I am the instrument.
I’m trying to remember the first time I heard the words. It must have been in high school, muttered by a friend in the choir as he prepared for a contest. One never knows what tools will come into play when the self image needs a boost.
I’ve heard the words a few times since.
Invariably, they come from a vocalist, to whom the words give evidence there is no additional accoutrement necessary to accomplish his or her artistry. Somehow, even though I’m sure no such thing is intended, it seems—almost—a mantra, calculated to cause jealousy in the heart of any lowly instrumentalist within listening distance.
Oh, if only I didn’t need this stupid guitar (or horn, or piano, or…) to make my music.
I wonder—do vocal teachers make this a part of their curriculum, a required piece of information which all students must practice saying daily, much as they practice their scales or vocalises?
Have you said the words today, choir? Say it with me, “I am the instrument!”
Ah, I’ve got your attention now, don’t I?
Finally. He’s going to write something controversial.
Now we’ll get some angry comments, won’t we?
I hate to disappoint, but this little essay was opened with the introduction of that catch phrase merely to make a point. The point is fairly simple:
I am the instrument.
Yes, I know. We’ve covered that.
But, have we?
There is more to be said. The words don’t apply only to vocalists. They’re not even exclusive to musicians.
Even if you can’t tell a C chord from a rip cord, you are an instrument. Even if you hate every genre of music known to man, you are an instrument.
You are an instrument.
I have worked in the music business all of my adult life, and I’ve listened to a fair number of musicians. Maybe more than a fair number.
One customer suggested to me the other day, after hearing an amazing guitarist in my music store, that I was fortunate to be able to hear so many accomplished musicians come and go.
He is right.
But then, there is the flip-side of that coin.
As often as I hear the talented and disciplined musicians, I have to endure those who only think they are good. The cacophony is horrific at times. It is all I can do to keep from clapping my hands over my ears. It has been true of both instrumentalists and vocalists.
Did you know that an instrument is only as good as the one playing it? Beautiful music or ghastly noise can come from the same instrument, depending on who is manipulating the equipment.
I have heard cheaply made, even defective, instruments played beautifully—beyond what one would believe are its capabilities.
I have heard the shrieks, almost of pain, from some of the finest and most valuable instruments imaginable being manipulated by untalented hands.
Hmmm. Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye—or ear.
In an earlier era, the folk singer Bob Dylan reminded us of the not-so-subtle truth beginning to peek through in our conversation here. He croaked the words (in an almost tuneful way)—Gotta Serve Somebody. His mumbled lyrics echoed the words of the Teacher, who made it clear that no one could serve two different masters. (Luke 16:13)
One way or the other, we will serve.
The Apostle suggested that we are better off if we don’t loan ourselves out for evil purposes. (Romans 6:13) The result of that collaboration can only be ugliness, raw and angry. It’s not the stuff of harmony and spectacular beauty.
The Master Musician has the talent to make the most insignificant of instruments create the most exquisite harmonies ever heard. But, unlike the inanimate instruments we employ on whatever whim takes us, His instruments get to choose who will take them up.
It’s not about arrogance—only the finest instruments being held in the hands of the Master—but about humility. Frail and battered, out-of-tune and muffled—all can make glorious music in His hands.
I want my choice to be a wise one.
You see, I love beautiful music—sweet music—music that touches the heart.
That kind of music only comes from the hands of a Virtuoso.
I will be held by Him.
I am the instrument.
But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s Hand.
(from The Old Violin ~ Myra Brooks Welch ~ American poet ~ 1877-1959)
It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.
(Johann Sebastian Bach ~ German composer ~ 1685-1750)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.