(This week is the twelfth 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 being yourself. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
(attribution unknown, often misattributed to Oscar Wilde)
“Alisha always gets to play the first-clarinet parts. It’s not fair.”
I was a bit taken aback. But I’ve noticed that teenagers tend to have a very personal, even selfish, sense of fairness.
“What do you think would be fair, Brenda?” I asked.
“Well . . . I think everyone should get a chance to play first clarinet,” she stumbled out, not so defiantly this time.
“In this piece, the first clarinet part goes up to a high G. Can you reliably play a high G?” I challenged her, already knowing the answer.
“Uh, well . . .” She shuffled her feet and looked at them. “Not really.”
“You see, Brenda, your skills are not yet up to the task. When they are up to the task, you will get a chance to do the task. That’s how band works. That’s how life works.”
I addressed the whole class. “A musical ensemble, like a concert band, is a cooperative effort. Each of us adds our musical voice to create something beautiful that no one could create by themselves. Every part is needed, every part important. It’s like the famous analogy St. Paul gave about the parts of the body (1 Co 12). All of your body parts are important. Your feet are essential, otherwise you couldn’t walk. They are not less worthy because they are trod upon. It would be silly for your spleen to say, ‘I want to be a liver,’ or for your adrenal gland to say, ‘I want to be a thyroid gland.’
“Similarly in the band, every part is essential. It’s natural and good to want to play first clarinet or first trumpet—they get the melody more often. Also, their role in the band carries some leadership responsibility. You should aspire to that. But all parts are needed. The third clarinet part completes the chords. Without them, there would be no harmony. Yes, the melody needs to dominate somewhat, but without harmony, most of the music is missing. And what is leadership if there is no one to lead? Only when there are second and third clarinet parts is there an opportunity for musical leadership in the first clarinet. Otherwise, all are equal, in unison.
“Some instruments get short shrift, like the bass drum. But the bass drum is not for dummies, and playing it does not imply ‘dummyhood’. Sometimes we fall into the error of thinking it is, but it is a musical instrument that requires skill to play well, and it has an incredible effect on the sound of the band. The bass drum can easily make or break a performance.
“Whatever part you play, it is crucial to the whole band. Play your part with skill, with beauty, with pride, and with love. We need you.
“Also, each part, each instrument, and each player has its own timbre or tone—its own unique style of expression.
“I remember my own high school jazz band when I was a student. I played lead alto sax, and our tenor sax player wasn’t all that great. Francine had a quirky personality, and most of us made fun of her behind her back (kids are like that). She wasn’t a confident player and seemed to constantly have, not a vibrato but, a sort of a nervous waver in her tone. She had a big solo in one of our pop tunes, and I was always bothered by that nervous waver. But at the same time, it gave the performance an unmistakable innocence, a vulnerability, like the uncertain delicateness of a first kiss.”
There was lots of giggling and snickering. It’s hard to imagine your sixty-year-old band director’s first kiss.
“I’ve heard professional recordings of that song, but none could capture that innocent quivering of Francine’s unsteady amateurness. We don’t have to be great. We don’t have to be like everybody else. Not only is it okay to be ourselves, it’s perfect to be ourselves. We just have to be the best us we can be.”
That was enough for my mini homily. The students were fidgeting, and I was out of ideas, so I raised my baton and said, “Let’s play!”
Life’s like that. Every one of us is important. No one is redundant. Every single person is here for a reason, even if we don’t yet know what that reason is. You have a part to play that no one else in the world can play—not the way you play it, nervous quivering and all. You’re it, baby. Don’t quit. Without you, the music just isn’t right.
Whoever you are, however insignificant you think you are, you are a unique manifestation of the Divine in this material world—an individualized piece of God. You are here for an important purpose. No one else has your tone. Only you can complete the “chords” to make the right harmony with those around you. “You are the light of the world,” (Mt 5:14). Only you can bring the Light into this world the way you do.
So hang in there, baby, and blow your own horn, because nobody else can play it quite the way you do!
You are a unique manifestation of the Divine. Let your unique sound resonate.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 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: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon.