Singer and composerKen Medemahas spent years running to and from God.

Last year, Ken Medema gave a 45-minute lecture at a workshop for the Wheaton College music faculty. Or more precisely, he sang the lecture, using the coffee table he sat behind as both lectern and percussion instrument.

Medema, pianist, singer, and composer of contemporary Christian music, urged the music faculty at the Illinois college to help students not just think about music, but to help them think in music by becoming intimate with its expressive forms.

At another point in the weekend, the sightless Medema invited faculty to call out three random notes and three words—any words—around which he promised to improvise, a feat he manages at almost every appearance at the churches and conventions where he performs. As music conservatory dean Harold Best remembers, the composition Medema created not only used the three notes artfully, but “incorporated fugal analogues from, first, Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, and second, Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, with a third section that wove together melodic strains from both. And of the three words, out of which he improvised a wonderful libretto, he saved the third to come as the piece’s very last word—which made it all quite stunning.”

“Music needs to be like conversation,” Medema will tell you when asked about his unusual presentation to the faculty “as natural to a musician as eating or breathing.”

Ascending the steps to Medema’s second-story apartment in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, it is no surprise to hear strains of music floating from his window, blending with the noise of a hilly street crowded with cars and nineteenth-century Victorian houses. Medema is in his ...

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