I like music. I can, for brief moments, listen to nearly anything. I do not always understand or appreciate it, but I can try.
My current tastes tend toward classical and bluegrass, but if you were to walk into my office you might hear traditional Andean pipes, Eastern European folk music, or Ethiopian rap. The variety boggles the mind. It is all beautiful to someone, or at least meaningful.
I do not know of anyone who cannot be immediately transported to a specific time and place by a song or piece of music from one’s past. Most of us are attracted to the best music ever, meaning what we were listening to between the ages of sixteen and thirty. It is as though music is there recording itself onto our lives and attaching itself, unnoticed, to our memories. Our lives have a soundtrack.
Music is also like food in the sense that we tend to like what we hear as children and teenagers. It is also like food in the sense that we can expand our palate and learn to like a great variety. It is a little easier if we expose ourselves to various cultures and traditions. Music has a setting, and if removed it will make less sense. Rather like eating chili in the summer or pumpkin pie at Easter.
Every rhythm, every instrument, every key, every measure, and every note has its purpose. When they are doing what they are meant to do and all working toward the same thing — to create something beautiful — they move us and inspire us. They give us hope, make us angry, and tell us the truth. What does not work is a musician deciding to do their own thing when part of a group.
I believe that people are the same. I am also concerned that we are losing our appreciation for the beauty of our differences by being hyper-focused on them. An oboe will never be a violin, a didgeridoo will never be a mbira, and a bass will never be a trombone. We would not want that anyway. They make their own unique sounds. In the hands of a master, they can move from their native settings and genres and be beautiful in other places, but they are still what they are. People are the same.
We have two issues here. First there are those that want to be who they are and expect everyone else to absorb their settings and genre, even though they are the stranger. The likely outcome here is criticism of the majority and constant offense at their ignorance and insensitivity. I have seen it other countries when Americans fully expect (and insist) those in the country they are visiting to speak English. While many do, it is the attitude that matters.
Second there are those who expect those who are different to stop being who they are and attempt to sound like something they are not. The likely outcome here is to isolate, bully, or exclude the stranger. I have experienced some of this in my life. A couple of times I was not even aware of what was happening until I left the situation. I just didn’t fit in and no one helped. My “music” did not fit so I was muted until I went away.
The solution, I believe, lies with all of us. I also believe that to the extent we can help each other will be the extent that humor and enjoyment will return to our dinner tables, churches, civic meetings, and entertainment. We must all be open to people as they are.
Some of us are like the trumpet that sat in its case in a damp basement for fifty years, or the violin with a broken nose or cracked ribs. We need care and repair before we can make our music. Some of us are in better shape, but we need constant tuning and practice. Some of us wish we were a violin, but we are a triangle. Never out front, never have any music written for us, and spend most of our time just sitting and waiting.
When the time comes, however, that one note, perfectly timed completes the symphony. What we must be is who we are, clearly and unashamedly. What we must do is accept each other’s variety and see it as beautiful and not threatening.
When making an argument to Christians to be clear, caring, and beneficial, the apostle Paul said, “If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives and indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” (I Cor. 12:7-8).
We are not all the same. We never will be. We will never all have the same opportunity. Life is not fair. There are some things we cannot be. Some of us are displaced, not with “our own” and many times it is not by choice. Be kind, make room. Open your ears. Learn variety. Change keys. Make music.