Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Musings on the Nature of Instruments

During the time that I was studying for my bachelor's degree I took a few harpsichord lessons. I was enchanted with the instrument; the variations in sound and the sensitivity to touch, along with the ornate and delicate frame had me captivated. I used to love to practice at night, when the music building was quiet and still. I would play Bach's Prelude in C again and again on the gorgeous French harpsichord and just listen to the way the overtones filled the air and rang out through the recital hall in which the harpsichord was kept. The experience was transcendent.

All of this came back to me recently as I was reading through The Living Page by Laurie Bestvater. I bought her book because I had heard other speak highly of it and the title was so intriguing. My copy is now full of underlining and notes in the margins and has given me so much food for thought as I continue to learn how to educate my children; but the one thing that keeps running through my mind, weeks after I finished the book, is this sentence:
Charlotte Mason's various paper activities are essentially instruments as opposed to artifacts; for process more than product.  
The word instrument caught my attention - and then held it. I began to think about the nature of an instrument and how the quality of the materials and the craftsmanship are so important and have such an effect on its ability to produce beautiful music. I thought about how the technique and instruction and time spent practicing matter so much for the performer who is trying to play the music. And I thought about how these things all come together and impact one another; about how the performer and the instrument are dependent on one another in fulfilling their purpose.

And as I pondered all this I saw how, even with all the preparation of the performer and the careful selection of a well-crafted instrument, none of these things is even the point. It is all only a means to an end. The purpose of all these things coming together is to produce music: a thing which can only be experienced in time, and yet which has effects that echo beyond time.

I thought about how playing on that French harpsichord all those years ago did something to my soul. I was changed by that experience, an experience which is over and cannot be recaptured, but whose effects can still be felt.

The tools which we use to teach and the methods we use to wield those tools are so very important. So very important, and yet, not the end. I was a mediocre keyboardist playing on a superb instrument. The conditions were not ideal, but there was still an effect.

I sometimes become overwhelmed and discouraged with the enormity of the task in front of me and with the weight of the responsibility of raising and educating my children. But I came away from this inspired and encouraged: inspired because of the wealth and quality of the tools I've been given, and encouraged by knowing that even if I am unable to use the tools perfectly the results can still be amazing. I have been given a task and I have been given excellent tools to accomplish that task. It is up to me to use those tools to the best of my ability, but after I have done my part my task becomes to leave results to God, who gives the increase.


  1. My grandmother has a grand piano in her great room. I love to just set at the stool and feel the energy of that instrument. It makes beautiful music, and I love to play it.

    1. Energy is right! I'm always thrilled by the fact that even small, seemingly insignificant pieces can sound so beautiful on a grand. :)

  2. There was a man in the town we lived in who built harpsichords! One time he held a concert on one that he had made, and after the performance he invited people to come and try it out. I was there with one of my daughters and she played it - a special experience. And I've never heard one since.

    1. How cool! The man who built the harpsichord I was talking about have a presentation shortly after it was brought to the school. It was so neat hearing what an involved process it is and how every little detail matters.

  3. I missed this when you first posted but was just checking S@S and caught it!

    Such a beautiful post and so true.

  4. Thank you! I'm glad you stopped by. :)


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