I watched the man sitting quietly by himself at the front of the room, a troubled expression on his face. As church leaders shook hands and met the members, he set himself apart, pondering deeply over something that was on his mind.
The sister playing the prelude music was exhausted from playing for almost an hour, and I offered to play the last ten minutes of prelude music so she would be able to play the opening hymn. The theme of the meeting was missionary work, and I quickly thought of a missionary hymn that I could play to begin with, but as I sat down, a thought came to me: “No, not that one.”
I paused for a moment. Another thought: “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”
I quickly turned to that hymn in the book, and began to improvise….
An octave higher, and slowly.
Inverted in the right hand – playing in 6ths instead of 3rds.
“Time to stop and play a different hymn,” I thought. And then…”No, keep playing.”
Separating the left hand notes and playing with the bass line rhythm.
Moving the treble an octave higher and adding trills and slides and scales.
“Time to finish,” the thought indicated.
And so I went to the last half of the hymn, and played it simply and reverently and quietly, ending on the dot of 10:00 and playing the last note as the district president began to speak.
He and others had come to our tiny branch for a district conference. Announcements were made, hymns were sung, talks were given, prayers were said.
As I was playing the postlude music – an improvised version of God Be With You Till We Meet Again – I again noticed the man. He was standing nearby, waiting, I assumed, to talk to the people standing behind me chatting as I sat at the piano.
But as I finished playing, I noticed that the person he was waiting for was actually me. He approached, shook my hand, looked me in the eye, smiled broadly, and thanked me for the beautiful music. I told him it was my pleasure. “No,” he responded, “it was all mine. Your beautiful music was just what I needed this morning, and as far as I am concerned, it was all I needed to hear today. It was just wonderful.”
High praise indeed.
And for me, a lesson in being thankful for all things.
There was a two year period in my life where even sitting at a piano made me physically ill because of some things that had happened. I worked long and hard to be able to play again, and part of that included giving up all my old favourites and learning a new skill – improvisation – that had always eluded me, even in a university course where improvising simple melodies over a chord or adding chords to a simple melody was expected. If I had not had that terrible experience, I would not have learned to improvise, and I would not have been able to uplift this man with a simple improvised arrangement of this beautiful hymn.
“[B]e faithful enough and strong enough to give thanks in all things.” –Dallin H. Oaks