Some Thoughts During Advent.

I sat in the back row of a Presbyterian Church, thinking about all the things I needed to do: grade, read drafts of newspaper stories that should’ve been finalized four days ago, plan lessons for the week, holiday baking, practicing the piano. It’s not that I resented being at the church, or performing, or even sitting for an hour and a half listening to Christmas music, but I started to wonder why I was there.

Why do I listen to music? Why take time from my work, my life, my leisure time to sit in a church sanctuary and listen to a bell choir play Christmas carols and choirs sing praises? What drives this group of people from all different faiths to sit and listen?

My shoulders hurt, my eyes are heavy–I’m in pain and yet I’m sitting there looking for something, trying to feel anything to ease my harried mind and body.

I have worries, though Jesus tells me not to worry. He tells me to “cast my burden upon him” and he shall sustain me. But I don’t feel sustained, so I sat there, begging for spiritual sustenance to work its way into my heart.

By the third song, I remember why I am there: God’s word and the story of Jesus’ birth and the music that accompanies that story lifts me. I let myself fall into the comfort of carols, and I remember that, at least for an hour and a half, everything else can wait.

My shoulders still hurt, and though exhausted, I still have so much work to do. I’d planned on doing that work after the concert. But now I’m writing, in last year’s Christmas PJ’s, by the light of my Christmas tree. I’m warm for the first time in hours, and I remember that I will have time tomorrow to complete the work that, three hours ago, I was convinced had to be done tonight, regardless of how late it might take. I remember that sometimes, sleep is more important.

Why do I listen to music? Take time from my work, my life, my leisure to listen or perform? Because it reminds me that there is more to me–to everyone–than work and life and leisure. The sheer number of people that this non-huggy person hugged tonight is a testament that music somehow links our souls in ways we might not be able to explain.

So I will listen to more music this week, this stress-filled week that on paper makes me want to curl up in a ball and disappear, and hope it brings me the peace and energy I need.

Beyond My Abilities

It’s musical time again, and this year is a little different. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I have a bigger role in the orchestra this year.

I’m happy to help out–and honestly, glad I can–but the enormity of what I had agreed to hit me last Friday. On Saturday, I was suffocating, so I did some math. I figured out that if I spent 10 minutes per page of music I needed to learn, it would take me 25 hours to get through the whole show once.  So every hour I am home, I sit at my piano for 10 minutes and work on one page.

It’s the kind of thing I’ve told my piano students to do before, when they are stuck on a few measures of a song. Focus in on the measures that are tripping you up, I tell them, and you’ll learn the song faster than just playing through the song a million times.

Turns out I was right.

I’m amazed at what I’ve been able to learn in such a short time. Part of it is the concentrated focus on “just one page at a time,” and I know part of it is Divine Intervention. The show opens in less than a month, and I’m trying to make up a lot of ground. Last Friday at rehearsal, I panicked, thinking I had grossly overestimated my abilities and that I really was not that good at piano.

As of right now, I’ve clocked 6 hours and 20 minutes of practice time since Saturday afternoon. I’m a long ways from show-ready, but mentally, now I know this is something I can do. It won’t be a disaster. It won’t be perfect, but it won’t fall apart.

Which is what good accompanists do in the first place.




Every now and then, my friend A.J. picks a Christmas song with a four-hand accompaniment for his choir, and he asks me to play two of the hands. I hate to admit, but some years, I triage my part. I make sure the parts where I can be heard clearly are really good, but everything else is hit-or-miss.

This year, I’ve dedicated more time to practicing than ever before, and I’m feeling really good about this year’s song. Tonight I ran up to school at 5:45 to run through the 3-minute song twice. Well worth the trip, as it gave me a chance to see how playing with the singers would mess me up (because they always do) and get a sense of the tempo I need to be practicing at.

I’m grateful for all kinds of music–the kind I play on the piano, the kind I sing, the kind I listen to. I often underestimate the power of music in my life. I need to be more grateful for it more often.