Yesterday I saw and heard something wonderful! Mim and I went to the Overture Center in Madison to hear the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform with Gabriela Montero as guest pianist. I had never heard of Gabriela Montero before yesterday, but she was going to play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and we knew we would enjoy the music enough to compensate for the frigid Wisconsin weather we’d have to tolerate to get there.
We were right! The whole concert was absolutely beautiful, but the real highlight was totally unexpected. After the standing ovation for the performance of the piano concerto, Gabriela Montero came back on stage and asked the audience to sing or call out a musical theme, and she would improvise on it as an encore. Someone called out, “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad.” Montero (a native of Venezuela) looked a little surprised, laughed with the audience, then plunked out the tune on the piano one note at a time and asked, “Is this it?” The audience responded with a hearty “Yes!” She said, “No one has ever asked for this tune before.” Then she paused about ten seconds and began an amazing improvisation on that tune for about five minutes. She put almost as much exuberance and variety into improvising that tune as Beethoven had put into writing his Piano Concerto No. 1.
I looked on YouTube this morning to find an example of Gabriela Montero’s improvisation on a familiar tune. This link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6Aa92cZToI) is to an improvisation of “Happy Birthday.” This video might help you imagine what she did to “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” yesterday.
Gabriela Montero definitely has the gift of musical improvisation. And she uses it well to bring joy to many people – from the “birthday girl” honored in the above video, to the thousands of people who marvel at her spontaneous improvisations in concert halls around the world.
Gifts…. That subject was on my mind yesterday because of the second Scripture reading in church, I Corinthians 12:1-11. I’ve been reading THE MESSAGE paraphrase a lot more lately to try to gain fresh insights into familiar Bible passages. Here are verses 4 and 7 from THE MESSAGE. “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere, but they all originate in God’s Spirit…. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is. Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people!”
After yesterday, I know that one of the gifts God has given Gabriela Montero is musical improvisation. But the Scripture says that each person gets something – everyone receives gifts, and there is tremendous variety in what these gifts are.
That prompted me to think about some of the gifts the Spirit has given me. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I described the prelude I played on the piano in church yesterday morning as improvisations on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” The same word, “improvisations,” does not describe the same thing Montero did with her tune and what I did with mine. I think the gift God has given me is the sensitivity to figure out what hymn tune will help someone in the congregation draw closer to God. Generally I choose music that complements the Scripture readings of the day, and that is arranged in a style that reflects the mood of the text. That certainly is a very different gift than what the Spirit gave to Gabriela Montero.
The last verse of Sunday’s reading (verse 11) puts some perspective on the different gifts we each receive, “All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what and when.”
I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given me, and even more, I’m thankful for the gifts the Spirit has given others.