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For the love of music and people

It’s recital time, one of my favorite activities.

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Three years ago I was the director of an arts academy with almost 90 students. Instructors prepared their students for recital twice a year, in the fall and spring. It was the busiest, most stressful, and hardest weeks of the year as I planned and prepared details to showcase the students’ work.

And it was the most rewarding.

There is nothing quite like listening to young and older ones progressing on the instrument of choice, seeing them grow in stature and in artistic ability. It was a happy weekend.

I retired from that position and now only plan a recital for piano students who come to my home. While it is not nearly as large an event, it is still a busy time. This was the weekend.

I make lists and plan out my strategies. I purchase supplies ahead as much as possible. I delegate when I can, but the week of recital is always busy. I try to keep the designated day free of any other obligations so I can focus on this one thing. The day ends late and I am exhausted when it’s all over.

But the sweet return for my hard work is indescribable.

Years ago I held a corporate position, a demanding job with responsibility and staff to manage. It was one of those goals I had written down years before and it somehow came to fruition. And then one day it was over and gone. Budget cuts eliminated my position, and within a week I was out the door wondering what had happened and where this road was leading me now.

On that day I didn’t have a clue that I would find myself a new career, that of a piano teacher. My love for music led me to share it with others. My fledgling endeavor started slowly, grew by word of mouth, and I’ve had many people sit at my piano through the years. Some didn’t stay long, but some did, the ones who become musicians not just students.

I got a thank-you note this week from a young man to whom I had sent a graduation gift. He was my student for a number of years. His words were so kind, remembering the weekly session we shared at the piano in my living room.

“Sometimes I will sit down and play the piano and think of all that you taught me . . . I will always remember coming to your house on Wednesday afternoons to learn how to play the piano and read music.  Thank you for being patient with me and guiding me as a young man.”

Tears sprang to my eyes as I read. You mean I taught more than note reading and theory? You mean those thirty minutes each week were important to his growing up? I am stunned.

And I am thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to share the skill someone else patiently taught to me. Thankful for that job loss that gave me something completely new. Thankful that God took my meager efforts to make a difference to someone.

Recitals are musically beautiful to me, but they represent something more. There are children growing into teens heading toward adulthood who may remember the treble clef lines as “Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge” or the meaning of allegro and andante. They might be able to play a minuet or a sonata or a pop tune.

More importantly, will he remember that I cared about the person he was?  Will she know I encouraged the person she was becoming? I hope so.

Teaching music is a skill I learned through practice, just like playing the piano. Learning to love people is a life-long undertaking that requires patience, acceptance, forgiveness, understanding, genuine interest and concern.

I haven’t always done it well. I want to do it better.

Having been loved well by people God put in my life, I know how it works, how it continues to affect me. I will keep practicing until I get it right.

 

 

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Be still

I am taking my thoughts from a song playing at the Wright House today.

Make no mistake, music is a powerful force.  It can be used for good.  It can be used for something else all together.  It stirs our emotions, reminds us of an experience, speaks to our hearts, calls us to action, gives strength to go forward.

This day I am doing spiritual battle with these words to my heart:  Be Still My Soul.

I can cease from my own efforts to set things right.  I can trust my God who knows the way that I take and has gone before me.  I am plunging headlong into the rivers of His grace.

I don’t have to be in control.  My trying is futile.  I will rest in the unhurried rhythms of grace today, releasing the worries of my mind, knowing He is in control.

water and sky

Photo by Kelly Hay.  Visit her site for more beautiful pictures.

If you want some stillness, come and join in the song.

Be Still My Soul by Don Moen

Be still my soul, Be still my soul
Cease from the labor and the toil
Refreshing springs of peace await
The troubled minds and hearts that ache

Be still my soul, God knows your way
And He will guide, For His name’s sake
Plunge in the rivers of His grace
Rest in the arms of His embrace

Be still my soul, Be still my soul
Though battles round you rage and roar
One thing you need and nothing more
To hear the whisper of your Lord

Be still My child
I know your way
And I will guide
For My name’s sake
Plunge in the rivers of My grace
Rest in the arms of My embrace

Sounds of grace

Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord.  I hear it deep in my spirit, admonition from Holy Writ.  Very Word.  Very God.

* *   Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus  * *   Blessed Assurance   * *   What a Friend We Have in Jesus   * *

How Great Thou Art   * *   My Hiding Place   * *   Rock of Ages

Praise lightens the load, brightens the outlook.  Praise drives away the demons that torment with their lies and their threats.

Praise is comely, beautiful and pleasant on the face of the saint saved by grace, the one who trusts and lays all doubt at His feet.  Gloom and despair are not the expressions of she who is completely, utterly loved.

Music fills the air, fills the heart and lifts the eyes heavenward to the One and only God whose love is extravagant, the One who gave Jesus to the world, the One who sent the Holy Spirit to comfort in times like these.

I begin to sing and my voice joins the throng of those who worship.  My heart is lighter as I look to Him and Him alone.  Let no other face or foe or fearsome enemy cloud my vision.  It is the Lord who leads the procession of triumph in the fiercest battle.

Fixing my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith, I see Him in His strength and power.  I know and believe He is all and in all.  He is not shaken nor confounded.  He is faithful and true.

He is Captain of the Lord’s host and the battle is His.  He will be victorious.

Sunday grace friends.

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Music, music, music

Last week was what I call “recitals week.”  Thus, the lack of any blogging.  My time and attention were spent focusing on the details of preparing for 40 plus Little Flock students to show off their musical accomplishments at three separate recital events.  Eleven instructors teach seven different instruments and voice at Little Flock Academy of Arts, and they work hard to prepare their students for moments like this.

As it so happened this year, my home students had their spring recital on Saturday afternoon, after all of Little Flock’s recitals were completed.  “Busy” was the word for the week. 

My heart pumped fast while the adrenalin flowed unrelenting.  There were lists to check and duties to accomplish, things that can only be completed the very week before.  My days went by fast and furious.  A good night’s rest was required when I could get it.  And I tried to give myself that necessity.

I am one of the fortunate few who gets to show off my work on a regular basis.  Recitals are such times. 

However, my part in recitals is not to be compared to the hard work done by the other instructors and the at-home-work the students do daily that can only be called what it is – practice.  The 30 minutes shared by instructor and student is only a portion of the picture.  What is done after the music lesson, at home,  is what shows on stage during the performance.  

Getting to share the excitement of each students’ accomplishments is the reward of recitals.

I noticed so many times this weekend, how a student looked to his/her instructor when the performance had ended.  It was a look of “Did I do it well?  Are you proud of me?”  I realized how much influence an instructor holds on a young life.  An instructor significantly impacts each student they teach, not only musically but in areas of work ethic, integrity, and self-esteem.  I am proud to work with the group of instructors at the Academy of Arts.  They are a cut above the average.  They take their role seriously to impart their own love of music as well as to encourage students to be the best they can be. 

Sometimes a child just needs someone to believe in him.  An instructor can be that person who makes a difference in a life.

Recitals week is hard work, intense concentration, and wearying on my body.  At the same time it is one of my favorite times of the year.  Seeing and hearing a student accomplish a new technique, move to another level, finally get that rhythm correctly is a kind of joy that is hard to describe.

I count myself blessed to be part of the beauty of sharing music with my own students.  Along with that is the joy of being part of the Academy of Arts and working with such dedicated instructors who share my passion for music and for passing it along to the next generation. 

As one of my sweet young students said last year, “Music is for life.”  And I could not agree more.

“Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre, sing praises to Him with the harp of ten strings.  Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud and joyful sound.”  Psalm 33:2-3

You are welcome to share your musical expressions here.  I love reading your comments.

Wedding bells

 

I attended a wedding last week, smack dab in the middle of December. Actually I played the organ for the ceremony. This sweet young bride had picked some very classical and traditional songs, Canon in D, Bach’s Prelude in C, Bridal Chorus, and Wedding March. She knew what she wanted. I had to wonder if this bride had dreamed of a Christmas wedding since she was a little girl.

There is an electrical tension in the air the hour before the service starts. The photographer caught a few candid photos along with some specifically posed shots.  The videographer (now that’s a 21st century word) set up the tripod in preparation.  The wedding coordinator was a flurry of activity.

The groomsmen were ushering in guests, and the groom himself nervously paced about. I had to imagine the room where the bride and her court were making final touches to make up and hair.

The music started, the candles were lit, and it was now or never for the bride and groom. The bridal party marched in. The four children came down the aisle and performed their parts perfectly. They went to sit with their parents during the remainder of the ceremony, a wise decision. Children can steal the show with their cute, childish antics.

The color theme was red, of course, with bridesmaids dressed in beautiful red satin dresses. The church’s holiday decorations of Christmas wreaths and seasonal greenery blended beautifully.

The bride marched in on her father’s arm and the groom’s eyes were on her and her only.  The mothers dabbed their eyes with a tissue.

From my vantage point on the organ bench, I usually have a bird’s-eye view of the couple as they stand at the altar and repeat their vows. They have stars in their eyes, looking dreamily at each other as they repeat things like:

for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”

If they are anything like I was at my wedding, I expected that there would never be another really bad day. After all, we were entering into wedded bliss, and just like the movies, we would live happily ever after.

Not!

The bridal couple never expects “worse” or “poorer” or “sickness.” They expect the path to be paved with rose petals, endless meaningful conversation, and romance every evening. They don’t count on bad hair days, sour moods, angry words, in-law problems, or where to spend the holidays. Who even expects the exorbitant cost of car repairs, a maxed out credit card, or the rising price of groceries and gasoline.

It’s probably best we don’t know the future, or we would gasp in fear and run the other way. God in His wisdom keeps our future a secret known only to Himself, promising His grace and His presence for the journey.

As I sat listening to the young bride and groom confess their love for one another and make a commitment for life, I prayed they would fight for their marriage, that they would not give up when it got hard, and that God would help them remember their promises.

Marriage is not to be entered into lightly. It is a covenant we make before God and these witnesses to love each other no matter what.  It isn’t easy to do.  But it is worth it when we arrive at those 10th, 20th, 30th, 40th anniversaries.  A committed marriage is a legacy we leave our children and our children’s children.  It proves to them it can be done and that they can do it too.

 

There are no final words I can give on marriage. But there are a few things I’ve learned during my almost 39 years of marriage to my Sweet William.

  • Forgive and ask for forgiveness – often.
  • Pray for one another daily.
  • Go to church together.
  • Seek godly counsel when necessary.
  • Try to understand the other person.
  • Love with deeds when the warm fuzzy feelings are missing.
  • Hold hands and laugh a lot.
  • Don’t let anything or anyone come between your hearts.
  • Keep only to each other.

And ask God to help you love like He loved you. It’s the only way it can be done.

Immanuel – The strong God with us!

I love listening to Christmas songs whether it be on the car radio, through the computer at work, or on the stereo system at home. I have an eclectic collection of Christmas CDs. I begin playing them soon after Thanksgiving – but not before. You know how I am.

Some of my favorite Christmas songs are the ones that declare the name of Christ as Immanuel (sometimes spelled Emmanuel). You can probably hum and few bars of your favorite song right now.

Do you recall this one? O come, o come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

One carol made popular by singer Amy Grant says,

Immanuel, Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor

Lord of life, Lord of all.

He is the Prince of peace, Mighty God, Holy One.

Immanuel Immanuel!

Matthew 1:23 tells us, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).  (NIV)

Immanuel, God with us. I can rest in that proclamation, lie down and sleep peacefully, walk with courage during the day knowing my God is with me.

I love discovering new things in God’s Word, nuances to meanings of familiar passages. Recently I found out the word Immanuel literally means “the strong God with us”. Now that gives it an interesting twist.

The strong God came to be with us through Jesus.  At the same time, He showed His humility, strength under control, by taking on the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and found in the appearance as a man, so says Philippians 2.

  •  The strong God, able and willing to provide salvation – yet coming in the form of a helpless infant child.
  • The strong God, not afraid to call a hypocrite a hypocrite – yet letting the little children come to Him.
  • The strong God, fearlessly clearing the temple of buyers and sellers – yet allowing Himself to be touched by bleeding women and prostitutes.
  • The strong God, speaking the Word of God with authority – yet speaking not a word in His own defense at the mockery of a trial.
  • The strong God, calming the stormy sea – yet having to be awakened from sleep because His humanity was weary.

The strong God, Immanuel, is with me, with you even now through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. I am encouraged and strengthened by His grace to carry on.

Fellow traveler, the strong God is with you today.  And whatever you tomorrows may bring, the strong God will be with you there also.

Let us walk in the faith and confidence that this one Word, Immanuel, promises.

” . . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:20 – NIV).

I’ll play for You

The Celebration Choir at Little Flock Baptist Church is combining their voices with the worship team, worship band, an orchestra, and a cast of “thousands” (maybe it was only 20 or 30 actors and directors – just seemed like thousands).  Their efforts will produced “Gloria” on Sunday, December 12 at 6 pm at Little Flock on Preston Highway in Shepherdsville, Kentucky.  I got a sneak preview on Thursday during dress rehearsal.  I first went to the balcony and enjoyed the birds-eye view with the media team.  During the second full run-through, I sat in the pew like a congregant, tapping my feet to the rhythms, moving to the groove of Swinging to the Sounds,  and feeling worshipful during songs like No Eye Has Seen and Offering.

But my favorite song of the musical is the choral version of The Little Drummer Boy. The original song was written in 1958 by pianist Katherine Davis.  It tells a story of a small boy who has nothing to give to the baby Jesus except his one talent, playing the drum. 

The choir sings a very special arrangement of The Little Drummer Boy.  Tim Gipson, Sunday morning worship leader and percussionist, joins the choir for the solo part.  He shares the spotlight with Adam Johnson who portrays the drummer boy.  The pièce de resistance is when members of the drum line from Louisville Male High School (Tim’s day job includes teaching these amazing musicians) marches down the sanctuary aisles and up the stairs of the stage, playing with precision force the Pa rum pum pum pums.  It gives me goose bumps! 

Now I’ve heard some controversy over using this particular song in a worship musical because it isn’t exactly Biblical.  I’d like to present a case to the contrary. 

Somewhere about in the middle of the song, young Adam sings so sweetly, “I’ll play for you.”  The choir and Tim later echoe the same promise.  The phrase holds much meaning for me, perhaps in part because I am a musician.  Playing for the service of the Lord has been my life since I was thirteen years old.  It is almost as natural as breathing.  I married a musician, I birthed a musician, and now I’m teaching my three grandchildren to be musicians.

But one does not have to be a musician or a singer or in the marching band to find meaning in the phrase, “I’ll play for you.”

There are dear people all around who are “playing their drums” for Jesus.  They are sending prayer requests through email.  They are bringing food to those who’ve had surgery or a death in the family.  They are making an encouraging call or sending a card.  They are stuffing church bulletins.  They are buying presents for children who won’t have Christmas otherwise.  They are giving to the Salvation army.  They are filling shoe boxes with everyday essentials for Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.  They are serving at the Dare to Care building.  They are going on mission trips.  They are preaching, teaching, giving, loving, care giving, and multiple other tasks that show the love of God to a lost and dying world.

Come they told me, Pa rum pum pum pum, a new born King to see, Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring, Pa rum pum pum pum, to lay before the king,  Pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

So to honor Him, Pa rum pum pum pum, when we come.

Little baby . . . I am a poor boy, too . . .  I have no gift to bring . . . that’s fit to give our King . . .  Shall I play for you . . . on my drum?

Mary nodded . . . The ox and lamb kept time . . . I played my drum  for Him . . . I played my best for Him . . .  

Then He smiled at me, Pa rum pum pum pum, me and my drum.”

No matter what “drum” you are playing for the Savior this Christmas season, play it loud.  Play it clear.  Play it so all the world will hear.  Christ the Lord is born!  He came to seek and to save those who are lost.  He calls us to do what He did, give of ourselves, give the gifts we have been given, give them in His name.

Then He smiles at us.

(The Little Drummer Boy as perfomed at Little Flock last year, 2009)

 

What drum are you playing this year for Jesus?  Leave a comment.  I love hearing from you.