Some of you will know that I am a bit of a musician. I say “a bit” because I have met real musicians and I know the gulf between my talent and theirs. I learned piano to Grade 5, which was the level my parents gently but firmly insisted I should attain. Coupled with this foundation, my ability to play by ear enables me to do quite a lot, but I couldn’t cut it on the professional scene. I have watched James Pearson from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club and though I know I can provide good quality entertainment, there really is no comparison!
The same goes for my guitar playing. I often get told that I am a good guitarist, but the truth is all I can really do is strum a rhythm. Because I taught myself to play, I have a lot of bad habits and because I have a demanding and satisfying day-job, I don’t have the time or drive to learn the more difficult chords or scales. My musicality means that I can busk my way through most songs but I am certainly no Gary Moore, Eric Clapton or John Williams.
One thing I have learned through my involvement in music is a greater appreciation for the virtuosos – for those who are truly outstanding. At university, one of my friends from the Christian Union was a phenomenal guitarist. He had earned himself a place on a music degree course despite having had no lessons, having passed no exams, and not knowing any of the proper terminology. The music department offered him a place purely on his ability to play. At the end of his first year, he became quite busy as the “go to” accompanist for all of the final-year soloists! He knew how to play to draw attention to himself and his ability, but also, crucially, how to play in order to support other musicians and singers so that they could shine. (As a person, he was not one to dominate conversations, but was humble and generous in spirit, so there was coherence between his personality in life and in music.)
I learned a lot from him. I remember sitting up in the small hours and letting him show me how to play a particularly exquisite sequence of jazz chords. It was just four chords, but it sounded gorgeous. When he played it, the sequence lasted less than two seconds. When I played it, it took nearer ten – and that was after fifteen minutes of doing nothing other than squeezing my fingers around the fretboard in these new and unusual shapes! Arguably, my greatest lesson was recognising how much I didn’t know and couldn’t do! On another occasion, we listened together to a piece of music performed by someone he described as an inspiration to him, saying, “I would love to be as good as him.” It brought me up short – here was the person I wanted to equal talking about the person they wanted to equal! The gulf between my talent and theirs was never more evident!
Now when I listen to music, I hear the intricacies and complexities and marvel at them – the closeness of the harmonies, the speed of the musician’s fingers, the careful arrangement of the instruments and the clever studio production work all interest and excite me. If I try to tell my children about it they just roll their eyes and ask me to enjoy the music without dissecting it, but I find greater delight in knowing quite how amazing the musicianship really is. I thank God there is always more to know, and more glory to encounter.
May the complex beauty of the world God has given us inspire you.