Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Grace Notes

February 8, 2017

Today it began. Our New Horizons Band had its fall concert last November, and except for the hardy few who sign up for the January sessions, we haven't met since. It felt good to be back, bassoon in hand, string bass on my back. Ensemble groups meet at 3:00; I'm in a jazz improvisation group with three saxophonists who are way ahead of me in skill and in knowing the music theory. Jesse, our student leader, writes out a jazz line with chord notations on the board, then says, "Let's start with the third of the root note in the D7. What is that?" The others spit out the answer like it was itching to be spoken, while I'm trying to figure out what in heck he was saying. Jesse goes from measure to measure, adding chords, writing the notes on the board, then starts all over again with the fifths (no, that has nothing to do with Jack Daniels). They start playing what's written on the board, and lo and behold, it sounds pretty good! And all the while I'm plucking away on my bass, trying to figure out a bass line that fits the chord progressions Jesse laid out.

Linda doesn't like jazz. "It's a never-ending song," she says. I often have to agree with her; I've listened to stuff that has so much improvisation that there's no telling what the original melody is. But the theory behind it all-how the music itself is put together, is pretty fascinating. From the sequences of those tones we call notes, to the timing and arrangements, it is amazing how many different combinations can come from a simple eight note scale. I don't understand much theory, but I know that it is very mathematical and scientific. For example, a given note has a wave length that oscillates as a sine curve. That note's octave occurs when that sine curve is cut in half. On a stringed instrument, the octave is halfway between the nut and the bridge. That is about all the theory I know. Pretty basic.

Fortunately, one doesn't have to be a theorist to play music. It helps make a better musician, but there are a lot of excellent musicians who don't know any theory whatsoever. Sadly, I am not one of them. What I am is living proof that one doesn't have to be good at music to enjoy it. And fortunately, the church is not the only place grace is exhibited. I encounter it every week when I show up at band, a hack who will never be a virtuoso, but who fits right in with all the others who love the music they can, and can't make. Tonight I am thankful for those who dreamed of a band for people who love music, and for all those who so graciously welcome the lesser gifted into their fellowship. And I'm grateful it happens in church, too. One doesn't have to be a professional Christian to benefit from and enjoy the blessings of salvation. It's all about grace; there's nothing like it! Now if I can only get my bassoon reeds to quit sabotaging my efforts in that arena!

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