On a recent afternoon we stood or sat in the music store, three old musicians, swapping stories of the glory days gone by. I’m not sure if any lies were told. Life is stranger than fiction, I’ve heard, and I have thought it true on an occasion or two. If that is the case, perhaps no lies were necessary to the conversation that day.
I have followed a different path than these old pros, making a living by providing the tools of the trade for them and other in similar pursuits. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own stories, just that they have occurred in different venues.
Still, I like to hear their tales.
I found as we talked that at times our conversation became animated and loud, since each of us had something to contribute and wanted to be next in line to share his story. I think a time or two I may even have had my hand up in the air like an anxious schoolboy pleading for attention from the teacher.
Pick me! Pick me!
I need not have worried. We all got a chance to tell our stories before the session ended and I realized that the attention-getting antics of the participants may have been exactly what we were discussing anyway.
We talked, as old musicians are wont to do, of gigs–events long past–in which we have participated. There seemed to be a thread woven through each of the stories told on that afternoon. That common thread was the need to be noticed, to hold the attention of the audience.
We spoke of noisy patrons in bars and at fairs, and even of haughty society matrons who shushed the band at wedding receptions. None of us enjoy that aspect of performing.
We labor hard at our craft. We rehearse and rehearse, both individually and as a group, to be sure that the product we offer our customers is of the highest quality we can present. We work out tricky passages and quirky rhythms, discussing crescendos and fermatas–all in the hopes of pulling off the perfect performance. The thing is, we want our audience to listen while we pull off that perfect performance.
They usually don’t.
One of the participants in the discussion told us in animated fashion of the good-old-boy saloon his band played many years ago–a venue more famous for its fist-fights than for its top-notch musical acts. One more night, they had played, unheard and completely unnoticed, through several songs as an argument between two inebriated customers had escalated to include half of the patrons of that establishment. The staff had tried in vain to halt the fracas, so the local lawmen came spilling through the door to see if they could attract the attention of the combatants. They weren’t having much luck, until the sheriff walked through the door with a shotgun on his shoulder. He said not a word, but simply stood in the middle of the room and cocked the shotgun.
The band had fallen silent by that time, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The distinctive sound of the shotgun shell being chambered carried throughout the hall. No voices were raised, no whistles blown. The simple, menacing promise of those two syllables was enough. The yells, grunts, and curses of the unruly mob ceased in an instant. Throughout the bar, bloody noses were wiped and split lips sucked on as the humble and contrite men picked up chairs and tables in silence.
The sheriff knew how to get and hold attention.
Funny, as I put the story into words tonight, my mind is carried back in time. I am once again seated on a hard pew in the little red brick church in which my formative years were spent. When the doors to that church were unlocked, we were in those pews. The whole family. All seven of us. Mom, Dad, one obedient sister, and four rowdy and rebellious brothers.
It’s funny that my mind should jump from the battlefield of that profane country tavern to the sacred quiet of the little church, but I remember the sheriff and his shotgun in the church, too.
No. It wasn’t actually the sheriff, but there was a fight going on. One of my brothers and I were involved in a clandestine tussle that involved kicks to the shins under the pews and a dig or two of the elbow into the ribs. Like the bar fight, this was escalating. Until the sheriff took notice.
He didn’t wear a badge. Didn’t even carry a shotgun. But I don’t think the distinctive sound of that gun being cocked could have created any more panic than the sound the battling boys heard that morning. This sheriff had only to slide his thumb and middle finger together in a firm motion, and the deed was done.
Elbows were instantly to the sides and hands on legs. Feet came out from under the pews and either rested firmly on the floor or dangled unmoving directly below the individual lad. No shotgun in the world could have effected the change any faster.
Those boys knew what that same thumb and finger were capable of, if they came in contact with the fleshy portion of the back of the upper arm. It had happened before. The agony of being pinched in that place was almost more than the mind could bear to think about. (The reader may feel free to attempt the maneuver for him or herself if there is any question.) The threatening sound had weight behind it.
Nothing more was needed to gain their attention. Or their acquiescence.
Once again, my mind returns to the present and the conversation which had been going on around me. We spoke of methods of getting and keeping the attention of the audience. Almost as quickly as my mind has come back though, it begins to drift.
I wonder. Why is it that we crave attention? What is it within us that wants people to care about what we do and how we perform. This is not true only of musicians, but is, in spite of protestations to the contrary, the common human condition.
We want to be loved.
We don’t just want attention; we want love. Of course, the person who cannot achieve that purpose will seek other ways to gain attention, but the root desire is to be accepted and to be cared for. As babies in our parents’ arms, we sought to be the center of their world. We still seek that attention.
Some gain the attention by brute strength; some achieve it by trickery. You know both types, to be sure. Some make themselves pitiable to draw the attention of their target; others make themselves physically alluring to gain the eye of their audience. We jump. We wave our arms. We scream at the top of our lungs to be heard above the din surrounding us.
I wonder if there is a better way.
I sat one Sunday morning some months ago and watched a curious thing. Five minutes before the church service was to begin, amidst the noise of a crowd of people enjoying each other, the Lovely Lady mounted the steps to the platform and sat down to the grand piano. Unobtrusively, she opened a book, and quietly, the notes began to stream forth from the beautiful instrument. The hubbub of voices and chairs being moved around continued, unabated.
For a moment.
I can’t tell you what it was; can’t even begin to define the reason. All I know is that subtly, almost imperceptibly at first, a change came over the room. Folks who were talking animatedly suddenly grew quiet. Men who were standing up sat down. Almost in a wave, the silence in the crowd grew, while the music from the piano wound its way to our ears and into our hearts. It wasn’t a bombastic piece. It didn’t have a lot of runs and arpeggios. There were just beautiful chords and the sweet music of an accomplished musician who had selected a piece, not to attract attention, but to deliver a message of peace and joy.
No jumping up and down, no shotgun being cocked, no fingers being snapped.
Just the quiet of melody, harmony, and the Spirit of God.
It was a powerful moment.
A moment with a powerful message. The attention we need doesn’t come from our efforts to attract attention. The love we crave won’t come as we attempt to force others to love us. If we will simply do what we are called to do, faithfully and skillfully, those things will follow. Perhaps not immediately. Perhaps not even for years. But, they will follow.
I’m trying to learn the lesson of quiet faithfulness.
I may still wave my arms in the air a time or two, just to catch your eye. It’s obviously a work in progress.
Just be glad you’re not hearing the sound of the shotgun being cocked.
“Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining–they just shine.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist/pastor ~ 1837-1899)
“Everything they do is done for people to see…they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the churches; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called teacher by others.”
(Matthew 23: 5-7 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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