Hello readers! After taking a break for December, I’m excited to welcome Wendell Nisly to Made to Create. Wendell is deeply involved in music within the Anabaptist culture. His influence and talents have fueled many musical endeavors, most notably Shenandoah Christian Music Camps, the Oasis Chorale, and the Valley Arts Society. Join us as we delve into his musical vision today.
Sheri Yutzy: Hi Wendell, welcome to Made to Create!
Wendell Nisly: Thank you!
SY: You’re obviously passionate about affecting your community and even your public sphere through music. What’s the most fulfilling part about being able to do that?
WN: Humans were placed on the earth with the command to develop creation and culture. We are responsible before God to do that with all areas of creation, which includes music (among many other things). As we do God’s work in God’s way, his glory shines in the dark corners of the world. As we engage in this work, whether it’s our Sunday going-to-church music or our Monday-Saturday living-normal-life music, we become more fully alive, more fully conformed to the image of the Son, more fully human. I love being a tiny part of that work.
SY: I like that thought, commanded to develop culture…Music has been a vital part of Mennonite culture. How have the music camps impacted how Mennonites view music?
WN: The camps have only been a part of a much larger movement that’s happening among Mennonites. I think we are seeing a growing capacity in understanding the basics of music – how it’s put together, how to read music, and so on. But more than that, I think more people are realizing that music is a really important part of who we are as humans, and are investing time, energy, and money to develop that.
SY: Have there been any unintended consequences of the music camps?
WN: Music is just like any other good gift of God – it’s a personal delight, and as we develop and practice it has this “inward curvature” – we make it about ourselves. I worry that the worst detriment to the development of music in our culture is not by the people who are suspicious, but by the musicians themselves. When we display arrogance and superiority, rather than loving and serving God and community, we promote brokenness rather than healing. I think I’ve witnessed this sort of bad taste at times coming out of the endeavors of camp.
SY: It’s true that our blind, fallen natures want to twist any good gift from God. You’re also involved in the Valley Arts Society. What is the vision behind that?
WN: VAS was started to be a place where the arts, community, and orthodoxy intersect. Right now we only have choirs, but we hope eventually to expand into other areas of the arts. Our goal is to create a place where we love our neighbors – all of them, without exception – through doing art together in community. Yet we want all of that to be infused with a biblical understanding, so that we practice our craft in the fear of God. In this way, it’s really no different from what every disciple of Jesus should be doing in their own field of work.
SY: A lot of people have been impacted by the Oasis Chorale, which you conduct. What is the hardest part about conducting that year after year? What’s the best part?
WN: The toughest part is probably choosing music. The entire concert rises or falls largely on repertoire selection. It has to have this breathing sense throughout the concert: challenging and accessible, fast and slow, complex and simple, rejoicing and sobbing, difficult vocal range and easy, rooted and exploratory – there is an interplay of these that makes a rewarding experience for singers and audience when it works.
The best part – Jeanene and I love the people. They’ve become our friends. So when you’re doing something that probes your soul like this music, and you do it in the context of friends, it’s a taste of the river of God’s delights.
SY: Who inspires you most musically?
WN: Jeanene. She lifts up the hands that hang down difficult days, and reminds me that I’m first a human, not a musician.
SY: What have you learned of God through music?
WN: In Chariots of Fire, the Olympic runner Eric Liddell says, ‘God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” On a good day, it’s something like that for me when I’m conducting a choir or leading singing and worship in church.
SY: Thank you so much for sharing with us!
WN: Thank you!
Do you have questions, comments, or encouragement for Wendell? Leave a response below! Thank you for reading.