Improvisation is intimidating. It reveals a musician’s weaknesses. It betrays a vocalist’s range. It exposes a guitar player’s “go-to” riff. It uncovers a keyboard player’s one-dimensionality. When the band begins to go off-script, some musicians slip in to the background hoping to remain unnoticed. Others brashly try to overpower everything to show off their “talent.” Very few manage to tastefully create something exquisite and meaningful – but those musicians are the special ones.
I have realized this week that improvisation is not only a part of music, but also a part of life. This week has presented my family with unexpected challenges that have caused us to improvise. We have had to decide whether we would complain or improvise. Our weaknesses have been exposed and we have had to choose whether to remain unnoticed, overpower, or make something meaningful out of our situation.
What prepares us for improvisation in music is practicing the basics - learning scales and theory, playing to a metronome and staying in tune. Listening to other musicians gives us inspiration to try new things and to listen for new structures. Stretching ourselves little by little prepares us for when we are faced with the unexpected in the middle of a song or a set. Our gear and our rock n’ roll attitudes cannot cover up bad musicianship when we are forced to improvise.
Likewise what prepares us for improvisation in life is focusing on the basics. Rather than busying ourselves accumulating things or impressing people, establishing the right priorities in life and surrounding ourselves with the right people prepares us to naturally choose those things when presented with difficulties. Our money, our status, our things – those cannot cover up our flaws when we are faced with personal difficulty.
Some of the most inspiring and creative art comes out of improvisation. There is a level of comfort we find in routine and doing the same things over and over, but there is beauty in being stretched. Just like improvisation brings out the best in musicians while simultaneously revealing their weaknesses, it can do the same in our personal lives. We can choose to cower or make excuses, or we can choose to make something beautiful out of what others may see as rubble.
Isaiah 61:3 speaks of the God who takes our ashes and makes something beautiful. It does not say that there will not be ashes or mourning or difficulty, but rather that the ultimate Creator will take what we see as ugly and make something beautiful. Our lives are a moving image of God’s artwork and design. He is not surprised by our warts or our failures, but rather takes those things and makes a masterpiece out of them.
This week has caused me to reflect on my own preparation. May you be inspired to improvise and make something meaningful and beautiful out of your present struggles.