Parable # 36: Playing Our Part in the Whole

    A Parable by Donald Lee

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    (This week is the 39th installment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about remembering that we are always part of something greater than ourselves—and we have an important part to play. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

    JOHN DONNE(Seventeenth-century English poet and cleric)

    “Albert, do you know what the clarinet section is doing at measure forty-eight?” I asked.

    “Uhhhh . . .” Long pause. Teachers are taught to give lots of “wait time” for students to formulate an intelligent answer. So I waited.

    “Uh, were they playing? I didn’t hear them,” Albert said honestly. There was a flurry of giggles in the room. Everyone knew he was in his own little world most of the time.

    “Hmmm.” I also took some wait time to appear thoughtful instead of just screaming at him to listen. Music is about listening.

    “Albert, can you play the part you have at measure forty-eight for me?”

    “Sure,” he said and enthusiastically proceeded to honk out his accompaniment part of half notes and whole notes. Albert was a reasonably skilled second-year alto sax player, but he had yet to catch on to “ensemble playing” – realizing he was part of a larger whole.

    “Quite well done, Albert,” I commended him. “Is there a dynamic marking on that passage?” I wanted Albert to “discover” the idea of ensemble playing. We call it “discovery learning.” All of us learn and remember better by “discovering” (in a sense) something for ourselves rather than simply being told something. It’s kind of like what God does with us.

    “Yea. It says p,” Albert replied blankly.

    “And you remember that p doesn’t stand for ‘powerful.’ It stands for ‘piano’—that is, softly. Could you play it softly, Albert?”

    “Yea. I could do that.” Albert was sincere, just not artistically attentive. He hadn’t learned to blend his creative efforts with the creative effort of the whole. But he did manage to play the passage somewhat more quietly.

    “Good. That’s better. Now, can we have just the clarinet and saxophone sections play from measure forty-eight? And, saxophones, I want all of you to be able to sing the clarinet part when we are finished. That means you will have to really listen to them.”

    A horrified gasp escaped their mouths and a look of terror crossed their faces. Asking junior high students to sing is worse than asking them to carry Christ’s cross up Calvary Hill. I knew that would get their attention. But when they finished playing, I let them off the hook and didn’t really make them sing. However, the exercise accomplished my objective. The saxophone players, even Albert, played their part softly enough that the clarinet melody could be heard. So I continued.

    “Most sections of the band will play this lovely melody at some point in the piece. The audience really wants to hear it. But if you play too loudly when you don’t have the melody, the music will be ruined. This is the essence of ensemble playing: to realize what part you have and to play your part so the whole creation turns out the way the composer imagined it. We need to not only perform our own part well, but also blend our part into the whole musical creation in an artistically beautiful way. The music we create together is an incredible and beautiful expression to which each of us contributes and which none of us could do on our own.

    “Now, let’s play the whole piece and create something beautiful.”


    Though each one of us is an individual soul, none of us exists alone in space and time. We are part of a larger whole. We are the hands and feet of God in the world—the clarinets and trumpets in the great band of life. We have our own part to play, our own spiritual mission, but it must blend musically with the whole ensemble. We are not an island, as John Donne said. We are all a part of the same continent. The fate of the continent affects all of us. In life, sometimes we have the melody, sometimes the harmony, sometimes the accompaniment. We need to blend what we create with the collective creation to produce beautiful music—not disrupt the music by overpowering the beauty of others.

    Are you honking out your accompaniment part so loudly no one can hear the melody around you? Or are you playing your melody so quietly no one can hear it? Perhaps you have an important harmony part but it’s not strong enough to adequately support the melody. It’s always good to ask ourselves how well we are playing our part in the whole.

    In this divine symphony of life, we are conducted by the Great Composer himself. God wants us to “discover” our own musicianship, our own unique spiritual genius, our own unique expression of the Divine within. He gives us cues, keeps us together in time, and maintains the correct balance—if we follow him. The Conductor is subtle. His method is nonverbal. We must listen with our hearts, not just our ears. Like music, life is more about listening than playing.

    As we constantly discover and create ourselves as unique expressions of the Divine within, we must blend our unique consciousness with the collective consciousness to create a beautiful expression of the Divine in the material world.

    Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series of 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website:, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.

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