The Reluctant Church Pianist

The Reluctant Church Pianist July 28, 2022

God truly works in mysterious ways. One of God’s sneakier methods is to select someone for a job who seems quite unfit, then make that square peg nestle into the round hole until it miraculously seems to belong there.

At my parish, we desperately needed someone to provide the music for the 8:30 (and only) English Mass. Our Eucharistic Minister, on learning that I once played piano, urged (commanded?) me to play at chuch.

While I have a piano at home, at that point I had not played in years. Even if motivated to play again, there was the problem that I have no natural ability, no talent. I know which note matches which key, but beyond that, I am hopeless.

This is not false modesty. It is the honest truth. I took piano lessons for ten years, but they never took on me. I cried at nearly every lesson out of frustration and humiliation. I never wanted to quit though because, talentless as I am, somehow I love piano.

Photo by Elijah M. Henderson on Unsplash

Beauty and Wonder in Music

I love all music. I am one of those people, like Elie Wiesel, who has music playing constantly in the back of my mind. Sometimes when I stop to listen, I hear a song I haven’t heard for years and have to wonder where that came from.

Many of my childhood friends played like it was easy and became far more advanced. Naturally, one of my dearest friends on earth is a piano teacher! To me, she is touched by magic. Bless her for all the advice and support she has given me from afar.

There’s a certain sense of power that comes from the ability to make music on an instrument. For someone like me who can’t do it well, musicians are a constant wonder and seem to be from a different universe.

Hour of Terror

Faced with sheet music more difficult than “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star,” I have had to pull from some very dusty files in my brain to remember counting, playing hands separately, and other practice techniques.

Who knew my teachers were right about what is helpful? They weren’t just torturing me, after all!

Adding to my problem of having poor skills, and probably because of that problem, I have terrible stage fright when I play piano. I can give a speech before thousands and be quite confident, but I fall to pieces at the piano.

So, it has been a rough venture to play at Mass. I call it my weekly hour of terror. Fortunately, I have received lots of encouragement from the kindly parishioners and lots of forgiveness for all the mistakes. Believe me, some of them have been big bloopers!

Meaningful Lyrics

Photo by Kati Hoehl on Unsplash

One source of inspiration has been the beauty of the music itself. Sometimes I am just awed by how pretty a piece sounds. Perhaps more than that, I am often impressed with the message of the lyrics.

One of my friends told me that when I play “Be Not Afraid” she doesn’t sing but just listens to the music while she contemplates the words of the hymn. Who isn’t affected by: “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest.” How comforting!

It would require a very long article to explore the profound depth and inspiration of some of the lyrics. I’m amazed, and not amazed, that some of the hymns have been around for centuries. At the same time, newer hymns often add beautiful clarity to the devotion.

A New Education

Two of my favorite cousins are church organists/pianists. This is, of course, additional intimidation to my fragile ego. I know they never hit a wrong note, surely!

One cousin told me she is so pleased that I am playing at church. I don’t know if she thinks it’s good for my wayward soul, or she is glad that my parents didn’t waste their money on my lessons after all.

This unexpected role has been a whole new education for me as I plan the music each week, matching songs to liturgy and discovering the world of church hymns.

Along the way on this nerve-racking odyssey, I have learned so much about Catholic music and about stretching oneself to meet a need. My faith has deepened as has my awareness of how the Mass is enriched by the music.

The Eucharistic Minister for our Mass is one of those friends who has a knack for cajoling you into doing something you don’t want to do, and then, to your chagrin, it turns out to be good for you! Don’t you just hate that?

Nonetheless, being pushed into playing the piano for Mass was heaven-sent motivation for which I will always be grateful.

Browse Our Archives

Close Ad