The Pleasure of Doing What’s Good For You

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TromboneI was a trombone major as an undergrad, with an emphasis on classical music. We trombonists owe a lot to Beethoven: he was the first major composer to include trombones in “secular” music. You see, when Martin Luther translated the “last trumpet” (the signal for Christ’s return) in his German Bible, he called it instead the “last trombone” (die letzte Posaune). For many years composers considered the trombone too noble to use in non-sacred music. (There’s a marvelous letze Posaune trombone solo in Mozart’s Requiem.) Beethoven broke free of that beginning in his famous Fifth Symphony.

There’s a great lesson for us here on not drawing too sharp a distinction between the sacred and the secular, but I have other thoughts on my mind today. Not only do I appreciate what Beethoven did for my instrument, I have always really loved his music. He deserves his reputation for greatness: there’s a masculine vitality in his compositions, coupled with an intense spiritual richness, such as few have ever matched. Still, being a brass player, most of the music I’ve listened to in my life has been of the full-orchestra, let-er-rip-with-the-trumpets-and-trombones sort. (Or of the let-er-rip-with-guitars sort, but that’s another story.)

BeethovenThey told me in college I would really enjoy Beethoven’s string quartets. “It’s pure music,” they said. “You should listen to them. It would be good for you.” But I thought, “how many trombones are there in a string quartet?” and I passed them by. The other day at the library, though, I picked up a CD of Beethoven’s first Razumovski quartet. It took only a moment for me to realize “they” were right. It’s pure music, and though it has no brass, it’s just as full of that same vitality and richness I’ve always appreciated in Beethoven’s larger works. It’s great music.

Sometimes when they tell you “it’s good for you,” they’re right.

I’m not saying you have to enjoy Beethoven. It’s a learned taste. But what I am saying is something not too distant from that. Here’s another example to help make my point. 200808201328.jpgThe first Dickens novel I ever tried to read was Oliver Twist. I couldn’t get past the second chapter: the language was just too strange for me. Years later, though, something led me to read A Tale of Two Cities. I think it was just because everybody said Dickens was good, and I thought I’d give him a second chance. “I should read it; it’ll be good for me,” was in the back of my mind. It took me all of a couple pages to forget I was reading a “classic.” It’s just a great, great story, very well told.

The string quartet and A Tale of Two Cities both proved to be good for me in very unexpected ways: I liked them. There’s a reason they’re classics. It’s because they’re good. There’s a reason they’re considered good: it’s because people through the years have consistently liked them. Sure, there are great moral and literary lessons to be learned from Dickens, Shakespeare, Milton, and so on., but their first virtue is that they’re enjoyable to read. (That doesn’t mean I’m going to try Oliver Twist again, though. Well, maybe someday.)

Sometimes when they tell you “it’s good for you,” they’re right.

A year or so ago I started swimming laps two to three times a week. I felt great the first time I made 400 yards, half of it elementary backstroke, which is swimmer language for “taking a nap on your back while moving slowly through the water.” Now I’m up to 1000 to 1200 yards per session, three days a week when I’m not traveling, and loving it. My speed is just slightly better than that of Olympic distance swimmers… divided by 4, that is. I’m not quick, but I’m a lot stronger than I was. The doc says it’s good for me, and it turns out he was right.

What God says in the Bible is “good for you” turns out to be right, too. Take sexual morality, for example. My wife and I both saved ourselves for marriage in that respect, and the payoff in terms of mutual trust has been huge. When I travel out of town, and we tell each other, “you can trust me,” we know it’s true, because we were tested in it for a long time before we got married.

I’m trying to learn the same lesson in other aspects of my life. I know “it’s good for me” to resist donuts and chocolate cake, and as long as I can’t see them, smell them, think about them, or stop in at the store to pick some up, I’m fairly immune to both. Otherwise I have trouble. I know it’s good for me not to mess around unproductively with tweaking this blog’s features, or looking at blog statistics, but I still waste far too much time on these things. There are plenty of other changes, too personal to write here, that would also be good for me. I’m still learning.

But I’m starting to catch on. Not always, but at least fairly often, there’s a reason people say “it’s good for you.” It’s because it’s good.

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One Response to “ The Pleasure of Doing What’s Good For You ”

  1. I was a trombone major as an undergrad, with an emphasis on classical music.

    I played trombone from 5th grade through college. I was a pretty average middle-chair player. Enjoyed the heck out of it. Being a band geek was fun.

    In college, I took a ‘music appreciation’ class, and just like the one typing class I took in high-school, that one music class has stuck with me ever since. I learned a lot about music history, the instruments, the composers, etc and got to listen to a wide range of classical music. And, yes, I enjoyed string quartets. Since then, I’ve forgotten most of the history and music-related details, but the part that stuck with me over the years was an appreciation for classical music.

    My speed is just slightly better than that of Olympic distance swimmers… divided by 4, that is.

    I watched the Olympic marathon coverage the other day and was thinking a similar thought. I’m just as fast as these guys…if you take my time and divide by 2.