August 2, 2023

Five Life Lessons From Music

Discover that life plays an integral part in music

Becky St. Clair
Photo by Charlie Deets on Unsplash

If you’ve been reading this column for any length of time, you probably know music plays an integral part of my life. The lesser-realized truth is, though, that life plays an integral part in music. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned from music.

Listening is imperative. From multiple parts to dissonant harmonies to complex rhythms and intervals, choir can be hard. But any good choir can overcome these challenges by doing one single thing: listening. Listening to the parts others have in the bigger picture of life means we can more effectively fit our own within that picture. This makes the difference between complete chaos and recognizable cohesion.

Mistakes happen. Make them confidently and learn from them. Percussion is probably the most terrifying section to be part of in any ensemble, because everything you do stands out. Percussion also keeps the group together and leads them in rhythm and tempo, however. So even if it is wrong, percussionists have to play clearly and confidently, because that’s how the director knows when gentle correction is needed to make everything come together. We don’t help anyone by timidly hiding our role in the corner, too scared to even try.

Clarinets can’t play violin parts. Any time a wind ensemble plays pieces originally written for orchestra, the clarinet section ends up with the transcribed violin part. While this makes sense musically, it does not make sense technique-wise, because of one major factor: Violinists do not need to fit breathing in between notes. Violin parts were written for violins, not clarinets. We cannot expect the same results from different people using the same approach.

Practice makes permanent. The old saying “practice makes perfect” is untrue. If I practice a section of music repeatedly, but practice doing it wrong, it will never be perfect, because I have now solidified it in my head incorrectly. Practice, in fact, makes permanent. If I practice something correctly over and over, however, the correct way of doing it becomes permanently etched in my brain.

Everyone brings their own strengths to the table. Percussionists have favorite instruments, and inevitably the same people end up on the same instruments time and time again. Though it is beneficial to do something outside our comfort zone from time to time, the pieces come together best when each of us is in our element, literally playing to our strengths. When everyone is given the opportunity to fill in the gaps in the skills of others by utilizing their own strengths, everything flows more smoothly and makes more sense.

In Exodus 35 Moses points out to the people of Israel that God had given His people skills to do “all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers . . . , and weavers” (verse 35, NIV). These were very specific skills of creative expression that God felt were important. So important that He chose two men and “filled [them] with the Spirit of God” (verse 31, NIV), then gave them “the ability to teach others” (verse 34, NIV). It is not a coincidence that one can find life lessons in the arts. Music is a gift, and, beyond enjoyment, it was given for us to learn from. And learning is always more fun (and effective) when you’re doing something you love.