One of the defining convictions of my children’s school is the importance of unstructured and (mostly) unsupervised play. There is a corner on the campus that is filled with wood scraps, old tires, and other odds and ends. Children love to explore the endless possibilities of creation on this Adventure Playground. Some days there are elaborate forts and structures, and other days the pieces lay around ready for their next role.
I find it interesting that when we say we “play” an instrument, we rarely mean that we play as a child does, picking a thing up and exploring all its possibilities by testing it against the known world. I can remember spending hours at the piano as a child writing and playing short phrases on repeat. It was thrilling to create something new. At some point after all my formal musical training, marriage, Baby Number One, and then more training followed by Babies Number Two and Three, I realized I had forgotten those little tidbits that used to bring me so much joy. I could sing a four-hour opera from memory, but I could no longer remember the little building blocks of my early musical exploration. I was a professional soprano, and my creativity was now confined to my interpretations of other peoples’ compositions.
Every time I sat down at my piano earlier this year, I kept coming back to a short phrase that I had composed. I don’t remember writing it, and it wasn’t even 8 bars long, but I was drawn to it again and again because I felt like it expressed the bone-deep longing that was a constant presence during the pandemic. On a very rare day in April, I was all alone in my house, and this new song demanded an audience with my heart. I gave my precious alone time over to the Muse, and I once again PLAYED with music. The phrases and words tumbled out in little bits and pieces, but by the end of the day, they had settled into a unified whole. Out of the pain and budding hope of the pandemic and vaccines, I had written a new song.
On that day, Psalm 40:3 took on a new personal meaning:
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
I have one paid gig on the books for all of 2021, and nothing on the horizon after that. My job as a professional musician may never look the same again, yet I am filled with hope. Our creative God has already put a new song in my mouth, and I will get to “play” it for my church family this fall. On June 1st, I started a new job as the administrator at my children’s school, and it is not lost on me that unstructured and unsupervised play is also important for us professionals. This new phase of my life and career is filled with possibilities. May I never again forget the importance of playing with the pieces that God lays before me.
p.s. My specialized ability to sing over an orchestra has already come in handy on a school yard filled with the voices of 70 children!