Randa and I were practicing a “new” song this weekend, one we’d never sung in public together. It’s a song I’d written several years ago, based on one of the most familiar passages in the New Testament, First Corinthians Thirteen, often called “The Love Chapter.” Paul’s description leaves no doubt about the emptiness of piety without love:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (NIV)
During the first few runs through the song, I kept singing it the way I’d originally composed it, a slow but somewhat soulful ballad style. I used an irregular strumming pattern according to the feeling of the line. Randa kept searching for a harmony part. After a few times with no breakthrough, she asked if I could pitch it a bit higher. So I switched from C to D and ran through it again. A little better.
Jokingly, I asked, “Want me to try it bluegrass style?” and then ripped into a fast two-beat version. Randa’s expression suggested that wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. We ran through it again in less spirited fashion. The harmonies were starting to come together but neither one of us was really happy with the tempo. And I didn’t like the chording as well in D.
Around the tenth time through it, I dug out my capo and fastened it on the neck of my twelve-string at the second fret. That let me keep the same fingering for C but pitched it in D. Something about the sound prompted me to switch to a bright, up-tempo folk style. It’s one where you hit the base strings once then the other strings twice for each measure, kind of duhm-dit-dit, duhm-dit-dit, etc. By the time we’d hit the chorus, I knew this was the right beat for this song. More like Peter, Paul and Mary and less like a dirge. Or the Wilburn Brothers.
We ran through it several more times and everything came together—Randa had developed a harmony part we both liked, I was playing a consistent tempo and it got smoother each time through. By ten-thirty Saturday night, we felt that we had it close enough to right that we could sing it Sunday morning without embarrassing ourselves or our congregation.
Finding out something isn’t quite right is often easier than figuring out how to fix it. Sometimes the solution comes to us right away and all at once. Other times, it takes a long series of short steps. Regardless, our odds improve with each successive effort. Every improvement begins with recognizing it’s possible and with believing we can get there.
Whether it’s practicing a song, running a business or working on a relationship, I love when humility and determination work together. Especially when motivated by love.