catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 2 :: 2014.01.24 — 2014.02.06


For the love of music

I have “what might have been” moments every now and then, and they always revolve around the silliest thing.  I never wonder about “what might have been” if I had stayed on my preferred career path in college instead of pursuing ministry.  I never wonder about “what might have been” if I had stayed in relationships that I ended for various reasons.  I never ask myself, “Where would I be now if I married so-and-so?”  No, my “what might have been” moments all revolve around music.

Both of my parents are musically gifted.  My mother grew up singing close four-part harmony with her brothers and sisters, providing special music in my grandfather’s churches.  My dad can also sing and play guitar.  After my parents’ divorce, my favorite thing to do during my visits to his house was to have him strum and sing all my favorite songs until the guitar strings had formed deep and painful rivets in his fingers.  Music is in my blood.  Singing has the power to lift me, shape me and help me touch God’s presence in a way nothing else can.

When I was eight years old, my mother arranged for me to take free music lessons from a couple who were close friends of our family.  Martha taught me piano; Travis, a true Irish tenor, was teaching me voice.  I visited their home once a week for their instruction with the understanding that I would practice an hour each day at home.  Did I mention all of this was free?

Eight year olds have no concept of money.  I had no concept of household budgets.  As an adult, when I look back on our circumstances, I can see that money was tight back then.  I understand now that every whim and inspiration that children have must be funded.  If my boys want to play sports, there are always fees involved, uniforms to purchase, gear to buy.  I get now what an extraordinary gift it was to receive music lessons at no cost to us.  But way back then, I had no idea.

What I knew was how much I wanted to go play outside with the neighbors.  I felt embarrassed by the vocal exercises I practiced, especially when neighborhood kids could hear them while passing by outside.  I hated the way my mother was always making me put the time in.  Finally she said one day that if I wasn’t going to practice, I couldn’t take lessons.  She left the choice up to me.

The next time I went to Martha and Travis’ home, I remember Mr. Travis drawing me close to him to explain the same thing.  But what I remember most about that moment was his kindness.  There was no judgment, no disapproval, just a simple explanation of the choice before me.  And the pronouncement that this choice was completely mine to make.  It wasn’t the same kind of conversation I had with my mom.  She knew what I was saying no to, and like a good mother she wanted me to change my mind.  I didn’t.

There have been many times since as a “grown-up” that I have said my mother never should have allowed me to make that choice.  She should have just made me take the lessons, made me practice.  I’ve argued with my own conscience that there are some decisions eight-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to make.  But I’ve given up these arguments.  Maybe there was wisdom there after all.  Maybe that eight-year-old knew something that the accomplishment-oriented adult did not.

Years later when I was a teenager, I had another heart-to-heart with Mr. Travis.  He was dying of cancer.  It was the last time my family ever visited in his home.  It was the last time I ever saw him alive.  Together we sat at the piano enjoying the music of the moment, lingering in the beauty of the song just finished.  He looked at me and said simply, “You love music, don’t you?”  My “yes” came from the truest place in me.  This love reverberated inside, wrapped in chords and notes and lyrics, full of the power to bring everything in me to life.  We stayed in that moment, looking into each other’s eyes, and I saw that power alive in him, too.  It was a moment that redeemed the other one so long ago.

Music still has that power for me.  When I sing, I pray.  I don’t care what the folks in church think as I lift up my voice.  As the words come out of my mouth, they are speaking to my soul —naming me, claiming me, showing me the truth that I’m too blockheaded to see otherwise.  I sing for the love of the song. 

Perhaps my life would be different if I had continued with lessons.  Maybe I could have majored in music or vocal performance in college.  Maybe I would be a professional.  Maybe I would be a music teacher in schools or a choir director at church.  Maybe I would be leading worship instead of being one more anonymous voice in the Sunday morning sea of faces.  But then again, maybe, music would be just another job to do instead of the language of my heart.  Maybe I wouldn’t know how to love it at all.

I tuck this lesson into the deep places.  I have peace now about those choices so long ago.  This new understanding teaches me something about who I am.  The deeper calling of my life is to be a lover, a pray-er.  To touch those places in the heart that only music opens up — this is my deepest and truest desire.  As I look upon my life, I realize: sometimes the thing we love most is really the means to the greater gift rather than the end we thought it was.  

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