Recently my son joined the high school marching band even though he’s only in the eighth grade. This is a great (and challenging) opportunity for him as he hastens to learn the music and the steps everyone else learned a month ago. In one sense this is, of course, a promotion. He’s moving up from the middle school band to the high school band. But in another sense he’s moving down. He went from being first chair trumpet in middle school to playing secondary parts with the high school, and that’s an adjustment for him. He’s used to playing the melody. The harmony for “Phantom of the Opera” doesn’t sound nearly as glamorous as the melody. My son is learning what it’s like to play second fiddle… er, trumpet.
Ask anyone who has ever been consigned to sing the alto or tenor part for hymns, and they’ll tell you it’s usually pretty dull. Alto and tenor lines are functional, but not necessarily beautiful. I should know. I sang alto in college. We sang one song where the altos literally alternated between two notes the entire piece. Bo-ring. But couple that with the soprano, tenor, and bass lines, and you have something much more exciting. You have music. True, the alto line wasn’t anything to get excited about, but it was vital to the piece. We can’t all sing melody, after all. If the organist were to get on the bench on Sunday morning and play only the melody line, we’d probably assume he or she hadn’t practiced. “Johnny One-Note” isn’t the best way to play a hymn. Those other voices may not sound terrific on their own, but together they make up a beautiful composition.
Do you ever feel like you’re playing second fiddle? Like you’re always behind the scenes rather than in the limelight? Does it make you feel less important than others? Like you’re not noticed or appreciated? Take heart. Sometimes it takes more grit to play a secondary role than a starring one. In some choirs, people who can’t read music are automatically slotted as sopranos, whether their vocal range supports that or not. Why? Because the melody is usually the easiest to sing. It’s recognizable and familiar. But to sing alto or tenor––ah, now that takes a bit more effort. One has to read the music and find one’s notes against the backdrop of the more familiar melody. It’s challenging. And although most people won’t come up to an alto after a performance to congratulate her on how well she sang, you can guarantee that if the altos didn’t sing, people would notice. There would be a conspicuous void in the chords of the piece. No, the altos aren’t the stars of the show, but without them the performance wouldn’t be complete.
As in a band or choir, so it is in life. Remember St. Paul’s analogy to the body? The body is made up of many parts, each doing its job. Some seem less glamorous than others, but are no less important. “[T]hose parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:22-25, 27)
Paul goes on to list some spiritual gifts in the Church––apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, administrators, and the gift of tongues. Although some of those gifts only applied to the apostolic era, the application is the same today: God gives each of us gifts, and all of them are needed in the church. I love that “those able to help others” made Paul’s list. On the surface, that doesn’t sound very flashy or impressive. Yet who among us doesn’t appreciate the gal at church who makes meals for new moms or offers babysitting services for free? Who doesn’t appreciate the handyman who’s always willing to stop by and help when the washing machine conks out? Indeed, we may not even notice the many areas where church members use their gifts of service. We might not admire the clean paraments on the altar, but if the Altar Guild forgot to change the blue Advent paraments to white for Christmas, we’d take note. We may not appreciate the fact that someone has to climb a huge ladder to reach the lights in the sanctuary, but we’d sure notice if a few light bulbs burned out. The fella who changes light bulbs won’t get as much attention as the pastor in the front, but he’s doing his part to keep the church running smoothly, and his service is also a gift to the congregation.
No matter what your role, remember this important truth from 1 Corinthians 12:18––”But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be” (emphasis mine). God has placed you exactly where He wants you in the body, so be proud of the part He’s assigned you. Even if you’re playing second trumpet.