Taking Back My Life: Smartphone Pro Tips

I don’t know about you, but it’s much too easy for me to lose my life in indentured servitude to a 4-inch screen.  So I’m breaking free.  Here are some effective things I’m doing to fight the good fight:

  • Don’t Drink from the Hose.  Most social networks have a constant stream of information.  If I go to my Twitter or Facebook homepage, I can spend hours consuming information that I didn’t really ask to receive.  It’s addictive and unproductive.  Instead, when I use social networks, I focus on interactions (mentions, replies, tags, etc.).  I also use search functions (especially hashtag searches) to find meaningful content that is relevant to my current projects.
  • Pull, Don’t Push.  To oversimplify, push notification is a system that makes your phone beep or buzz at you when something happens.  BEEP!  Your friend posted a new photo.  BEEP!  You have a friend request.  BEEP!  Give me your undivided attention.
    Push notification is good for some things.  For example, I use Google Voice, and I want push notification so I know when I have a text message or voicemail.  But for other communication that isn’t so immediate, push notification steals time and attention from things that matter now.  I took this a step farther:
  • Delete Social Media Apps.  Yes, I did.  Clearly, this doesn’t mean I don’t use Facebook or Twitter.  But if I don’t want constant notifications, I find that a Chrome bookmark for the mobile versions of these sites is just as good as the apps.  Better, in fact, because when I follow a link from Facebook or Twitter, the browser is already open.  It’s a more seamless experience.  And I control it on my terms.  Instead of a service telling me when to participate, I consciously choose to visit that service when I have time to participate.
  • These Foolish Games…  I have deleted most of the games from my phone and replaced them with apps that allow me to work on projects I care about on the go.  Games aren’t inherently evil, but they don’t provide much benefit.  My most malignant time-wasters were social games, like Words with Friends, which include push notifications and a strong element of peer pressure.
  • Examine Your Schedule.  For other apps that demand attention, like email, you can control how frequently they check for new stuff.  I find that the quality of my life is unaffected if I only check email every hour or two.  If somebody needs to tell me something urgent, they should call or text anyway.  If my email only comes once every two hours, I can easily archive or reply quickly to several messages at once, if necessary, rather than feeling pressure to answer every message as it comes.
  • Pay for your Data.  This seems crazy, but hear me out.  A few months ago, I switched from an unlimited plan with another carrier to a pay-for-what-you-use plan with Ting.  My phone bill is lower, but it has had another unexpected benefit: I actually think before using data.  I don’t obsess about it, but before downloading some useless content to consume, I do ask myself if it’s worth paying for.  Many times, the answer is yes (it’s worth a lot to listen to Morten Lauridsen on Pandora instead of whatever country channel my car radio can get).  But the idea that I’m paying for my data makes me think twice about simple time-wasters.
    (If you’re interested in Ting, use this link to get $25 off and they’ll give me a discount, too.  No pressure.)

What else do you do to keep your smartphone from running your life?

Liberty and Integrity

Earlier today, I tweeted:

A few people asked me where I got the quote.  I am unaware of anybody else who has said it in those exact words, although the idea is very old.  The freedom of our nation and the morality of our choices are bound together.

For me, this sentiment is a matter of faith as well.  An ancient prophet was told by the Lord:

Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.

(2 Nephi 4:4)

The Book of Mormon is filled with stories about groups of people who either lived with integrity and enjoyed freedom and prosperity, or else they turned away from their promises to God and suffered in bondage.  It’s one of the main themes of the book.

For me, those stories are even more poignant because they took place in North and South America.  This is a promised land, a place that has been blessed by the hand of God.

Many of us in America like to argue about the best ways to fix our nation.  We like to blame current and former political leaders, corporations, media executives, and others.  We spend so much time arguing that we don’t accomplish much.  Perhaps we should go back to the basics, beginning with this promise about our land:

And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them.

(Ether 2:9)

I’m not a doomsday type of guy, and I don’t think the United States will be destroyed next week.  After all, the Bible tells that God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of only ten righteous souls.  (Genesis 18:32)  The backbone of America is a core group of good people who follow their convictions and live according to the light they have.  But if we’re wondering how to really fix the country, this is still the fundamental answer: we have to serve God.

So on this Independence Day, I hope we can all do a little more in this one nation under God to live up to our motto – In God We Trust.  Most often, we can serve him best by serving His children.  He has entrusted to us a land that is choice above all others.  We can entrust our future to Him.

May we maintain our liberty by maintaining our integrity, and may we save our nation with the goodness of our lives.

Tolerance

It has taken me a lot of soul-searching to decide how to react to this week’s Supreme Court rulings regarding the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8.

Let me say to begin that no person should be treated as less than human.  We are all children of God, and if we would treat each other as such, many of the problems in the world would cease to exist.  In practical terms, this means that true Christians must treat our homosexual brothers and sisters as our brothers and sisters.  The Golden Rule applies here.

However, when we get into the issue of tolerance, I am concerned that those who decried DOMA as intolerant will exercise their own intolerance toward religions whose doctrines do not permit homosexual marriage.  In the grand scheme of things, gay marriage as defined by the state is not directly relevant to marriage as defined by the scriptures.  The state’s role in marriage is basically to create a binding legal contract between two individuals.  Looking through that lens, it does not matter who those individuals are.  But in a religious sense, that marriage contract goes beyond a state-issued legal license, and there are specific requirements for the parties in the contract.

Churches should retain the right to make judgments about who can marry within their walls.  That is freedom of religion at its core.  These judgments, of course, are not just about the issue of homosexuality.  Churches may require worthiness in other ways in order to marry their parishoners in a Church-sanctioned ceremony.  For example, in order to marry in a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the bride and groom must live by certain standards, including exercising faith in Christ, maintaining chastity before marriage, paying honest tithing, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, and certain other harmful substances, and being honest in their dealings.

These requirements are not meant to be exclusive; they are set by the Lord as minimum requirements to enter into a higher covenant of marriage – one that goes beyond a simple legal contract, but includes a promise of an eternal family bond.  This is not just a civil agreement; it is a binding contract between a man, a woman, and God –  solemnized on earth and carried into heaven.

So while I am a proponent of peaceful coexistence and cooperation among God’s children, I am also clearly committed to preserving the rights of religious organizations to set their standards based on their understanding of God’s commandments.  This is not a practice of hate; it is a practice of faith in a God who is perfectly merciful and perfectly just.  A religion that is based on revelation from God cannot alter its standards based on public opinion.

Some religious people have acted out in hate.  They do not represent me.  But the fact that some have taken the wrong approach does not invalidate the position of those who desire to preserve their freedom to worship.  A position against gay marriage is not automatically a manifestation of hate toward gay people.  Intelligent people can disagree on difficult social issues without being disagreeable.

I acknowledge and respect and greatly appreciate the many positive contributions of the gay community and their supporters.  I would hope that they can acknowledge and respect the contributions of those whose faith may not be completely compatible with their choices or practices.  May we finally come to a place where we can live and work together without animosity.

Series Summary: Best Practices for the Annual Church Music Submissions

As I try to interact with and encourage other musicians, I often get questions about how to be successful in the annual Church Music Submissions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I have had a few successes in that competition, and I have also had several failures.  This month, I chose to highlight a few of my losing entries as a creative way to give my best advice for entering the annual competition.  See those posts here:

  1. I Am His Son
  2. Baptism
  3. Sonnet on Endurance
  4. (Edit: After reading this post, check out this Epilogue that completes the story)

After all that, here is my big list of advice for those who are thinking about entering music in the annual submissions.  I am not associated with the competition (except as a competitor), and these are my own opinions – not official rules.  But they have served me well when I have followed them:

  1. Follow the guidelines, including ease of performance for amateur musicians in the Church.
  2. Submit a song that will be flexible enough for a broad range of Church purposes.
  3. Polish your work before submitting.  This includes lyrics, melody, harmony, and the way all of these aspects are notated.
  4. Plan ahead.  Don’t count on a last-minute flash of inspiration to write the song that wins an award.  (There’s a reason I’m posting this series with 9 months until the next submission deadline.)
  5. Teach pure and correct doctrine in an understandable way.  Speculative or false doctrine is almost a guaranteed way to get a song passed over.  But even if you teach something true, it won’t be effective if the audience doesn’t get the message.
  6. Submit in the right category.  Also, to increase your chances, submit something in each category that you can enter in a given year:
    1. Composers may enter once per year in the General Music Category (including songs, anthems, hymns, children’s songs, hymn arrangements, etc.).
    2. A composer may also serve as an arranger for one other submitter’s work.
    3. Additionally, each person may submit one entry in the hymn text category each year.
    4. For women, you may also submit a piece in the Relief Society Music category each year.
      (Of course, rules can change from year to year, so always check the official rules for the year before submitting.)
  7. Don’t give up.  Submit, submit, submit.  Even legends in the LDS music world (like Janice Kapp Perry, Sally Deford, and Rachel Mohlman) don’t win with every submission.  Don’t be discouraged if a particular song isn’t selected for an award.  A wide range of factors go into the decision.  The judges surely have to turn away several good pieces each year.
  8. This last one is a bit controversial: The song you love may not be the right song to submit.  I have a few songs that I would love to hear in the Church Music Festival.  They teach the right lessons, and the music is just like I want it.  But I don’t submit them because they are not right for this competition.  Each composer must decide for himself or herself, but your best work may not be the right work to submit, especially if it’s overly complicated.

I am finishing this series about two weeks before the results of this year’s Church Music Submissions are released.  All the best to those who entered, and for those who didn’t, consider it for next year.  The Church constantly needs improved music, and more Latter-Day Saints need to create and promote great artistry through lyrics and composition.

Read the epilogue to this series here.

The Parade Comes to a Close

If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, start with Part 1 and Part 2.

To review the big lessons learned from the first two featured pieces:

  1. Follow the guidelines, including ease of performance for amateur musicians in the Church.
  2. Submit a song that will be flexible enough for a broad range of Church purposes.
  3. Polish your work before submitting.  This includes lyrics, melody, harmony, and the way all of these aspects are notated.
  4. Don’t be discouraged if a particular song isn’t selected for an award.  A wide range of factors go into the decision.  The judges surely have to turn away several good pieces each year.

Today’s losing entry is a piece that I have had on my website since 2006.  Sonnet on Endurance is a hymn I wrote in 2002 as a missionary in the Australia Sydney South Mission.  When I submitted the piece to the Church, I chose to submit it in the Hymn Text category.  One reason I did this was because entrants are limited to one submission annually in the General Music category, but they can also submit in the Hymn Text category.

This text presents some challenges, especially when separated from its music.  Being a sonnet, it has ten syllables per line.  This is an uncommon meter for hymns.  It also speaks in the singular first person.  Although a few hymns speak in terms of and me, it is much more common for our hymns to refer to us and we, since they are generally for congregational or choral use.

Outside the context of the music, this text surely seemed awkward in comparison with the other texts entered that year.

Big lesson here: enter in the right category – the one where your piece can shine.  Also, be sure to vary the categories you enter.  If you want to increase the odds of winning, submit as many high-quality entries as you are allowed:

  • Composers may enter once per year in the General Music Category (including songs, anthems, hymns, children’s songs, hymn arrangements, etc.).
  • A composer may also serve as an arranger for one other submitter’s work.
  • Additionally, each person may submit one entry in the hymn text category each year.
  • For women, you may also submit a piece in the Relief Society Music category each year.

After downloading and listening to Sonnet on Endurance, visit my summary post of advice for success in the annual Church Music Submissions.

Next on Parade: Baptism

If you haven’t read my first post about this month’s parade of losers, start there first.

To review the big lessons learned from the first featured piece, I Am His Son:

  1. Follow the guidelines, including ease of performance for amateur musicians in the Church.
  2. Submit a song that will be flexible enough for use by a broad range of Church members.  (One exception might be the Relief Society Music category: you don’t have to write men’s parts to be inclusive).

Let’s explore a little more.  Today’s entry that didn’t quite make the cut is called Baptism.  It received a Special Recognition in 2008, which is similar to a runner-up.

I’ll be honest about this piece: when I submitted it, it wasn’t ready for prime time.  The sheet music I released today is not the same sheet music I submitted to the Church.  Some changes include:

  • Improved handling of repeats (yes, the repeats in this piece were even more confusing in my earlier drafts)
  • Dynamic and expressive markings
  • Fixing typographical errors

This piece was certainly not polished when I submitted it.  Additionally, as I look at the writing nearly six years later, some things could be improved.  The intro/interlude figure is nice, but it may be used too much during the piece.  The verses’ mixed metaphors may also become confusing.  And the piece just doesn’t look great on paper when compared with how I imagined it.

This brings up a big point: the committee that judges these pieces only sees your score.  If they heard you perform your song, their opinions might be different, but recordings are not accepted (except for complex multi-voice anthems and instrumental works).  That means that a submitted piece is only as good as its notation.

Still, I liked the song.  I still do.  The bigger lesson from this piece is simple: sometimes others will submit great music in the category you choose.  I’m glad to lose to excellent music.  It gives me a reason to work harder the next year.

Stay tuned for the next installment in this series.  At the end of the series, I’ll post a full list of my recommendations for musicians who are thinking about submitting their music.  The Church really does need more great music, and I hope that this series will help that to happen.

The next installment is here.

Let the Parade of Losers begin!

Wasn’t that a catchy title?  It’s true.  I’ve decided to post some songs in the next couple of weeks that have lost (i.e. not received an award) in the annual Church Music Submissions.

This is also my backhanded way to give advice on how to win an award in the Church Music Submissions.  No, I don’t have a magical formula, but I can give some solid advice based on success and failure.

I need to say up front that I’m not a sore loser.  In this competition, I’ve won my share of awards, and I’m grateful when I do.  But in the past few years I’ve submitted some pieces that are a bit outside the box, hoping that I can in some small way elevate the musical culture of the Church.  I expect that some of those risks will not pay off in the competition.  But when they do, I’m thrilled.

Generally, my losing entries are perfectly good songs.  But they didn’t win for a variety of valid reasons.  Of course, since the committee does not give the submitters any critiques, these reasons are just guesses.  But I think they are pretty educated guesses since I’ve had the privilege of hearing so many of the winners over the past several years.

The losing entry I’ve posted today is I Am His Son.  I submitted it in the Primary Song division of the General Music category.  Why do I think it didn’t win?  Triplets.

There may be other reasons, too, but I think the triplets were the biggest drawback to this piece.  A lot of people think triplets are hard to sing and play.  Remember that one criterion for these submissions is ease of performance, especially Primary music.  I decided to take a risk by submitting a primary song that had a whopping 5 sets of quarter-note triplets in the refrain.

Add that to the fact that the song is written specifically for boys (so the whole Primary wouldn’t be able to participate in performing it), and it was just not a winner for this competition.

That said, the song fulfills the purpose for which it was written.  And for the record, the triplets in this piece are remarkably easy for kids to sing (my 3- and 5-year-old boys can do it).  It’s just not what the committee wanted.

Click for the next loser in this potentially fascinating series!