It’s been 15 or 20 years since I played for a worship service and over a year since I’ve touched a keyboard that wasn’t attached to a computer.
I’ve never played most of the praise choruses we sing now, and a week doesn’t give me a lot of time to learn.
The church doesn’t have a real piano. It’s an electronic keyboard, and I’ve never played one. Besides that, Stacy stands up to play, and I don’t know if I can do that.
“Okay,” I said, “as long as we can sing out of the hymnal.”
“That’s fine. We’ll sing whatever you feel comfortable playing. Our regular practice is tonight after the men’s group finishes meeting.”
“Great, I’ll see you then,” I said and then thought What have I gotten myself into.
On the way home I told David what I agreed to do and shared some of my concerns. He was positive and reassuring and didn’t seem to think it was a big deal, but he doesn’t have the baggage I have.
I learned to read music almost before I could read words, and I played the piano in Sunday School before I started junior high. (I know it’s called middle school now, but I lived in the “old days.”) I took lessons and became a pretty good classical pianist, but I played it safe and didn’t take the risk of putting myself into my music. Like all the other areas of my life, I wanted the instructions or the sheet music in front of me. Because of my fears of failure and/or criticism and a teacher who insisted that I “play it as written,” I never really became a musician.
As an adult, I more or less left my music behind for a while. We had a piano at home, and I played for my own amusement, but when asked if I could play a certain song, the answer was always the same: Only if I have the music.
Then, as I approached my 40s, I had a mid-life crisis of sorts and started to re-discover music. I went back to college to finish my Bachelor’s Degree and to study music education. Once again, I took piano lessons, but this time from a graduate student who tried to teach me the importance of putting myself into the music. I was beginning to make progress, but then my marriage broke up, and I had to turn my attention to making a living. Music moved to the back burner again. Oh, I continued to play. By then I was the pianist for a small church, and I occasionally risked an ad lib or two, or I worked up a new arrangement of a golden oldie, but generally I played it safe and played it as written.
Later I moved to a much larger church that had more accomplished musicians than instruments, so I went back to playing mostly for myself. Then Mom and Dad moved in with us, and the piano sat idle while I devoted myself to caregiving duties. When we left Florida last year, neither the moving POD nor the house in Texas had room for the piano, so we donated mine to a small church.
When I walked into rehearsal Sunday night, I was carrying my baggage, but I couldn’t help but smile. David had apparently shared some of my fears, and one of the men was lowering the keyboard. Lacking an adjustable piano stool, he got creative and nested two stacking chairs to achieve the perfect bench height. As soon as I sat down and put my hands on the keys, I felt almost at home. Like riding a bicycle after a long time, the muscle memory and the automatic responses took over. Some of the praise band was absent, but the violin, drums, and voices blended with the keyboard, and performance anxieties took a back seat to praise and worship.
I practiced by myself once more during the week to check some tricky chord progressions and to work through a couple of difficult rhythms. I expected to be really nervous by Sunday morning, but instead, I looked forward to worshipping with my church family as usual. The only difference was I’d be worshipping with my hands instead of with my voice.
I thought about a conversation I had with David several years ago. I mentioned in a previous post about the Parable of the Talents that, although David loves music, it’s not one of his talents. He frequently breaks into song around the house. Sometimes it’s a classic hit from the 50s or 60s, but quite often it’s a hymn. One day he asked a question.
“I wonder what my singing sounds like to God,” he said.
“It sounds beautiful,” I said. “He knows you love Him and that you’re singing from your heart. He said to make a joyful noise (Psalm 100:1). He didn’t say it had to be a beautiful noise. Besides, He gave you the voice you have, so I’m sure He’s pleased when you use it.”
I also thought about an e-mail I received from a friend after she read my Parables post. She referred me to Steve Brown’s April 11 teaching on Key Life broadcast in which he said the Parable of the Talents was about taking risks. He said the Master was displeased with the servant who buried his money not because he failed to produce a profit but because he failed to take the risk of trying. Steve said that if the servant had lost the money in a poker game, he would have been commended for at least taking the risk.
As I sat down at the keyboard Sunday morning, I made up my mind to once again take a risk with what I’ve been given. I took the risk of embarrassing myself by making mistakes for everyone to hear, and I made a joyful noise. I don’t really know how I did. I couldn’t hear the keyboard in the monitor for all the noise going on around me, but it sounded joyful and it sounded like worship.
Later that night I was reading Anne Lamott’s new book Some Assembly Required, and I read these words:
The hymns are bigger than any mistakes; you fumble around with the hymnal and sing the wrong words—sometimes I’m on the wrong verse—but the hymn expands to make room for each voice, even yours.