Two toy pianos live in my house. Most of the time, they sit silently on the floor,incongruous decorations of brightly-colored plastic and metal. The visual aesthetics, however, are just a disguise. My daughter’s little hands reveal the pianos’ true purpose when, rediscovering the keys, they pound away with wild abandon. Exploration, play, learning—call it what you will—they all arrive at the same destination: cacophony.
When playing the pianos along with my daughter, my adult brain struggles with the aural chaos. I just can’t help but try to produce something vaguely melodic. As I tap along, trying out different melodies, a quirk of the smaller piano always leads me to the same place. Having just four keys (curiously tuned a half-step above a C-major chord), no matter what combinations I try, at some point I always end up playing them in ascending order. So, wherever I start, I end up tapping out the last few notes of Brother James’ Air.
Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’re probably familiar with the tune. It’s number 517 in the Hymnal 1982, accompanying a paraphrase of Psalm 84:
How lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts, to me!
My thirsty soul desires and longs within thy courts to be;
my very heart and flesh cry out, O living God for thee.
This has long been a favorite hymn of mine, both for the tune and the words. These days, I appreciate it all the more for its spontaneous generation in those toy pianos. On the floor with my daughter, enjoying the randomness of a preschooler’s play and amidst its sometimes maddening cacophony, in so many way, I find beauty and a little spark of the divine. A song comes into focus, giving voice to my ever-present desire for God. It reminds me of the beauty that’s always lurking there, just below the surface.
Not a bad reminder on this chilly spring day.
P.S. Last time we played, my daughter assigned me the bigger piano. As you can see for yourself, it plays more than the last four notes.