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  • Writer's pictureStephen Percy

When I'm 64

I love music. I love listening, and I love playing. I can sit and listen to track after track for hours, or can listen to the same track on repeat, listening to the different parts played by different instruments. I have my parents to thank – they both appreciate music, and encouraged me to ‘be musical’ when I was younger (even though that did involve carting around a cello via public transport; a young lad with an instrument with a big spike, what could possibly go wrong?)

As well as my parents, though, I also have to thank my primary school teacher, Mrs Fitton. When I was in her class, aged around 9 years old, she played a documentary for the class on the Beatles’ song, ‘When I’m 64’ (if you’ve never heard, it click here for a treat!) The documentary introduced my pre-cello 9-year old mind to the idea of individual musical ‘parts’. Having heard the song in full at the start of the programme, I was gripped to then hear each instrument’s part then being played on its own. I was a little bemused as this cheeky, almost ragtime-esque song no longer sounded anything like it had just a moment ago. When you break the parts down and listen to one clarinet part, and then another, it can feel slightly disjointed. There are gaps you can’t hear when all the parts are played. Some notes seem to be held for a long time, and seem a little boring. The bass part is bordering on unimpressive and you can almost feel the bassist’s relief when they get to the ‘birthday greetings, bottle of wine’ part, just to have chance to mix it up slightly.

But you also get to hear and appreciate little bits that can be so easily lost in the mix. A particular note here, a certain pause there, an accent you’d otherwise miss. You can appreciate the skill in the respective parts a little differently. You appreciate the musician’s patience in waiting to come in, and how them not playing at one point allows another to come to the fore, or how playing along with another can enhance the overall sound and effect. You can hear the brushes on the snare more easily and the hi-hat part played with expertise and appreciate the drummer’s understated approach. And none of it is accidental. Paul McCartney may not have had the final version in mind when he wrote ‘When I’m 64’ at the age of 16, but in the hands of a visionary producer like George Martin, and in the studio with other musicians, the whole song came together beautifully. All the individual parts served a greater purpose.

I’m personally grateful for the experience of watching that programme – it clearly had an impact as I still recall it over 30 years later. But I also wonder whether church is a little like ‘When I’m 64’. God – who makes no mistakes (and who, by the way, loves to sing!) has made it so that the church – what appears at times like a rag-tag bunch of random people with little in common – is actually the display of His wisdom to all sorts of unseen spectators (see Ephesians 3:10) His wise and perfect plan is that each of us plays our part. The parts that involve pauses whilst another does their thing. The parts that make much of another’s contribution. The parts that don’t push for prominence but serve the song’s bigger picture, and communicate its message. We’re called to be musicians in the most glorious, cosmic symphony.

Imagine if 10 drummers had turned up on the day of the recording for ‘When I’m 64’. Or if, every time a clarinet player went to play their part, the electric guitar drowned it out. It would have been a complete mess. Or imagine if George Harrison decided he had nothing to offer, so sat in silence. It just wouldn’t have worked. Each one needed each of the others. Each carefully chosen, skilled musician arrived to play their part, and the song came together as a consequnce. The offerings of the many created somthing greater than they could achieve on their own.

I wonder if we can learn anything from this. Could we be a little less self-absorbed, less focused on being ‘the star of the show’ and instead commit to creating platforms for others to shine? Could we discover patience in serving, waiting our turn and celebrating others’ contributions as we do? And what if we recognized that we each have something to offer – that there are no passengers, no spectators, just musicians? That no part is insignificant or inferior, but each contributes to the Master’s symphony.

It strikes me that each playing their own part, whilst supporting and applauding the others is how the symphony known as the church is designed to be. And that when we do, people enjoy the melody and maybe even begin to sing along. Would you consider what role you play and commit to playing it?

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