Kenya Journal August 2022 Edition 3
SELAH Phrasing separates the great from the good.
When I talk about phrasing, I’m not thinking of preaching or preachers, writing or writers. I’m thinking about musicians.
Music was my passion in high school and college. I was actually a music performance major in college. I was quite certain that I would have a professional music career. That was, until I learned the difference in good and great. When I walked into my first college band rehearsal I found myself sitting at the end of the section. It was a new experience. I had always sat first chair or if not, I could touch first chair from where I sat. But in college, everyone in the room was an all-state player. Everyone was good. And a few, were great.
In music, as in athletics, greatness has a lot more to do with gifting than with hard work and discipline. Oh, everyone has to learn the fundamentals, but once you are past learning to make a sound on your instrument and you actually start making music, there is a huge gap between good and great.
I climbed the ranks in college. I got back to the top… I thought. But, I soon found out that I was at the top of a shallow pond. There were other folks at the top of musical oceans, and I couldn’t touch the bottom (nor, hold their instruments.)
I traveled to take a lesson with what I considered to be one of the greatest professional saxophone players of my day. He was working on his doctorate in Texas, and part of his
doctoral work was to take on a limited number of students. In order to “study” with this man, you had to audition…just to become his student.
Auditions were my strong suit, so I made the drive from Louisiana to Texas to play for this virtuoso. The audition lasted all of 30 seconds. As I began the second phrase of my prepared piece, he held up his hand like a school crossing guard. “Thank you for coming. That’s all I need to hear. You are wasting your
money, and my time. I suggest you find another craft.”
I wish I could have seen my face. I know it had never had that expression on it before. Never in my brief, but illustrious, musical career had anyone ever said such a thing to me about my playing ability.
When I pointed out that I did not miss a note in the extremely difficult piece I was playing, he pointed out that he wasn’t looking for someone who could play the right notes. He was looking for musicians who could turn the notes into music. He was totally unimpressed by my technique, flawless as it was. He knew something I didn’t know, because he heard things that my musical ears didn’t hear.
When he picked up his horn and played the phrases I had just completed, it sounded like a totally
different piece of music. It was!
The difference? Phrasing.
He didn’t play any notes that I didn’t play. He just played those notes with expression, dynamics,
and phrasing that captured your soul, not just your ear.
I don’t know why I thought of him today. But, I can hear his voice today as clearly as I did 49 years
ago. “Until you learn to pause…to let the phrase develop, to breathe, and then to live…you’ll always
just be a good technical player. You’ll never be a great musician. Come back if you learn to play
what is around the notes, instead of just playing the notes.”
I never went back (obviously).
But, I did learn that the pausing was just as critical as the playing.
Today, I paused.
That is what Selah means.
It’s a musical term that David and his psalmist buddies used when they wanted you to stop being so
technical in reading the verses. When they wanted you to let those pregnant verses incubate in
your heart and mind, so the Spirit who breathed them onto the page could call them to life. To
quicken your spirit, until your spirit begins to breathe out the Words as you live out the Words.
When I was a young missionary, today would have been a wasted day, in my opinion. I would have
already had 2-3 sermons under my belt, several “decisions for Christ” to report, and would be quite
pleased with myself (whether God was or not). Today…I’m sitting in front of my hotel window,
anticipating my first sundown in Kenya. It will be spectacular, I’m sure. God doesn’t make any bad
ones! But I sure have missed a bunch of his masterpieces driving 100 MPH with my hair on fire to
see if I could get one more sermon in before sunset.
I used to think rest was for the weak.
Now, I know, it is for the wise.
The rest of the team lands in Nairobi tonight. Our scheduled ministry begins in earnest tomorrow. I
came early, because I knew I would need to rest if I were to be able to play the symphony God will
compose over the next 20+ days.
Maybe today was just for me? Maybe I’m the only one who needed this journal’s writing. Or,