Playing in the Key of C

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When I was taking piano lessons as a child, one of my exercises was playing scales. Of course, C was the easiest to play – all white keys. It got a little more complicated as the scales of F and G were added, one with a flat and the other with a sharp. Then, they got harder and harder as more sharps and flats were added, and constant practice was needed to teach my fingers where they should go.

Among the simple little pieces my piano teacher gave me were hymns. Of course, I began with the ones in the key of C, and mastered them pretty quickly. “Tell Me the Stories of Jesus” was one of the easier ones. Another was “Jesus is Tenderly Calling.” I moved on to hymns with one flat or one sharp. Since I learned to read music the traditional way, I read both the treble and bass clef, and didn’t know about chords or chord progressions until years later when I took organ lessons. My brain was forced to look at both clefs and relay the message to each of my hands about which notes to play.

I remember my teacher showing me each new hymn and making me study the music before I ever put my fingers on the keyboard. She would tell me to think in that particular key. For instance, if the hymn was in the key of G, she had me look for all of the F sharps in the song and picture in my mind my fingers going to the black key. I learned to concentrate on the key of the music before I ever attempted to play it. I would then play a few scales in the key of G to warm up.

The difference between flats and sharps never bothered me. I have friends who are amateur or hobby musicians like I am who tell me that they can’t play flats, or they can’t play sharps. They hand pick the hymns as those that fit their particular criteria. Because of the way my piano teacher taught me, I was never daunted by the difference.

I did freak out, however, when the hymn had more than two flats or sharps. But by using the approach I was taught, I was able to play, if not master, most of the hymns I wanted to learn.

Isn’t life a lot like playing in the key of C when things are going smoothly in our lives? We find that we travel effortlessly along the white keys of life. We don’t even have to consider, worry about, or work to avoid the black keys. But as life becomes more complicated, and challenges pop up in our musical score adding sharps and flats along our way, our fingers have to work a little harder and train themselves to maneuver in order to make sweet music. We discover that sometimes we need to stop and study what is going on in our lives, and anticipate the change in the pathway. Through prayer, contemplation, and meditation, we are able to set our hearts and souls for the change in path.

These days, my music page of life has turned from a song in the key of C to one in another key. Things aren’t quite as predictable as they have been for the past couple of years. I am facing new challenges, unknown melodies, and probably some sharps and flats in my life. I need to set my mind to think in a new key, and prepare myself for some time on the black keys.

It may not be easy, but I’m hopeful the result will be some beautiful music.

I Wish I Could Make Music

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I can make noise, and occasionally I can hit the right notes on a piano or on my baritone ukelele, but I am not a musician. I wish I were. As a child, I endured six years of piano lessons and two years of violin lessons. I never mastered the piano and failed miserably at the violin. Then, in my 30s I had to learn to play a plastic recorder as one of the requirements to become an elementary school teacher. I passed the test, but did not consider myself proficient on this instrument. However, as a teenager I became a pretty mean ukulele strummer at summer camp. But I was not a particularly good singer; hence, the idea of becoming a professional musician never even crossed my mind.

I recently attended a local jazz concert while visiting my cousin in North Carolina. The jazz group consisted of a pianist, a flutist, a bass player, and a drummer. It was wonderful. While the music washed over me and through me, I found myself focused on the hands and fingers of the musicians. How I wished I could play an instrument – any kind of instrument – with the passion and love that clearly radiated from their faces and the movement of their arms, hands, and bodies. Memories of all of the musical instruments I attempted to learn how to play in my past made me more keenly aware of the talent and gifts of this musical group.

As a teenager I loved to sing, and even tried out for a part in the musical “Oklahoma!” at my high school. I didn’t get the part. I was told my voice wasn’t strong enough and was too breathy. I sang in the chorus, but struggled through it. I was a second soprano and alto (never could hit those high notes), and found it difficult to find my part unless there were strong vocalists on either side of me singing into my ears. Later, I sang in various church choirs, but again, I had to be positioned near someone I could follow and drown out the melody in order to sing the harmony. I loved singing, but I simply didn’t have the gift, even though I had the desire to sing.

Now the only way I make music is to turn on Pandora on my computer or satellite radio in my car and listen. I especially appreciate listening to the musicians who are not only performers, but also composers. To be able to write a song, then figure out the music to go along with the words, and finally perform it while playing the piano or the guitar is something worthy of my deepest admiration. How I wish I could do it!

I sing along sometimes, especially if it’s an old favorite whose words come to me easily. And there are a few songs that I can actually pick up the harmony and pretend that I am a real musician while driving down the highway.

Music is the love song of the universe. I can’t imagine a world without it.

Someone once asked me if I believed in God. I answered that, yes, I do believe. This was followed by the follow-up question, why? My simple answer was:

Because I believe in music.