I was a music major in college. I listened to music, studied it. When I was younger than that I invested in albums and spent hours listening and re-listening to songs. Somewhere in life, I stopped listening to songs. Every ten years or so, I do it now. Oh, I hear songs every day. I play songs every day. Music is what I do, but I almost never just listen to listen. Today I did it. I loaded various songs onto my phone, plugged in headphones, and headed to the soccer field where I run. My mix was everything ‘me’ : memories and favorites, vocal and instrumental, old and older.
Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A…the adagio movement began playing. I want this music played at my funeral. The plaintiff little clarinet all alone in a bevy of strings is who I am. That’s me. The clarinet introduces a series of little descending lines that go higher each time. He knows where he is headed. Then the strings take the same peacefully simple lines and roar away with them. After that, the clarinet again…so alone. The strings take over and do it big and weepy once more.
I’m reminded of my teaching ministry. A teacher speaks in the wilderness, never knowing who is capturing what. It may all be wasted. It may all be used in some glorious way that effects eternity. Who knows? Regardless, the teacher teaches. He introduces. He presents. Glory to God when a group of people pick up the melody and make it into a chorus!
As a long-term missionary, I find myself in a beautiful position. I work with people I’ve known for 25 years. I work with their children. I can tell some of the members of my brass band where they were born, because I was there. To see them use music to glorify God is a rich blessing for me. Last Saturday evening in our church’s rehearsal for Sunday morning, five of the brass band players had their instruments at rehearsal. They played along for Sunday worship. Music, sweet music to my ears.
After that first A section, the clarinet becomes more active. He’s comfortable now, dancing up and down. He’s in his element. The clarinet is unique in its ability to be so low and then so high. The basement tones are comfortable like a den or TV room. The attic notes are like a fully finished third floor. You can’t be stressed when you are up there. The clarinet moves effortlessly up and down the stairs in fits and burst. It’s surprising, frankly, the agility. I’ve been amazed at things God has done through me here in Haiti, and in life in general. He is the true Source of ministry, of music of the soul. I’ve been able to do some scales and arpeggios that I never would have imagined when I was a boy with a speaker on either side of my head listening to Rocky Mountain High.
On a good recording, you can hear the clicks of the clarinet’s keys. When he plays the low A’s and G’s, I can almost feel the vibration in the holes that the right-hand fingers cover. Music is real. It’s human. It’s spiritual too. My father gave me a plaque when I was headed to college to be a music teacher. The plaque reads: Music is a fair and glorious gift of God.
After some serious flexing of muscle, the clarinet whittles everything down so small again…almost nothing. And then, ever so gently, the initial theme returns. I am so glad it is back. We all rejoice when great things are repeated.
My life has been blessed with family and friends that remain over the years. Some people frown at growing old. I prefer to enjoy seeing once smooth faces become wrinkled. There are really only two options that exist. You can either loose someone when they are young and never see them again, or you can see them age. I’ll take B, please. Every additional year is a gift. Every Christmas. Every summer. Every life event. We aren’t guaranteed the next one, so when it comes around, that’s sweet.
Now the plaintiff little drooping lines that climb higher and higher are back. Clarinet leads again. Strings honor him again by developing his idea.
I’ve been teaching music in Haiti for some number of years, but seriously for five years. A couple of my students are teaching now. How gratifying to hear things you taught being echoed in the voices of your students.
I was a young man for many many years. Having never married, I dwelt in the ‘young man’ category for more years than many do. I played soccer and related to kids easily. Now at 50, that’s not so easy. There is more and more distance between me and the young men around me every day. (That’s especially true when we do a foot race.) I am currently the administrator for a soccer team. The coach is a young man much like I was when I came to Haiti in 1992. He’s energetic. He’s wise. He’s loving. And he is effective. I stand behind him and do all I can to equip him with what he needs to be able to do what he does. It’s my new role. I introduced the floating lines. Others picked up the melody and soared with it. To God be the glory.
The piece ends after seven minutes. The last notes are quiet. There’s no bombast. It’s a searching kind of finish…like a blind person tapping around for something…something more. Has he found it? The piece ends without a clear declaration.
What does that mean? Well, I think it means Mozart weren’t finished yet, if you’ll pardon the expression. The movement is finished, but the Concerto continues. The man continues. Life goes on. It’s one chapter. There’s more to come. Chapters are a good thing. It’s an occasion to put the book down and do something else. You’re still in it, but you hit the pause button.
I don’t know when I’ll listen to music again, but I repeat that Mozart’s Clarinet Concert In A (the adagio movement) is me. It should be played as I am laid to rest. At that point, I won’t be finished. Oh, the current movement will be finished at that point. But, the concerto will continue. Life goes on, by the grace of Jesus Christ. It’s a chapter that has gone by. There’s certainly more to come.