Friday, October 26, 2007


October 26, 2007

We sarcastically referred to it as the dungeon and truly despised having to work there. It proved to be a far cry from the grandiose accommodations we had been led to believe would soon be ours. For years we had been promised a new concert hall, a brand new home for the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. As a cellist for the symphony I couldn’t wait to play in a first-rate, finally tuned auditorium. Indeed, all my fellow musicians were eagerly anticipating performing in a venue more worthy of our professional abilities. At long last we would be able to say goodbye to crowded, acoustically inferior school theaters and move into our own place, a beautifully designed music hall engineered for quality sound and equipped with everything we needed to become a world class symphony.
After years of anticipation the promise had finally become a reality and our initial concerts in our new home received enthusiastic reviews. But it wasn’t long before we learned the truth. Just because it was named “Symphony Hall” did not mean it was exclusively for the use of our orchestra. In order to pay for its construction the auditorium was made available to any other performing arts group that happened to be touring through town, which nearly always happened to be the case. And we, despite having the building named after us, were sent to the dungeon.
The dungeon became our rehearsal room. It was located beneath and behind the stage acoustically insulated from the auditorium and accessible by a long set of narrow, descending stairs. Except for a wooden floor the room was essentially a concrete box, the worst possible setting for achieving musical excellence. Even with acoustical tiles spaced liberally around the walls, rehearsals became a nightmare. At times the noise was deafening. Our ears would ring for hours following rehearsals. The brass and percussion sections were always too loud for that room and it was difficult if not impossible to hear your own instrument. Why should we bother striving to improve our artistry if no one could hear the difference? We could only guess at what the sound would be like when we were finally allowed on stage for our concerts.
After a few embarrassingly bungled concerts we began to learn that the only way to eventually achieve an acceptable performance on the stage was to carefully follow the direction of our conductor in the rehearsal room. Positioned in front of the orchestra on a podium that lifted him above the musicians, he alone was able to hear how it all fit together. By ignoring our own ears and following the baton of our conductor we could manage to achieve a result that, come concert time, would achieve a standing ovation and elicit rave reviews.
At first I admit my attitude about having to make music in such a room was less than stellar. Why bother to do your best when the results were spoiled, when the sound was ruined by our environment? But then I remembered a valuable lesson from my cello professor in college. In order to strengthen fingers, increase coordination, and improve musicianship, music students are given all types of scales and exercises to study. Practicing these is pure drudgery and most students do so with disdain. My cello professor insisted on having us perform these exercises for each other as musical works of art.
"Every note, no matter the piece, no matter the composer, no matter the setting, is a special gift," he would say repeatedly. "As a musician your gift in return is to take each note, each opportunity to play, and turn it into music. Think of every scale as a concerto, every exercise as a show piece. Every rehearsal is a performance!"
I have often been reminded of those words. They helped me survive my years in the dungeon, and they have also helped me survive many discouraging times in my life including some frustrating periods in my ministry. Every moment we live no matter what the setting, every task we are given no matter how seemingly insignificant or who we may be serving, is a gift from God. As His children our gift in return is to take each moment, each task, and make the most of it, turning it into something beautiful, a work of art, a virtuoso performance. "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." – Colossians 3:17.
Every rehearsal is a performance. But the reverse is also true; every performance is a rehearsal. As a symphony musician for eighteen years of my life, I played in hundreds of concerts, some good, some not so good, and some I'd give anything to do over correcting my mistakes. Being allowed a do-over in live music is, of course, impossible. But if we are determined to better ourselves we can always learn from every performance whether the critics rave or scowl. The same is also true in our Christian walk. We will not always please every critic and until we perfect traveling back in time I wouldn’t get my hopes up for being allowed a do-over. Learning from our experiences, however, especially our "bad reviews," is highly encouraged, and continually practicing our righteousness is a sure method of maturing in Christ. "...train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." – Timothy 4:7-8.
Let's face it, life on this planet can at times resemble dwelling in a dungeon. We are boxed in on every side by evil, imprisoned by sin, tortured by a continual nightmare of inferior performances by ourselves and others around us. Some players love to trumpet their accomplishments in a sustained fortissimo while our own achievements are obscured by the daily din of a world that has gone deaf to the voice of its Creator. The result is a cacophony of incongruous noise continuously bombarding our eardrums. At times it all seems to have been dreamed up by some mad composer. Amidst the ear-splitting chaos we may wonder if our own performance will ever make a difference to anyone. Why bother striving to improve our artistry if no one can hear us above the clamor?
In truth, the original purpose of this “symphony hall” known as planet earth has been drastically altered. Due to a bungled performance by the premier musicians who played in pristine surroundings on a perfect stage we have been shut out from a beautifully designed, flawlessly engineered auditorium and doomed to spend our earthly lives playing in an inferior rehearsal room. The promise of paradise has turned into a dungeon. But take heart my friends and have faith in the Master Conductor who hears every musician, every performance, every note, and is able to work it all together to achieve the perfect concert. It is impossible while struggling in the rehearsal room to imagine how it all fits together. But if we follow the Conductor’s baton, we know the results will be spectacular. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28.
Remember, fellow dungeon-dwellers, every rehearsal is a performance, and every performance here on this earth is a rehearsal for the greatest concert of all. One day we will be ushered out of this inferior, performance-limiting rehearsal room, take the stage in the greatest concert hall ever built, and play before the largest, most enthusiastic audience ever assembled. Only then will we fully realize the purpose for a lifetime spent in the rehearsal room. Only then will we finally experience the completed symphonic masterpiece our Lord has been rehearsing in bits and pieces with us since the beginning of creation. Until that day it is best if we keep our minds focused on the stage not on the dungeon, following the Master’s baton rather than trusting our own ears.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24.

Bill, a child of God rehearsing for the concert


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