One of the great privileges I have had over the course of my life and ministry is the opportunity to work with some terrific musicians. For more than fifty years, now, on most Sunday mornings I’ve been able to stand before local congregants in some wonderful churches and lead people in the worship of God through music. Virtually always, that kind of ministry includes instrumentalists — musicians playing their instruments to accompany the congregations as they sing.
And, the tuning of those of those instruments is extremely important.
You may not have given much thought to it lately, but our natural ears have grown accustomed to music that is in perfect tune. When we hear a recording, download a song from the internet, watch a television program and hear the music that plays subtly in the background as some drama unfolds? The music we hear in all those examples is in perfect tune. Every instrument, whether a violin, or a flute, or some brass instrument or piano — every instrument is tuned to the same uniform and standardized pitch, commonly referred to as A440. It’s the musical pitch that corresponds to the musical note of A above middle C on a piano. If you’ve ever listened to CBS radio, on the hour, and just prior to the news? That short, bing or chime you hear as the announcer tells you the correct time is A440, a pitch that musicians use to tune their instruments.
Before an orchestra performs some symphony on a concert stage, the individual members of the orchestra take their places and prepare to play. But first, the principle violist — known as the concert master — enters to the applause of the audience. He or she plays an A440 on their violin. In turn, all the string players tune their violins to that same exact pitch, followed by the woodwinds and the brass instruments. Only after the orchestra has tuned to A440 will the conductor walk onto the stage and take his place on the podium, baton in hand, ready to lead.
The importance of uniform tuning cannot be overstated, when it comes to music. If the brass section of the orchestra is just a bit sharp, or slightly above that A440, and the woodwinds are just a tad bit flat of A440, well then, even though the string section is tuned perfectly, the orchestra will sound pitiful. No matter what the conductor does. No matter how frantically he or she beats their arms, trying to pry beautiful music out of those musicians, that conductor’s efforts will be in vain. Orchestra members who have not tuned their instruments to the standardized pitch of A440 will never add to the beauty of what’s being played, even if the notes they play are correct.
I wonder if that reality was what Pastor Robert Robinson was thinking when he wrote his verse that was subsequently set to music? He was only 22 years old, but the text that he penned in 1758 has endured throughout time as one of the great anthems of God’s church. Regardless of our denominational differences, or the tendency we may have to sort of ‘huddle up’ in our own little corner of beliefs … the centrality of Jesus Christ, the plumb line by which all other lines are measured remains the same. And the theme of our song, the constant and unifying element of our lives as believers: The worship of Jesus because of His death and resurrection.
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.