Piano Lessons

My son Zac entered his piano exam room and handed his books to the examiner. Zac expected the examiner to put the books on the stand for him when required — but she just put them aside and didn’t touch them again. She must have thought that he was confident — and perhaps he was, since he ended up playing his pieces from memory (not his primary intention) and got an A. I told him afterwards that he should thank God everything worked out, but if he didn’t learn from his mistake he may not be so blessed in harder exams.

I learnt two main things from my own painful years of piano lessons. Firstly, listen carefully to what you are asked to play by your teacher or examiner, or you end up with your ear chewed off or you receive a poor grade. Secondly, heed knowledgeable advice and sensible correction, resulting from years of experience.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. – Prov 14:12

Imagine if you are asked to play a particular scale, but instead you play another one because you think it is more difficult and you want to impress the examiner. You are told to stop, to focus and only play what you are asked. However, you do not — you will not. You don’t feel like playing that one today. You choose to play what you want again...and again. It seems absurd, right? But isn’t that what we do each day? We think we know what is right or what works, what we need to do to succeed or get our way or help someone. We think we are in control, when in reality we are not. We believe we know what is best, when the opposite is true — ‘the path to failure is littered with good intentions.’ “I thought my way would work perfectly even though it's at odds with God’s plan,” I justify to myself. “I never meant any harm...” But my way fails; I still harm and hinder when I mean to help. The new man struggles to be heard when the old man keeps shouting him down — until a change of heart.

...whoever heeds correction shows prudence...whoever heeds correction gains understanding. – Prov 15:5,32

I used to act as if the solution to overcoming a hard passage in a piano piece was to barrel my way through it, from start to finish, and somehow get it right. Of course that did not work, and the sections I knew well were reinforced, and the section I kept getting wrong did not improve. I became frustrated and angry. I was banging my head against the wall of my own obstinacy. The truth was that I had to focus on the problem area, check my fingering, slow down, and practise multiple times until I played correctly and consistently the bars with which I struggled for so long. Only then would I start from the beginning and play through at the right tempo with the appropriate dynamics. Even then, sometimes I would still stumble! ‘Practice makes perfect’ is true — but it must be done properly, or you’re surely wasting your time. If I had not followed my teacher’s advice, I would not have learnt how to correct my mistakes and grow beyond them.

With the arrival of rainy season, we are repeatedly warned not to drive through flood waters, regardless of how shallow they appear, or how you had ‘gone through heaps of times before’, or how desperate you may be to get home. Yet time and again, people will try despite the danger — a few barely make it, some have to be rescued, and sadly others drown. The same can be said for swimming safely ‘between the flags’. And then there’s drink driving and speeding, which we are reminded often through graphic ads and accident reports on the news. Of those who survive to be fined or suspended, unfortunately too many don’t learn from their experiences and end up dead eventually — or worse still, they also take innocent lives with them.

If there are severe consequences for human frailty and carelessness, how much more important it is for our spiritual lives that we heed and practise what God teaches us. Let’s be diligent in listening to and obeying what God says to us every day, and let us be conscientious in following the paths He has marked out for us.

Editorial by Andrew Chan


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