Dr Edgar Cajas Music Changes Life Perspective

Can you imagine a life without music? I can’t. Music is one of the greatest gifts God has given to humankind. In this episode, my friend, Dr. Edgar Cajas, shares how in-home worship services during the pandemic helped his family and how music therapy can make a huge difference in students of all ages.

Through music, we can communicate the feelings

Dr. Edgar Cajas

Dr. Edgar Cajas was born in Guatemala and traveled to the US at a young age to earn his Ph.D. degree in Music Education. As a former Houston Baptist University Music Education Coordinator, he has helped a lot of students to find and grow their passion for music. Back to his home-town in Antigua, Dr. Cajas continues helping to develop talents of all ages

What did we learned about how music changes life perspective?

  • The effects of music therapy
  • How technology and music helped his family during the COVID-19 quarantine
  • How family worship helped his nephews with autism

Questions I asked 

  • How was living COVID-19 quarantine in Guatemala?
  • How different is a Church Worship Service in America compared to Guatemala?
  • Have you ever encountered anxiety issues and what is the role of music in coping with anxiety?

Links Mentioned

Episode Transcript

Will Woods  0:00  

Hi, everybody, welcome to RenewedDaily.Blog where it’s my job to get to sit down and visit with people that I greatly admire and who are at the top of their field. Last week, I got to sit down with one of the professors that I had in the School of church music at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. He is Dr. Edgar Cajas. He earned his doctorate degree at Oklahoma Baptist University, and was a professor there at Southwestern where I took many courses with him, he and his wife, Athena became very good friends. And when I became minister of music, he joined the staff as Minister through keyboard and instrumental music, an amazingly talented man, and a great, great guy. He is a native of Guatemala. And he recently built a dream home there for him and Athena, and they are now enjoying their retirement back in his native country of Guatemala. And so I got to sit down and visit with him about what COVID was like there. What what is going on with church music there. He and I are working together on me possibly going to Guatemala and me and my wife and, and helping with the music camp there, maybe next summer. And so we are just kind of in the process of working out all of those details. And so this is a wide-ranging conversation on lots of different topics. But this is Dr. Edgar Cajas. They’re in Guatemala, outside of the city of Antigua. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

You know, we haven’t really gotten to talk that much since you all relocated out there. So if, if you would be so kind maybe just start with just updating us were on what y’all are doing, guys. So you’re teaching what, what else is going on there? How do you feel the day?

Edgar Cajas  2:17  

Well, really, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you. In you say last time we saw each other probably was 2018. Let’s see. 2014 maybe something like this?

Will Woods  2:31  

Yeah. Yeah. I think so.

Edgar Cajas  2:35  

Yeah. First of all, is Claiborne and then I went to teach at Houston Baptist University. I spent five years teaching there until my retirement official retirement. Yeah, I think musicians will never retire like golf players, right? That’s right. So I was teaching there. And I had the opportunity to teach courses, both in the music school and also in the education department. Because maybe you remember all the music teachers, at least in Texas, I don’t know the states. But they have to take at least one semester in how to use the arts when they’re teaching the other parts of the curriculum. I think the course was called, like essential elements of art in the curriculum. So it was a great experience for me because not only I was teaching music students, but also general teachers. 

Edgar Cajas  3:29  

So I really enjoyed that. And also, besides all my music education courses, I was teaching or music courses. And, of course, over there at all the visitors that we have to teach music appreciation classes, which is for all college students. And guess what, maybe 30% of my musical precision, jazz was ethnomusicology. I had it for dinner, you know, to share with my students about my experiences in other cultures. And then in the middle of my term there, we start thinking about going back to Guatemala, coming back to Guatemala, and retire here. So we start making plans. Now you probably know that it’s very difficult to build a house from scratch. And can you be in their house from scratch, as a living in the United States as the architect and everybody here? So really, it was a miracle that maybe 90% of the things that we wanted, they were done, and we’re happy with the house. By the way, the architect who did our house, was a former music student here in Guatemala. How about that? Yeah. Okay. Maybe you know, you remember Billy that before I went to the states for my Ph.D. in Oklahoma, we started a Christian School for music teachers again, the ceiling was the only Christian school that offer a degree in music education. authorized by The Ministry of Education. So I was telling you about my former student, he graduated from a school for music teachers. And then he went to architecture school. He graduated from here. And when we came to one of my looking for possibilities and architects, engineers, we contact him, he said, of course, I’ll be more than happy to build a house for you. So that was another extra blessing that we have having a seasoned architect, building our retirement home here in Guatemala.

Will Woods  5:28  

Okay. All right. Well, um, I’m curious what your experience has been like recently, over the last say, year. You know, we’ve been through like this whole pandemic thing, and I know what that was like here in the States. How did you all do? They are in Guatemala, what was the pandemic like in that part of the world?

Edgar Cajas  5:53  

Well, this is an interesting question, really, because we came like, three or four months before the pandemic pandemic started. And by the way, Athena had to come back to the states for some papers for the right amount of residency. And she was there in January. And maybe you remember what February or March that there’s a clause in the borders and all of these. So she almost had to stay in the States, because there was no rain flying overcoming to Guatemala. 

So really, what the Lord’s grace that she was able to fix her papers. And then after two or three days, then she got back from the States, they closed the airport for almost two months. So yeah, at the beginning, you know, people didn’t believe that they say there was an invention, there was a consideration, I think you have heard of all these theories. And here is more difficult, because a lot of people, they don’t know how to read the right. So the only information they get is from the friends, you know, the relatives they employ better. So the beginning was very difficult for people to understand that there was a serious threat, you know, from the shell. And by the government at the beginning, did a good job. You know, they close almost everything. And we have a curfew, every night about 530 or six, the whole country was close, you couldn’t go out. So anything and let them in for emergencies. So that helps. And then we have more people coming in from other places. And they were more on direction movement. 

So the virus is spreading. And we know a lot of friends and pastors believe this very sad. We know at least three pastors that have died from the virus. So it’s a real thing. But still people, you know, they’re not wearing masks, because they don’t see anything they see, you know, this is not possible, we’re going to get sick or die, or something that we don’t see without smell. So I have been very difficult for the government. And now the vaccination was started about two months ago. But it is very, very slow. You know, I hear read comments of people in the state that they don’t want to be vaccinated. And they said, Well, here’s not an option, or people are discussing what kind of vaccine they would like to have here is, you’re gonna have a choice.

Will Woods  8:27  

Hello, everybody. One quick thing, and we’ll get you right back into the program. I wrote a book called triumph over in xiety. In the book, I share my story, and then give 10 tips and things that I found useful as I was journeying through the process of triumphing over anxiety. My hope is that it’ll help other people. The information is in the description below. You can also find the book on Amazon just look for Triumph Over Anxiety by William Woods. Now right back to the show.

Okay. Yeah, um, tell me so that the churches everything shut down, have that have the churches reopened? Are you seeing

Edgar Cajas  9:11  

Some. Some, Billy. It depends the government started like, they call it a straight light, you know, different colors. For example, certain parts of the country will be in red. In the cases the ministry there, they go to yellow. And if everything is fine, then say, Okay, go ahead is in green. But right now, we don’t have any town, anything in the whole country that is in green, everything is in yellow, or red, where we’ll leave the closest village that we live is in red. 

So, a lot of churches, of course, they had to go. And then the whole thing changed in order the rest of the world. For example, with my family instead of going to church. We started a family worship services every Sunday. And she’s been great because even me I have two one brother and one sister communicating what Amala even when there was everything was normal. We didn’t see each other very often. These months for Easter, because everybody’s in different parts of the

Will Woods  10:16  

family church services there in person, or do you do? I

Edgar Cajas  10:19  

Oh, no. Zoom. We use zoom. 

Will Woods  10:21  

Okay. Okay. 

Edgar Cajas  10:23  

Yes. All right. So a lot of choices and doing this. Fortunately, Billy, the internet is very good. Now you can see, you know, the sign is very good, and the sound. So we have everything you have in The States: Google Meet, and all of this. So that helps a lot. So much churches started opening but because they didn’t have precautions. There were some problems with the virus there. I think it’s a matter of fact, I three weeks ago, a friend of ours who live in another part of the country in an Indian village, he died of a virus, because he was visiting people who come from Mexico, they were infected. And then they visit them in their homes. And down here and Guatemala. And then he met with some people from the church. So it was very, very sad. Yeah, he died three weeks ago. So like in the States and the rest of the world, this pandemia has changed everything. Everything. For example, in in here where we live, before the pandemia, there were a lot of buses, public buses. And of course, if you have a car that you use your car, but because all the public transportation was stopped, people start buying motorcycles like crazy there, then 1000s of 1000s, on a motorcycle now. So the traffic was bad before that, and now it’s very, very… almost impossible.

Will Woods  11:56  

I’m curious to hear more about the family worship service that you do. How do y’all set that up? Does do whatever you choose, Bible study, or

Edgar Cajas  12:07  

no Billy, as I said really had, this has been a blessing, you know, in the midst of so many difficulties, because I said, For many years, and I was even in the States, you know, it was difficult for me to see them only maybe twice a year. But we came to visit there because of this situation. We were forced.. at the beginning was you know, oh, let’s have a Zoom meeting just to say hello to see how you’re doing. But then we decided see, we’re not going to church? Why don’t we start a family worship service. And guess who was in charge of planning the worship service? 

Yeah, so really, he has been a great experience. While we do we find, for example, the book of Daniel, we have studied the book of Ruth. So we take turns every member of the family, you know, have to discuss one chapter. And also we have a time of thanksgiving and prayer request. Okay. And then we have found, you know, we shared what happened with different activities that we do at home and all this. So it’s been really, really a way to connect. Amazing. Yeah. And also, for example, I share, you know, Bible classes or testimonies with other people, but really never with my own family. 

At the beginning I recorded my piano, you know, the game accompanies that, you know, in some, the sound sometimes is not, is not direct, you know, it’s like, sour time. So we decided to start downloading YouTube videos, they have the words, like Karaoke that’s the way, and also really, I have two nephews who have special needs. They have some type of autism. And one of them, well, both are very musical. And because of this soon, was in meetings, every Sunday, they have special music. They learn one song, they have a CD in the background, and they sing for us. 

Will Woods  14:13  

How about that 

Edgar Cajas  14:14  

we never had this. So we even we didn’t know that they are. They love to sing and there’s a musical. So as I said, he has been just great.

Will Woods  14:23  

Okay. And all of your studies, through music education, have you? Were you able to research or have an understanding of how music education affects students with all different types of autism?

Edgar Cajas  14:43  

Well, very interesting, Billy, because when I was doing my Ph.D. in music education, oh, I took at least one semester of music therapy. 

Will Woods  14:55  


Edgar Cajas  14:55  

and this is something that really I wanted to go more deeper. Whenever your questions possible question was, why would you change something like this, if you have the magic, something if you miss one thing, if I had to go back to the past, I wish I had more time in order to study about music therapy. And remember, my concentration is in music education. Of course, music therapy is part of a music education, you’re used to certain techniques, and all of these, but I wish I had more training on music therapy, not only to work with my nephews, but only one amount of there’s a tremendous need for that. It can be a blessing, for example, one of my nephews, he has some problems, you know, communicating, his language skills are very limited. But Billy, when he prays, you can believe he prays like a normal person with a jungle vocabulary, 14 Bible verses, so it’s amazing. And because of this worship, FM family worship service, and we have to assume he is more comfortable and more comfortable, you know, as a singing and praying, if they go to church, they don’t have any place for them, you know, the participants and the services. So this is another extra blessing. So it is my commentary, music therapy. And this is something that we really need, basically, in churches, you know, to think about how can we minister to, to people, in choirs, for example, you know, I think we can include them doing different things, helping, you know, doing, not necessarily maybe singing or playing an instrument, but they can do things that they will

Will Woods  16:40  

have you ever encountered or dealt with anxiety issues? And how I guess it goes back to the music therapy thing. And at musics role in kind of helping cope with those types of issues. 

Edgar Cajas  17:00  

Yeah, well, you know, music has a special power, we will say no, to go beyond words, for example, is a language but we don’t need, you know, a typical language. through music, we can communicate the feelings, for example. And I remember I, when I was teaching, my uniform was in public school, they asked me, and if I knew anything about music therapy, so they send me all the special needs students in my class. So really was a challenge for me to find things to find ways to find time. And remember one case, I have a student that was very, very difficult, his behavior was very difficult to control. And then in one of the articles that I read about music therapy, I was reading that were piano is a very good an instrument to communicate, because you can improvise, you can do a lot of things. So he started having a very hard time, I think, the word you use is tantrum, very, very, I was reading and I was in shock, because I didn’t know what to do. And then I remember one of the things that I read that sometimes is good in the piano, to try to imitate the sound that he is doing. And then I’m doing that, you know, I was playing clusters and things. You ever tried to imitate the agitation, the anxiety, talking about anxiety that I saw in the student. And he looked at me, you know, like “what are you doing?” I thought about, you know, his expression, he was saying, like, “why are you trying not to make fun of me?”, although the noises that I’m making, why, why is that you’re making this in the piano. So really, it was a great way to connect with a student. And guess what he was on. I was one of his favorites, teachers later and

Will Woods  18:47  

how about that

Edgar Cajas  18:49  

And the teacher who helped with special education with the school. He nominated me to be the music teacher of this week or this month or something like this. 

Will Woods  19:01  


Edgar Cajas  19:02  

She said, we never see our students having so much fun in the music class.

Will Woods  19:08  

Okay, let’s talk more about music and worship services. Oh my goodness. I don’t know how things are in the church there in Guatemala, but in the American church, you know how it is that there is just such this pressure on this entertainment type-driven type of music and worship and having more of an entertainment type the lights and this type thing is very popular. You know, it used to be it was either traditional or contemporary. Now there’s this new modern expression that is but has so much to do with digital technology and lights and, and sound and smoke machines and all of this kind of stuff. They want the modern worship at experiences with, you know, stuff from the last two or three years, you know, if you start doing stuff even written in 2014, you know, you’re, you’re not hip and with it, you got to be hip and with it. And so I found myself just kind of a dinosaur, kind of a relic feeling type thing. And it’s just, it’s like, where did we go wrong in this whole thing? And you’re understanding what is the role of music in worship?

Edgar Cajas  20:33  

Yeah. Well, you know, technology, for example, is a blessing, we can do so many things, we’re having this conversation, because of the technology, that technology also could be, I don’t know, if I’m using the right word, curse, instead of a blessing. Now hearing our countries because globalization now, our kids, you know, because youtube and all of these platforms, Spotify, they listen to music, like, like you were in Texas, or Minnesota, or New York, or whatever. So now, you know, there are no limits and no borders, for people to listen and try to imitate all this stuff. Now, of course, we can spend hours and hours here. But remember, in the past, for example, the missionary movement, the Christian missionaries, who came to what amount they brought, why they knew, you know, traditional hymns, only the use of piano and organ and native grew up in this tradition. That’s why when I went to the save for me was not difficult not to adapt to singing hymns and piano and Oriental this because I grew up in this tradition. Now, because these reactions to traditional music, you know, people when completed the other extreme, and the tendency is to copy you know, why they here, or this group from Australia…

Will Woods  21:58  


Edgar Cajas  22:00  

Oh, this is a big thing here. Now, Billy, for example, I is not that I’m against, you know, the rock all the sides. By the prime, we have seen here that there, there is no emphasis on the text of Bible that we’re singing, you know, whether the person purpose of the song. Now in the states people, maybe they’re more careful about the sound system, for example, in church, I hope. But here is so easy, you know, to get these huge speakers, all this technology, PowerPoint, and we visit a lot of churches. Well, you were asking me if the churches are open for Easter, a lot of churches, open services, live services. And we visit one church in for Sunday for Easter Sunday. And really, there was a church, they have like 200 people, excuse a future, but because of the recommendations, limitation, they only have 200 in the auditorium. And then they ask Athena to play violin and me playing piano. So we were like an hour early but to check the sound and all this. Well, the praise team was rehearsing the songs. And Billy, we couldn’t talk with the pastor, we couldn’t talk to anybody because the level of some was so high. Yeah, it was almost painful to your ear. So… And of course, when they start singing the praise team. We couldn’t hear the voices, we couldn’t understand what they were singing. He was the other of the electronic instruments. At the end of the service, when the music was over, and we could talk, I talked to the pastor and I gave him some ideas. And I don’t know if they’re going to do it or not. But I’ve seen a lot of problems with this. As I say, I think these people, maybe they have had more training. And for example, the praise team, they sing in harmony sometimes, right? But here everything is in unison. And a lot of songs that they’re this desire not to sing as a group, for recording purposes, great. But for the congregation and see in the last month, or even before I went into what Amala and want to confess, when I visit churches, I don’t see eyes who participate in the worship. What I do is look around, you know, if people are singing their reaction of the teenagers, children, and most of the people do they just clap, they follow the rhythm, but really they don’t have any idea why they’re singing is a very sad situation. And also the pastors for the same in the States. They have… they have abandoned this our worship teams. They’re made of young people. They don’t know much about the Bible. They don’t know about spiritual truth. So the pastor says “Okay, if we want to keep youth in the church, we need to let them do what other style of… music styles.” 

So people, young people here, listen to YouTube. And then when they get together to rehearse, when they don’t read music, this is another problem is everything is by ear. So they don’t have the idea, for example, modulation, you know, going to different key singing the part is more advanced for them. So it’s really very, very sad that that is intuition. And again, the pastors are so afraid that young people won’t come to the churches that they say, the only style of music we’re going to do in this church is this popular pop-rock in this semester, I’m teaching the university I’ve learned a lot because remember, I was teaching of Islam in the United States. Now we come to Latin America, he didn’t know about this moment. And then, they are brainwashed, you can believe the discussions, they use exactly the same terminology. Because all modern professors have you know, taught this for hours and hours. So they’re being indoctrinated that we need to renounce to everything that is European, classical music because you represent exploitation and the imperialistic system. Okay, so that’s why they say it’s, for example, in the case of Guatemala, we should do more like Mayan music. Okay, should they do? We shouldn’t stress on music, reading, or writing, because this was not part of our culture before the Spanish came in the 16th century. So they’re doing a lot of emphasis in using well, popular music, more native Instruments, like marimba. Okay, it’s okay. I think some musicians here are trying to do more of our music, but churches, they’re not paying attention to this. 

Will Woods  27:01  

How about that. 

Edgar Cajas  27:02  

So they… I sometimes encourage people, for example, to use acoustic guitar. I’m not talking about in a very exotic instrument, yes, acoustic guitar, you know, for some of the worship music, but now they think that they had to have an electronic guitar, they have to have drums, amplified drums, of course, right? You have to have PowerPoint otherwise you don’t have a worship service. The spirit is not there, used to seek a PowerPoint, and you have a life and smoke a little bit. So what I’m saying that in one side of the society is going to our you know, trying to emphasize my work within our own culture, our own instruments, but the church is not paying attention at all to this

Will Woods  27:49  

That is interesting. 

Edgar Cajas  27:52  

So you know, we have a hymn composer here in Guatemala that we wrote about maybe 500 songs. Alright, release Alfredo Colom, the school that I started a music teacher, there’s his name Alfredo Colom, Music School for Teachers. And I correct before I left I Marmara went to the States. And we did a lot of work. So we did a lot of programs, encouraging people not to sing our own hymns, people will work written by what amounts and have more or less, you know, Latin American rhythm. But all of this has been abandoned at all, they’re not using hymns. Not only do you know, the traditional hymns, but the one mountain hymns they are not using because they’re using the Hillsong.

Will Woods  28:35  

Yeah. Well, Cajas, I can talk to you all day. I mean, I think you and Athena are, are probably the most interesting people that I know. And so I’m just so excited to get to talk to you and kind of reconnect a little bit and hear about what’s going on in your life. And, man, I would love to see you guys again and make the trip and

Edgar Cajas  28:57  

yeah, you know what the idea will be maybe you can come by yourself. Yes to do some exploration. Spend maybe two, three days here just to see here we have a nice guest room. The only promise is next to the piano room. Sometimes I practice until midnight. So we have a nice guest room with your own bathroom. So that will be great. Yes,

Will Woods  29:21  

yes. So yes, well, I’m gonna take you up on it, I’m gonna go.

Edgar Cajas  29:25  

Three or four days and remember, it’s only a three-hour flight from Dallas.

Will Woods  29:29  

Okay, yeah, that’s not far. That’s not far at all. 

Edgar Cajas  29:33  

It is like going to Los Angeles from New York or from Dallas.

Will Woods  29:35  

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Okay. Well, Dr. Cajas, here’s what we’re we’ll stay in touch. And I will, you know, I’m glad to have your information.

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