Smart Music

Each of our boys plays an instrument (or two).  Every afternoon, we experience “music madness.”  The three of them practice at the same time.  Saxophone and trumpet upstairs; cello in the family room. 


During Sam’s most recent trumpet lesson, his teacher invited me to join the lesson for a few minutes.  He opened his laptop to Smart Music—a computer program that students use to record their songs during the week for the teacher to listen to and grade.  Sam’s teacher was curious about the comments that I had been writing below many of Sam’s music submissions:


“Sam forgot how to play B flat.”


“Sam was really tired during this one and said he just wanted to do one more.”


“Sam spent a lot of time on this.” 


The most frequent comment was:  “Sam worked really hard on this one!!!!!!!!!”


Of course, I hadn’t written any of the comments, but for months upon months, his teacher thought that I had.  He was convinced I was advocating for Sam and in some cases, making excuses for him.  When we realized that this nine-year old boy was the author of the comments, our beloved trumpet teacher asked Sam if he often spoke of himself in the third person. 


I couldn’t stop laughing when I discovered that my quiet middle child had been impersonating me over Smart Music.  I was dying to know what I had “said” to his teacher.  When I looked it up, I discovered that on Smart Music, I sounded encouraging and kind.  I was Sam’s biggest musical ally and defender.  But in real life, I’m more like Cinderella’s stepmom sending the kids to their rooms to practice as I shout upstairs:  “Shut your door and don’t come down ‘til your finished practicing!”


The difficulty with Smart Music is that the computer never gives Sam 100%.  Even though he practices and works hard, the computer often records his grade as a mere 55%.  He comes in a hair early or a hair late; he holds a note too long or too short; he forgets to play B flat; his rhythm is off ever so slightly.  Smart Music doesn’t miss a beat.  Wrong notes turn red; early or late entries turn orange and perfectly played notes are colored green.  Smart Music records all of your musical sins.  And Sam’s spirit crumbles under the weight of a staff screaming with red notes. 


In some ways, Sam’s experience with Smart Music reminds me of our experience with the God’s law.  We can’t achieve all green notes, no matter how hard we try.  The music program simply points out our inadequacies and how far we have to go.  In Romans 3:20-23, the apostle Paul talks about the law.  He says:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.  But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” 

Jesus is the answer--because all of us have played wrong notes in this life.  We’ve struck chords of dissonance; chords of disobedience.  Jesus takes our sad, broken song and he makes it sing.  Now that’s smart music.  That’s the music of sacrifice.  One hundred percent.   




Patricia Batten