I cannot recall anything I said or did that would cause my parents to think I wanted a Magnus electric chord organ.
Yet there it was, next to the Christmas tree, fully assembled, with my name on the tag. Brand new and with a bench.
I didn’t know the first thing about playing a keyboard. I had an ear for music, like my other siblings. But none of us had any training except for what was offered at school.
Did a teacher mention something to my parents? There were pianos in classrooms back when I went to school. Maybe I had hopped up and tried to play the instrument, and a teacher caught something in my eye that she recognized.
It’s a mystery and a wonder. My parents didn’t have money to buy a luxury like that. But somehow it came to be: a musical instrument that wasn’t borrowed, that I wouldn’t have to give back at the end of the school year.
Included with the organ were two songbooks and instructions on how to use my left hand to push the chord buttons and my right hand to pick out the notes. Before long, I was playing songs and feeling proud.
I loved that organ. I would walk in the house after school, sit on the padded bench, and play. If Mom was there, she would listen, smile, and encourage.
I was 7 or 8 years old when I received it. And with it I discovered that I could make music. I wasn’t just listening or singing along. I was making it. With my hands I was able to bring forth sounds that evoked … something. I couldn’t put words to it then.
I’ll never forget this: It was late afternoon and I was alone. The sun was setting and its rays streamed through the living room windows. I sat with my back to the windows, and I could see the beauty of the sunset against the wall. I began to play the song that had become my favorite.
And then, as the sun gave up the day and the colors changed the room, as the loveliness of the piece filled the room, a child’s heart for music came into being.
I began to cry.
I played the song over and over, until the sun disappeared.
I don’t recall how long after Christmas this occurred. But I do know it was then that music became my life. I felt it, like a seed taking root and clinging to the soil.
And the title of the song that touched me so? The “Largo Movement” of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony. You can listen to it here. Every time I hear it, I remember that late afternoon as God’s call to me, saying, “Take. Here’s the gift of music.”
I took that call and my talent flourished. I took that talent and let it become my god. Unfortunately, I took and took for over 30 years before I realized that I was given the gift to show off God, not myself.
As I pursued a music career, I didn’t let Him get in the way. I was free to make selfish choices and mistakes that affect my life to this day.
But there came a time when that seed He planted all those years ago finally made it through the weeds. I learned that being a musician without knowing the One who created music becomes an empty pursuit and a burden to bear.
I love being a musician, a writer, and all the things that I am. But I love even more the One who created me to do these things.
I’ll be singing my favorite Christmas hymn, O Holy Night, as a soloist during my church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service. Music can still bring me to tears, as this hymn does, especially these two lines:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
There is the Gift.