Enduring Discord

Last Wednesday I went to a classical education event held on the campus of St. John’s College in Annapolis. I enjoyed a day away from my regular responsibilities, a day thinking about the classical tradition, a day amongst adults. Some parts of the presentation were better than others (the two-hour long teaching on mimetic teaching was not my favorite), but one thought has stuck with me and was brought into particular focus during the symphony concert I attended last night.

Wednesday, in a talk about the 7 Liberal Arts, Andrew Kern observed that these arts bring harmony when they’re mastered.  Arithmetic teaches us to endure discord. We have to live in that tension of not knowing for a time. Eventually we understand, and then there’s harmony. He mentioned that we see this principle at work in other places in our lives as well. We have to endure discord to get to harmony. Pop music, he said, makes us lazy because the tension is resolved so quickly. We don’t have to live with it, struggle with it, try to understand it. The harmony is immediate. Instant resolution. 

Last night Wayne and I went to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Stephen Hough, pianist, played a Mendelssohn concerto and then gave us Chopin for an encore. The orchestra played Bruckner. We were close enough to see the basses tearing up their bows with the fervor of their playing. I watched the concertmaster move enthusiastically with the music and noticed that the conductor lead the entire Bruckner piece without a score. And I was jealous.

I confess that when I see someone who excels at what he does, I always wish I could do that. Exposure to greatness stirs a longing within me, to have that, do that, achieve that. Ah, my misspent youth. Why didn’t I work harder?

What a gift to be able to sit down to the piano, or with your violin, and play music of exquisite beauty. To be able to play it from memory, at any time, because it’s so deeply a part of you. What a joy to join with other musicians and offer this gift to an audience of people who think it’s time well spent.

And then I thought of Andrew’s remarks about enduring discord. The reason that these amazingly talented and skilled musicians have the privilege of enjoying this music, and offering it to the rest of us, is that they endured the discord. Literal discord! Years of practice. Years of sacrifice. I read an interview with the concertmaster; he remembered leaving half his childhood lessons in tears. Tension. Discord.

But what a reward! To have all this beautiful music stored up inside of you. To sit down and play a Chopin Nocturne, with all of its aching loveliness, anytime you want to.

Endure the discord. Push through the tension. Mastery takes time, but the harmony is worth it.

About waymel

Christian. Navy wife. Homeschooling mom of 3. Pianist. Book glutton.
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4 Responses to Enduring Discord

  1. Beautiful and will have me thinking

  2. maryswanbell says:

    Endure the discord…push through the tension of not knowing…I am not a musician, but those sound like great life lessons as well!

  3. Rebecca says:

    I thoroughly concur. We have so many tearful practices at home, and so many after which I am ashamed and so is the child. But we also have wonderfully precious memories and inside jokes. We have laughed until we cried during practices. And when the piece is finally played correctly, we exchange smiles of understanding so deep that I know we both ache with the beauty of it. With each of my children I have experienced this. I’m wrestling with discord and seeking harmony in other areas, too. I always struggle to work out my salvation. What does it mean, practically and daily, to be a Christian? How now shall I live? Why can I continuously fail at it and yet remain convinced that it is worth pursuing with tenacity? Enduring discord. We also endure discord in our imperfect relationships, trusting that they will be made beautiful in the end. I think it’s a huge part of life.

  4. ladydusk says:


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