A Sense of Gratitude

A sense of gratitude provides a much-needed perspective for living.  When I think of the people who have impacted my life, their words and the example of their lives could fill pages of memories.  The following thoughts have provided insight for living and for my profession as a musician.

  • As I began my teaching career, Donald Baker, superintendent of our local school district reminded me that a teacher should be more interested in what the ball or the horn does for the boy [or girl] than what the student does with the ball or the horn. Let’s endeavor to build lives in addition to athletic and musical ability.
  •  “Whatever your hand findeth to do, do it heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men” has been my life verse, and recently I’ve paraphrased it as follows:  “Whatever you do, whatever you say, both at work and in your play, remember the One who has given this day, and live for Him as you pray.”  Col. 3:23.  Prayer is more than words, which is implied in the following line from a well-known hymn, “Now thank we all our God, with hearts, and hands, and voices.” 
  • This reminds me of words of wisdom passed on by my chemistry professor, H.W. Berkey at Bluffton College.  In a devotional message, he said, “I’m a man of prayer, but as I age my greater concern is to make my life a prayer.”  Prayer is more than the words we speak. 
  • Look to the future, remember the past, but live in the present, making memories that last.”  These lines from a song I wrote a few years ago continue to provide direction for my life, “Making Memories That Last.”  The days and years that lie ahead are filled with potential, so live each day to the fullest.  Dr. Lucien Coleman, who studied aging asserted that our mental acuity sometimes doesn’t peak until our late seventies.  At age 77, that’s encouraging information  
  • The chains of habit are too light to be felt and soon too strong to be broken. This applies not only to life, but also to music.  As a young piano student I was often encouraged to practice slowly.  Years later I realize why this is important.  If I slow  down when the notes are challenging and speed up when they’re easy to play, my muscles will remember the unevenness of my playing.  On the other hand, the even steadiness of my playing during the learning stages will be remembered when playing at faster tempos.  Muscles have memory.
  • When I was in my early forties, my neighbor, Ralph, who had just turned 78, shared a helpful insight.  He said that he can still do a day’s work, however, it might take two or three days to do it.  As I approach my 78th birthday I realize the value of his insight.
  • Years ago, I heard Richard Houck, the teacher of an 8th grade boys’ class say how important it is to place person before function.  For example, in introducing a person, he suggested, “I’d like you to meet my friend, Joe.  Too often we’re apt to say, “I’d like you to meet our postman, Joe.”  His friendship is more important than his function. 
  • At Bluffton College there was a plaque on the dining room wall that read, “There’s enough good in the worst of us, and enough bad in the best of us, that it behooves us not to speak about the other.” 
  • In working with a young person, it’s good to remember that this someone’s son or daughter.  Let’s value each person, realizing his/her worth. 
  • One of the hard things for me to grasp is the work of a criminal lawyer.  A lawyer friend of mine said that scripture comes to his aid.  “If anyone sins, he has an advocate with the Father.”  Someone who has errored in his ways needs someone to stand by him.
  • Martha Crone, friend and teacher, shared a thought provoking message to children.  After a child squeezed a tube of toothpaste, she was asked to put it back into the tube.  This was likened to words carelessly spoken, for they can’t be taken back. 
  • Ron, a former student, worked with young men in rehab.  A young man was about to go out and sow some wild oats.  His response, “When that happens, we’ll simply put up another bed here at the home.”  The young man saw the ramifications of his intended actions.  He didn’t want his kid to end up in a place like this.  Ron was able in a unique way to provide a different perspective for the young man. 
  • Without a vision, the people perish.  Another way of saying it, “Without a vision our energies dissipate.”  Someone put it this way, “A vision without a task is only a pipe dream, and a task without a vision is drudgery, but a task with a vision is the hope of the world.  
  • A friend of ours cautioned us by saying, “You can’t put a forty-year-old head on an eighteen-year-old shoulder.”    It’s a delight to see young people grow in wisdom that seems to come with age.
  • As I continue to compose and arrange music, I’ve pondered these thoughts from Igor Stravinsky:  The faculty of creating is never given to us all by itself. It always goes hand in hand with the gift of observation.  And the true creator may be recognized by his ability always to find about him in the commonest and humblest thing, items worthy of note. He does not have to concern himself with a beautiful landscape; he does not have to concern himself with rare and precious objects. He does not have to put forth in search of discoveries:  they are always within his reach.  He will have only to cast a glance about him.  Familiar things, things that are everywhere, attract his attention. The least accident holds his interest and guides his operations.  If his finger slips, he will notice it; on occasion, he may draw profit from something unforeseen that a momentary lapse reveals to him (from “The Poetics of Music,” a lecture by Igor Stravinsky, 1947, 56).  
  • Personal comment in response to the above:  By virtue of the fact that we’ve made in the image of our Creator, we have the potential to create.  All of us who have a musical background have a storage battery of sounds waiting to be combined in new ways as we improvise.  It’s like praying spontaneously.  In addition to the rich prayers contained in liturgy and song, we should express our own thoughts, both in word and in music.  Otherwise, part of us may never be expressed.  Only God creates ex nihilo.
  • Archbishop Canon Damont said, “He who marries the spirit of the age may find himself widowed by the next generation.”  A continuing challenge for those who lead is the need to help young people to see the value of roots and tradition. 
  • There’s a difference between tradition and habit.  Meaningful traditions are passed on with a sense of purpose.  One of our responsibilities and privileges is to help interpret life’s experiences for those who observe and follow.   Sometimes our actions need explaining.  To think that out actions are so great that they don’t need explaining is pride.
  • For the common things we think and say, God gave us speech in the common way; For the higher thoughts we think and feel, God gave the poets thoughts to reveal; And, for the hidden depths words cannot reach, God have us music, the soul’s own speech.  Anon.  To that we should add, “Actions speak louder than words.” 
  • I think it was Billy Graham who said, “I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a You-Haul. Why are we so often enamored by the people who have acquired great wealth or fame?
  • I was challenged one of my professors who seemed determined to undermine by Christian faith.  I spoke with him after class one day and asked, “Why?”  I challenged him with these words, “When I see some of the qualities in you that I see in my father who is a Christ follower, I might listen to what you say.”  My even more challenging question that I posed for him and for others of like mind is this, “What right do you have to tear down without helping the students to rebuild?” 
  • I’m amazed how quickly a young child learns by listening.  After he learns to read, his aural acuity seems to decrease. I heard a well-known conductor and composer say, “Throw everything you know out the window and listen.”  I realize the vital importance of listening. I value the ability to read music. However, I’ve noticed that singers who don’t read well are better at blending than those who are musically literate. The reason, as I see it, is they learn by listening. Listen skills are also important for parents, teachers, and pastors, for we need to be fully present as others speak. . 
  • Alice Parker, composer and arranger, reminded me that music is sound, not dots on a page.  What is written is only an approximation of what the composer intended.  We must provide the missing data.  In a sense we, the performers, become the co-author of a piece of music.  By listening to experienced performers we begin to learn the elements of style in a given genre of music.  This helps us provide the missing data.    
  • Robert Melcher, one of my professors defined education as a compensation for what God didn’t give to us.  What I think he meant to say is “We’re made to grow.”  The gap between where we are and where we’d like to be can be a strong factor in motivation to  learn.  His intent was not to say that God lacks generosity in the giving of gifts.  A sense of the old-fashioned word, “gumption” is one the greatest gifts. 
  • Another word of wisdom that I received is a comment by Hope Heiman.  “In an atmosphere of love a child learns quickly.”  The teacher needs to create a safe place for learning.  I would add to her words and say that all learners, regardless of age, are more likely to thrive in such an atmosphere.  During my years of continuing learning I had two contrasting experiences.  In a master class in conducting I was challenged to point of feeling considerable stress.  The professor asked, “Why do you think I’m pushing you so hard?”  His response, “Because you have great potential.”  The other professor seemed to delight in intimidating his students.  Challenging students is an important part of the learning process.  However, the student needs to know that he or she is valued.  As an undergraduate student I was honored by my chemistry professor who invited me to the front of the class and asked me questions for what seemed like a half hour or more.  He wanted me to think on my feet, and I felt honored.
  • As a teacher I’ve valued opportunities to continue learning.  I remember a workshop at which Imogene Hilyard said, “The four I’s of effective teaching are:  Intrigue, Interest, Inform, and Inspire.”   I have valued these insights throughout my career.  I’ve added another, involvement, for all of the above depend on involving the learner.
  • I remember the words of a leader who said that she sparks creativity in her students by asking them, “What if?”  For example in creating a Theme and Variations, one could ask, “How would this melody sound in minor?” or “with a different rhythm”  “or as an echo?” or “with a whole tone scale?”
  • I remember attending a choral session led by Neil Davis. He stressed the importance of having the singers realize the direction of a text.  Are we singing to others?  to God? or ourselves?
  • Another lasting impression is that of teachers who challenged us to find the focal point of each musical phrase.  Sounds are either accruing energy or decreasing in energy.  Explore different accents for a phrase like, “He is the King!”   He is the King!  He is the King! He is the King!  He is the King!
  • I’ll conclude with a most valuable insight.  As a young farm boy I had the privilege of attending  a convention at which Ariel Lovelace led us in the singing of black spirituals. He was a most inspiring leader.  Years later I had the privilege of meeting him, and I posed this question, “What’s your secret for successful leading?”  He smiled and said, “I don’t teach a song until I’m so filled with it that I can no longer keep it inside!” Wow!  What great words of admonition for all of us who lead.

Suggestion:  Take time to reflect on the helpful insights that have impacted your life, including the ones that have originated with you.  Sometimes it’s also helpful to ask a question such as the following.  What might others say to me if they were  invited to offer constructive criticisms of my leadership? 

  • As I continue to reflect on experiences and words that have provided perspective , I’m reminded of the wise counsel of a friend at a time when I felt that I was betrayed by friends.  His question to me, “How would you like be treated when you mess up?”   He didn’t say “if” I mess us, but “when.”  All of us make mistakes.  When we forgive, both the offender and the offended experience grace.  We’ve all seen people who’ve become hardened and unforgiving.  Life is too short to let bitterness destroy our days. 

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