The other day, I got a text message on my phone from one of my sons. And attached to that text message was a short video of my ten-year-old grandson practicing the piano. Several months ago, he decided he wanted to learn to play piano. They’ve got an old, out-of-tune upright piano at their house. So, his folks found a good teacher for him, and he started taking lessons and practicing on that old, out-of-tune upright.
But, Christmas this year, my ten-year-old grandson found a new electronic piano under the tree with his name on it. And the video my son sent me was a short segment of my grandson, Silas, playing a simple Mozart piece he was practicing on his new piano.
Seeing him sitting in a room all alone, focusing on notes and keys and music caused my mind to wander back, in my life, to my own beginnings on the piano. I was seventeen when I first began playing on our old upright piano. I still play a bit, but I’m far from an accomplished pianist. I know that. As I reflect on my life with piano, and the correlation between my journey in music and my journey in life, a few thoughts come to mind.
I guess seventeen wasn’t what you’d call an early age to start playing piano. Some people started taking lessons when they were even younger than my grandson Silas; I’ve seen videos on the internet of some little kids who were not more than four or five, in fact, playing some amazing pieces. No. I wouldn’t say I started playing piano at an early age. Seventeen wasn’t early. But it wasn’t late, either. The important thing wasn’t my age, but my ‘starting.’
And, of course, if I wanted to become accomplished as a pianist, I’d have to practice. The more I practiced, the more I needed to practice. The better you get, playing some simple Mozart piece, the greater the challenge for the next piece of music, something more demanding. To be successful as a pianist — in fact to be effective and impactful in life — the learning never stops; and neither does the practice. Watching the short video of my grandson made me smile, because I remembered in my own life, sitting by the hour, practicing.
The discipline of practice demands and develops maturity and dexterity. Doing something over and over again causes muscles to have memory, I guess you could say. The reason young pianists have to become skilled at playing their scales, over and over again? The next time you hear some classical piece, notice how much of the time the music consists of scales, up and down, fast and slow. Once you’ve practiced a major scale, say in the key of F sharp nine thousand times? Playing that same scale when you see it in a piece by Chopin isn’t nearly as difficult. Being skilled at the art of creating wonderful music comes through the discipline of practice.
I must confess that I’ve watched that video of my grandson practicing a dozen times or more. I don’t watch it because I like the simple Mozart piece. Quite honestly, the music he’s playing is inconsequential to me. It’s the ‘player’ I’m enjoying. I’m very proud, as I watch that video of Silas. Something very important is obvious to me: By deciding to practice, Silas was deciding NOT to do something else; some other activity that might be more fun, or exciting, or interesting. It’s always that way. Practice is arduous work. And to become skilled as a pianist, practice has to be a priority.
Wouldn’t it be great if practice was a priority in the life of a believer, too?
Brother Lawrence was a man of humble beginnings who discovered the greatest secret of living in the kingdom of God here on earth was the art of “practicing the presence of God.” As a humble cook, Brother Lawrence learned an important lesson through each daily chore: The time he spent in communion with the Lord should be the same, whether he was bustling around in the kitchen—with several people asking questions at the same time—or on his knees in prayer. He learned to cultivate the deep presence of God so thoroughly in his own heart that he was able to joyfully exclaim, “I am doing now what I will do for all eternity. I am blessing God, praising Him, adoring Him, and loving Him with all my heart.”
I don’t know how old Brother Lawrence was, when he first began to practice learning how to bless God, praise God, adore God, and love God with all his heart. But his skill grew every day because he exercised those spiritual muscles; like a young pianist practicing his scales, over and over again, until he could worship God in his sleep. He even wrote a book about it: The Practice of the Presence of God. That kind of Practice … brings great joy.
And, it’s never too late start.
“In your presence, there is fulness of joy, and at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.” Ps. 16:11