To ‘know something by heart’ means more than simply to have memorised it. It implies that it has become such a part of you that you hardly need to think before recalling it. On the other hand, the things you hold in your heart are the important things and you will think of them often. I want to talk today about something close to my heart because it truly affects the way I play my music. So bear with me as I share some of my heart journey.                                                                                                                                                              

I didn’t really feel a connection with the purpose of music until I realised I could express my feelings, my innermost emotions, through playing music. I think it began when I started learning about chords and chord patterns, and how I could create my own combinations of these to produce something that I liked. There was a lot of experimenting in those times. Combinations of harmony, melody and rhythm were developed through listening to various styles, copying them and then trying other ideas with them.

As a teenager, there were times when the family piano got a bit of a workout when I was struggling with life/growing/teenage issues. I found I could express my emotions on the keys sometimes quite strongly. I’m so grateful that that expression was allowed and possible in a pre-headphone era!

Along with this I discovered that if I really enjoyed a piece of written music that I’d learned, it could also be a venue for expressing my feelings. It gave me music outside of my own experimentation to explore and learn more about. I could play something beautiful with the skills I was learning in the area of musical expression and that was valid too – all part of growing as a musician.

Then I started playing for Sunday school and later in church. I was using a combination of reading and playing by ear skills for this. It was daunting at times as I was still developing the skills needed, so there wasn’t a sense of playing from my heart. Rather I was getting a job done as a service to those I was accompanying. I suppose that was valid for its time.

Other instruments became vehicles for my feelings. The double bass was my instrument for playing with others and enjoying the sound of music making that can only come with combinations of instruments in an orchestra. This stirred and encouraged the social enjoyment of music with a range of folk from all walks of life. Later the cello became a voice for more personal expressions.

From childhood my faith has shaped me more than anything and I have found the experience of expressing gratitude to my Heavenly Father through music to be profound. Music can be a tool in worship, and when it comes from the true expression of the heart something very precious is the result. In recent years I have found this through playing the cello, moreso than on other instruments, thanks to the blessing of participating in a weekly communion and worship service called ‘After His Heart’. I would be there when I could and simply played from my heart, creating harmonies to accompany Julie, who was at the piano, without reference to written music.

I have no doubt that when Handel wrote The Messiah in 24 days there was something very special going on in his heart. His skills as a composer and musician were tools that he used brilliantly to create a work of profound musical achievement. But there is an undefinable quality in that work that I believe came from a deep expression of worship and desire to bring glory to God. That quality, I believe, came from the Spirit of God pouring over Handel’s creativity. Today hundreds of years after it was written it still has an impact.

The music can have its own beauty of sound when skillfully played, but when those who perform it do it from their heart with a true declaration of the words (in the case of choral music) or out of a longing to express a deep emotion through the instrumental sound,  something special happens. Because it is comes from the heart, it touches the heart of both listener and performer.

Why else are there 50 million views for this video on You Tube?

Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus – Must See!

May you and your family have a truly blessed Christmas. I plan to have a break (and give you a bit of a rest from my musings) over Christmas, but I have lots to share with you in the New Year.

4 thoughts on “Music by Heart

  1. I think it is only when students start to ‘listen’ to their own playing, rather than being tied up with reading notes and timing, that they truly start to play from the heart.
    I always wanted to be in a flash mob. Have a good Christmas.

    • That is such a good point Suz, and a good reason to learn the music well enough that they memorise the music too. Thanks for sharing it.
      It would be fun to be in a flash mob, I agree, worth the work it would take to pull it off.

  2. “I didn’t really feel a connection with the purpose of music until I realised I could express my feelings, my innermost emotions, through playing music” – This idea resonates with me so much. I think when you can have that, music becomes something that you no longer need to be encouraged to make by a parent or teacher but it instead almost becomes a ‘necessity’ where you are personally drawn to it – pulled to self-express and create.

    • Thanks for drawing this out Chuana. I think as parents and teachers we need to realise that music by heart doesn’t come at the start but in the process of teaching and guiding we are always looking to the day when that child can take the skills we have been helping them develop and use them to express their heart. The challenge is to not burn their interest in the earlier learning processes so they can indeed reach that place of personal ‘necessity’ as you rightly put it, to self express and create. For some it may come as children, for others it may not be until later.

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