Saturday, May 23, 2009

Making Music

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 NIV

Recently, I had the opportunity to revisit what has come naturally for years: sit in the piano teacher’s chair at the treble end of the keyboard. The pianist, Dr. Calvin Taylor, was giving me a mini-concert of his own arrangements from a newly-published book I had just purchased.

I’ve played from Dr. Taylor’s other books for 20 years, in churches of many denominations, and in other countries. The scores are not always an easy sightread: some are in six flats, have unusual chords, and the melody switches between the right and left hands. Some chords require quite a hand-span to attain their full wealth of sound. (Dr. Taylor’s fingers are at least an inch longer than my long fingers!)

One of his arrangements, My Lord, What a Mornin’, has a chord progression that I’ve always played dramatically to milk the chords and melody for every exquisite vibration. When Dr. Taylor plays it, he races through the gorgeous bit to get to his treble arpeggios and end the song. So as I sat in the piano teacher’s position, I asked him to play that line and just hold the B7(b9) in a fermata until I said it was time to launch the arpeggios. He played it three times, and just wouldn’t do it right. (You know—my way.)

Who really knew best what to do “correctly” in that situation? The arranger, concert pianist, and doctor of musical arts, or the local church keyboardist? But it’s just a matter of taste, after all, not a moral issue or right or wrong. Notes are little black symbols on paper, and they’re acoustical waves in the atmosphere. As musicians, even though we sometimes disagree on the interpretation, we know that it’s not the style of music, or even if we make mistakes in the performance. It’s what comes from our hearts that God accepts and is pleased with. Whether I play a contemporary praise song or a Bach chorale prelude, God accepts my music-making if it’s offered with a loving heart. Don’t we forgive a friend because he’s making a “joyful noise,” even if he’s a half-step off? And isn’t God’s heart infinitely more forgiving than a human’s? Oh, yes!

Do you think all God wants are sacrifices—empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him! 1 Samuel 15:22 MSG

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