Archive for 'Music'

A Willing Spirit

From time to time, people ask, “What is something you remember your mother saying?” And I think they likely mean something your mother said over and over. (In my case, that would be “stand up straight!”) But a remark that my mother made exactly once has stuck with me for most of my life. 

When I was a young teen, our church was looking for a pianist to fill in one Sunday. And the preferred choice was a lady about my mother’s age. Everyone said she played the piano beautifully. I never heard her because she never played in public.
So they went down the list and finally got to me. I wondered if I should do it and worried out loud to my mother about my not being nearly as good as Mrs. Johnson. (I just made that name up because I don’t remember her name all these years later.) And my mother said, “Sometimes willingness is worth more than talent.” And Mother encouraged me to go ahead—with my lesser musical ability—and play for the church service. Well, I played. And I survived. And the congregation survived. And I even played for a few more services while I was in high school
I’m honest about my musical ability. I fall somewhere in the middle of the line that goes from excellent to poor. I have joked that I am “the musician of last resort.” The one who gets the phone call saying, “I’ve called everyone I can think of and no one will do it. Would you be willing to play on Sunday?”  That means that by the time I get the phone call, they have spent a week calling other people and I get the least time to prepare. And I probably need the most time! But I usually will play. I know I can do it. Not the difficult classical music that others might play, but lovely pieces nevertheless. And I survive. And the congregation survives.
Well, a couple of weeks ago, I got a phone call from a friend who pastors two tiny churches—congregations so small they could have worshiped in my living room— asking if I would play for both churches while the regular pianist was away. And he asked nearly two weeks ahead. So I said yes. I practiced and practiced. And I practiced some more. I made notes all over the music. First, in pencil. Then I used red ink to mark the more important spots. And for good measure, I added a couple of Post-It notes in strategic places. 

All of that preparation left me in good shape musically. I chose my music carefully. I marked my music well. But I’ll be honest. Even when well prepared, I still get ridiculously nervous before playing for a service, mostly because I don’t do this often. On the way to the first church yesterday, the nervousness reached a level that almost hurt. Then I remembered Mommy telling me about the calming technique she uses to settle her children when they are afraid, upset, or mad.

She tells them, “Smell the flowers.” (Breathe in.) Blow out the candles. (Breathe out.)” And after several deep breaths and controlled releases, they begin to relax. My version of this was “Breathe in the calm” and “Blow out the nerves.” I imagine there is a name for this breathing technique. But whatever you call it I was ready to play by the time I got to the first little church.

I was happy to share my music with these sweet churches that are hanging on by a thread. They value worshiping in spaces rich in tradition and history for their families. I was thankful for the chance to worship with them. I will never be an award winning pianist, but most times I am a willing musician. Thank you, Mother, for your encouragement. And for years and years of piano lessons.

This morning, I put away the music I used yesterday. And I pulled out some new pieces to work on. Just in case I get that call again.

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