The babies were sleeping; one of them, simply because she just normally dropped off about this time of the evening; the other for some mysterious and miraculous reason. It was after all, his common practice to stay awake half the night, demanding attention from either his mother or me. Whatever the cause, there was no way that I wanted either to awaken at this moment. But I needed to practice my horn. A wedding performance was fast approaching and the preparation opportunities were few and were spread far apart. I had to put in my time to be ready to play. I knew what had to be done, but my brain rebelled. “You’ll just have to use it,” the Lovely Lady encouraged me. “I hate that thing!” I blurted, bringing a rustle of bedclothes from the next room, as the infant in the nursery jumped at the sound of my voice. Lucky for me, he settled back down again, but I knew my objection was for naught, and I soon found myself sitting in the kitchen, practicing silently…almost.
The hated thing was a practice mute. My French Horn is normally not a quiet instrument, but necessity being what it is, I had purchased the mute a few months before for just such an eventuality. The mute had a cork ring encircling the cone-shaped nose, where it was held in the bell of the horn. The cork ring completely stopped any air from escaping, as the horn was played, effectively silencing the noise. It was a device which was guaranteed to torture any horn-player. You see, contrary to what parents of beginners on the instrument believe, the tones of the horn are amazingly mellow and inherently pleasant, with the pleasure increasing as the player improves his breath control and support of the air pushed through the instrument. The practice mute ruins that completely. The natural tone emanating from the mute is almost inaudible and amazingly edgy. To top it off, no single note that sounds is in tune with the one played a second before. It is a completely unsatisfactory experience, as the back pressure developed by the sealed up horn builds uncomfortably.
As I sat by myself, my chin dejectedly resting on the lead-pipe of the horn, I had a sudden flashback. I remembered Mr Marlar, my horn teacher from years before, resting the back of his hand on my stomach as I played a passage for him. I was surprised, to say the least. Not one of my teachers had ever touched me on the stomach. What he said changed the way I have played from that day, though. “You think the sound of the instrument comes from between your lips and the bell of the horn. It doesn’t. The real tone of the horn comes from inside you. It starts at your diaphragm and goes from there. The throat, the tongue, the mouth…they’re all secondary to the support in your core. The horn is even less important than any of them.” He smacked my upper belly and said, “It all starts right here.”
Now, a few years later, as the light dawned once more, I found myself concentrating, not on the sound from the blocked bell of the horn, but on the basics; support at the diaphragm, opening the throat, shaping the mouth. I got a huge surprise! The tone of that closed up instrument improved in an amazing way; the notes fell into tune with each other; I was quickly well on my way to being ready to play for the event. A day or two later, when I was able to practice without worrying about the noise level, I got another surprise. Without the practice mute, and still remembering the basics, with the tone of the horn coming from deep down inside of me and not merely from the horn itself, the improvement was almost miraculous and mind-boggling. I don’t think I had ever sounded so good. Who would have thought it?
Recently, the Lovely Lady and I sat and watched a televised performance of a legendary violinist. Itzak Perlman is recognized by many to be one of the finest talents to come out of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Perlman is Israeli born, having been stricken with polio as a child, necessitating the use of crutches for walking. He is by now, an old man, and has earned the privilege of coasting through his golden years. He does not. If he were arrogant and condescending about his stature, no one could blame him. He is not. As we sat and took in the beautiful, emotion-ridden performance, I couldn’t help but be struck by one thing; This man plays from someplace deeper than his bow and violin. The performance doesn’t come from his instrument. True, he plays an incredibly costly Stradivarius violin, built during that legendary maker’s best years. The bow which he draws across the strings of that valuable violin would cost well more than the most expensive instrument I have ever sold in my music store. But, when this master plays, I believe that he could be playing on the cheapest of Chinese imports, with a warped and unbalanced bow, and lesser players would still rave at the resulting beauty. The music comes from someplace deep down inside him. And, it’s even deeper than the core that my teacher encouraged me to develop. That was simply a mechanical function, learned by repetition and concentration. When Mr. Perlman performs, the music is from his soul. I watched his body, crippled as it is, move in concert with the strokes of the bow, in rhythm to the orchestra and its conductor. Across his face, the joy that comes from doing that which he was created to do is unmistakable. Soul and body respond to the call and the result is a pure delight, both to the performer and to the audience. As the performance draws to an end, and the crowd stands, as one man, to its feet, cheering wildly, I surreptitiously wipe the tears from the corners of my eyes. I wouldn’t want the Lovely Lady to see and think me unmanly. (I think she may already have noticed.)
I don’t believe that Mr. Perlman is the only person who performs from his very soul. Not by a long shot. I actually am confident that all of us do (or are meant to do) that very thing. We certainly don’t have to be musicians to experience it. We don’t necessarily draw the performance out in front of millions of adoring fans, perhaps don’t even have one adoring fan. But, what is in our soul and heart will come out, because it is how we are put together. My mind springs to the couple who faithfully teaches young children, year after year, loving every single one who is in their care, however briefly. I’m remembering a pastor who preached and sang until just weeks before he left this earth, singing his beloved old hymns in his deep, bass voice. There are teachers, and craftsmen, and even janitors who draw the joy in what they do from deep within. I am also aware that many who work at jobs do so only to exist. The job is not who they are, is not what is truly in their souls. Even so, they find avenues to express their hearts. I’m aware that the way in which our souls are expressed can also change drastically throughout our lives. Many artists don’t ever lay brush to canvas until they are old; writers frequently blossom in their golden years. In some ways, this harkens back to a subject I wrote about recently. Gifts are given to us so that they may be shared; not hidden, nor hoarded.
Our Creator has made us unique. None of us is just like another. I love the collage that the Great Artist is assembling. Gifts that are as dissimilar as they are significant abound. And, as His artists, we stand out as bright spots on the canvas. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Shine, then, as lights in the universe. Show the world your soul!
“Ordinary riches can be stolen; real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”
(Oscar Wilde~Irish poet~1854-1900)
“I believe that God has instilled in us a craving, a deep desire to run with Him on a fantastic adventure, yet many of us crawl along in life without even a glimpse of our hidden passion.”
(Bryan Davis~Author of Christian fantasy stories)