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Student harpist finds that he, too, is a gospel instrument

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The harp. It’s known as an instrument of angels, an instrument of King David, an instrument of the courts in both ancient Babylon and modern-day England.

But for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary student Maurice Draughn, the harp has become something more — an instrument of the gospel.

Draughn’s is a rare ability. Few have the patience or skill to maneuver such broad hands across the harp’s sensitive strings. Few too have learned to play so quickly. Draughn, 22, only began in high school.

Although such talent might produce pride in some, Draughn recognizes the source and stewardship of his skill.

“As long as I’m able to share the gift and just to encourage other people, I find great joy in doing that because I feel that’s my responsibility as a servant of Christ,” said Draughn, a Detroit, Mich., native and a master of divinity student at the Louisville, Ky., seminary.

His dexterity with the 81-pound stringed bow has opened doors to play for both sacred and secular orchestras. These opportunities are due both to Draughn’s plucking proficiency and to the fact that truly expert harpists are so rare.

“Through the harp, I’ve actually had a lot of opportunities to play,” he said. “… If I had played another instrument, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity.”

Draughn also shares his abilities at Southern — principally through the Seminary Orchestra and Chapel Orchestra. He also sings in the Seminary Choir. But whether for a seminary or non-religious group, Draughn strives to bring both beautiful music and a Christian attitude.

Such a spirit is especially significant in secular settings.

“There are people out there who are tremendously gifted but have the wrong attitude and the wrong spirit about their gift,” Draughn said of some of his experiences in city orchestras. “Most of that comes from not having a relationship with Jesus.”

Draughn hopes his positive presence will have an impact in some of these more worldly orchestras. Indeed, he believes the artistic scene is a ministry field just ready for harvest.

“One thing about playing in those type of ensembles [is that] you see a brokenness in the people,” Draughn said. “You kind of see it in the competitive spirit… People’s perspective of the gift they have and how they view it and how they use it sometimes can be quite disturbing, because you wonder if they realize exactly from where the gift was given.”

Draughn knows from whom he received his gift — God. But it was a gift also cultivated by his family. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather who played the organ and his mother who directed music at his home church, Draughn began music education at the age of four.

“My whole family was involved and active in the music ministry in the church I grew up in,” he said.

As a freshman in high school, he became the organist at his church. Soon, he took a position as assistant to his mother.

Meanwhile, in high school, Draughn was beginning to realize fully the tremendous musical gifts God had given him. By his senior year, he was playing a total of eight instruments at a high level — including the piano, saxophone, bassoon, clarinet and flute.

“It was a period that I really started to realize through maturing and growing in the Word… that I was a steward of this gift and the gift was not mine,” Draughn said.

However, it was the harp that began to gain his primary attention — but not without some resistance on Draughn’s part.

“I told [my teacher], ‘No. I don’t want to take harp. That’s not me,'” he said.

He couldn’t get away from the less-than-robust stereotype of a feminine figure playing a gold-guilded instrument. But a biblical king helped him overcome this perception.

“Having David as my role model kind of helped me get over that phobia of playing the harp and that bad image,” he said.

Once he began playing the instrument, it was as if he’d been playing it all his life.

He continued his training at Wayne State University in Detroit. There, he began to sense a different calling. He changed churches and became involved in intense Bible study.

“I know I had plateaued spiritually,” Draughn said. “In college, I was convicted through the Bible study. It was just a totally transforming experience. I truly began to realize what being a Christian was all about — realizing that I wasn’t completely living up to what God wanted me to live up to as far as my daily spiritual walk.”

In December 1999, he began hearing a specific call. After a 40-day period of prayer and fasting and after several visits to Southern, the Lord led him to the seminary last year.

“Everything I needed to prepare me for the ministry that I was going into was here at Southern — with a solid theological education and also music education,” Draughn said.

His meetings with professors — particularly Esther Crookshank — especially made an impact. Draughn was drawn by the spiritual sensitivity and theological depth of the faculty.

“Honestly, that was what made the impact on me in choosing the school,” he said. “… Just by how the staff carried themselves in a Christian manner made me realize this is the place where I needed to be.”

Draughn has now finished his first year at Southern, and he has continued to develop his talent for the glory of God. He also is continuing to utilize it in the ministry of the church.

Though he eventually hopes to gain a Ph.D. and teach other budding harpists, Draughn believes his main “audience” is the local church. He demonstrates his dedication to the church each weekend, driving to Detroit, Mich., to serve as music director for his home church.

“I see myself as a servant — just being there to use the gift that I’ve been given to contribute to the worship experience of the church,” Draughn said. “… I can’t make someone worship God. But through preparing choirs, preparing music and playing in the worship service, I try to keep in mind everyone’s spiritual level and try to meet the needs of everyone spiritually from a musical aspect so everyone can have an outlet to worship God.”

Even though music can be soothing and entertaining, Draughn tries to focus the congregation on God and not on the player.

“Recently, I introduced reading Scriptures before the choir selection so that everyone can understand that we’re not just here to entertain you, but we’re ministering to you the gospel. We’re ministering to you the Word,” he said. “… We try to do things to let the congregation know that this is not just a spectator thing. This is a participatory thing. Worship is not meant for people to watch other people.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HARPIST.

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  • Bryan Cribb