Tomorrow morning during the worship service I am playing the hymns on the piano, accompanying the organ. I am excited and humbled to participate in the music in this way.
It is one of those tasks which I am utterly surprised I ever get asked to do again. It’s a good thing the organ is a lot louder than the piano. Even if I have enough time to practice, and even if I get all the notes right and play ultra-musically during the week, invariably I mess up on Sunday morning. To plagiarize Paul: I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not play the good note I want, but the evil note I do not want to play is what I do play. (See Romans 7:18-19.)
So for me, playing the hymns in church is an exercise in asking forgiveness in advance. I ask God to redeem the foul notes and turn them into heavenly harmony.
I have extra praying to do for tomorrow morning, because the first hymn, “Make Us One,” does not fit with my classical music training. It starts in the key of C. Easy – no sharps or flats! But right there in the second line, it changes up and tricks my fingers. The keys I’m supposed to play produce beautiful, if unusual, harmonies. But the keys my fingers find produce harmonies that are just way too unusual. And then, just when I had gotten used to it in the key of C, it modulates up a half-step to the key of D-flat, which has five (5), count them, five (5) flats. This is a challenge which my neuronal connections are not quite ready for. But the music must go on. Sing loud, folks! Don’t listen too closely to see if I play the double-flats correctly.
The last hymn is, by contrast, an old favorite: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” This arrangement also has a grandiose final-verse finish, with a modulation from G to A-flat, lots of gigantic chords and nifty moving bass lines, but the music director excused me from playing that. The music director is very wise.
Playing the hymns this week has been a particular comfort and challenge for me. My father is very ill. I am glad to be able to turn to these hymns, both for their lyrics and music. The challenge of playing them has given me something else to think about besides Dad’s illness and Mom’s despair. I especially like the 4th verse of “Joyful, Joyful”:
Mortals, join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began;
Love divine is reigning o’er us,
Leading us with mercy’s hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife.
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life!
So thanks, Mr. Music Director, all y’all hymn writers, Henry Van Dyke, and Louie Von Beethoven, for letting me play along this week, mistakes and all, struggling to be a victor in the midst of strife.