The Most Boring Piece of Music Ever (and why I love it)

I come from a very musical family. All my siblings and I play an instrument, if not two or three, and have done so since we were little. It’s something I’ll always be incredibly thankful to my parents for giving us the opportunity to do (and, yes Mum, for forcing us to practise). My main instrument is viola and, while I love the mellow sound of it by itself, I’ve always preferred playing it in orchestras and quartets to solo performing. The times when it becomes not so much about me myself but the music as a whole. 

I had the real privilege of being part of a symphony orchestra all through high school, playing scores of music written by some of the most famous composers around, many in their original form (as opposed to the simplified versions I’d played as a younger musician). 

The music varied year to year, depending on different set pieces for competitions, the preferences of the conductor and what was being composed, but every year, without fail, there was one piece in particular we played:

Nimrod. 

First rehearsal, week one, we were handed the music and it stayed in our repertoire all year to be pulled out at various times and concerts. 

Grade eight, I hated it, thinking it the most boring piece of music ever written. 

Admittedly, viola parts aren’t often all that interesting to start with (cue the viola jokes…) but this piece – from the first violins down to the tubas – was dull. My part was only a page long but played so slow that it felt like twenty. It built – with really long, low, slow notes – until the last line when, five bars from the end there was one big, grand triumphant note. And then it dropped straight back down again and ended. That was it. We had so many other more interesting pieces to play which sounded amazing, I couldn’t understand why Nimrod kept getting chosen. 

Grade nine, I groaned inwardly when it was handed out again. I might have held on to a hope that I’d built it up (or rather, down) in my head but no, it was just as boring. 

Grade ten, I still hated it, although was pretty resigned to playing it by now. Amidst soundtracks from Les Miserables and Star Wars’ Phantom Menace and thrilling pieces like Into the Storm and In the Hall of the Mountain King, it just became ten minutes (hours…) to endure. 

And then, grade eleven, something changed. I don’t know what it was – maybe I knew the part so well by then that I stopped paying attention to mine and listened to the piece as a whole or maybe I was just more mature – but I started liking it. Appreciating it even. 

By grade twelve, it was one of my favourite pieces to play. It was with great reluctance that I handed the music back at the end of the year. 

I listened to it again the other day, sadly without being in the middle of orchestra. It’s still an incredible piece. Yes, the start is slow and yes, it still feels like it goes a lot longer than a page but it truly is beautiful. I caught my breath at that one grand note near the end. 

But the thing I’ve realised is that that note would mean nothing without the rest of the piece. It’d be a nice orchestral chord, sure, but that’s it. It wouldn’t have the beauty or the triumph. It wouldn’t make me catch my breath. It would just be one note – if not for the slow building intensity of the first ninety percent of the piece. 

Those long, slow, boring but building notes are what give that one note its glory. 

Reminds me of a particular movie I like. Every time I watch it, I wonder again why I like it. It’s awkward, cringe-worthy and downright painful to watch – until the very last scene, which is so downright perfect I can’t stop smiling and almost always end up rewinding it to watch it again just so I can sigh with happiness. 

I thought about saving myself some time and pain once and just watching the last scene. One of those brilliant ideas which totally didn’t work. The end was still sweet, sure, but it didn’t have the same impact. It needed every one of those painful, cringy moments to make that scene the sigh-worthy scene that it is. 

Sometimes life feels like Nimrod. Painful, slow days that drain our energy and patience. Doing the same things over and over, finding a smile each day for that person we’re really trying to love, praying the same prayers so many times they start to feel like rote and we wonder why we even bother. It would be so easy to give in and give up hope that anything will ever change. 

But it will. One day, there will be that triumphant note. The one that makes you catch your breath, the answer to that prayer. The one that would always have been special but means so much more because of the wait. Because of the build. Because of the hours and weeks and years of anticipation. Because, somewhere along the way, we learned the beauty of the journey. 

Life happens in the anticipation. God could easily jump us from mountaintop to mountaintop, skipping all the valleys and painful climbs along the way. But how much more the exhilaration having come through the valley!

Don’t give up. No matter how long the journey seems to be or how hard it gets, don’t give up. Not on life and not on hope. God is working in your journey and that final scene, the final note, will mean all the more because of it. 

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