Well done, thou good and faithful … percussionist?

The other day, Thomas drew my attention to Garrison Keillor’s Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra, in which Keillor addresses three key questions for young Lutherans to consider before joining an orchestra.

First, “Do I have a genuine God-given talent, or do I only seem talented compared to other young Lutherans?”

Second, “do you know what you’re getting into?”. Bear in mind, Keillor points out, that our Lord and his apostles “weren’t in the arts – maybe there’s a reason for that”:

You play in an orchestra, you’re going to be devoting your life to music that sort of swirls around in spiritual mystery. Searching for answers that people could find in the Epistle to the Romans if somebody just showed them where it is.

But if you have decided to go ahead anyway, then the third question to be addressed is:

“Which instrument is the best one for a Lutheran to play?” Which instrument would our Lord have chosen, assuming He played an instrument? And assuming He was Lutheran.

After demonstrating that 95% of the instruments in the orchestra are wholly inappropriate for a young Lutheran even to consider playing (such as the oboe: “In movie soundtracks, you tend to hear the oboe when the woman is taking her clothes off … You start playing the oboe, you’re going to have babies, take my word for it.”), Keillor then singles out two areas that are suitable for Lutherans: percussion, and the harp.

And it’s his wonderful description of the percussion section as the ideal home for a Lutheran musician that is the highlight of Keillor’s essay:

[Percussion is] the most Christian instrument there is. Percussionists are endlessly patient because they hardly ever get to play. Pages and pages of music go by when the violins are sawing away and the winds are tooting and the brass are blasting, and the percussionist sits there and counts the bars like a hunter in the blind waiting for a grouse to appear.

A percussionist may have to wait for twenty minutes just to play a few beats, but those beats have to be exact, and they have to be passionate, climactic. All that the Epistles of Paul say a Christian should be – faithful, waiting, trusting, filled with fervor – are the qualities of the good percussionist.

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