Friday, April 17, 2009

Musings on Music and the Place of Discipline

The music escaped the center-stage Steinway as if it couldn't wait to be released from its ebony prison. The notes surged relentlessly toward the eager ears of an enraptured audience. Time tested compositions from Bach, Haydn and Chopin led the way to surprisingly energetic offerings from the more contemporary Ginastera and Piazzolla. Music of this magnitude restores and energizes the soul. That night it scooped me up and held me until my heart beat in time with its own melodious rhythm.

A solitary pianist used the keys at her fingertips to open the doorway into this experience. For a fleeting moment, I envisioned myself seated in her place, dressed in regal black and captivating the audience with my performance. After all, I too had once played the piano. Fourteen gruelling years and and thousands of dollars invested in the illusive hope of making me, if not a concert pianist, at least a church accompanist, and, according to my fun-loving mother, "the life of every party."

This ephemeral vision vanished in the too-bright reality of the spot-lit stage. Such musical ability requires discipline as well as talent, and I was lacking in both. Memorizing enough music to play for an hour and a half requires hours of practice. I certainly had practiced my obligatory hour a day. Every day. Right after school. Before my mother arrived home! I methodically ran scales and played pieces while I kept one eye on the television--and another on the driveway! (The latter was necessary so I could turn off the TV before my mother arrived. This system worked until she discovered my ruse when she placed her cool hand on the unnaturally warm TV.)

During my piano years, I never connected my lack of success with my own lackadaisical attitude. I suspected it was my succession of teachers, two of whom told me, "You are wasting my time and your parent's money." Of course, they refrained from repeating their comments to my mother out of deference to her feelings and their fees.

With the clarity of a soul freshly awakened by the penetrating music and an hour of reflection in a darkened recital hall, I saw the consequences of my own meandering path. I don't regret my cast-off musical opportunities for piano is neither my passion nor my talent. But, how many other areas of my life have suffered because I lack the discipline to persevere when it is boring, or I am tired, or I lack inspiration, or someone requires my assistance....

In how many ways am I content to do well when with sustained practice, I could excel? How has my walk with Christ been hobbled? In my pursuit of God, how often have I been distracted by a passing pleasure or an urgent item on another person's to-do list?

My pianist friend practices twelve hours a day. When I asked what she did for relaxation, she responded, "I play the piano." Her passion and devotion became a precious gift for her audience. What keys lie within my reach that I must exercise in order for my life to pulse with the rhythm of His grace?