Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I've been playing the trumpet a lot more lately. I recently re-joined Gateway Concert Band - a local community band here in the Enumclaw area. I think I chose the wrong time to join because I have only had two rehearsals with the band prior to this weekend's upcoming concerts. When I walked into rehearsal a few weeks ago I presumed that I would be happily cruising along playing a second or third part. Jack, the director handed me a folder of music and when I sat down I realized he had handed my a First Cornet part. Lot's of high notes, lots of fast moving black notes (all too tiny for my deteriorating eyesight) and lots of demanding music. By the end of my first rehearsal, I felt like I needed to put my lips in a sling and that I would never be able to use them again.

That was the day after my jazz group BY COMMITTEE had performed for nearly ninety minutes in our first ever "concert." (We had played for some dinner parties, a birthday celebration etc. This was a real live concert, with people putting money in donation trays to support our church's youth mission trip.) So, I thought I was pretty set to go. WRONG! When you are playing jazz, particularly in a group like mine, you may only play half of each song or less because the rest is solos. So 2 hours of rehearsal, playing nearly 75 - 80% of that time really had me worn out and discouraged.

Yesterday I recorded and watched a PBS televsion special featuring trumpeter Chris Botti. He is an amazing talent and a new phenom on the music scene. Blond, boyish looking, fairly small in stature, he can play the trumpet like few others. This show was recorded with the Boston Pops Orchestra and featured a number of special guests including YoYo Ma, Steven Taylor from the rock band Queen, several beautiful, sultry chanteuses singing classic jazz ballads and the person who really gave Botti his start in the music and recording business.

In between songs, he quipped that people often ask him what the secret to his success has been. He said he always answered with four simple things: "Practice, practice, practice and being good friends with (recording giant) 'Sting.'"

I don't worry about aspiring to any measure of the fame or greatness of Chris Botti. But there was something profound that struck me in what he said. First of all, you never get anywhere worthwhile in life without practice and hard work. Aren't you glad the Doctor performing surgery on your loved one went to school for long and then spent years honing his or her skill?

Due to my recent encounter with tough music and sore lips, I have been reminded of the necessity of practice. No matter how good I think I am, the final test is the music and whether I can play it. Without practice, it is unlikely.

The second thing about his "half-serious" remark that struck me is that where we go in life has a great deal to do with the company we keep. It's not that we get there simply by hanging on the coattails of others. But it is hard to become the person you want to or know you should be without keeping company with those who will encourage, strengthen, and hold you accountable. That's how we grow.

That's how Jesus prepared his disciples for the rigors of ministering the Gospel after he had ascened. The company of friends is a powerful force to help challenge and encourage us to go as far as we can using the gifts and callings God has given us.

This truism is revealed in a few different ways in my life right now. Judy and joined a new gym in January. One of the things that encourages and keeps me going is the knowledge that I might be (probably will be) asked whether I worked out today. If not, why not? The challenge of keeping up with Judy who is much more disciplined and regular at working out than I am keeps me going.

Same thing with reading the Bible. Knowing that I will be meeting with a group at the MINT tonight and leading a discussion over the portion of the Bible assigned for these seven days of the Through the Bible in 90 Days keeps me honest, accountable and on my toes. I am glad for that.

Tomorrow morning I meet with some fellow Presby pastors in the area. We meet once a month for prayer, sharing, encouragement and a little friendly, rear-end kicking if deserved. It helps us all be better husbands, fathers, pastors, and men.

So how do we get to be all that God wants us to be? Practice, Practice, Practice and be good friends with someone who will keep you going. Now I have to sign off and go practice Symphonic Suite and Celtic Dances so I don't embarass myself at the concert Sunday.

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