THE PIANIST AND YOU

When I was a young girl, my mother signed me up for piano lessons.  I enjoyed playing at the piano, but I had a hard time following the music.  Mother would clap her hands in time with the music and I tried to play the scales, etc. but to no avail!  She would become frustrated and I would become tearful.

Linda practicing piano with Mom watching in mirror
Practicing the piano with my mother watching, as reflected in mirror on the wall.

In my own defense, I didn’t understand fractions, so it was hard to figure out the quarter notes!  But, the reality was that I enjoyed playing the songs by ear.  But, if I could hear the song, I could then play at least the melody … but probably not in the key in which the music was written.  (In fact, this is still the way I play the piano!)   

Years ago I read an Internet article about a little boy and Paderewski, one of the most famous and popular pianists in the world.  Ignacy (sometimes Ignace) Jan Paderewski was born in Poland in 1860 and lived until 1941.  Like my mother, his teachers thought he would never be much of a pianist.  My mother was correct:  Paderewski’s teachers were not!  He persisted and in 1885 he began his musical career exhibiting his skill and personality as he took the world by storm.

History records President Franklin Delano Roosevelt calling him a “Modern Immortal” in 1932 and in 1934, Charles Phillips wrote a book entitled The Story of a Modern Immortal, and included these words in the introduction:

“It is difficult to write of Paderewski without emotion. Statesman, orator, pianist and composer, he is a superlative man, and his genius transcends that of anyone I have ever known. Those of us who love Poland are glad that she can claim him as a son, but let her always remember that Ignace Jan Paderewski belongs to all mankind.” 

See more about this brilliant musician in an article at http://pmc.usc.edu/composer/paderewski.html

While checking to see if the story that I read had occurred or was fiction, I found a 2003 blog entry by Steven P. Wickstrom.  Here is his post which encapsulates the ideas that I wanted to express. 

The story is told of the great classic pianist and composer Ignace Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) who began his piano lessons at the age of six. It is said that when he was 12, he entered the Warsaw Conservatory and six years later at the age of 18, was appointed a professor there. He was a consummate master of the piano and had a brilliant career as a concert pianist, playing to enthusiastic audiences all over Europe and America.  

As the fictional story goes, he was preparing to give a concert one evening when a group of admirers came to the concert hall. One of those was a mother with her young son who was quite reluctantly taking piano lessons. She thought that by bringing him to hear the great Paderewski he would gain a renewed interest in the piano.  

The young mother turned to her friends and was engaging in a conversation while the young boy was getting bored. The little boy left his seat and wandered away. Seeing a door marked “No Admittance” he promptly went right through. He found himself on a stage with a piano in the center. His attention was drawn to the beautiful ebony grand piano with its glistening white ivory keys.  

Suddenly the curtains parted and a spotlight lit the grand piano. The mother returned to her seat only to find that her son was missing. Then to her horror she spotted him on stage sitting on the piano stool reaching for the ivory piano keys. He started playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”  

Paderewski quickly strode up behind the boy on the piano bench, sat down beside him and put his arms around the boy and began playing a counter medley as he whispered in the lad’s ear, “Go ahead, keep playing, you’re doing great. That’s it, keep it up. You’re okay, don’t listen to the noise or the audience. Come on keep going.” The audience was mesmerized as the master played alongside the novice. When they finished, the audience exploded in applause.   

****  

Even though that story is pure fiction and never happened, there are some lessons that we can learn from it.

A lot of what we do for the Lord in our own strength is a lot like playing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star in a concert hall all by ourselves. If we are to accomplish anything worthwhile for Him it is going to have to be with Him. As we play on the piano of life we desperately need His wisdom, strength, and power. All the time that we are playing our tune, the Lord, the Master Pianist, comes along and leans over and whispers in our ear, “Go ahead, keep playing, you’re doing great. That’s it, keep it up. You’re okay, don’t listen to the noise or the audience. Come on keep going.” And in that moment He gives us Himself.   

Step up to the piano of life and play whatever tune you know. God will sit down beside you and turn your music into something beautiful that will bring glory to Him. It is only together with God that beautiful music is created. Don’t worry if you think that you have no talent, it is God’s talent that people will see and hear. Together with God, we can play a concert that will bring many people to the Lord. *

Scripture is very clear – as a Christian, as one who believes in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation, it is my responsibility to live a life according to the Lord’s commands and to glorify God in all that I do.  The problem is that I cannot do that on my own or in my own strength.  So, we receive the strength to do so from Him.  Jesus expressed this concept in this way:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  

John 15:5

Of course, we are able to do things in our own strength.  But, if we want to do that which will count for eternity, we must work in His strength because apart from Him we cannot bear fruit for Him.   

Play the music, sing your song, teach your lesson, give your speech, and help others, all in the power of the Name of the Lord.  Let Him enable you.  Live connected to the Vine and your life will be eternally meaningful because you will bear much fruit.

 

Father, enable me to see when I am working in my own strength, even if it is doing good things for others.  Then, enable me to give control to You and Your Spirit so that the words I say, the actions that I take, all that I do will be under Your direction and with pure motives that You provide.  I praise You that You will be by my side, encouraging and enabling me to serve You profitably.  I praise Your Holy Name.

 

* Steven P. Wickstrom’s 2003 post “The Pianist” is presented here with his permission.

THE DUST AND THE SUNLIGHT

Not too long ago, we were sitting in the living room waiting for a friend to arrive for a visit. The weather outside was beautiful.

Sunlight in the trees
Sunlight in the trees

A bright beautiful day with a cloudless blue sky overhead, leaves waving in the breeze and sunlight streaming in through the storm window on the front door.

We don’t often just sit in the living room. We have other rooms for living, like the kitchen, the family room, the study, the porch, but the “living room” rather gets left out, except that sometimes we walk through it on the way to the kitchen and, less often, I stop and play the piano that resides there.

As I was sitting in the living room that day, I glanced around the room and thought how nice it looked. Things that usually were balanced on overcrowded end tables had been removed and the dining room table was clear of the mess that comes from being the first flat surface that you encounter once the outside door is opened. We never use the front door, so it was unusual on this day that it would be open, but we were waiting for our friend to arrive.

As the sun made its journey toward the horizon, its rays that were streaming into the room began to illuminate the side of the piano and I was struck at how nice the piano looked. I glanced at my watch and, after a moment, looked up. As the laws of nature would have it, the sun’s beams were no longer at the piano’s side, but now were marching steadily across the front of the piano. To my horror, what had appeared to be such rich woodwork, and what had induced my smug pleasure at such a nice looking room, revealed instead a thick film of dust covering the piano’s surface.

Piano
Piano

You may not have had this experience, but this was the type of dust that you could print your name, date and then sign it and still have some left over. I let out a visceral screech and my beloved husband said “What?” [Of course, he did not notice the dust from his angle at the other side of the room.]

I was envisioning my friend’s imminent arrival with me scrambling with the dusting spray and cloth, plunging them into my pants pocket so she would not notice when she arrived … of course, at the time I had a broken ankle and I was not able to rush to do anything and, at that moment, I was incapable of even giving my beloved a coherent response. I sat there pointing to the dust, and ultimately I was able to “suggest” that we get the cloth and wipe down the furniture in the living room ASAP! (Of course, the “we get the cloth” under the circumstances actually meant that “he get the cloth” and quickly remove the offending dust.)

After our visiting guest had gone home, I wondered how the piano could have gotten that dusty when it looked great as I passed it earlier in the afternoon. Of course the answer is that it had been dusty then too, but the light of the sun did not illuminate it until later in the day.

That led me to recognize that my life is like the piano. I can look fine on the outside. I clean up and dress appropriately; I say the right words and do the right things.  I look great, in fact … but when the Son’s light shines on me and my actions, words and thoughts, what it reveals is a bunch of filthy rags.

The prophet Isaiah said: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Isaiah 64:6 [ESV] The King James Version of the Bible translates this verse as saying that our righteous deeds are like “filthy rags.”

Jesus referenced this situation in Matthew 23:27 when, speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, he said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”

The brilliance of our Lord and His Spirit shining into our hearts, minds and souls reveals the dust of sin and the dirt of evil that lurks in the cracks and crevasses of our being. Absent the light, we look pretty good and we can fool ourselves into believing that all is right. We may even be tempted to think that Jesus is sure lucky to have us as His representatives in this cold hard world!

Perish that thought. We need His light to shine into our being and expose us for the dusty, dirty, sinful creatures that we are. Then we need to confess our arrogance and pride, and ask for forgiveness for forgetting that we have no good in us, not even one speck. See Psalm 14:3: “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Thank you, Lord, for showing me the dust on the piano and, far more importantly, for uncovering the filth in my own heart and soul. Cleanse me and wash me; then I shall be whiter than snow. Psalm 51:7

In Your Holy Name I pray, Amen.