by Dean Kari Miller
I received a wonderful delivery in the mail the other day – tulip bulbs. Hundreds of tulips bulbs. I have planted bulbs before, and some reliable favorites pop up in my garden year after year, daffodils and crocus, mainly. But I have never before splurged on a massive eye-popping, traffic- stopping display of tulips. Unlike most other fall-planted bulbs, tulips usually give their best the first year; after that all bets are off. They are often planted to be enjoyed for those few glorious weeks in bloom then summarily ripped out to make way for the next planting. Although it runs counter to my usual frugal, informal gardening style, I decided to go all out with these tulips, at least this once. I chose the area to be planted, relocated the plants that were there, prepared the ground and finally planted the bulbs, one by one, carefully spacing them and placing them at the proper depth, fertilizing and mulching them.
Any horticulturist will tell you that planting a bulb is a sure thing, not much of a gamble; as the hymn says, “in the bulb there is a flower.” Even so, I can tell you it also involves hours and hours of back-breaking labor, hours during which one does ponder if it is really worth it, hours during which one begins to consider the possibility that one has simply gone nuts. After all, it might be for nothing; those fat bulbs might just end up as a snack for the squirrels.
If gardening demands both faith and hard work, how much more so does preparing a piece of music for performance! Sometimes I look at all those symbols on the page, all those little black notes, as dead and dry and mysterious as a packet of onion seeds, and I wonder how they will ever amount to anything. It is only after they are watered and weeded by many an hour of study and practice that the first green shoots start to emerge. To raise a piece of music to maturity, to bring it to life as sound that will nourish and delight an expectant listener, takes a tremendous amount of thought, time and disciplined effort. And along the way, there are those dangerous moments when we doubt ourselves, when we feel like quitting, when we ask why we are going to so much trouble anyway. It seems to be a particular challenge of our jobs as church musicians that the more organized and pragmatic we are, the more successful we often are; yet none of us became musicians because we wanted to be efficiency experts. Probably most of us became musicians because music touched and excited us and brought us more joy than anything else we encountered. If we don’t honor that, who will? If we don’t keep the spark alive, who will? Go on, take a chance – learn a piece you love, abandon yourself to a project just because it pleases you. Go plant some tulips.