An ongoing conversation at my kids' piano lessons lately has gotten me thinking about spiritual things.
Grace was just assigned a Beethoven sonata by her teacher, and an interesting exchange took place. She questioned him about the little arrow-like marks under the notes. "Those are supposed to be like staccatos, right?"
"Actually, there's a huge debate about that, believe it or not. That's called a 'staccatissimo', and Beethoven used both those and the little dots that are traditionally called staccatos. Many people believe they should be played exactly the same way and are interchangeable. But the truth is we actually don't know what the difference is, if any, between the two marks. Some editions of Beethoven exclusively use the dots, others only those lines."
The question was interjected: "So maybe the lines were him just writing in a hurry and the pen just slipped?"
"Exactly. This is a subject of great interest for many people, as a matter of fact. Entire books have been written on the subject, if you can imagine."
Cate and Grace exchanged amused glances at this that made me determine they probably wouldn't be among those to reading such books.
"You see, Beethoven often wrote music very, very quickly and of course he used a quill pen, which makes it more challenging to write small, precise dots."
Now he learned forward, and his eyes sparkled with excitement, like he had just unearthed the Dead Sea Scrolls. "With the internet, you can actually go online and see original Beethoven manuscripts and try to play from them. So much information is at our fingertips now! You can find the exact edition you want that closest resembles Beethoven's original ideas, none of this stuff with slurs and pedal added in later by someone else..."This was followed by a look resembling disgust and a shaking of his head.
This reminded me of a mistake I made a few weeks back- I had been told to bring an edition of Bach's inventions for Gideon to learn.
The teacher opened it and began to shake her head. "No, no, no...this is just not right!"
"What's wrong?" I asked, feeling horrified.
"This edition is not correct at all- do you see all this extra stuff in here?" She leaned forward to show me. "All these slurs added in- none of those were original! Someone put them in after! All these staccatos- Bach never wrote those! Look, they even write in the notes in the turns and the ornaments. Look, I want Gideon to know that this is not what the original Bach compositions looked like. The person that put together this edition is adding in his own ideas, but none of them are original to Bach! Why must people add in their own ideas to the music? They think it is for clarity, I suppose, or maybe to make it simpler to read, but when these slurs are added, you are not able to truly see what Bach wanted it to sound like- you are limited by that person's ideas now, not free to see what Bach original meant!"
I blushed, feeling ashamed that I had the audacity to purchase such a ridiculous edition of Bach Inventions.
These sort of incidents come up regularly in the kid's piano lessons.
"The original title to this duet is actually different from what's written here- the newspaper that originally published it misread it. Faure titled it 'Ketty Valse,' after his dog, Ketty, not 'Kitty Valse.' It has nothing to do with cats."
"Most composers wrote their notations in Italian, but Debussy mainly wrote in French. Make certain you look up each French word so you know exactly what he intended."
"Bartok wrote the exact fingering you should use for a reason- make sure you follow it perfectly!"
It can be startling to hear someone talk with such reverence about the original manuscripts of the composers they love and admire. Both teachers clearly did not care about making something easier or simpler to play if doing so meant deviating from the composer's original intent.
All I could think of during these incidents was the Bible.
I feel like it would do us well as Christians to care about the faithfulness and accuracy of our Bible editions and translations half as much as Cate and Grace's teacher cares about original Beethoven scores. I'm not trying to start a "King James only" debate or something, I'm only suggesting that perhaps trying to remain as close to the original source as possible might be an idea worth entertaining. I don't usually hear this debate brought up anymore, which may mean that it's no longer even debated. It seems to be a given these days that you should just read whatever version of the Bible you find easiest to read with no thought given as to how true the version stays to the actual, original words which were penned by apostles and prophets under the guidance of God himself.
On the infrequent occasion when the topic of Bible versions is brought up, I generally hear that older word for word translations are "too hard" to read, as opposed to more modern paraphrased ones, such as The Message which just try to get the general idea accross. Granted, the language of certain versions can be challenging and some of the words are archaic, but the language of legal and medical books can be challenging, and yet no one would ever dream of sacrificing the accuracy of these texts just to make them easier or more fun to read. The highest goal of Cate and Grace's piano teacher, and of every legal and medical textbook ever published, is accuracy, not ease of use. Shouldn't we as Christians care at least as much for the accuracy of our Bibles upon which we claim to base our lives?
I do not declare myself to be an expert, by any means, but you don't have to be an expert to know that the two passages below are not saying the same things.
Ps 25:10 KJV
All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Ps 25:10 The Message
From now on every road you travel will take you to God. Follow the Covenant signs; read the charted directions.
While the author of The Message may have had good intentions in paraphrasing what he believes David was saying, it is clear that the first translation says that only the, "paths of the Lord", will lead you to mercy and truth, while the Message promises that, "every road you travel will lead you to God" which is the exact opposite meaning. In one you have to follow God's paths while in the other you can follow any path. If you can imagine two versions of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata performed with similar disparity, you would clearly be hearing two very different pieces of music.
When it comes to music, we can choose to be a stickler about staying true to Beethoven's original compositions, but no one's life is hanging in the balance if we stray from his original intent and add in a few slurs here and there. However, when it come to the Bible we are talking about matters of life and death. Psalm 119: 105 says, "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." And if this is the case, and I happen to believe that it is with all my heart, then I want that lamp to be gleaming as bright as it possibly can. I don't want its light dimmed or diminished by the added grime of the thoughts, opinions and prejudices of men.
It certainly is amazing to have piano teachers who try with all their ability and energy to teach my kids how to play music that is hundreds of years old as closely as possible to the way the composer intended it to be played. The musical genius of the composer stands unquestioned by these teachers. The attitude is, "If only someone today could play piano like Liszt, or channel Bach himself (such as Glenn Gould, who came so very close!), or get into the mind of Chopin and perform his brilliant works the way they were meant to be played!" Such reverence for the original composition and its composer puts to shame much of our modern approach to the Bible and its author.
In general, I think many of us believe that the Bible is God's word. But we have become so comfortable with this well worn phrase that it has ceased to work its awe upon us. Think about it! The word of God. The words of a God! And these divine words were not just written - they written to us. To you. To me. Written by our creator for the sole purpose of enlightening our blindness as we navigate these tumultuous waters called life. How often do we take for granted the fact that we have the very words of God, written in a book that we likely own a half dozen copies of?
Let's not lose the wonder of the Bible. Its wonder lies in the fact that that among all the books that you can download with a click of a button or the tap of a finger on the information superhighway, it is the only one that honestly and truly and in fact was written by a God! in trying to make it easy to read, let's not loose this wonder by cluttering it up with the thoughts of common men.
If you will forgive me one more indulgence in my musical analogy - the little dots or lines under the notes of the Beethoven Sonata are fairly trivial in and of themselves. So whats the big deal? Why make an issue out of them? The big deal is that while they may only be small marks in a big Sonata they are small marks written by the brilliance and genius of Beethoven, and Beethoven put them there for a reason! That and that alone should be enough to not impose upon his compositions the supposed improvements and clarifications of lesser men. Every choice to include or exclude a specific staccato, or stacatissimo, was made by Beethoven himself to serve his vision for the much larger sonata, and each of those little seemingly insignificant marks plays a small part in the beauty of Bethoven's triumph. Majesty. Splendor. Glory. That was Beethoven's goal. And from what I gather from Cate and Grace - he wasn't terribly concerned with writing things that were easy to play!
Jesus said, "Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law
Like Beethoven's staccatos, every jot and tittle that God has ever written to us in the holy scriptures is important for one reason and for one reason alone - because it is He who wrote them. He wrote them. And His genius towers far above that of Beethoven or any mortal man as the heavens stretch out above the sea. And because of this, and nothing more, we should tremble at the thought of removing a single word that He has included, or to add own words to His, or to read as His word any Bible that dares to do either of these things, lest the masterpiece of His word be lost to us altogether. We should instead approach the Bible as my children's music teachers approach Beethoven - with humility.
Every jot and tittle that God included in the Bible is important and indispensable because they each play their own little part, just like Beethoven's staccatos, to lend beauty and texture to the larger Sonata. And if the Bible can be thought of as a sonata, then its theme is Christ.
Jesus said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." John 5:39
That's it. That's what its all about. The Bible is all about Jesus.
And we can't throw any of it away. Because all of it points to Him.
And we can't just alter it at will to suit our tastes or our culture because it's not about us, it's about Him.
He is the Living Word, the word made flesh who dwelt among us. And not one jot or tittle of God's word should be lost or cast carelessly aside in paraphrase or translation, because all of it - all of it - testifies of Christ.
***Thanks to my husband for helping to edit this for clarity***