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Looking at the keys as more than black and white

There should be no shortcuts on what really matters.
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We need free thinkers; not parrots

There are many, many things about my life growing up for which I am grateful. Among the countless ways I was blessed by my parents, I am extremely thankful they brought music into my life.

I've shared before that I can vividly remember the day a piano was delivered to our house. I was four years old and I was in awe. I loved that piano and each day would pull the bench up as close as I could and just play and play, simply making it up as I went along.

Soon I began piano lessons and the world of those black and white keys began to find some order. But I was not a good student. I'm not unique in that I didn't like to practice, but I took my impatience with counting and reading music to a different level. Because I play by ear, I would have my piano teacher play new songs assigned that week and the next lesson I would play back what I heard.

It worked for a long while, but when it caught up with me there was no escape. I hadn't put in the time early on learning proper counting and note reading techniques. I simply took in what I heard and played it back. When the pieces of music got too complicated, I couldn't fully rely on my way of doing things any longer and I needed to start putting in the work.

It makes me wonder about areas of our lives that we want others to do the heavy lifting. Tell me what to think. Tell me what to believe. I'll just play it back for others. Sadly, it seems to happen a lot.

Think about news coverage. Do we take time to read stories, find additional perspectives and consider the information we’ve been given? It seems many are content to scan headlines or listen to the analysis of others instead of taking the time to come to informed conclusions on their own. There are plenty of strong opinions on climate, energy, public dollars, COVID, the political divide and so much more. I wonder sometimes how many people put in the time to actually read or listen to more than talking points and slogans. It’s less work to simply ingest the opinions of others rather than looking fully at the information for ourselves.

Or think about the time (or lack thereof) people spend reading the texts related to their faith. I once heard a conference speaker remark that a lot of Christians spend more time reading books about the Bible, than they do actually reading the Bible itself. Again, it's easier to let theologians, scholars or pastors tell us what it says than to spend the time reading it ourselves. It requires much less effort to just take in what they say than to put in any time ourselves.

When we're not making the effort to dig in and learn, study and discern; we can easily become people who are ill-informed, uninformed, or misinformed. And in doing so we might end up losing out on more than we could ever realize.

A few summers ago, I was at The Schubert Club Museum in St. Paul, Minnesota and had the truly amazing experience of being able to play an 1878 Bechstein Grand that had been bequeathed to the museum by an Austrian music patron. Throughout its history, the piano had been played by Anton Rubinstein, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Johannes Brahms, Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and Erno von Dohnanyi.

As I took my place in front of the keys, I was very grateful. Grateful for this unique opportunity, but grateful also for the hours and hours of playing and practicing the piano through which I eventually learned to wade. On that day, and on so many others, I celebrate the fact that I wasn't allowed to bamboozle my way through. I had to do the work.

Looking for shortcuts doesn’t serve our best interests. The issues are too important and the outcomes too significant to let others decide what we should think or feel. Becoming more aware, better informed and fully ready to craft our own opinions is the way we move forward on these issues – not simply following someone else’s lead.

Repeating back what my piano teachers played wasn’t the best route to development as a musician, nor is blindly accepting the words of others an effective route to developing our position or opinion on anything. Digging in and figuring it out means doing the work, but that is so much better than standing on the sidelines and parroting what others want us to say. That’s my outlook.

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