I love classical music. Though I have a very wide and diverse range in my music tastes, my favorite is classical music, the great symphonies written by brilliant composers over the centuries. My love for this music was influenced by my parents, neither of whom was a trained musician, but both of whom had developed a love for the great conductors and orchestras of the world. The one source of entertainment that endured in our home was a small stereo with a turntable. Often there were stacks of vinyl records on the spindle, and as one long-play classical recording would finish, another would drop into place. I normally went to sleep with the sounds of a symphony wafting into my room.
We did not attend the symphony often. The cost was out of reach, but on the few occasions when we did, the experience was delicious. I would savor the sounds for weeks, and would listen to the stereo with a renewed appreciation for what was playing.
When we did attend the symphony, we did not arrive late. It was my parent’s intent to get there in time to hear the orchestra “warm up.” That was not my favorite part of the experience. It was a bit jarring. It was unpleasant, every musician appearing to be in competition to be the loudest instrument in the hall. It was cacophonous. There was a dissonance to it that was, well, unnerving. The sound was confusing, demonstrating an appalling lack of harmony. You could not carry on a conversation with the persons sitting near you. The dissonance, loud and intrusive, was disconcerting.
It was not until I began to participate as a fledgling musician in a school band that I discovered an element in the “warm-up” of the band or orchestra I had never noticed. It was when the musicians all gathered in the auditorium, or the band hall, or whatever the venue, in preparation for a rehearsal or a concert. Before anyone did more than position their musical instrument for use, the concert master, or the band director, or whoever else had been designated, would strike a tuning fork, a U-shaped piece of metal about eight inches long, that would vibrate, perfectly tuned to the note “middle C.” The first chair musician in each section would tune their instrument to the exact tone of the tuning fork. In the beginning it was normally quiet, unobtrusive, each musician listening intently, carefully, to that tuning fork, carefully tuning their own instrument to that one, certain, unwavering note – to middle C.
It was then that all pandemonium broke loose. Every other musician in that section began to tune their instrument to that note. Each listened carefully, even in the midst of the growing cacophony, determined to get that note right. Once tuned, each instrument was then free to “roam,” to play other notes, or play a measure or more of the music, getting the cadence, the timing, the tune grooved into the mind of the musician.
That was the dissonance, the discord, the wrestling of one instrument against another that I had not understood. Each musician was getting ready, preparing to join in the joy of creating beautiful, often complex and majestic music together. Once the conductor stepped to the podium, everything stopped. And then the music began.
But I also remember those early years of learning to play a musical instrument. I remember thinking we were doing quite well, not so much because the sound was pleasing and harmonious, but because we had all started at approximately the same time, and ended somewhat at the same place. It was not until I became the parent of a young musician that I realized how dissonant and discordant a young and inexperienced group of grammar school student musicians could be. What I have come to appreciate deeply is the realization that in order for the band or the orchestra to master a musical score takes work. It takes years of work, filled with hour upon hour of practice, rehearsals, and careful tuning to “middle C.” There is a starting point, but the starting point makes no difference if the musicians have not paid the price of “tuning up,” of preparation, of practice and rehearsal, attention to detail, careful attention to one another, and fervent attention to the director or the conductor.
In recent weeks, I have found myself struggling to cope with massive dissonance, discord, a cacophony of sounds. There are angry words and competing agendas. Harsh and bitter rhetoric has become the norm in our nation, and in our world. Whether it is social media, the evening news, the angry outbursts and dangerous conflicts on roadways, or the tragedy of parents and coaches fighting over a Pee Wee Football game their children were involved in; or whether it is the repetitious tragedy of another shooting of adults, children, and law officers, we are a nation at war, whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. The dissonance is extreme, the anger at a fever pitch, and the social fabric of the nation is tattered, torn, and perhaps on the verge of ripping apart.
Some are saying that it is because we have taken God out of the schools, the Law out of the courthouses, and the Church out of the culture. But I am convinced that God has gone nowhere. It is we, the people, the Church, the governmental leaders and policy makers, who have moved. God, the “middle C” around which every note struck or sung should be oriented, is still as near as God has always promised to be.
But we have created our own agendas. We have set our own “note,” are determined to play our own composition, at the expense of working together. Guided only by priorities set by our selfish preferences and desires, our primal fears and doubts, our racial and cultural prejudices, and our political certainties, we seem to have lost the capacity to listen to one another. We scream. We threaten. We accuse. We dismiss those who do not agree with us as worthless, godless, and dangerous. We disregard the cry of those who have been abused, assaulted, demeaned, or dismissed. There is no middle ground. And God forbid that one of our friends should call our anger into question. That friendship will be abandoned like a drum-head with a hole in it. Useless.
But there is a “middle-C” calling out to us amid the clamor and the rancor. It is a true note – THE true note. It is the voice of Jesus, singing out to us in the Word, by the Spirit, in the gentle notes of a song, or the touch of a trusting child. It may be seen in the majesty of a Kansas sunset, or the fierce beauty of a cumulonimbus cloud developing over the plains. It is a reminder that, whether anyone else may hear it or not, there is a call to us to be something other than what we have become, what we hear, what we see, what passes as “truth.”
There is a foundation on which all reality is built. Whatever other philosophies, ideologies, spiritualities, or beliefs may propose, the one true foundation is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. One day, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
On that day, it will not matter what the composition of the Supreme Court was. It will not matter who was in the office of president, at whatever level of organization. While we should all be good, discerning citizens of wherever we live, our first priority is to listen for “Middle-C”! It will be of no consequence whether we be republicans or democrats, white or black, male or female. Our first priority is to find our place at the feet of Jesus, living for him, living AS Christ. Only then can we play the proper part in our chair in the symphony of Life.
Listen for Middle-C! And watch the Conductor!
Jesse C Middendorf
October 5, 2018