Like Playing Jazz

Good grief. I took them all so very seriously…
The piano competitions.
(You’d think that my entire life depended on playing Für Elise without a mistake.)

Months of practicing all boiled down to five minutes in a noise-less room that echoed when you pulled the piano bench forward on the wood floor, empty except for a baby grand piano, an oblong table with judges sitting behind it on folding chairs with pencils raised, and a few extra chairs for the very anxious parents.
The competition. The judges. The nerves. The desire and need to play the song just perfectly.

I simply adore piano music; playing it and listening to it. It’s always been easy to feel the emotion—to bring life and energy from the keys. Knowing what notes to play, I have an ear for embellishing on those notes – adding more emotion and extra keys. But it is always about the notes.

Not so with jazz.
I really wish I could play jazz.

In jazz, you let your soul lead, rather than the notes. You “feel it,” rather than “playing it right.”

Watching my favorite pianist Ramsey Lewis play jazz with his combo – he takes my heart and soul to a place that sings and tingles and smiles. His long fingers literally skim the ivories. His right leg bounces up and down as he feels the rhythm. Improvising as he responds to the other musicians. Glancing at the bass player and giving him a grin that says, “Oh, yeah. That sounded good.”  He becomes part of something that is bigger than himself, deeper than what he’s feeling. He’s part of an ensemble that is listening intently to each other while making amazing music.

“Like playing jazz” describes how I want to love my neighbors.

It’s too easy to expect everyone to live by the same rules. By the written notes. By what someone has determined what is “right” and what is “wrong,” on issues that are not black and white. Issues that are complex, that encourage us to take sides, and ones we engage with defensively.

When rules are broken, and notes are missed, we start to believe that we aren’t as good as we should be.
That the other person isn’t as good as she should be.
We count the wrong notes, rather than ignoring the notes and listen instead to the music.

It’s easier to live in a world where there are right notes that are supposed to be played. Where judges identify and call out the mistakes. Because we believe we need to know who is right and who is wrong. We tell our neighbor that her song is the wrong song. It’s not the song we understand so it must not be right.

But.

We are called to love. To show grace. To forgive. To listen to our neighbor’s song, find her rhythm, and listen to her music as a way of getting to know her.

We miss out on the very best music when we play as if we were in a command performance that requires perfection. When we expect that from our neighbor. When we appreciate only the right notes. When we miss the music, the heart, the relationship, the connection, the combo.

I’m learning to listen for the melody and syncopation and harmony in my neighbor’s music in all its glorious noise and messiness.
I’m learning to listen to her heart.

I’m learning to love my neighbor.

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