The Concertmaster

The college theater was dim last Friday night, and the musicians played Brahms in andante, which means it was soft and low. I would’ve drifted to sleep it hadn’t been so beautiful. The concertmaster from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra was visiting our little town, and I wasn’t about to miss watching him vibrato each string like a gentle wave on the sea. 

My violin teacher was there, too, and he found me afterward. Had I noticed the concertmaster’s form? The curl of his fingers? The swell of his dynamics? My teacher said that after the conductor, the concertmaster is the most important man on the stage. I guess if the conductor lost his wits or keeled over, the concertmaster would leap from his chair to keep the orchestra from clattering to a halt.

I heard a story once about a conductor who spent months leading practices for the orchestra, but on the night of the premier concert, when the violinists and woodwindists took the stage, the conductor sat down on the front row to watch. I suppose he was making a point, but this ragtag city orchestra had no concertmaster, so the music stumbled and fell apart— because without a conductor, of course, there is no symphony.

Without a concertmaster, the song can’t go on.

Friday’s concert let out, and I brushed shoulders with the concertmaster himself in the hallway. He shook my hand, and I was surprised to feel the grip of his. I’d thought the hands of a violinist would be soft and unworked, but his wore the callouses of practice, where the strings had cut in. I don’t always think of art or music as work, but then again, God’s most creative composition took six days of toil.

And creation is a work God is still bringing to life.  

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth… all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together…”

~ Colossians 1:16-18

Like a conductor waving his arm or a concertmaster arcing his bow, God called creation into being, and he didn’t sit down afterward. Hebrews 1 says the Word which spoke long ago still speaks to us— that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb. 1:3).

And so the music of creation is a symphony that’s still playing. The birds sing it. The rivers hum it. The clouds of a thunderstorm drumroll to it. This morning’s sunrise was a crescendo that made the winter trees stand and clap their limbs in praise of the great concertmaster.

“Far away, and down near the horizon, the sky began to turn gray. A light wind, very fresh, began to stir. The sky, in that one place, grew slowly and steadily paler. You could see shapes of hills standing up dark against it. All the time the Voice went on singing.”

~ C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

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