By Kari Miller
“A watched pot never boils.” “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Better late than never.” These short pithy sayings, commonly known as “proverbs,” give a piece of advice or state a general truth which can be applied in everyday life. We all have dozens of them bouncing around in our heads; we have heard them since our childhoods, from parents and grandparents, teachers and the kid next door. Most are anonymous, passed down from generation to generation, and many exist in slightly varied forms in different cultures. One can find an apt proverb for almost any situation in life. Besides the ubiquitous “practice makes perfect,” which we all live with one way or another, and the reality that “time is money,” the essence of a church musician’s life is encapsulated in the adage “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” And who among us has not learned, through bitter experience, the truth that “failing to plan is planning to fail”?
Here are some useful (and colorful) proverbial suggestions that are sure to help you sail through the next tedious staff meeting. Perhaps you are dealing with a rosy-eyed, unrealistic member of the clergy – you can simply remind him (or her) that “fine words butter no parsnips.” For the excessive or bombastic talker, an appropriate comment might be “empty vessels make the most noise.” (Depending on who is doing the talking, however, you might want to keep that one to yourself if you value your job.) Some good, all-purpose advice might be: “better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” And of course, when meeting with the finance committee one always has to keep in mind, whether one likes it or not, that “he who pays the piper calls the tune.” On the other hand, you are well within your rights to quote the Greek proverb, “from a broken violin do not expect fine music.”
Later, at choir rehearsal, you can tell yourself, as you look out over the half-empty soprano section and listen to your only good tenor coughing and sneezing, that “half a loaf is better than no bread.” (Although inwardly you are seething, thinking that you really deserve better and that “those who sleep with dogs will rise with fleas.”) The best advice here has to be to lighten up, do what you can, and remember that “laughter is the best medicine.”
So rich and broad is the store of proverbs that someday you may find yourself on the receiving end of a really good one. There’s always that ill-informed parishioner who thinks that “when the music changes, so does the dance.” As in: if only you played different music, not such boring stuff, more (or younger, or better, or livelier) people would come. In self-defense, you can come back with “those who can’t dance say the music is no good,” or the Yiddish version, “if the bride can’t dance, she blames the musicians.” However you decide to handle it, the good news is that all do seem to agree with the Irish proverb, “Poor is the church without music.”