Learning To Play The Rests

drummer-375364I remember, as a seventh grader playing in the symphonic band, being excited because our band director had just handed out the sheet music to “Oye Como Va.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this ground-breaking song, originally written by Tito Puente, propelled the iconic Carlos Santana to stardom and single-handedly defined an entire sub-genre of rock music.

Now if you shudder at the concept of 12 and 13 year old boys and girls playing hard-driving latin rock with clarinets and trombones and flutes and trumpets, then you know what was to be inevitable. Our hapless band director would count out the tempo, then the entire band—driven by the hormonally-imbalanced adrenal glands of the drum section—would launch into the song about three times faster, five times louder, and sixty eight times sloppier. There was simply no way to stop the acceleration when we tried to play this song. It was like jumping out of an airplane—at the downbeat, gravity would simply take over, and we would free fall head first into terminal velocity. I remember at one point, our fuming band director threw his baton down in unbridled frustration and stormed out of the band room.

One of the concepts that music students naturally have a hard time with is the rest. A musical rest is an interval of silence with a specific duration, and can last a single beat or less, to several or more measures. Unless a musician knows how to “play” the rests, a song will implode into cacophony. You see, music is defined as much by what notes you don’t play as what you do play. And when you play or not play them as well. And there is a lesson to be learned in this metaphor.

The concept of rest comes originally from the book of Genesis. God’s creation was poetically spoken into existence in six days, and God rested on the seventh day. The Hebrew concept of the Sabbath, a weekly day of abstinence from work in order to rest and worship, is derived from this. In today’s modern age, sabbaticals are often granted by corporations, universities, and religious organizations, and extend from just a few weeks to a year.

Of course, the concept behind the concept is that we were hardwired by God to both work and rest in regular intervals. We are not unlike music in this way.

The word “rest” has implications, not just physical but emotional and spiritual as well. To rest your body. To rest your soul. To rest in Him. In a perfect world, we should purposefully schedule times of rest into the cycles of every day, every week, and every year.

As we enter into this summer, I encourage all of you—especially artists of faith—to play the rests. To set your life not to your own tempo, but to the tempo of the music that God is playing in your life. May we learn to both play and be still, to acknowledge both the sound and the silence, the notes and the rests.

Interestingly, the phrase, “Oye Como Va,” has two different meanings. It can mean, “Hey, how’s it going?” but along with the musical response, “mi ritmo,” it can also mean, “Listen to how my rhythm goes.” (“Oye como va mi ritmo.”)

May we all learn how to live in the rhythms of God’s grace.

[Photo Credit: dankreider. Pixabay.com.]

Note: Okay, I realize that I probably put that song in your head now. If I did, bang it here to actually listen to it.


6 thoughts on “Learning To Play The Rests

  1. Brother Manuel, this was a refreshing way to start my day. I am in Croatia right now leading a Proclaim Bluegrass band as part of a week long festival to tell the good news “by all means”. Like the lines of a fugue, it is important for us to remember that the moments of “inactivity” or silence are just as important as the main menus of frenzy. Thanks for this reminder as our adventure begins.

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