Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beautiful Imperfection

Last Sunday at church I saw this teenage boy screw up his piano performance. It was beautiful. Like witnessing a miracle.

At first I couldn't tell he was screwing up. What little I know about classical music I've learned from pop culture. The only two classical songs I know well are Barber's "Adagio" from the war movie, "Platoon":



and Ravel's "Bolero" from the sexy movie "10":



Not real churchy stuff, war and adultery. That had been my exposure to classical music before the miraculous mistake at church last Sunday.

The kid looked about sixteen. Maybe older. It's hard to tell how old teenagers are when they're dressed up. This kid had on a dark suit. He looked good. He looked sharp. He looked confident.

He sat down on the piano seat and began to play. At first, everything seemed normal. Then, I started to notice something seemed wrong. Awkward pauses. Hesitations followed by false starts. My first thought was, "Oh, wow. How avant-garde." I don't really know what avant-garde means. It's just something you say when you come across a perplexing piece of art.

Then the kid just...kind...of...stopped. For only a few seconds, but still, even I could tell that wasn't an intentional pause in the song. Soon someone tall and kind looking, I assume his mother, walked up with some sheet music and laid it out for the kid. She returned to her seat, smiling calmly.

I thought, Oh, my! The kid's been playing by memory? How brave!

I'm the first to admit I'm a snob when it comes to rock music and writing, two things I know well. I can pick out specifically what's shitty about a song (usually too much unnecessary guitar solo) and shitty writing (usually too many parentheses). But I'm the complete opposite regarding other art forms. I have the utmost respect for painters and dancers and actors and classical musicians. I have no idea how they do it. My ignorance adds bliss to how I perceive a performance from these art forms.

So when anyone attempts to perform classical music on a piano from memory, I say "Bravo!" Seriously. I have so much admiration for talent in areas I lack. Scientists. House Cleaners. Roofers. These are professions my slack ass holds in high regard.

But I could tell the kid wasn't nearly as impressed with his performance as I was. When he finished, he rose, somberly, and walked back to his seat in the pews. His head hanging low like a scolded puppy.

I felt so bad for him. I wanted to rush over to him, this teenage boy I don't know, and hug him and tell him he's wonderful. It's a bad habit of mine in this stranger-danger world we live in. My instinct when I see kids walking alone is to ask them if they need a ride. Not because I'm a pervert, but because I'm exactly not: I want to see them home safely. I want to hug kids when I see them get hurt. But that's not what we do in our society, and I know that. I don't want to reach out and hug kids I don't know, for fear that they'll come to accept such a thing as normal and then they'll be less vigilant around real sickos offering a hug.

It's sad that we live in such a world. But I wouldn't want a stranger to come up and hug my seven-year-old, Katie. Hands off my kid unless I  know you. That's just how things are in our society, where we routinely interact virtually with our loved ones, and in person at the store, the library, the park with our neighbors who are virtual strangers. I can't tell you what my next-door neighbor's name is. Every time I've seen her outside her house she's had her eyes on her phone on her walk to the car parked in her driveway. I wait for the chance to smile and wave, but it never comes.

I was thinking about all this as I sat in my pew at church. Then someone grabbed my attention. It was the director of music ministries, standing in front of us. She was talking.

We just want you to know...
We all understand...
We've all been there before...
Trying to perform from memory...
In front of a lot of people...
It's hard...
We want you to know that we know...
We love you...
We support you...

And then, she sang. It was that funky version of "Our Father, Which Art in Heaven" that has the West Indian vibe to it. She sings a line and then the congregation together sings "Hallowed be thy name". I had tears the whole time.

Then the music minister returned to her seat in the pews. The pastors spoke again. They walked together down the aisle and out the doors. I knew this was it. I looked down at the church bulletin. There was one last song. This kid was supposed to do another song. Holy shit!

And you know what happened? I'm telling you. It was a miracle. I never had the courage to do what this kid did when I was a teenager. He got up. He walked up to the piano. He played.

And it was beautiful. The way God loves us. Mistakes and all.