Month: June 2018

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Coping with Despair: The Importance of Emotional Health

    By August Lai

    A number of years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic auto-immune disease. At that time, I had been living what I considered a full life. I had a job which I found meaningful, was actively serving in church, plugged into a life group, and had just participated in a major musical production. I felt good about myself and excited for the future. Then one morning I awoke with severe double vision. It persisted, so I sought treatment for it. After weeks of doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis.

    In the initial weeks following my diagnosis, I propped up a brave front for everyone around me but behind that sat a bubbling cauldron of despair, anger, and sadness. I started avoiding my friends, withdrawing from my family, and I couldn’t concentrate at work.

    It was in the midst of this that I gave up trying to make sense of the disease. I was adrift in a storm at sea and I realised I was trying to control the weather! I could only turn to God. After weeks of wrangling, I was challenged to release all the control and plans I had over my life. It was as if every bit of control I gave up to God would be exchanged for a small piece of supernatural peace. Months passed before I could honestly declare to myself that my life truly belonged to God.

    In retrospect, one of the most challenging aspects was how this emotional roller-coaster affected my life. When my emotions were ragged and frayed, it was difficult to connect with others, rest well, make good decisions, and be rational. Emotional health is not a state in which there is a lack of stress or problems; rather it enables one to cope well when life unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. Here are two lessons I learnt which I will hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

    Community

    In times of crisis, we need others who are willing to come alongside us to share the burden for a season. That’s when friends and family with whom we have strong relationships will rise up in prayer and support; trusted leaders can offer sound counsel when we are too exhausted to make good decisions. Without a supportive network, even a small one, I would be mired all alone in my irrational thoughts and fears. An engaged community can encourage you to anchor daily upon the truth of God rather than despair. Proverbs 24:6 tells us, ‘For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.’ Do not underestimate nor forsake the power and safety that comes with community!

    Identity

    Prior to the diagnosis, I had never seriously considered what it meant to be a child of God. I was not living from a position of surrender, so I would try to fix every problem I encountered with my own wisdom. Eventually I ran into a problem that all my wisdom could not fathom nor resolve, and I was forced to turn to the One higher than I. He then taught me about the heart of an Abba Father and I learnt how to be His child. I love this quote which goes like this: ‘God never promised us a storm-free, life but a storm-proof one.’ Within our relationship with Him can be found all we need to weather the storms of life – and it starts with knowing who we are in God! Isn’t that amazing? When we are assured about our God-given identity, we can then do what Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to: ‘Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.’

    By God’s grace, I was eventually healed from my condition. I am grateful not only for my health but also for my purpose which He continues to uncover for my life. There is great value in tending to your inner life, ensuring that you are emotionally stable and secure in who you are. I pray that you will be blessed in your season and discover renewed strength from the revelation of His great love for you!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Assembling Your Guitar Pedalboard

    Pedals, pedalboards – words that perk up the ears and quicken the pulse of almost every guitar gear junkie guitarist around.

    We all dream of having our ‘ultimate dream rig’ – whether it’s our favourite Boost and Drive pedals (even Fuzz, for those who are of that inclination?), or the ultimate Modulation pedal for a divine ethereal effect, and of course our various time-based pedals like Delays and Reverbs.

    And who can ignore the ‘packaging’? Choosing a board to accentuate the look on the pedals, LED lights for aesthetics, and so on… It’s a rabbit hole, and it’s bottomless

    Nevertheless, here are some thoughts that I have put together based on my own personal journey to share. It is by no means conclusive, and definitely not the gold standard of guitar pedalboard set-ups, but rather some of the thoughts and experiences that I have collected as I have walked my musical journey.

    Tone is king!

    Before we even talk about a board, we have to understand that TONE is everything. What tones and sounds are you looking to craft and get out of your pedals?

    Knowing what tone you want will help you in decision-making when it comes to purchasing pedals. But how do we understand the tones that we want?

    Listen, listen, listen. Keep listening broadly and make a note of guitarists you enjoy listening to, and the tone they produce. After you do that, do research – see what fellow musicians think in terms of assembling gear to achieve those tones. Then, don’t just take people’s word for it, but try it out for yourself. YouTube is great, but inconclusive; always play-test the product in person so see if it sits well with your ears. We are all wired differently and we all listen to music differently, so it’s important that you like what you’re listening to as you’re playing.

    Building the components of the board.

    With that said, here are some basic principles that I always consider when building my board, starting with signal flow.

    Boost pedals -> Drive pedals -> Modulation EFX – > time-based EFX
    (
    We’re going to leave out the Volume or Wah pedals for the time being)

    As a general rule, we always put our Boost and Drive pedals right at the front of the chain, before any Modulation or time-based pedals. The rationale for this is simple: Boosts and Drives affect our tone directly. It’s what we want to fix and determine first, before sending that tone through Modulation, Delay or Reverb. 

    If we get our tone right, Modulation and time-based EFX help to bring it from good to great, but poor tone cannot be fixed/covered up by anything that follows.

    Boosts

    There are various boosts or pre-amp pedals out there, and it is really up to your individual taste (again coming back to the idea of tone). There are some extremely clean boosts like the RC Booster, that gives a nice, clean jump in volume, before sending the signal to other boosters to fatten up the sound. Some people even use some drive pedals, turn the gain real low to give a semi-dirty boost. This fattens up the tone before going to the drive pedals.

    Drives

    Different people have different tastes when it comes to drives. Drive pedals come in varied versions, from high-gain sounds to fully distorted or even fuzz sounds. Some of us have a combination of 2 or 3 drive pedals to have various stages of overdrive or distortion. In most cases, I would have a lower gain pedal followed by a higher gain pedal to increase the ‘dirt’ in the tone. Also, I could add a final piece which would be a fuzz, but that said, fuzz pedals aren’t as versatile and are seen as an ‘acquired taste’.

    Modulation

    In recent years, Modulation pedals have come back in a strong way. Such has been the emphasis on atmospheric sounds, especially in worship music, that these effects (and reverbs) have come to the fore for the guitar player. My personal preference is that modulation should be subtle (too much and it may end up like bad KTV sound). I mainly use these sounds in conjunction with reverbs. The Strymon brand has been really popular in the last few years for such effects, and using various combinations can really push the boundaries of the audio spectrum. The only limit is your imagination and creativity!

    Time-Based EFX

    Delays! Everyone loves delays…ha! Some purists dig the analog, tape-sounding type of delay. However, the trade-off in getting that coveted analog delay tone is the inability to digitally control the time or tempo of the delay (imagine manually trying to turn the knobs to set the tempo to the bpm – while playing!)

    On the other end of the spectrum are the digital delays where there is the very-necessary ‘tap tempo’, and various presets and even MIDI information to be explored.

    Again there is no right or wrong answer to which end of the spectrum to use. You have to find the delay pedal that suits your needs in terms of sound as well as ease-of-use. Strymon, Eventide and TC Electronic have proven to be very popular in recent years.

    Volume

    To round it off, some of us like to use a volume pedal. Do bear in mind that a volume pedal ‘sucks tone’ out of your sound. It really depends on your intended application, and how crucial is it to your playing. That said, there are workarounds and pedals that help to preserve as much of the tone as possible, if you still prefer using a volume pedal. For instance, JHS has provided a solution for that in terms of a modified Ernie Ball volume pedal.

    Putting it all together. 

    After choosing your pedals, you have to assemble your board. There are ready-made boards available (like PedalTrain) commercially, or you could look for carpenters to make custom boards. It really depends on your budget and what you are looking for.

    One final component – wiring or cabling, which is just as important as choosing your pedals. Good cables can enhance your signal, reduce noise, and hence improve your tone. It is also important to keep wiring tight and tidy, as it then makes it operating the board easier.

    With that, your board will be ready to go!

    Even after saying that, there is no end to the search and quest for perfection. There are always better effects, better cables, and nicer pedal boards; your musical and tonal preferences may even change over the years…

    The most important thing is to keep listening and keep experimenting, as music is very dynamic; it’s always evolving. Keep experimenting, budget well, and remember, it’s all in the quest for ‘great tone’.

     

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Learning to Celebrate the Success of Others

    One of the most exciting events the Awaken Generation Team has the privilege of hosting every year is our annual ‘Mid-Year Showcase’ – where a few of our songwriters, together with the musicians from other streams get to work together to arrange and present the original songs they have been working on throughout Semester One. It is definitely a huge highlight for us as Mentors to see our students get the opportunity to share their creative work in front of an audience, and ultimately revealing an aspect of the Father through their testimony and sharing. One of my greater highlights though is actually witnessing a beautiful culture emerge amongst my songwriting class – a culture that celebrates the gifts and successes of their peers.

    No doubt that creatives or humans, in general, will be confronted with an uncomfortable feeling that arises from insecurity one time or another – a feeling of discomfort when you see someone else succeed (especially in your area of gifting) leaving you feeling inadequate, insufficient, and left behind.

    God is in the business of breaking off this spirit of jealousy, envy, and ‘kiasu-ism’ from our lives. I believe God wants to rewire our ways of thinking (Romans 12:2 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’) in this area, to set you free so that you can rejoice and celebrate with those who succeed around you.

     

    Here are 3 truths I’ve learned to start walking in freedom in this area:

    1. Know that God is a God of ‘More Than Enough’!

    If God chooses to bless someone, that does not mean He now has less to bless you with!  Our God is Jehovah Jireh, a God of unlimited resource and of abundance. If someone else gets blessed or receives a breakthrough, learn to get excited instead, because if God can do it for him/her, He’ll be able to do it for you! Meditate on the truth that He is MORE than enough for you.

     

    2. Develop a heart of a spiritual father/mother/mentor

    Brothers compete with one another, but a father’s desire is to see their children’s successes surpass them in every way. Grow in your mindset as a disciple-maker, and know that your greater purpose is to sow into and raise up effective leaders in the Kingdom of God who will go further than you. We are part of the same team and want to see the bigger vision of God’s kingdom established on earth, and we need one another to achieve that!

     

    3. Trust that God has a unique plan in your life that only YOU can fulfil  

    Look at your thumbprint – no one else in the world has the same thumbprint as you do! I believe this is an external expression of your inner destiny that is in the same way, completely and utterly unique. Psalm 139:14 says that you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. As much as I would like to, I am simply not able to reach the same people as you, because I’m not you; I don’t have the exact same gift mix, personality, culture, DNA, spheres of influence, calling, and position as you. No one else can fulfil your destiny, except you! So, choose to break off the spirit of comparison, and learn to steward what God entrusted specifically to you and steward it well for yourself, not comparing yourself to others.

    My prayer is that the Lord will make you a CHAMPION for others. May God give you grace to be an encourager – just as Barnabas was to Paul. Allow God to take you into the fullness of the destiny He has for you, and know that it is His desire to promote and prosper you in every way.