My house has been filled with music lately. Most days it begins in some form before I leave for work, and picks up again (in some form) when I return in the late afternoon. I can only assume it continues on unabated in my absence, though I’m not around to hear it. I know this because of the phone calls I receive throughout the day, random check-ins and how’s-your-days with said music always in the background.
For the most part, I seem to be the only one immune to the music bug. Not so for the rest of my family. My wife caught it first, passed to her via a visit with the music leader at church. They were starting an instrument ensemble. My wife played the trombone in high school. Would be she interested in playing it again?
My daughter came down with it the following day. It was a variant—ivory keys rather than a brass horn—but just as bad a case. For the past week, she’s been practicing finger placement and note recognition at the piano in the dining room under the watchful eye of her mother.
Not to be outdone, my son has borrowed an acoustic guitar from the aforementioned music leader. He’s since become attached to it, would even sleep with it if I let him. We’re looking for a guitar instructor.
Because, you see, whether just starting out or starting out again after years of neglect, making beautiful music requires three things—time, practice, and instruction.
All three are currently missing in the musical lives of my family.
It isn’t easy for me. My nerves are already frayed to the point of snapping. I’ve just finished driving my children home from their grandparents’ house, five miles of my son’s guitar and my daughter’s singing, both trying to match the perfectly-pitched tones of the Zac Brown Band’s “Knee Deep” that was wafting through the speakers. I’d spent much of that ride with my head out the driver’s side window, trying to escape the pain.
Yes, it’s that bad.
All you would need for proof of that is to be sitting here with me right now. Each of them are scattered throughout the house, trying to find music where music is yet to be. If I were honest—and I always try to be—I could say my wife’s attempt at the trombone sounds a little like two wounded hippos attempting to mate. And my daughter’s struggle at the piano sounds much like the tortured screams of someone walking over broken glass. And my son’s endeavor with the guitar is nothing less than the musical equivalent of waterboarding.
But still I endure, as do they. Because something is going on here that until two minutes ago I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Because that was the moment my daughter yelled, “Did you hear me play, Daddy?”
“I did,” I said, and let the second part of my answer—Pretty sure the whole neighborhood heard you, too—go unsaid.
“Am I getting better?”
“I believe you are.”
“Good, because I can’t tell. Sometimes the wrong notes sound as good as the right ones. Isn’t that silly?”
“Not really,” I told her.
I suppose one would think the point of my family’s newfound musical training is straightforward—one learns to play an instrument in order to make good music. That’s where the time, practice, and instruction come into play. And yet my daughter has just shown me there is another something beyond that, a deeper and more necessary requirement.
I think learning to play music isn’t all that different from learning to live life. We try to do the best we can to make something beautiful, knowing all the while there will be a lot of the unbeautiful in the meantime.
There will be sour notes and awkward movements. Blatant frustration and unreasonable expectations. Failures abounding. And yet now I wonder if the beautiful lives we are all trying to build must be devoid of those things—if they must be perfect in order to be good.
I doubt it.
I think my daughter is right. Sometimes the wrong notes sound as good as the right ones. Sometimes a little girl struggling to play “Chopsticks” on the piano and a little boy trying to find a note—any note—on a guitar is better than even angel song.
When it comes to song and life, the point isn’t so much to play it well as it is to play it, to try and sing and dance despite the sour notes, and to believe and love and hope despite the pain that can result.
Because when it comes to God, it’s all music. Every single note.