Ahead of Unbelievable? the Conference 2017 Justin Brierley traces...
It was April and my music teacher had asked me to create a compelling composition to up my GCSE grade from a ‘Dd’ to a ‘Bb’. It was actually an ‘Ee’ after having missed many of my lessons due to ill health (such was my character that a profound naughtiness expressed itself in laziness and indolence); but he was a good man and gave me the benefit of the doubt each and every time. He was also a profoundly musical man, his small squinty eyes darting back and forth across the music hall, picking out those who knew how to string out a melody and using them as exemplary partisans of the ‘musical ideal’. The class had no idea what these statements meant, but they were all too happy to bang the drums and make sport of his sincerity. But though I was lazy, I was different – temperate, kind and sensitive to the role of a teacher as someone who never stops giving. When I turned up, I listened, and I watched, and I fell in love with music all over again.
And I fell in love with her all over again!
She was the girl that everyone fancied – the brunette with the green eyes and jet black hair that was the cause of everyone taking music class that year. Never had the male to female ratio been so great. She could play the flute with an inspiring lisp, a cacophony of jaunty notes that trailed off as she ran out of breath, before she picked the instrument up again and looked at the audience with almost teary eyes. Yes I fell in love when she poured out an Irish-Scottish tune that was as doleful as a deer standing on the heights. I know that Mr Soper was impressed, and he impressed upon me that I should do similar, and find a tune within me that was expressively melancholic and melodramatic, that would appeal to my Byronic spirit.
I won her heart with that tune. After that, every time I walked into music, slightly aghast at everyone’s sincerely bad taste for being good all the time (as was my taste in those days), her beautiful eyes would wonder over to mine
He was a kindred spirit, and she was inspiring. Blending the two together, I thought up the dreamy idea of creating a choral tune especially for her; it needed to be a tune almost ‘Christian’ in appeal, that might be played by a piano and a violin – my two favourite instruments. They were simple days, and in the music room where Natalie caught my eye, I was all for Jesus and his Plan in my life – a plan that included her.
“So you want to create something for piano and violin” Mr Soper said. He was in the room too.
“Yes. And I already think I have it playing in my inner ear!” I said suddenly, in a wind of exaltation, my mouth curling as Natalie glanced nervously in my direction. I could feel the tension, fawnish, like the change in the year when colours stand out in the trees and dew is everywhere to be found.
“I would like to hear it” she said, and I thought it’s do or die now. I had been watching Michael Flatley’s Riverdance, and remembered distinctly the sound of each note he played. It was called Whispering Wind and it was awe inspiring. A Catholic melody I thought, and full of ‘Christianity’.
Mr Soper was impressed, and he impressed upon me that I should do similar, and find a tune within me that was expressively melancholic and melodramatic, that would appeal to my Byronic spirit.
“I can’t play the tune, as you know Natalie” I chuckled, making as much charm as I could. “But I can hum it. If you would like to accompany me I will show you how each note sounds”
“Ok” she said faintly. “Please do” Mr Soper joined in, excited and somewhat taken back by my courage, little knowing that without Natalie there would be no sound, no effort, no endearing melancholy. Little knowing, that without Jesus by my side, I wouldn’t have the guts to be myself and make a better impression on her than the other boys in year 10 music.
You will probably know that when you are that age, everything of the heart is written so subtly, and there is this breathless discourse that happens between a boy and a girl. If only we could be like that as adults, we would all be in love, and in the most spontaneous and lavish of ways. Back then, in that room with the sound of drums and guitar solos coming through the creaky doors and the biscuit-smell of the canteen drifting through the halls, I was happy to share my soul in the most intimate way. I wanted to build upon my success in the ravines of Wales, where on a year 9 camping trip I had caught her foot from falling on the rocks, where I had given her extra custard and apple streudal and fended off the competition with stories that were lies straight from Enid Blyton manuals.
And so I stole the riverdance tune and made it my own. They didn’t know it was a famous tune in Ireland – and why should they? It had been reserved for me, for that moment when God favoured me above other mortals. I won her heart with that tune. After that, every time I walked into music, slightly aghast at everyone’s sincerely bad taste for being good all the time (as was my taste in those days), her beautiful eyes would wonder over to mine, and I would smile faintly.
Of course, you can only keep such a girl interested for so long. So on the day that my best friend came into school carrying a large rock in a pick-up truck, ready for a stone-lifting competition only he would participate in, her interest was fascinated elsewhere, and I lost her. I only add this at the end to remind you, the reader, that music is only a small part of the chorus that is life, and there are many hurdles in the way of true love with a girl that you deeply admire and wish to keep. I also write here to remind you that this is not the love of Christ, who loved you from the beginning, without any cheat-song necessary. His love is eternally rendered, and the brush of the moth’s wing amongst the stars that is romantic love pales in comparison to it.
Let me know of your own expressions of human love, and tell me if these expressions are anything like that assurance that is found in the eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Natalie was beautiful, and I am sure she still is; if I saw her today, I am sure I would fall in love all over again. But even so, Whispering Wind aside (I leave it above for your pleasure – its astonishingly beautiful), I wish her to know the deep, deep love of Jesus, who is and was and is to come.