I occasionally wonder if I do anyone any good, musically speaking.
It’s a valid question. I love music, and even tried to major in music my first year of college. But I could never scream out a solo like the first chair trumpets or ring out the Messiah like the choir tenors. And in the years since college, I’ve never been able to wow audiences with my guitar playing ability.
I’m more or less at peace with the fact that I’ll never be a top flight musician, no matter how much I practice. I’m usually happy to have any part at all, whether that’s as the 12th chair trumpet or backing vocals or guitar 2.
But every now and then I wonder if what I do matters all that much. If Joe, the leader of our worship band, drops out, everyone knows. Same for Sid, the lead electric guitarist. And for the bass, and the drummer. If one of them falters, the rest of us stumble along until he gets back in or we give up and stop playing.
Not so for guitar 2. If my instrument suddenly vaporized in my hands during a song, it would not wreck the performance. The others would continue on, probably without missing a beat. Many of them wouldn’t even notice that the eighth-note drone in verse 2 or that extra D chord in the chorus had gone up in smoke.
Realizing that is a blow to the ego. When you understand that you’re not even good enough to wreck a song by your absence, it’s hard to feel essential.
But that’s selfish thinking, and flawed. Because the important thing is never the musician. It’s the music. And the music isn’t fully alive as long as one part—however small—is missing.
I realized that on Sunday during the band’s last song. My part was the most basic of patterns—eighth notes on two alternating strings, over and over again. Not the most interesting part to play, nor the most essential.
Or so I thought until I dropped my pick. I was only out for a few beats, maybe two measures. I could still hear the vocals, the drums, the bass, and the lead guitars. But the sound coming through the monitors was surprisingly empty.
Once again, my absence didn’t cause any musical train wrecks. But it did make the song less complete. The simple pattern I played was more important than I’d thought.
As I think over it today, that realization was a sign of grace, and larger than two strings of a guitar. It was a reminder that the music goes on, all around us, and will even without us. But what a privilege to have a part to play, no matter how small.