I’ve believed for quite a while now that music is at least one of the languages of God. Have you ever had an overwhelming feeling of love or compassion or truth or just that something was right and you had no doubt about it? Have you ever tried to express that feeling through words? It’s difficult, isn’t it? I think that’s why people in history have invented instruments, dances, songs, paint, sculptures… ART to try and express the way they feel. That’s the reason why art of any kind is so important for all of us to have in our lives. It’s how others express the feelings of their heart and soul in a way that words just can’t do any justice for. It’s like when you see a sunset or sunrise or the majesty of something in nature and you try to take a picture of it. The picture does absolutely NOTHING to represent what it actually looks like. The same goes for music and words. Without music, words don’t always mean as much. Music takes feelings, sounds and words and amplifies the meaning you’re trying to get across. Simply saying something doesn’t usually do much.
Music has changed my life every single day that I use it because of the way it brings the Spirit of the Lord to me. Today, I would like to share an assignment I wrote for my Psychology of Music Performance class (with a few tweaks to fit this better). It’s about my best and worst performances ever in my life, as I remember them. While you read it, I want you to think about the difference in these two performances (it’s kind of really obvious).
“It was my sophomore year at BYU during my fourth semester. I had been struggling with memorizing one of my pieces because it was a different style than what I was used to – more jazzy, broken up and nonsensical. Despite this struggle, I decided I needed to try performing it at master class one week anyway, mostly for the sake of my grade since I hadn’t yet performed more than once or twice throughout the semester. I tried to prepare myself mentally by focusing on positive thoughts, but the thoughts of how unsure I was of the memorization thus far kept zipping through my mind. The exact spots of where I was sure to make a mistake were clear to me, and I almost dreaded when I would come to them.
After nervously waiting for my turn that night for about half the class period, my professor called me up to play. Again, I tried to think positively, but my hands kept shaking and my heart kept pounding. Then the most horrifying thought crept in: “Do I even remember the first notes?!?” That would be about the time when my breathing turned shallow and the room almost started closing in on me before I could get up and start.
Thankfully, I did remember those first notes, but there were so many holes in my memory that it was a huge struggle to get to the end. I don’t even think I actually finished it. I just gave up and told my professor I couldn’t remember. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this is when the worst part of the performance came: Dr. A made me play again. I almost started crying I felt so humiliated – I knew I wasn’t going to remember it the second time around either.
Sure enough, I came to the same spot and couldn’t remember the music for the life of me. By now, I have no doubt my face was flaming red and tears were welling up in my eyes. It took every ounce of will-power in me to keep them from spilling over. I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t remember, but even more so I was embarrassed that it was happening in front of everyone. And not just anyone, but people who had been accepted to the piano performance program. These were people who, in my opinion, had more talent than I ever did and who had worked harder than me. That last point seemed rather clear to me that night. I felt stupid, untalented and extremely small, not to mention I was beginning to be very angry at my professor for making me be the center of attention in such a degrading way. I have never enjoyed being in the spotlight, but this was the worst night of my life.
My professor made me try a third time, but it was absolutely pointless because my mind was so focused on what a terrible job I was doing that I didn’t even come close to getting as far as I did the first two times. He finally allowed me to sit back down in my seat, but only after telling me I had too many memory problems and mistakes and that I really needed to work on them. My only thought was a very sarcastic “Well, thank you so much for notifying me of that. I had no idea I did so horribly.”
To this day, I still hate that piece of music, mostly out of the frustration it caused during that entire semester. I only played it because it was assigned to me. I knew it would probably be good for me to learn something I wasn’t familiar with or even something I wasn’t very fond of in the first place, but there was absolutely no connection for me whatsoever…
My best performance was on June 14, 2013. I remember that day like it was yesterday, not because of how I performed but WHY I performed. It was June 5, 2013 that I had entered the MTC to serve my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission for 18 months, and it was eight hours later on that same day that I had received the news that my older brother, Tyler had passed away. Nine days later on June 14, I was scheduled to perform “Tribute” by Jon Schmidt at Tyler’s funeral. I was still set apart as a missionary (I would return to the MTC on the 19th of June), and so I have no doubt that I had extra help as I performed one of the most meaningful songs I’ve ever played.
A few days before the funeral, we had been discussing with our stake president and bishop how it would be set up and what musical numbers to put in. It was strange, but just a few months before, I had had the thought that if something ever happened to my brother, I definitely wanted to play at his funeral. When I voiced that thought to my family and leaders, everyone looked shocked and wondered, I’m sure, if I would be emotionally strong enough to play at my own brother’s funeral. But this was something I had no doubt that I had to do. I felt it would be something I would regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t.
The morning of the funeral, I played through the piece a few times, not sure how well I would do when the time came to perform, but nevertheless trusting that it would indeed be a tribute to my brother – someone I had looked up to all my life. I had chosen to play “Tribute” by Jon Schmidt because Jon was one of Tyler’s favorite composers to play and because it was one Jon had written for his own sister’s funeral when he was young. In the moments leading up to when I would play in front of literally hundreds of people who had come to remember Tyler, I didn’t feel scared or nervous. I may not have prepared myself as well as I had wanted, but I felt that because I was playing for Tyler, everything would be okay. The walk up to the piano wasn’t nerve-racking as it usually was. It wasn’t something I dreaded. Instead, it filled me with peace and calm and, oddly enough, excitement. And when I sat down to play and placed my fingers on the keys, I thought “This one’s for you, big brother.”
While I played, I put all the feeling and emotion into it that I could think of. It was my way of saying thank you and of bringing back memories of when Tyler and I would play together, accompany each other on various instruments, laugh together at the mistakes and silly things we would do or say whenever we hung out. It was a way for me to express my love and appreciation for all he had taught me and the advice he had given. Most of all, it was a way for me to say good-bye for now.
As those thoughts passed through my mind, I felt a lot of joy, and I felt my brother standing beside me. My gratitude and love for my brother reflected the gratitude and love I have for my Savior, and I couldn’t help but smile while I played. When I finished, I couldn’t remember making more than one tiny mistake throughout the whole song. I have no doubt it was my best performance because I was playing for someone I love. Heavenly Father gave me this musical talent to express myself, to bring the Spirit, and to bless the lives of others, and I achieved every one of those things that day. Because those were my reasons, pure and simple, any doubts or fears I usually have before I perform were gone that day. And because of that, I was able to convey the love I have for my brother, the love he has for me, the love of God and the love of our Savior through an almost perfect performance that extended through both sides of that sacred veil that separates us from the spiritual world.”
Alright. So tell me. What was the difference between those two performances? Was it the song choice and difficulty level? Was it my preparation? Was it the audience? While those all may have played a role, it wasn’t any of those that really made the difference. The difference was the reason for which I was playing and in whom I was trusting.
Heavenly Father teaches us to trust in Him and we will be strengthened, especially if we are trying to do His will (the example here being developing and sharing our talents). (See Isaiah 41:10, Proverbs 3:5) When I played for my class, I was doing it because I felt pressure. I did it when I hadn’t prepared myself. And I didn’t trust in God, mostly because I knew I hadn’t done my part to prepare and felt I had no reason to ask for His help. When I played to convey my love for my brother and gratitude for my Savior in allowing Tyler to be a part of my life, I played almost perfectly because I was using my talent for good and to bless other people through the Spirit. I felt I could trust in the Lord to let me play well because I knew it would provide the peace and comfort everyone needed as they tried to come to terms with Tyler’s unexpected and tragic passing.
Heavenly Father has taught us to develop and share our talents. Why? For the benefit of others – to bring them closer to Christ, to bring them joy, and to help them also progress in their mortal journey to finding eternal life (D&C 46:12, Moroni 10:8, Matthew 25:14-30).
President James E. Faust of the First Presidency said: “We must recognize that our natural gifts and abilities are limited, but when augmented by inspiration and guidance of the Holy Ghost, our potential increases manyfold. You need help from a power beyond your own to do something extraordinarily useful. You young [people] can have opportunities and receive blessings beyond your wildest dreams and expectations. Your future may not hold fame or fortune, but it can be something far more lasting and fulfilling. Remember that what we do in life echoes in eternity.”
I love that… “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” That doesn’t just mean the way we develop ourselves, but the service we render and the way we use the opportunities we have to change other people through our talents, testimonies and gifts from God.
So how can your talents and gifts change your life and the lives of others?What will you do this week to develop your talents and share them? You don’t have to proficient at it. Just pick something you love, work on it and share it so that others can see the joy it brings you and to bring them joy as well.
This post is already pretty long, but I have one more thing to say real quick: I do so much better when I am focused on doing things to help other people and to bring the Spirit to them. And I do it best through music. THAT is why I continue to play and why I love it so much. I have no doubt that what I do and what I will do with this wonderful God-given talent can change people’s lives. I know that because it’s changed my own life and changed who I am, which in turn changes other people, too. So how could I possibly bear to hide that?