Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lessons from a Saxophone

It’s been seventeen months since I first picked up a saxophone. I may not play well, but I play loud. I cannot, in fact, seem to get the hang of playing anything other than loud. My new motto is the first verse of the one hundredth Psalm. Look it up.

As a kid suffering my way through the interminable torment of piano practices, I didn’t detect the more subtle life lessons I’m discovering from my saxophone. I like to pretend that’s because I’m mature and insightful now. Maybe it’s only because I write a column now and need to churn out something mature and insightful-sounding every week. Here, for your own interminable torment, are some of my insights:

#1. Practice pays.                     
This may seem obvious, but by the time we’re in our fifties, most of us figure we’ve mastered whatever skills we’re going to master and everything else remains status-quo. When I first attempted the saxophone, practice times were torture because I was puffing, sweating, and squawking. But the worst of it was my lips. They just couldn’t hold up through an entire song.

But I’m tightfisted enough that if I’m going to cough up money for lessons, I’m going to make sure I get the most bang for my buck—which means a half hour every day with my sax. Lately I’ve noticed I can hit the high and low notes I couldn’t hit before, I’m not panting, and my lips don’t give out. How did that happen? Practice. What was true when we were kids still holds.

Think what might happen if we practiced relational skills with the same diligence.

#2. Everybody has their unique style.
It took a year for my teacher, Ritchard, and I to notice the uniqueness of our hands. He couldn’t understand why I had so much trouble “rolling” my thumb from the thumb rest onto the octave key and back, like he does. When I watched him do it, I pointed out that my thumbs don’t curl backwards the way a lot of thumbs do. Mine are the “one-way only” kind, and no amount of practice will change their tree-stumpiness.

“Would you look at that,” Ritchard said.  “I’ve never seen that before.”

It was a relief to know I’m a freak of nature. It provides a great excuse to develop my own way of compensating.

Think what might happen if we let others do things their way instead of insisting ours is the only one.

#3. Harmony makes everything better.
My favorite times in this journey are the last ten minutes of every lesson, when Ritchard tunes his sax to mine and we play duets. Oh, there are still plenty of errors. One of us tends to get the giggles, I won’t say who. But there’s something about playing in harmony with another that improves everything by more than the sum of its parts. Just like life.

Think what might happen if we could learn to live in harmony and in tune with each other.

#4. A deeper purpose means everything.
I spent the first several weeks playing ditties like Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells, and I was having fun. But when Ritchard set a book of worship songs on the stand and I heard myself playing the melody of I Love You, Lord, something shifted. Though no one sang along, the familiar words rang in my head and suddenly I felt so moved, I could hardly read the page for tears. “Take joy, my King, in what you hear, may it be a sweet sound in your ear…” 

How this can be true, I don’t fully understand, but the God of creation heard my frail but heartfelt attempts and took joy in them.

Think what might happen if we applied this to every action, every moment of our lives.


  1. Thanks for sharing the lessons you've gleaned from playing the sax. Love them! Makes me want to dig for life lessons in what I do.