Saturday, August 21, 2010

You are my song


I am teaching Asherel to play guitar. Those of you who know me may be somewhat surprised as you know I myself don't play guitar. (Lack of knowledge has not hampered my ability to teach advanced algebra, chemistry, spanish, or world history either....)

When I was a little girl, my mom was very proud of telling us that she taught golf.
"But you don't play golf!" I declared, baffled.
"I know," she admitted, "So I always learned what I would teach before each lesson. I stayed one lesson ahead of them."
I guess that had more of an impact on me than I realized and helped solidify my educational philosophy. I will try to summarize that complex thought in a simple subject/predicate construction:
Education is the fine art of knowing just one more thing than the student and being able to impart that one more thing with such confidence that a can-do attitude prevails in both student and the one posing as teacher. The goal of all education is to instill in the student the desire to learn and the belief that one can learn anything one needs to by going to the proper resources given enough time, perseverance and reservoir of tears.

So armed with nothing but desire, enthusiasm, and a guitar, I began daily instruction with Asherel. I had been taught the basic chords many years ago, but then got interrupted with my musical progress by babies, and mortgages, and accumulating dust bunnies and had to take a twenty year break. Also, while mastering the chords was not all that difficult.... unfortunately I was somewhat tone deaf, thus tuning the guitar put me over the edge. So as long as it stayed in tune, I practiced, but when the guitar went so badly out of tune that the sounds emanating from it were painful to even my ears, I laid it down never to pick it up again.

Asherel listened to the first C chord I strummed, and with her fine ear declared, "It needs tuning. There's an App for that!"
For the other old fogies out there, an "app" means an "application for an iPhone, iPod, or iPad which will allow the device to do miraculous things, including, it turns out, tune a guitar.
And indeed, all I had to do was pluck the string, and turn the tuning key till the bar graph showed the line in the green area on the iPod. When we finished and played the C chord, it was perfectly tuned.

We found a guide that showed us the easiest and most common chords, and set about learning them. What many people don't know about learning to play the guitar is that the strings are quite similar to long razor blades on tender finger tips. Within minutes, deep throbbing creases were embedded in all our fingers, but we mastered the C and G chord. We could only practice about 5 minutes a day as that was the threshold of our pain tolerance, but I assured her that we would develop calluses on our finger tips, and would soon play music pain free, which is the goal of all fine musicians.

After we had learned 4 chords, we had enough knowledge to play "Blessed Be the Name of the Lord." I would shout out the chord and we would take about 5 minutes to get our fingers in place. Then we would sing the next few words, and I would shout out the next chord and it would take again 5 minutes to get our fingers in place, and so on. The song took 5 hours to complete, but we felt accomplished. Each day we practiced that song for as long as our fingers would hold out. I didn't mind singing it slowly since the words have always been among my favorite, especially the line, "When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord...."

When everyone was out of the house yesterday, I finished my work and then pulled out the guitar. I sat in the beam of our sun tube and nestled the guitar on my lap. All alone, except for
the dogs who cocked an ear and listened, I played the song. My voice, never strong to begin with has deteriorated with age, and it crackled over the notes I couldn't quite sustain, but the words resonated in my soul and I understood the Bible verse , "Lord, you are my song." The song is the culmination of practice, struggle, perseverance, poetry, delight, despair, pain, all coalescing into the tune of a spirit calling out to its Creator. And somehow, in the silence of my home, that broken, and out of tune worship is echoed back into my ears, as God in all His wonder makes it, beautiful and perfect.

Until of course I had to play an F chord, but that too can be overcome someday.

Exodus 15:2
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him.

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