Post submitted by Ryan Bell
I don’t consider myself a musically gifted individual. I grew up in a home where I had incredible examples of musical talent around me. I have always felt a bit of jealousy towards those who can be so greatly influenced and impacted by music because of their abilities. Why can’t I be blessed with that? Why can’t I fall that deep into the music world?
My older brother and I both took piano lessons for more than eight years growing up in a home where our mother has been a music teacher ever since we can remember. To put it simply, he excelled in those eight years, and as for me, not so much. I remember my brother flying through his piano books while I would spend weeks trying to learn some of my songs. I remember leaving our teacher’s house in tears because I was so afraid of her and ashamed at how poorly I performed that day while my brother grinned from ear to ear in self-worth and confidence because he once again received an applaud from her after his lesson. Even being only eight years old I could tell that we were on opposite ends of the spectrum.
I’ve watched my brother sweep several pretty girls off their feet with his musical talents while I’ve sat in the other room listening with my arms folded and cursing music and it’s creators because of my “lack thereof.” I put forth the effort. I tried my best. Why didn’t I have the same success that he did? I hated feeling that sense of jealousy and anger towards my brother when he didn’t do anything wrong. He just found his connection with music quicker than I did. I sought even deeper by learning the guitar and ukulele on top of the piano, but still didn’t feel a connection to even those instruments, and there was no way you could have convinced me to pick up a cow bell.
When we had grown up some years my brother decided it was time to serve an LDS mission. I couldn’t wait for his daily “jam sessions” on the piano to be over with while he was gone so that maybe it could be my turn to stand out in the house. He received his call just before Christmas to serve in the Adriatic North Mission which consists of the countries: Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. I anticipated him to leave within the next few months, but when I found out that he would be home for almost another six months I honestly felt disappointed. I know, worst brother in the world, right? I endured several more months of piano playing, singing and even guitar strumming. (That’s right, he learned the guitar after I did in half the amount of time.) It was time for him to leave. I wanted a chance to shine.
A few months into his mission I found myself missing some of the songs that he played for us on the piano. I hadn’t realized this before, but I had subconsciously associated some of his songs to memories and feelings that were occurring during his playing. I found myself having a hard day at school and coming home only wanting to hear my brother play one of his beautiful renditions of a church hymn. I missed him. I missed him badly. I missed the spirit and peace he brought into our home with his musical gifts. I felt my jealousy and frustration with him fading day by day as I continued to miss him more and more. I wanted him with me. I wanted to listen to him blow people away while I sat in the back and secretly was blown away myself.
As it came time for me to prepare to serve a mission, all I wanted was to follow my brother’s example. My heart broke as I learned that I would be leaving to serve the people of Brazil only six days before he would be returning home from Europe. Luckily, I received word that he was allowed to come visit me for 30 minutes in the MTC. I had a day to jot down questions and concerns that I needed to bring up to him. I needed his help! When the moment came that I saw his face walk through those front doors of the MTC, my eyes starting flowing with tears. In that moment I realized how much I had truly missed him. I realized how big of an example and role model he had really been to me throughout my whole life. As we sat there and talked and laughed about memories and experiences, we found ourselves with only a few minutes left to share together before we had to say “good-bye” for another two years. All I wanted was to hear him play one song for me to send me on my way. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a piano in sight, so I begged him to send me recordings of some sort for those hard days when I found myself needing them. All the sudden I found happiness and pride in his music ability because it was serving me.
Upon returning home from my mission to Brazil in March of 2015, I was blessed to be embraced by my loving and amazing family at the airport. I remember the joy and excitement so clearly of seeing them all again after so long. I remember each individual hug and greeting that was given to me after walking off that escalator. I was able to give my homecoming talk in church that Sunday with all of my family and friends present. One of my mom’s piano students played a musical number right before I stood up to speak and did a beautiful job. As soon as he started playing I realized that it was the same song that members from my last ward in Brazil performed for me just the week before. I began to cry so much that I couldn’t even keep my head up. How was I supposed to stand up and begin a 15-minute talk after this?
My mission taught me so much about the influence and power of music. Music is a motivator. It drives people. It uplifts and heals people. I was privileged enough to be considered “musically gifted” while I was serving because I was able to play some hymns for the members during their meetings when none of them knew how. In my mind I felt bad because here they thought I was blessing their lives when all I could think about was, “you should hear my brother.” As my mom’s student played that beautiful song, I realized something I never had before. Yes music is a gift. Music is a talent that one can develop. Yes there will always be someone that you feel is more musically gifted than you. But none of that matters! Music is meant to be shared and enjoyed and be a blessing to everyone! It doesn’t matter if your talents lie in music or in art, the beauties and comforts of this world are meant to be shared and enjoyed, not coveted.
Less than a week later, nine days after returning home from my mission, I learned that my sweet Grandmother had unexpectedly passed away in her sleep the night before. I was devastated. The only times I was able to see her thus far was at the airport and at my homecoming. I didn’t get a chance to sit down with her and share all of my amazing stories and experiences that she had done with me throughout my life from her mission to Singapore. In another article I’ll write all about the tender mercies that followed this experience in my life, but in this certain writing I want to focus on just one that relates to my topic.
My older brother was asked to play a musical number at her funeral the following week. With my renewed vision on his talent and gift, I remember sitting on the couch next to him watching him practice and work out a piece that he could use to best express his feelings and emotions. It was our Grandma who was loved by everyone. How could any song match up to the feeling that we felt upon losing her? I could tell he was feeling the same way. He couldn’t figure out what he wanted to play and he expressed frustration and nerves. I remember sitting there offering a silent prayer that his heart would be touched, and that he would know what to play for her.
I remember sitting next to him during my Grandmother’s funeral service. He was nervous and tense and all I could do was sit there in gratitude for his amazing gift and dedication that would bless so many lives that day. As his turn arrived to perform his piece that he had worked so hard on, I turned around to see hundreds of people seated behind us in one of the front rows. I remember thinking, “wow, my Grandma sure had a lot of friends.” I began to feel nervous for him and again began to offer silent prayers in his behalf that he would be calm and collected during his number. As he began to play his beautiful music, my eyes swelled with tears again as I realized that was the first time I was able to hear him play in four years. I looked up and realized that his eyes too began to swell with tears as he began to feel the spirit and love of my Grandma so strongly. The song was beautiful. I’d never heard such a pretty arrangement and all I could do was sit there and look between my brother holding it together so that he could finish his song, and the beautiful flowers on top of my Grandma’s casket. My heart became full and my mind started flashing memories of her and her beautiful life. I can’t describe the spirit that I felt during that song, and I know that I won’t ever be able to. It was one of the most sacred and uplifting experiences of my whole entire life.
As my brother was just about to finish his song, I had the courage to take another look at my family and friends of us around me. There wasn’t a dry eye out of the hundreds that were in there. Except for those of my brother as he still continued to struggle to keep it together. I remember him finishing his song and standing up as the silence was taken over by the spirit and sweet choruses of angels. He walked off the stand but before making it back to our family, seated himself on the first row alone and broke into silent tears. I’ll never forget seeing that happen. My brother is one of the strongest people that I know and to see him have a moment like that made my heart burn in love and gratitude for my family. I was so grateful that because of his gift in music, hundreds were able to be touched that day by his sweet unsaid words to my Grandmother.
I ask my brother to play for me every time that we are both home visiting from college. I have realized that music is powerful and influential to everyone in their own individual way. Whether it’s the wonderful members of Brazil just being grateful to hear a hymn played in church that Sunday, to myself rejoicing in the moment of feeling and emotion that it brings to my circumstance. Music is a gift from our Heavenly Father that has been given to everyone. Whether if we play it or hear it, it is meant to be enjoyed and used the same.