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Saturday, November 28, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Composing A Joyful Noise -- Walt Wagner Finds New Meaning In His Music With `The Miracle'

Seattle Times Religion Reporter

Walt Wagner wrote his first concerto as an opus to God, an expression in musical movements of his own deep faith.

But hope, charity and promise for a lost generation of kids also shine through the piece he calls "The Miracle."

Wagner, whose classical/jazz piano is familiar in Seattle churches and dinner clubs, has recorded "The Miracle" with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and it is for sale in local outlets. For the next two years, about $10 from every CD sold will benefit Crista Ministries' Seattle Urban Academies, alternative high schools for troubled teens in South Seattle and Bellevue.

Wagner wrote "The Miracle" concerto in four movements, rather than the normal three. He began by putting the notions of "Promise," "Struggle" and "Fulfillment" to music but soon realized his own philosophy demanded another, "Faithfulness."

Those four ideas comprise the miracle of salvation, Wagner says, not only in a Christian sense, but also in the everyday reality of the street children whom the music may help.

Wagner explains each of his movements and his theology in a set of composer's notes, annotated with Bible verses:

-- Promise: Those who decide to believe God's offer will always receive hope and joy, along with the assurance that he will make good on it. Therefore the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed (Romans 4:16).

-- Struggle: Believers will still have to struggle in the

world, although not without hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life (Psalms 119:50).

-- Faithfulness: God's faithfulness transcends the struggle. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).

-- Fulfillment: The inevitable, complete fulfillment of the promise. I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11).

The movements have parallels in his life, Wagner says.

"If I make a good decision (like to practice regularly), I feel a sense of exhilaration and well-being from it, even though I can count on obstacles popping up (I don't feel like it today).

"It is only when I obediently stick to my decision that I allow the original truth and rightness of it ultimately, faithfully, to be proven out, and am able to receive the reward (I'll be able to play this thing)."

It's the same for the struggling students, he said.

"There's the promise that through a high-school diploma they can make something of their lives. There's the struggle they have every day. There's the faithfulness of just keeping at it through the struggle. And they achieve fulfillment and the self-esteem that goes along with the diploma and making good choices."

`A whole music vocabulary'

Wagner's own journey as a musician and a Christian has been one of steady growth.

He was born and reared in Seattle. He began learning to play classical piano at about age 6 and gravitated to rock 'n' roll in junior high. After college, his interests evolved into jazz.

When he interviewed for his first club job, he says, "I played all the tunes I knew that would work in a restaurant. There were only about 15 of them and I used up every one I knew in the audition. But I guess it was all right. I got hired."

Wagner grew up a bystander to Christianity.

"I was a Christian, but I didn't practice it. I was just partying. Then the last 15 years it just became increasingly logical to me to live as if I had faith, being obedient to how God wants me to lead my life. I didn't even try before. I always felt God's presence, but I just ignored it."

A few years ago, he began adding Christian themes to the works he was composing and found himself with what he calls "a whole music vocabulary."

"Religious music doesn't differ to me," he says. "For `The Miracle,' I worked off the major theme of the Bible. Christians believe the Bible always works on two levels: God's meaning and how it applies to our lives."

Agency has high hopes

Wagner has performed "The Miracle" for three annual fund-raisers for Crista's alternative schools.

The schools were opened six years ago when the Seattle Street School merged with Crista. The North Seattle-based agency also operates a private school, Christian radio stations, summer camps and foreign missions.

The Urban Academies, which meet at First Presbyterian Church in Bellevue and Union Gospel Mission Youth Reach Out Center in South Seattle, have about 100 students who range in age from 14 to 19.

"We have kids with the usual problems: teen pregnancies, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, dysfunctional families," said Ron Rutherford, a Crista spokesman. "We try to address more than just their academic needs. We also try to address their social and spiritual needs. We don't beat them over the head with Christianity, but we do let them know God is there to see to their needs."

Crista plans to open new academies in the University District and South Snohomish County.

The agency hopes to realize as much as $50,000 from sales of "The Miracle," which can be found at Family Christian bookstores, University Book Stores, Benaroya Hall and Fred Meyer stores.

"We're all hoping for the biblical sevenfold return," Wagner said.

Sally Macdonald's telephone message number is 206-464-2248. Her e-mail address is: smacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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