A Sweet Sound

August 8, 2023 | Russ Moe

Fingernails scraping across a blackboard. Screeching tires stopping at an intersection. The dentist drill grinding my molar. These are sounds we can feel. And they feel horrible.

Jan was haunted by such a sound recently. But it was the sound of a single musical note. Not just any note, but a note from her violin. Not just any violin but the one played in the South Bend Symphony. And not just any musical presentation; she accompanied Yo-Yo Ma in his performance in our city last month. The honor to be on stage with the universally renowned cellist was breathtaking. To play with him was a dream. Jan stood at the pinnacle of achievement in her art.

The moment came in a crescendo at the end of a masterful performance. Yo-Yo Ma, hit the high E on his fourth string and extended it for a prolonged sixteen beats. Jan played her note in unison and held it alongside his for the duration. The packed house sat spellbound as the performance peaked in the spine-tingling moment. But Jan’s spine tingled from something else, she was flat. To the untrained ear, it was hardly noticeable. To hers, it was a screech on a blackboard.

Jan was mortified. “How could I have done such a thing,” she said. “I read the note on the music, I played it like I’ve done thousands of times, but I sounded like a dog in heat.” She gingerly approached the maestro of the Symphony.

“Am I going to be dismissed?” she said, trembling. 

“Of course not,” he said, reassuring her, “every concert has imperfections.”

By the time Jan shared her traumatic experience with me, she had regained her sense of humor.

“I guess I’ll oil my violin since it sounded like a squeaky door.” 

Thank God for her smile.

So what’s the lesson?

Every concert has its imperfection. That’s a healthy dose of reality to me. When we’ve done our best, satisfaction cannot be discarded because of imperfection or a mistake. “Maximize the positives,” though a simple advisement, breeds health and progress.

Few in the whole world get the privilege of playing with Yo-Yo Ma. Nobody in our town did but Jan and her fellow musicians. The entire performance was flawless except for one note. That’s astronomical success. But we tend to dwell on failures.

Does Christ promise we’ll be perfect? No, His path is one of forgiveness and unmerited favor. Are we to strive for excellence? Of course. I’ve often imagined the award ceremonies in Heaven for the greats. Apostles like Peter, John, and Paul step forward, receiving eternal recognition for best performances. Yet Scripture records their failures in detail. It’s for our encouragement.

“Well done, good and faithful servant” awaits every one of us who live our lives for God in sincerity. He looks on the heart, not the outward performance. Attitude and intent are His focus. Getting through our lifetime performance with only one bad note would be remarkable but we all know that’s not realistic. Many of us need a second chance. Some even a third, and a fourth. Would you believe hundreds?

“Be filled with the spirit … singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18, NKJV). Now there’s a pattern for Christian living: harmonizing our lives with life’s greatest virtuoso.

Let’s apply the maestro’s word to our walk with God. He will never dismiss us for mistakes. Doing our best by faith while striving for excellence is the melody He delights in.