Michelle Copithorne: My Music is my Prayer

Background

I am currently the mother of two very active little boys and manage the business side of my husband’s busy medical practice. In my spare time, I am an active member of a musical worship team at Foothills Mennonite Church playing tin whistle and mandolin, I sit on the church's worship committee and periodically I'm a guest speaker both within and outside of the church setting. 

I am a fourth generation Albertan, born and raised on a ranch west of Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. My BA in Communications and Media Studies from Trinity Western University created a firm foundation that has allowed me to develop my talents in communication theory, techniques, marketing and interpersonal communication styles while my minor in Biblical Studies gave me spiritual grounding. 

I served as a missionary in Dublin, Ireland for two years where my faith and worldview was challenged and expanded. I have been involved in the film and television industry for over 15 years including production site management, contract negotiation, cross-industry liaison and props and set dressing management, marketing and sales and acquisitions. Among others, I have worked with DreamWorks Television, Disney, BBC, Spyglass Entertainment, Hallmark, HBO, CBS, and ZDF (Germany). 

When I'm not playing with my boys, playing hockey, or riding my motorcycle, you can more often than not find me in the kitchen creating my next culinary treat as I have an appetite for the creative process and the community connections that only food can bring. 

I have a passion for encouraging authenticity in myself and others and a deep desire to reveal God’s incredible creation from within each person. I'm the type of person who cringes at the prospect of living in a culture that summarizes people into 140 character bios. I don’t like to limit the glory of God’s creation that I see as the essence of each person’s individuality.

I've been involved with music for as long as I can remember. My mother was a professional singer, quite often gracing the main auditorium stages in Calgary playing the lead roles in the latest Rogers & Hammerstein musicals. My earliest musical memories involved being taken to many rehearsals and being surrounded with incredible vocalists and musicians. Even at a young age, I loved the joy that music could bring to one's life. 

It wasn't until I was in middle school that my passion for my own musical journey blossomed. I had the opportunity to learn to play the trumpet and I immediately loved the instrument and was fascinated by the experience of playing in a band. It was there that I started to grasp the concept of trust and safety in the musical setting. If you can let go and trust in the capabilities of your fellow musicians an air of safety is created. Once you feel safe, there are no limits to creativity.

Music is prayer for me. It wasn't until I picked up the tin whistle that this really became a reality for me. With my trumpet, I found myself restricted to sheets of music and structure. The tin whistle freed me from that. It is such an easy instrument to play; a child's play thing, really. It is very simple in design and function. As I mentioned before, I lived out on a ranch and I often found myself hiking out to a ridge just south of the house and climbing to the crest of the limestone rock formations. Sitting under the ancient pine trees that are unique to that area, I picked up my tin whistle and just started to play. I had no sheet music, no instructor, just my environment to provide inspiration. There was something primal, elemental - bordering on ethereal - to learning that way, in that environment. The birds, the wind, the light in the clouds were my inspiration and became my song. The silence of the still forest echoing back the notes of my creation linked me in a very powerful way to God's great creation. I found myself sitting in God's Holy Chamber of Creation. With this in mind, my music became my prayer, acknowledging and inspired by God's glory and power through the base elements of His creation around me. I try to bring this with me every time I play.

It wasn't until I graduated from university that I began to venture into worship leading and I've been on a music team ever since. 

Present involvement

Currently I am a member of one of the several "Gathering Songs" groups that leads the contemporary music portion of our services. I provide backup melodies and harmonies to the lead vocals, guitar and piano. I also periodically play along with the pianist during the hymns. This past Christmas I provided accompaniment to the choir for their concert and for the past several years I have also been asked to assist with the Good Friday Inter-Mennonite Service.

My playing is an act of personal worship for me and it assists to create an environment of musical prayer for others. If my whistle's descant will move people to closer communion with God, what more could I ask? We are hardwired for connection, and music, like food, is a powerful tool for communion. Playing in front of people is also an act of vulnerability and can be an exercise in authenticity. Mistakes will be made; it's what you do with those mistakes where learning occurs, both on a personal and on a corporate level. Through playing, I am learning to love God, love myself and love my neighbour. Here lies my motivation.

At this time, I'm not playing my instruments beyond the Christian worship context however I do see me transferring my musical philosophy to all areas of my life: managing my husbands medical practice, raising my children, playing and coaching women's hockey, chairing our school's parent council meeting... I feel that music isn't limited to notes on a paper or hanging in the air. You can tap into the musical rhythm of life in everything that you encounter.

The songs we sing

Perhaps it's my Irish ancestry speaking here but my all-time favourite hymn is "Be Thou My Vision.” I love the focused nature of the song, how it calls us to look to God and find him in all things that we do and all places that we go, to be His children and live with Him always. He will be our victorious protector and "ruler of all.” Love it!

A newer song that has gripped my soul lately is Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin's "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)". No matter what we have gone through, each day is a new, glorious creation and we are called to sing praises, to find God's grace in the shimmering moments of each day and "bless the Lord".

I don't choose the music for our congregation. What strikes me about our congregation, though, is our ability to bring together the traditional and contemporary styles. I love what both the old hymns and the new writers and composers are bringing to worship and I love the fact that we can offer both in the same service.

It's hard to narrow down what songs I would hope that the next generations would value. I trust that God will lead them in their preferences and that the Spirit will inspire them in their choices. 

Memorable moments

For me, the memorable moments are the small, seemingly insignificant ones. Of making eye contact with someone in the congregation as they are worshipping while I play. Of seeing the intent and joy of shared worship in that moment.