to share this.

Busy Weekend

This has been quite a weekend to say the least. On Friday, my sons left on a vacation to Bryson City, NC, with my parents. The house is kind of quiet, but we haven’t been here much to appreciate it.

 Friday evening, my wife and went to Tallahassee, FL, to attend a concert at the Lighthouse Children’s Home. Our old friends the Hayes Family, from Boone, NC, were singing as was the Reggie Sadler Family. Despite a torrential downpour that caused local flooding (including my car) we had a great night of worship and fellowship. Hopefully, I will be featuring an interview with Mylon Hayes in the near future.

 Saturday evening, we had a fall festival at the church. We had great attendance and were able to make contact with a lot of unchurched people. It was good to see some of them back in church yesterday.

Yesterday was a busy day as well. After service, my wife and I went to my grandmother’s family reunion. After a wonderful meal and good times catching up with the cousins, my day was ruined. A cousin that I haven’t met yet, thought she had correctly identified my wife and me. She came up and asked if Amy was my daughter. I tried to control my indignation as I told her that Amy was my WIFE! She then turned red and tried to apologize, saying that she had mistakenly thought that I was Kenneth Cloud (my dad)(Is that how you apologize?). I hope senility is not genetic.

We hustled back to Cairo so that we could get to our church. Last night was Fifth Sunday Singing (did I mention that we are a country church? Amen.) We had a wonderful time with a great variety of music: Southern Gospel, bluegrass, blues, hymns, contemporary and even some original material by one of our young men. Afterwards we had a fellowship and shower for our new kitchen.

I said all that to say this, I haven’t had time yet to work on a substantive post. The rest of this day will be busy as well. I have a family in my church who is having a baby this afternoon (that is one of the more joyous parts of pastoring), then supper with my Aunt Gwen in Climax, GA, then on to Bainbridge for classes tonight.

Say a prayer for my strength and my cousin’s soundness of mind.

Weekend Survey

Let’s do karaoke this week!

Tell us about your favorite song. Tell us why it is your favorite. You can even post some or all of the lyrics (provided that they are clean of course).

You can even sing the song. If you like, record it and leave us a link so that we can listen to you.

 My all-time favorite would have to be the old hymn, “At the Cross”. I simply love every word of that song.

 God bless.

Do You Know The Shepherd?

The following story was often told by gospel singer, J.D. Sumner. I am unsure of its origin, perhaps he wrote it, but it has often blessed me and I wanted to share it with you.

The banquet hall was filled. To speak for the occasion, a renowned orator had been brought in. After a wonderful meal, he mesmerized the crowd with his voice as he recited poetry and famous selections of speeches.

Near the end of the program, he asked if anyone had a favorite selection that they would like for him to recite. From the back of the room, an old man stood up and kindly asked if he would mind reciting the 23rd Psalm. The speaker said that he would be glad to do it if, when he was finished, the old man would recite it as well. The old gentleman nodded his head and sat back down.

In a beautifully trained voice that resonated throughout the great room, the speaker began, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures…” When he was finished, there was thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

He then looked at the old man and said, “Alright sir, it is your turn now.”

In a trembling voice that was cracked by time, the old man began to recite, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” It is said that when he was finished, there was no applause, but neither was there a dry eye in the building.

After the event, someone asked the famous speaker what he thought produced the different responses in the crowd. The speaker paused, thought for a moment and said, “I know the 23rd Psalm, but that man knows the shepherd. That makes all the difference.”

Do you know the shepherd?