Justin Clark is an artist from Syracuse, Indiana. I was so impressed by the way that he seemed to so easily take his thoughts and turn them into words. A skill that is hard to hone in on. From the outward appearance, you may think he is your average guy. Think again. He has managed to teach himself guitar, start his own videography company, and many other hidden traits. Sorry ladies, he’s taken by his beautiful wife, Amanda.
He has always been fascinated by art as a kid. It seemed to be something he excelled at. Justin loved listening to music and, even as a kid, he thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could make music myself?” He stated that he felt he had failed miserably in school and thought that he was not intelligent enough to learn to play an instrument. So he didn’t even try. “After I graduated from high school I moved out on my own and I made some friends. One of the friends played guitar and he kind of taught me a couple things. He saw something in me and bought me a guitar for my birthday. Just a junky old acoustic guitar. He challenged me and said that I’d be good if I would just practice and apply myself. I decided that I would and I practiced an hour a day for two years… And there we are, I can play the guitar.” Justin ends this with a lighthearted laugh.
I asked Justin what has helped him stay with the guitar over the years. “Probably two things, and they’re not very profound or anything. Having your guitar physically where you can see it makes a huge, huge deal. I find if I keep my guitar out on the stand I will play it more. The second thing is to cultivate relationships with people that like to play. For me if I only ever play alone I get bored really fast and I can’t challenge myself. You get challenged and you learn so much by playing with other people. If you never play with anyone else you just end up playing the same things over and over again and it gets really boring. For me church is a great outlet to consistently express my passion as a musician, number one. But also to just help create these musical relationships with other people.” Church is one way for Justin to cultivate relationships and grow with others.
Writing music is another approach for Justin to challenge himself and grow as an artist. His songwriting has varied over the years and he has gone through years in which he’s only written phrases with no music to go along with it. On the other hand, he will also write music that doesn’t have words. Justin tries to retroactively build something upon whichever comes first. Then, there are the times where his music is only about expression. The times where he needs to get “the stuff”out of his head. Often, at those points, he will strum and start singing whatever comes out. Those words sometimes become a song and begin to take on a life of their own.
Music has a way of resonating with stories, experiences, pain, and joy. “Cover songs are great. When you don’t have time to teach someone a song its nice to pull a cover song out and just play it. Then you jam around on a song that you all know. Where cover songs will always lack is that even though you can identify with a song, it may even be really relevant to what’s going on in your life, but it will always be someone else story and somebody else emotion. As you’re singing it and expressing it nothing is ever going to resonate with your own story with your own experiences, your pain and joy and all the kind of subtle emotions that are specific to your experience. You’re never going to find someones song that sound just exactly like you and what your feeling. There is something special about having a song relate to a certain story, especially something painful like a breakup, a death, or a disappointment. To have a song that is written specifically to express the emotions that you felt about that specific event . Its almost like once you’ve written it and experienced it there is something beautiful about never having to have that experience again if you don’t want to.”
“For me, there is music and personal expression and then there is music and the way that that incorporates into my faith. It is my experience with God and the way that I invite others into that experience through music. There have been many experiences over the years where music has a very powerful way of bringing people together for a common cause, experience, emotion, expression of thought or expression of feeling. When that feeling is being expressed towards God I think that it creates a possibility or creates an atmosphere where people feel [part of something]. They are not just one person trying to express them self in the middle of the room. All of us have made this unconscious agreement to collectively say the thing together. It’s not my voice or this persons voice. We are one voice together singing this melody or singing these words. We all sort of feel it together. The more united we become in that expression and in that tone the more it resonates in our own hearts. [With that], the more we get a sense for God’s response. In that setting, as a listener, one can get a sense that something profound is happening with that person and everyone experiencing it. God is interacting with each one of them just the way that that person needs to hear Him, feel Him, and experience Him. That is the kind of moment where someone may feel an overwhelming sense of specialness.” Those moments are where Justin feels like “this is what I was made for.” This is what he was called for. To have a rare and beautiful experience that few get to have. When participating in this, Justin feels as if he could spend the rest of his life doing something like this. He knows he would have a life full of rich experiences if he did.
I would love to see more music coming into worship. He says, “I don’t think that the world necisarily needs more worship music, but every community and every community of faith, are having unique experiences. A song that is written for a specific community’s experience is so powerful to help them express that to God. Justin would love to see that happening as the occasion calls for it. Although he doesn’t see himself being a commercially successful musician or a touring artist, he does see his songs reaching friends and family. Family: as in the people that he has chosen to share his life with.
Q: If you had to explain music to someone who has never heard it before, how would you explain it?
Justin would ask others to imagine that your heart could make sounds, or your thoughts could make sounds, and those sounds could somehow animate together with the sounds of natural objects. “Imagine that you could speak tones that would sound like your expression of love or like the way that you feel when you see your children walk into a room. Imagine hundreds of different sound coming together in a kind of melody to make this beautiful [arrangement] of noises that mysteriously and magically sound exactly like the way you feel.”
Q: What is success?
“Success would not be success at all if there were not a failure. How can you call a thing a success if no one has failed in it before? Or if you have not failed within it before. There wouldn’t be any challenge to overcome.”
Succeeding is when a collection of words is achieved by creating an image that is so vivid that it paints a portrait in your thoughts and invites others into an experience with images and words that are so vivid that they can feel it . More so, for Justin personally, arriving at an analogy, a word-picture, a melody, or a tune is a success when he hears it and is instantly like “yes, that is exactly the way it feels to me.” Success is also finishing something. Not just starting a song or poetry, but bringing a piece to completion.
Q: What is failure?
Failure is not trying in the first place or giving up in the face of a challenge. In the realm of music, if an emotion feels overwhelming, then it is difficult to figure out how to ponder that emotion long enough to know how to express it. “The emotion is not going away and it’s only going to eat me alive unless I figure out a way to express it.” That, to Justin, feels like a failure. Or, if he never plays music, then it is as though God has given him this instrument and he put it on a music stand and never touched it again. Your voice and thoughts and experiences all come together to create this instrument that plays you. A failure is to take a precious thing that God has given to you, a thing that he doesn’t give to everyone, and never use it. Everyone has a gift that is beautiful and perfect for them, but he doesn’t give everyone this specific gift. He doesn’t give everyone the ability to express themselves like he did to Justin.
You can find Justin leading worship at The Vine in Goshen, Indiana on Sundays. The title of the song he shared is called “ Waste of Words”.