God loves music

God loves music. He invented it.

I was thinking about music one night, and the Lord showed me a musical instrument that Tim had recently been playing in heaven.

It was constructed much like Tim’s french horn on one end (near the mouthpiece) with metallic circles. But the straight part of the horn was very long and the bell more narrow, more like a stretched-out trumpet. The horn was so long it had to be supported by a stand near the bell. I don’t know what it sounded like, but I know it would have been beautiful.

That started me to thinking about all the music that has existed throughout the centuries, and I realized –

Music existed before people did.

God invented music. There is music in space, the vibrations of moving planets, and suns and moons, asteroids and comets, the rings around Saturn, and even in what appears to be empty space.

Then there is the music of song, spoken and instrumental. I thought about every instrument ever invented, some used only a short time, and every song ever written, some sung by only one person, or only for a short time.

That led me consider all the musical varieties possible.  Even if nothing else was ever invented or composed, there is still enough music for everyone to enjoy for eternity!

Take the children’s song “Jesus Loves Me” in just one key, one voice, one rhythm, one volume, one tempo, one vocal range – C, female solo, 2/2, soft, medium, alto.  You can play it with one finger on a piano keyboard.

Vary just one element. Change the key to D. Now you have two versions. Vary one element at a time, adding a number of versions. Then vary two at a time, or three. Use two voices, change the key. Each time you change an element, you are multiplying the versions available of just that one song!

If you do that for every song ever composed, and play it on every instrument ever invented, or combinations of instruments, you will need a long stretch of eternity just for one song!

I began to imagine all those varieties of “Jesus Loves Me.” Change the mood with a minor key instead of major, perhaps. Use a calypso style. A waltz tempo. Or a full orchestral treatment, with multiple movements, key-changes, tempo changes, some verses bold and full of praise, some hushed and quiet like a lullaby. Or change the language. Just think how many languages have existed in the world, how many dialects!

Imagining so many versions of that simple little song in my mind, I began to be awestruck at the possibilities.

How God loves music! He obviously he loves all music types, praise and worship, love songs, humorous, historical, folk, classic, opera, all of it. But especially God loves worship music. Beyond the fact that music is just one form of worship, Father God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit truly love worship music.

Meditating on all this I suddenly had a mini-vision of an outdoor natural amphitheater, much like the place where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount.

Jesus was seated on one hillside, in a natural chair-shaped depression in the grassy terrain. A great multitude of men, women and children was seated on the ground throughout the valley and up the hillsides, a little space left between each one for elbow room.

There were stringed instruments of many shapes and sizes, some played with bows, some with fingers, some with picks, and some with little hammers. Horns, metal or wood, long or short. There were snare drums and kettle drums, bongos and other kinds, some played with sticks, some with hands. Then there were people holding sticks like children’s band instruments, metal and wood, thick and thin. There were so many types of instruments ranging from the primitive to the very sophisticated. Here and there in the crowd sat the vocalists, people without instruments.

All were facing the audience, the audience of one: Jesus.

The worshipers were there to express their love to Jesus in an outpouring of worship. How they loved him! And how he loved them back! I don’t remember hearing the music, in my vision they had not yet begun to play and sing.

But the view of that hillside was spectacular, Jesus loving his people and them loving him back.

Childhood Melodies

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so.”

Patty cake. Three blind mice. Row, row, row your boat. Twinkle, twinkle, little star!

Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor — no, actually they didn’t, Daddy sang something in a barbershop quartet but I have no idea what range voice he had.

Mama didn’t sing much. She loved to hear him sing, though, and when I was little and taking piano lessons, Mama taught herself the basics of playing the piano.

Music was always playing in our house, whether on radio or hi-fi (record player with fancy turntable, loadable with multiple vinyl records). Folk music, classics by symphony orchestras, musical movie soundtracks, blues and jazz from New Orleans, boogie woogie, Hits of the 50’s and 60’s, Big Band love songs and war songs — Mama and Daddy had a huge collection of long-play 33’s to choose from.

Or somebody in the house might be singing (who knows who), or playing banjo (daddy), or playing piano (me), or playing violin (brother Bud, aka Harold).

During the summer months when Bud and I spent a lot of time at our grandparents’ farm, Mimi usually had a radio on in the house tuned to a country music station somewhere.

Grand Ole Opry on WSM radio, direct from Nashville! I learned to love the sound of fiddle music, acoustic and slide steel guitar, the thump, thump of a big old bass guitar, the twang twang of ukuleles and mandolins, and lots of hillbilly tunes. Bluegrass. Mountain music. Honky-tonk!

When Mimi and Da bought a black and white television set, they discovered the Louisiana Hayride and Grand Ole Opry were broadcast there, too! Now I could see what my favorite country western music-makers looked like!

Saturday nights brought the memorable Kitty Wells’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” or Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” right into our living room.

I still can’t hear the name Hank Williams without hearing him singing “I Saw the Light.”

In between the vocalists might be the comedy skits of Minnie Pearl, or the amazing strings and pickin’ music of Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys.

Here’s a clip titled Earl’s Breakdown — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtMdqh3HFBo. It was wonderful then, still wonderful now!

Why did we love music so much?

One practical, earthly reason may have been Daddy’s oldest sister, Aunt Myrtle. She played piano for silent movies! And she sponsored my piano lessons. Myrtle could play like Liberace and she loved for all of us to listen.

There’s another, more spiritual reason, though. Music was Father God’s invention. The Lord sings! The sons of God (angels) sing! Heavens, earth, trees and mountains, even the stars sing!

So when it came to creating human beings, it’s only logical that He’d include a music gene in there somewhere. At least in my own family, I’m sure he did!

“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

“When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7)

“Then shall the trees of the wood sing out at the presence of the LORD, because he cometh to judge the earth.” (I Chron. 16:33)

“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13)

Play it by ear

Or how I learned to play the piano by ear – I didn’t.

My daddy’s oldest sister, Aunt Myrtle, sponsored my piano lessons as a little girl. She had been a pianist for silent movies in the early 1900’s and loved any and all types of music. I dearly loved to hear her play, especially sitting close to watch her nimble fingers. Runs up and down the keyboard, crashing chords or delicate trills, it was all thrilling to me!

Myrtle still played for her own family, friends, and her own enjoyment too. Occasionally she accompanied someone who sang a classical-type solo at church, especially near Easter or Christmas time.

Mrs.WescottOh, how I wanted to play like Myrtle! And so, Myrtie Berry Wescott, a classical piano teacher, was chosen to instruct me. During the regular school year I would go to her house twice a week after school where for fifteen minutes per lesson she drilled me in music theory, scales, finger exercises, proper hand position, and practice, practice, practice!

I can still see her baton at the ready, threatening (but never actually rapping) the knuckles when your hands were being lazy, i.e. not properly lifted, fingers curled to strike – not mash – the keys.

Ms. Wescott was a stickler for playing music exactly it as written. She didn’t like her students playing anything she hadn’t approved… which meant no hymns, no sheet music, no “silly little ditties” such as Chopsticks, Three Blind Mice, or She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes.

In her studio, only classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Chopin were used for memory work, especially end-of-year recital pieces. Difficulty increased, of course, as the years went on. Imagine playing 13 notes per measure with the right hand, to 12 notes per measure with the left hand. One of the Russian composers, my mind has kindly and lovingly blanked out that name and that piece – but I did learn to play it to her satisfaction, when I was about 15.

Well, while classical piano study was school-year work, summers were wonderfully filled with big band music, movie sound tracks, Hits of the 50’s etc., folk music, hymns and choruses, books and sheet music purchased by my parents as rewards for good work for my violinist brother and me.

I learned a great deal studying with Ms. Wescott. But what I didn’t learn was how to transpose keys. Whoever heard of changing the key on a Beethoven piece? Unnecessary! Unthought of! Unallowed.

Well, my lessons with her were completed when I was 16. After a few summer months of organ keyboard instruction sponsored by my church, I began playing the organ for Sunday services. (They had an excellent pianist but a fine organ with nobody to play it, until I came along.)

All went well for quite a while, until I joined Christian Assembly Church in the 1970’s and began playing the organ for services there.

The choir leader would sometimes say, “This hymn is pitched too high, let’s lower it a couple of steps.” I just looked at him in dismay – I had no idea how to do that. But the pianist did, so she would play and I would just sit there, feeling like a dummy.

After a few times like that I was disheartened. I loved playing. I loved the hymns, the gospel songs, the Easter and Christmas cantatas, all the praise and worship music. If it was written on paper, I could play it. If it wasn’t, I couldn’t.

It really bothered me. If I knew about the change of key in advance, I could write out the notes and practice at home and then things would go fine. But those occasions were rare. My heart almost grieved, not being able to play everything they needed. Should I resign as church organist and let them find someone who could do it? I was debating with myself.

One night I prayed about it – and woke up the next morning able to play by ear, in any key. (Only Christian music, oddly enough; anything else I still have to memorize as always.) It was amazing.

Not long afterward, a gospel quartet came for a special service one Sunday night. All their songs were lively and upbeat pieces they had written and as none of them played instruments, they sang with accompaniment tapes.

Then the pastor asked them to sing something slower, softer, more worshipful while people came forward for a time of prayer. Unfortunately none of their tapes contained that kind of music. One of them looked over at me and said, if we begin, can you just follow along? My heart pounded but I said, I’ll try.

And I did. Every song, even though none were familiar; they were all original pieces they themselves had composed. They sang and I played for over 30 minutes. No-one but me knew what a miracle that was, but it was.

Transposing choir numbers was no longer a problem. I just heard the melody and harmony in my head, found the key they needed and played.

Since that day I have played the piano in many places, sometimes with written music but more often without. Sometimes song leaders rotated from tenor to bass (Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship), or from soprano to alto (Women’s Aglow). I found that I could follow the leader in whatever key they needed. Our own church where I have played piano for many years uses chord charts, because the other musicians don’t read music. No problem.

So, whenever people ask me how I learned to play by ear, I just smile and say, I didn’t. Let me tell you about a miracle – did you know the Holy Spirit can play the piano?