“LIFE IN THE PIT”
June 27, 2008
Ah, bring on the life of a musician, a life packed with exotic travel, bright lights, high acclaim, and wondrous applause! Such were my dreams when, fresh out of high school, I dashed off to music school with stars in my eyes, adventure in my heart, and romantic mush occupying the place where my brain should have been. After joining the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra it didn’t take long for me to realize that the life of a musician had very little in common with my dreams. In reality the work was extremely hard, the stress level was intense, and most of the conductors were intolerant, slave-driving perfectionists. I grew weary of long, smoke-filled bus trips to tiny communities on the back roads of Arizona and playing in noisy gymnasiums for audiences who had no appreciation for classical music. I loathed waiting in ballroom kitchens for the orchestra’s cue to entertain some company’s banquet only to have our performance accompanied by the clanging of dishes, inebriated dinner conversations, and people excusing themselves to go to the bathroom.
And then there was the pit; you know, that area in front of the stage, below audience level, where the orchestra sits while accompanying operas, ballets, and musical theater. Most musicians hate the pit. It’s usually very crowded, not well ventilated, dimly lit, and well hidden. The pit orchestra is rarely seen; it’s not supposed to be. While the stars parade on stage, the musicians perform out of sight. While the ballerinas twirl in the spotlight, the musicians toil in the dark. While the “prima donnas” sing to the admiration of the audience, the musicians surrender to anonymity. Hopefully, if the stars of the production are feeling gracious during the curtain calls, they will call for the house lights and acknowledge the orchestra. Other than that, the most you usually see of the musicians is the back of the conductor’s head and his baton.
I used to wonder why we had to wear our formal uniforms (tuxedos for men) if we were never really seen. What was the point? Once, in a fit of rebellion, while playing in a community production of “The Music Man” (not involving the symphony), two of us decided to show up in the pit dressed in our tuxedos from the waist up. But from the waist down we were wearing tattered shorts, gym socks, and old sneakers. Since the audience couldn’t see us what difference would it make? Considering the fact that our twosome consisted of the concertmaster and the principle cellist, we were quite certain the conductor would be forced to go along with our mini revolution. Our fellow musicians laughed hysterically. The seasoned conductor, however, was not amused and his discipline was severe. We were not allowed to perform with the orchestra that night, even though I’m sure their performance suffered. The lecture he gave us before our departure from the pit had something to do about being part of a team, playing as one, and not causing any distractions.
“It’s not supposed to be about us!” He bellowed, shaking his baton for emphasis. “We’re working down here to help what happens on stage be the best possible performance. You may join us once again when you learn you are not the stars of this production!”
Evidently that cranky old conductor had no sense of humor! Fortunately, God does, and He tolerates much more of our rebellion than we deserve. But when our heavenly Maestro does discipline us it should serve as a reminder that we are not to be in the spotlight. That privilege is reserved for only one, the only begotten Son of God. This production, the church, has only one star. Of course He is also the composer, lyricist, director, producer, and benefactor. The rest of us are to humbly take our places in the pit and provide the accompaniment for His performance.
This admonition might be easy for some to follow, but what if you are called to a position of leadership in the church? How can you perform on stage and yet direct the attention to Jesus? I remember one particular worship service many years ago during which I was up front leading the praise and accompanying the congregation with my guitar. Regrettably, I was having far too much fun displaying my talent. Suddenly, one of the strings on my guitar broke.
No problem, I thought to myself. I’ll show these people that I can play the guitar with only five strings.
Less than a minute later another string snapped. In humiliation I finally bowed to Lord’s discipline, set aside my guitar, and finished the service a cappella. Since that time I have always made it a part of my routine to pray before any performance, whether sharing by music or by word, asking that the glory will go to the true star, Jesus Christ. And during every performance the Lord will arrange for some little glitch to take place, something to remind me that I’m not perfect and I’m certainly not the star. When the mistake or malfunction occurs I just smile and thank the Lord for giving me the privilege of accompanying His performance.
Any time we stand before others in any leadership role in the church we must realize that our purpose is to direct the attention upward to where the real performance is taking place. All ministries in this life are to be carried out in the pit. The stage belongs to another. The work is hard, the stress level intense, and our conductor, the Holy Spirit, is certainly a perfectionist. He may often lead us to places we’d rather not go, to perform before audiences who do not appreciate us. But always, ALWAYS, the stage, the spotlight, and the glory belong to Christ!
“…all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” – Colossians 1:16-18. “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” – Matthew 23:11-12. “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” – 1Peter 5:5.
That last Scripture describes part of a servant’s uniform. Yes, as a member of the Lord’s orchestra we have a uniform and yes, it does matter. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience…And over all these virtues put on love…” – Colossians 3:12, 14.
Though we serve in the pit we are not totally out of sight. The world pays far too much attention to us while ignoring the true performance. When we leave part of our uniform at home it can distract attention from the true star and spoil the entire production. We must remember we are part of a team, playing as one. No individual’s performance should upstage the Lord. We serve merely as anonymous musicians laboring in the pit. It’s not supposed to be about us. We’re working down here to help what happens on stage be the best possible performance.
So what’s our reward? “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:4. Rest assured, my fellow pit-dwellers, we are accompanying a gracious star who one day, at the last curtain, will call for the house lights, invite us up on stage with Him, and acknowledge our labor……while all of heaven applauds!
Bill, just another child of God serving in the pit