Over a year ago I began to fulfill a longtime goal: to learn the piano. As a lifelong musician and song writer with a proficient knowledge of music theory and performance in vocals, woodwinds, and strings, my lack of piano technique had been an increasingly painful sore spot. So over a year ago, I asked my church’s organist, Dr. Mack Statham, if he would take me as a student. After a while, he finally agreed. Since then, the journey of learning to play has been one of the most joyful and rewarding endeavors of my life. Of course, any piano student will tell you that learning piano can be just as frustrating as it is fun, but for me, that synergy of vexation and victory defines the essence of joy. While I don’t ever expect to be a concert pianist– God has me plenty busy as a pastor– I can little by little live into my dream of being able to sit down at a piano to play a piece of music.
I’m also blessed to be pastor of a church who thoroughly enjoys and celebrates God’s gift of music. They open any door for musical expression, and here, I have found a place to offer my musicianship in our worship of God. Plus, I’ve never seen a church with as many pianos as this one! Better yet, living next door to the church building grants me the luxury of going over at a moment’s whim to play my choice of one of those dozen different pianos.
But, a few nights ago, I had the time of my life playing one of the most gorgeous instruments I had ever laid my hands on. Here is how it happened…
Once a year, my church welds together our passion for music and mission work into one night and calls it “Missions and Masterworks”. Dr. Mack puts on the concert with all the proceeds benefiting mission work. I can’t think of anywhere else where Gershwin and malaria netting for sub-Saharan Africa come together. But in our church, they do. For the last three years, Dr. Mack has been joined by his son Robert for a duo-piano concert. They rent two Steinway concert grand pianos and set them in our sanctuary, facing one another, looking almost like conjoined twins.
For the last two years, I eagerly await these concerts. From the moment the piano movers roll in the Steinways until the last chord is played, I am like a little kid in Disney World– wide-eyed, open-eared, ready to run and soak up every moment. It’s seems almost too good to be true having two gorgeous instruments like these with classically trained pianists who master their performance… all in my church!
But here is where my story really takes shape. Late Friday night, well after the concert was over and the lights were off, I walked over to the sanctuary where those Steinway pianos were still sitting. I had all the time I wanted to play them. With my etude and exercise books in hand along with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”, I sat down in front of one of the Steinways to play… all by myself in the quiet of the night. The gentle, simple, intricately balanced, clarion sound of every key I pressed rose and resonated into the chancel area where they sat. In a rare moment I shall not soon forget, that piano swept and held my spirit. It even seemed to carry along my mistakes with its gentle, graceful tones. It was as if that piano beckoned my hands and heart, sweetly calling, “Keep playing… Swim through my sound. Let me take the movements of your fingers, your hands, and your feet, and sing for your soul.” Novice of a player that I am, the piano seemed to help me play through passages I haven’t been able to play before.
I must have sat there in front of that piano for well over two hours. It was all I could do to leave it. But when the reality hit me of how tired I was and how early the morning would be, I knew it was time to go home. Getting up and walking away from the piano was like parting a good friend I might never see again. Yet as I walked home, those feelings of rapture diminished any feelings of grief. It was an experience, simple and yet deeply profound– one that will linger with me for quite a long time.
Being raised in a musical home by musician parents and grandparents, the appreciation and performance of music was a given. Not a day goes by that I don’t stop to deeply listen to some form of music and find myself singing or playing. My home is a musical haven now, filled with instruments, CDs, singing, and playing. Yet moments like that Friday night remind me how deeply spiritual of a thing music is. Music, I believe, was one of God’s first creations. It began the moment his first creatures raised their voices in praise or tapped their feet with any kind of rhythm or pattern. Humanity has revelled in its soul-stirring power ever since. It took a Steinway piano in a late night quiet sanctuary to remind me once again.