Some “Policies” I Probably Should Clarify

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

I had a sad misunderstanding with a customer this morning, which resulted in my early departure from her home. Here is what happened, to the best of my recollection: I arrived at her home late, I think about ten minutes after nine. I said, “Hello,” and asked her how she was doing. She said fine and and kindly asked be to take off my shoes, which I was intending to do anyway. Everything seemed to be okay. I made my usual preparations. We talked a bit, and I began to tune. I set the temperament and realized that I was going to need to do a “rough tune” because the pitch of the piano was surprisingly high. I told her about it, and she was fine with that.

About that time, a potential new customer called and wanted to schedule a tuning. I was in the bathroom at the time and asked him to call back in a few minutes, which he did, and we made an appointment. When I hung up, the lady whose piano I was servicing came into the living room and asked me not to take calls while I am servicing her piano in the future. I explained that it was someone wanting to make a tuning appointment. She said that she did not want me doing my office work on her time. I explained to her that I don’t charge for any time that I might take to schedule an appointment with another customer — I charge a flat rate for my tuning service, and even if I were on the clock, I would deduct such time from my fee. She said it didn’t matter. She didn’t want me doing my office work at her home.

At some point she told me that she had thought I would be gone by ten. She had to leave at ten to drive up to Denver to meet someone. So she was under some pressure, and said that we would have to reschedule. I told her I was sorry about the misunderstanding, but that it usually takes me about two hours to tune, and with the “rough tune” I was doing, I probably wouldn’t be done until eleven-thirty or twelve. I asked her if she would mind if I stayed after she left and just locked the door behind me. I have plenty of customers who do just that. She said that would not work and that we would just have to reschedule. I got my calendar out and asked her if she would like to take care of scheduling right then. She said, “No.”

She looked away with a pause, looked back and said, “I think I will just get another tuner!”

I asked her, “Why?”

She said, “I don’t like the way you do business.”

I asked, “What do you mean?”

“You came late, and you never apologized. And you have taken two phone calls on my time.” I pointed out to her that I had remembered from the last time I tuned for her (two years ago) that she didn’t like my tool box on her wooden floors, so I made a point to bring a large, soft cloth to put my tool box on.

She said, “That was nice, but. . . . ” (I can’t remember how she finished the sentence, but she basically again voiced her displeasure with my way of doing business.

I finished the unisons that were out of tune because of the pitch raise I was doing.  She said that she’d  pay for the time I had spent.

I said, “No, thank you.  I don’t take payment for jobs that I haven’t done.”

I put my shoes on, told her once again that I was sorry for the misunderstanding, said, “Goodbye.” and left.

I could share more, but it wouldn’t be necessary for the purpose of this essay. I believe and hope that what I have written is a reasonably accurate review of what happened.

I want now to share some “policies” that I follow in my business that I think were a problem to my customer today. I hope that by sharing these I can eliminate some similar problems in the future.

1. When I schedule a tuning, I reserve two hours for it. If I think a pitch raise/”rough tune” might be needed, I reserve another hour. I don’t want to cheat my customers by scheduling so tightly that I have no elbow room to take extra time and care that might be necessary to do a job well. I frequently tell new customers that this is my practice. Because I have previously tuned for my customer today (about two years ago) she wasn’t new, and I didn’t go through this information with her a second time. I wish now that I had. This whole ugly misunderstanding could have been avoided — I think.

The application here for customers who call me to schedule is this: Ask how long a service will take before you make an appointment. Avoid scheduling if there is a likelihood that you will have to leave before the piano service is done, unless you have no qualms about leaving a tuner alone in your home  while you are gone.

2. I do take calls at my customers homes while tuning for them, and I have no compunction about this whatsoever. I am a one man business. I do not have a secretary. I have a cell phone. And I have lost too many potential clients by letting their calls ring through instead of answering. When I answer their voice mails a few hour later, they have, in the meantime, frequently found someone else to work for them. Before I had a cell phone, my wife would take messages for me and promise callers that I would contact them as soon as I got home, which was my steady habit. But after hearing, “Oh, I’m sorry . . . . I didn’t really think you would call back . . . . I got someone else . . . . Sorry” — after hearing this too many times, I got a cell phone, and I have been doing business this way ever since. In twelve years I have not had a complaint about taking calls until today. What I do have, however, is a lot more customers.  (By the way, every one of the several customers whose opinion I have asked about this incident has told me they have no objection to my taking calls while I am working for them, nor do they understand why anybody would.)

3. I avoid using my phone on the road. When I am running late for an appointment, I generally elect to keep driving rather than making myself even later by stopping to phone. Most of the time I drive up to a client’s home right about 9:00 a.m. or three or for minutes before or after. I have had people compliment me for being on time so frequently. When I am late, I seldom forget to apologize and give an explanation. Virtually all my customers are extremely gracious to me when I fail to be on time.

Today, I failed to ask my customer to forgive my tardiness, perhaps her first real aggravation with me.

Customer application for this point: Please remember to take the traffic in Colorado Springs into consideration when anyone is running behind in an appointment with you. Even with careful planning it is possible to run behind after you have given your best effort.

I am truly sad about what happened today, and I hope that I will never have such a misunderstanding with a customer again.

Back to Work!

Friday, April 14th, 2017

On December 19, 2017, at just about 3:30 P.M. I walked out of my favorite hardware store, stepped on some “black” ice, took a wicked spill and broke my right humerus bone.  My work as a piano technician ceased immediately.  However, after many prayers, and many visits to my orthopedic doctor and my therapists, I am back on the road again and busy tuning pianos.  For this I thank God, and my wonderful, patient clients who, almost to the person, told me they liked my work and wanted to wait for me to recover rather than call someone else.  Again, I thank God, and I thank you all, and I will now by God’s grace give myself to making your kindness worth the wait.

The Value of Dampp-Chaser

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

The Piano Life Saver System by the Dampp-Chaser Corporation is one of the best investments you can ever make for the well-being and longevity of your piano.  Too much humidity or the extreme lack thereof in the interior of your piano can do serious damage and decrease the number of years that you can enjoy playing it.  Cracks in soundboards, weak pin blocks, structural damage, and even poor action behavior are all potential outcomes of humidity imbalances in a piano.  I have seen pin blocks so compromised by too much or too little humidity as to make the piano impossible, or nearly  impossible, to tune any longer.

I encourage you to visit the PianoLifeSaver  website.  Read all the information under “ABOUT PIANO LIFE SAVER.”  Click on “TESTIMONIALS”  and see what pianist, tuners and technicians, manufacturers, and recording studios have to say about the benefits of the Piano Life Saver System; and be sure to read “Piano Rescue Stories” under the same tab.  If you are like most folks, you will be a believer by time you are done reading.

Once you are convinced of the value of Dampp-Chaser, call me at 330-3780.  I am sincerely happy to answer people’s questions about any piano matter.  We can also talk about the cost of the system to you.  If you can’t afford it right now, you can start putting money aside toward the goal of having it installed  in the future.  If you don’t live in the Colorado Springs area, there is a “PURCHASE” tab  on the Dampp-Chaser website where you can find a tech in your area.

I am a Certified Dampp-Chaser Installer.  My body aches sometimes after an installation because you have to do so much of it on the floor.  However, I thoroughly enjoy the effect the installation has on pianos and on the people who own them, and I believe you will enjoy it too.

By the way, if you find this article helpful, consider leaving a comment to say so.  Thanks for reading.

Dick Barber,  330-3780


A Nice Piano For Sale

Monday, January 4th, 2016

One of my customers has a very nice 2004 Yamaha P22 for sale.  Very nice case.  Plays well.  It does need tuning, but shouldn’t need much else to be an enjoyable addition to your home.  I don’t know the price, so you will need to contact her for it at

If you have any difficulties contacting this person, please let me know, and I will help you.

NOTE:  I take no commission when I help my customers find buyers for their instruments.  I just like to see people get nice pianos for me to tune!


Piano Tuners Don’t Break Strings. . .

Saturday, December 12th, 2015

. . . most of the time.

The truth is that a conscientious  piano technician  seldom breaks a string,  even when a string breaks while he is tuning it.  Generally, when a piano string breathes its last while someone is tuning or playing it,  it is because that string’s time has come.   It is old or faulty in some way, and it is going to break no matter how delicately the tuner handles it.

I bring this topic up because I have had one or two customers through the years ask me why I charge to replace a string that breaks while I am tuning it.  The reason is simple: The string breaks while I am tuning it but not because of anything am or am not doing. I don’t know what every other tuner does, but when I tune an older piano that I have never tuned before, I do everything in my power to prevent breaking strings.  I lubricate the places where the string comes into contact with other metal.  Corrosion can built up at these points, binding the string to the other metal.  When the tuner begins to tighten the string to bring it into tune, the section of string closest to the tuning pin moves, but the section of the string on the other side of the corrosion doesn’t, and, presto!, you have a broken string!  I also lower the pitch on a potentially corroded string before I tighten it.  I do this hoping that loosening the string before I tighten it will cause the corrosion to break up so that when I do tighten the string to pitch, it will move freely enough not to break.  Unfortunately, even after these precautions, a string may break anyway.  It’s time has come.  The tuner is not guilty, but just an innocent bystander.  In this case, I charge to replace the string.

On a few occasions in my  career I have carelessly put my tuning hammer on a tuning pin that is attached to a string other that the one I am supposed to be tuning. There I am, vigorously yanking that tuning pin for all I am worth and wondering why the pitch is not changing. “It’s because I’ve got the hammer on the wrong pin,  lazy brain!” Then, just about the time it dawns on me why the pitch  isn’t changing, with a dreaded “SNAP” and a “TWANG” that everyone in the house can hear . . . the string breaks!  And it is nobody’s fault but my own.  So, feeling a bit discouraged and upset at my stupidity, I replace the string without charge, because it was my fault.

There are some things you can do to help prevent strings breaking.  First, do what you can to keep the humidity in around and inside your piano between 42 and 45%.  Corrosion seems to thrive high humidity environments.  If you have a whole house humidity control system use it, and purchase a good quality humidistat.  Place it inside or on your piano and check it each day.  You might want to look into having a piano tech install a piano humidity control system into your instrument.  Visit

Second, it has been said, “The basic piano maintenance is tuning.”  The broken string is a case in point.  The piano that seldom gets tuned is at much greater risk of broken strings then a piano that is tuned regularly every six months.  So be kind to your piano and your piano tech.  Stay in tune.

Have a blessed day.



Points for Productive Piano Practice

Monday, July 27th, 2015

I once had a piano student who assured me each lesson that she practiced a full hour every day.  I was mystified.  How could such a bright little girl practice for hours a week and make zero progress?  I asked her mother what was going on, and she assured me that her daughter went into the piano room at the same time every day after school and played for an hour.  How can it be, I thought, that such diligence produces such meager results?  Maybe this child isn’t as bright as she seems.  However, when I pressed my little pupil for the details of her daily practice sessions, what she said told me that, although she was pressing hundreds of keys in great earnest during her “practice times”, she was certainly not doing anything like practicing.  She was merely going through the motions, hacking her way through her assignments and never correcting her mistakes, and playing many things that I had never assigned her.  The result was no progress.

If you want to be good at any skill, you have to practice that skill; but once you begin to practice, you soon realize that practicing itself is a skill that you must acquire.  You either learn how to practice smart, or you waste huge amounts of time “practicing” and getting nowhere, like my little scholar.   Let me share some things that will help any piano student (or cello student, or violin student, or student of any instrument for that matter) make practice more profitable.

Schedule A Regular Time.  The same time each day is ideal.  If you keep your scheduled time consistently, it will become almost second nature for you to think, “Practice,” when that time rolls around.  Other people will get to know when you practice, and they will be less inclined to ask you to do something that would interrupt that time.  I heard someone say once that “If you don’t plan your time, someone else will do it for you.” When you have no time-plan, you will drift in and out of things like a leaf blowing in the wind.  You will often be at the whim of other people who may not be trying to take advantage of you, but who, because you seem to be without direction most of the time, don’t understand that you really do have important things to do.  You will get little done this way except what others have planned for you; and they would, no doubt, be mortified if they discovered that they had put you to such an imposition.  Be kind to yourself, and to your family, and to your friends.  Get a schedule.  That way you can honestly say, “Well, I practice from three to four, but could we do your thing at 4:05 instead of at three-thirty?”

One more thing.  Do keep your practice schedule, but don’t be absolutely rigid and selfish about it.  There will always be times when the need of a friend is far more important than your schedule.

Have A Plan.  Avoid going into your practice time like a man driving from Kalamazoo to Mayberry without a roadmap.  Have in mind two or three goals that you want to accomplish that day.    Remember that when you set a goal, you are planning not only what you want to accomplish, but how you want to accomplish it.  Let’s say that you are just beginning to learn Bach’s “Two-Part Invention Number One.”  You might think, I’m going to get an overview of this composition by playing it through very slowly.  Then I want to learn the last four measures by playing each hand separately and then playing them together.  You have just set two goals that will, if you stick with them, keep you from wandering hither and yon in your practice and lead to real accomplishment.

Mark Your Music. This would include things like fingerings, interpretive markings that are not already in the music, cue markings, analysis markings (form, scales, chords and arpeggios, themes), and questions you want to ask your teacher at your next lesson.  It is a frustrating waste of time to have a flash of interpretive inspiration, or to come up with a solution to a difficult fingering problem, and then forget it because you didn’t write it in your music.`

Practice Slowly. This is an ancient bit of wisdom.  It has been around at least as long as I have, and probably much longer.  I learned it from Golde Gollup, my piano professor at Chicago Musical College.  (I hope I am spelling her name correctly.)  Some students referred to her as “Crippled Fingers” because of her rigid expectations, but I learned more from her than from any other piano teacher I ever had.  Her insistence on meticulous, slow practice resulted in progress that I had never thought possible.

Here is how it works.  Take a piece that you are learning and, using your metronome, find a tempo at which you can play the entire composition with no mistakes, with correct fingering, dynamics, articulations, and everything else you want encrypted into your playing of that piece.  Then move your metronome dial up one notch and learn to play the piece perfectly at that new tempo.  Repeat this process until you arrive at the tempo you want to master.  It takes a little patience, but if you persevere, you will find your progress gratifying.

Do the Hated Things First.  I am thinking of scales, chords, arpeggios, theory, a piece of music you don’t like or that you find very difficult, and studies like Hanon and Grieg.  Most of my students say, “Blugh,” to these things, but if you will follow my rule and practice hated things first, your enjoyment of practice times will increase, and your progress will too.  As you move through a practice session this way, you will be playing more and more of what you enjoy.  You may even find yourself practicing longer than usual because you don’t have the morbid prospect of playing scales after you are finished with the beautiful piece that you love.  You have already done the hated stuff, and you don’t need do it again until the next time.  But there is another even better benefit.  By doing the hated things first, you will actually be practicing things that will make you a better piano player instead of avoiding them, and you will perform the things that you love to play better than you ever thought you could, and you will enjoy them all the more!

Finally, Learn from the End to the Beginning.  Do you remember that under the heading, “Have a Plan,” you set a goal for learning the last four measures of the Bach first?  Well, do that on all your pieces.  It will have the same psychological benefit that doing “the hated thing first” does.  I have seen students get so bogged down in a piece they are studying that they never get around to mastering the end of it.  At recital time they begin their selection with a confident bluster, only to conclude with an embarrassed whimper.

There is just something about learning a piece from the beginning to the end that makes the ending seem so far away, and as you play it each day, you just play worse and worse as you go farther and farther into the composition.  But if you learn your piece from the ending, when you play it each day, you play it better as you go.  You may even finish with a flourish, which makes learning the next four measures closer the beginning seem really possible.

I hope these pointers that I have learned over the years help you, but please don’t stop here.  Go online.  Search “How to Practice Piano.”  Some of what you’ll discover will repeat what I have said, but I am sure that you will find someone who will show you something that has never occurred to me.  Keep learning.

Of Mice, Pianos and Garages

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

Mice love pianos.  Pianos are easy access for mice and other little critters, with lots of hiding places and nesting spaces.  Mice especially seem to enjoy the area underneath the keys — the key bed.  I don’t know if they do this or not, but from this proximity if a little mouse wanted to, he could watch you sitting at the keyboard through the cracks between the keys.  Lovely thought.

Mice also love garages.  Garages, too, are frequently easy access for mice.  They also have plenty of wonderful places in which to stay out of sight, BUT. . . a mouse who finds a garage with a piano stored in it comes into an exceptional blessing.

I remember a lady calling Barber Piano Service several years ago who had a piano she wanted tuned for her ten year old son, so he could learn to play.  She told me that she had kept the piano in her garage for the past ten years. Unfortunately, when she moved it through the patio door into the lower level of her home, she discovered that it not only needed a serious tuning, but that it had a serious odor about it also.  She wondered if I could help.

When I opened the top of her the piano, so I could see the action and the back portion of the keys,  I saw many spots of dried urine and several gnawed keys.  One key was gnawed almost completely through.  When I opened the bottom of the piano down by the peddles and the south end of the strings, there before my eyes was a virtual mousey sewerage treatment plant.  I showed these things to the lady, and she immediately understood why it is not a good idea to store a piano in a garage (or a barn, or a shed . . . .).   By the time I cleaned up this mess, rebuilt the worst of the gnawed keys, pitch raised and tuned the piano a few times, the cost to this dear mother was high.

We can extract two cardinal rules from this anecdote:  First, NEVER BUY A PIANO THAT HAS BEEN STORED IN A GARAGE  (unless you know how to open a piano and inspect it.  If you don’t know how to do this, go to  and buy a copy of How to Buy a Good Used Piano by Willard Leverett and read it.  It will take an hour or two, and be well worth your time).  Second, NEVER STORE A PIANO IN A GARAGE  (unless you don’t like the piano and want get rid of it anyway, or you love mice and want to be of kindly service to them).

I submit these thoughts as one who has ” been there and done that.”  You are now warned.  Take heed.

Till next time,

Dick Barber,  Registered Piano Technician

Some Tips on Buying a Used Piano without Wishing You Hadn’t

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

I frequently get calls from people thrilled that they just got a piano cheap or free.  It is now sitting in their garage or living room waiting for someone like me to come and, as one man said to me, “Work your magic on it.”  Unfortunately, I have no magic, and when I get to the person’s home, I often find that the piano is suffering from major decrepitude, and there is little to be done for it except to rebuild it, if it isn’t beyond the hope of that possibility


A free or cheap used piano in this condition is far from a good deal.  Most people who purchase used pianos are not looking to spend a lot of money to get it in shape and are greatly distressed when the piano tech opens their piano and gives them the bad news: The tuning pins are loose, which will make a nice tuning difficult if not impossible; the pitch is a hundred and fifty cents low;  the strings are brittle and ready to break at any attempt to raise the pitch to standard; the action is badly out of regulation, and the parts are worn to the point that trying to do a decent regulating job would be an exercise in vanity.  I have charged people a few hundred dollars to get such pianos to “work” – using “work” in the broadest possible sense of the word.  They want their children to have piano lessons, and this piano is the best they can afford for now.  To be faced with the reality that to do everything that needs to be done on their poor old instrument can cost them into the thousands must be very discouraging.  So, I do the best I can for them on what they can reasonably afford.


Now to the point of this essay.  This sad state of affairs does not have to happen to anyone who will follow the steps I want to outline here.  These steps are not complicated or difficult or terribly expensive, but you will need to invest time and patience and a little money in the process.  You will also need to refuse to take short cuts.


Here is the gist: First, don’t be in a hurry.  Second, educate yourself.  Third, search carefully for an instrument, applying everything you have learned to every piano you look at.  Forth, call a piano technician to check your work.



Time is a friend when you are in the market to buy a piano — new or used.

Haste truly does make waste more often than not, so make up your mind from the beginning not to be in a hurry.



I cannot stress this point enough.  Even if you are a seasoned pianist, you probably know little about pianos beyond your tactile and auditory experience with them.  I have been playing pianos since I was six; I have two degrees in music with a piano minor;  as a music educator in public and private schools and in studio teaching I have used pianos in a professional capacity for most of my adult life.   However, it wasn’t until I began my course in piano technology on my sixtieth birthday that I realized how ignorant I was of this complex instrument.  As I look at the Yamaha that sits across the room from me as I write this, I smile at how utterly clueless I was when my wife, Nancy, and I picked it out in the piano store many years ago.  It was purely by the mercies of God that we chose such a fine piano.


But you don’t have to be clueless.  Go to and click on “Store.”  Scroll down and click on How to Buy a Good Used Piano by Willard Leverett.  This is a wonderful book, and I hope it never goes out of print.  It will cost you about twelve dollars plus shipping.  It is only seventy pages long with lots of pictures, so it will take you only an hour or two to read.  When you are done, however, you will know everything you really need to know to be a wise used piano buyer.


If you want to build on the education you will get from reading this book, you may want to investigate by Larry Fine.  There is a wealth of information here for any potential purchaser who wants to dig deeper.  It is “The definitive Piano Buying Guide for buying new, used, or restored pianos and digital pianos…” and you can explore this site online or get it in print.  It includes current prices, specifications, ratings of pianos in the market place, and help on how to buy pianos.   It is not a two hour read, but you will find it an invaluable reference tool.


Finally, you may want to go to and look around for a while at the services they offer.  This is a valuable site for piano buyers and sellers.  Its title accurately describes it.  It is a good site to know about when a seller seems to be high on the asking price.


If after doing your homework, you are puzzled about something in the material you read, don’t be afraid to ask the teacher – me.  I think I was born to teach, and I don’t mind questions.  You’ll find my contact information on the home page.



You are now ready to begin your search.  You should by now have a brand name or two and a model or two in mind.  Make sure you have a target.  Don’t be ready to grab any old piano that comes along.  Have a goal – a make, a model, and a price you believe is equitable for both you and the seller—a price that you are willing to pay.  You may have to flex a little as you search, but if you have something specific in mind before you begin, you will flex more wisely.


Go ahead and look on or other such sites.  You can Google “used pianos,” but predetermine that you are not going to buy anything (or even take it free) if you have not examined it.  Make sure that you do everything that Willard Leverett teaches in How to Buy a Good Used Piano.  Do everything on every piano.  Skip nothing.  Take your time – even if the piano you are looking at is free.  You do not need someone else’s hopeless junk in the middle of your living room because you “felt funny” about carefully inspecting it.


Be patient.  You may have to look at several pianos, and it could be discouraging for you and your family, but you will not regret it if you persevere.


One more thing.  I don’t remember if Willard Leverett mentions this or not, but there is something crucial that you must look for in any used piano: Evidence of mice.  Mice love pianos, but if pianos were alive, I can assure you that the feeling would not be mutual.  Mice are not good for pianos, or you, or your house; so if you see evidence of prior or present habitation in a piano you are looking at, I recommend saying, “No thank you,” and looking elsewhere.



You will do this only after you have diligently scrutinized your potential piano.  You don’t want to pay a technician to evaluate every piano you look at, only the one that comes out on top of the heap after you have done your own research.  If you do everything you are supposed to do before you call the technician, it is far more likely that after his inspection he will say to you, “I think you’ll be happy with this piano.”


Avoid using a technician who does not charge enough for this service.  This is not a five or ten minute twenty-five dollar job.  I have a forty-three point inspection I go through, and I do a rough tuning just to make that the instrument is thoroughly tunable.  This process takes me about two hours, and I charge $90 for it.  I takes such pains because I don’t want to recommend a lemon.



I sincerely hate to see anyone get a bad deal on a piano, but I also believe that if you will follow my suggestions here, you can avoid such a letdown.


Let me know if this article is helpful  to you.

The Happy Island

Monday, October 6th, 2014

My daughter, Amanda, wrote an essay about Debussy’s piano composition, L’isle Joyeuse  (The Happy Island), a few weeks ago on her blog, and I want to share it with you here.

You can read more of Amanda’s musings at!  She is a great writer, and you will enjoy her work.  She has also written a fiction book, The Pursuit of Elizabeth Millhouse,  which you can find on Amazon, or you can order it at most book stores.  In addition, she penned the screenplay for The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club.  You can see the trailer for this movie at

Here is Amanda’s essay.

Some pieces of music are like food to my soul. I can play them over and over again and never get tired of them. They evoke a response from me that usually involves silence and awe. I’m listening to one of them right now. L’isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island), is a composition for piano written by Claude Debussy.  Trying to figure out exactly what the music means to me and verbalizing it is the hard part. That is the task ahead of me today. Before reading any further, take five minutes to listen to the recording I have posted above, played masterfully by Marc-Andre Hamelin. Otherwise, none of this will make much sense.

I have often tried to understand why this piece holds such an appeal for me. The only way I can describe the music is by using words like ethereal and frantically excited. I think the key to understanding the piece is its title, The Happy Island. You can’t stay on an island very long, you know. Resources begin to run out. Eventually, you have to move on. Happiness is kind of like that.

In its own unsettled way, The Happy Island is beautiful, a celebration of transitory happiness. It is an island we might meet once in a life time, surrounded by a sea of sadness, pain, and suffering.

I have an odd view about happiness. I suppose a fair number of Christians would disagree with me. I do not believe happiness is the purpose of life, nor do I believe it is the perpetual state of Christians. Now joy! That’s a different thing entirely. People can go through great hardships while rejoicing in their Lord. But that’s another topic for another day. Happiness is different. Happiness is the seasoning of life. I suppose it could be a tiny glimpse of what we were created for and what we’ll find in eternity. But in this life, it is not meant to last. And something very odd and unsettling begins to happen when people cling to happiness as their mainstay. They do strange, selfish, and generally unethical things when their happiness is threatened. They’ll leave children and spouses to pursue a more fulfilling relationship. They’ll buy things until they can’t afford them anymore, then go into debt and buy more. They’ll cut people out of their lives to ensure their own comfort. In short, they’ll do whatever it takes. Instead of sailing to their happy island, thanking God for it however long it lasts and gracefully waving goodbye when He gives the word, they cling to it and only leave when forced, kicking and screaming.

As I began to read up on the circumstances around L’isle Joyeuse’s composition, I began to understand that this is exactly what Debussy’s life reflected when he wrote it. To say that Debussy’s life was a mess would be no overstatement. He carried on a string of affairs with various women, some married and some not, that began at the tender age of eighteen. He finally married one of them after she threatened to commit suicide if he did not. A great start to a marriage, no? The two were married for several years before discontentment came knocking. Debussy found his wife intellectually dull. She had prematurely aged and was unable to bare children. Again, in search of ever-elusive happiness, Debussy took up with a married woman, Emma Bardac. In 1904 they both left their respective spouses on the sly and vacationed on the island of Jersey. It was there that Debussy completed L’isle Joyeuse.  No doubt, the brief time they spent together was quite happy, and a depiction of that happiness transferred to Debussy’s composition. But it was not to last. When they returned, Debussy made it known to his wife that their marriage was over. A few months later, she attempted suicide and failed. Still, all of Debussy’s friends and society in general learned of his infidelity after the incident, and life became very difficult for the pair. The two were eventually able to obtain divorces and marry, but as you can imagine, their marriage was tempestuous until the end, producing one daughter who died shortly after her parents passed away.

Happiness…such a passing fancy, like our lives. We are born and live a few years that pass like the wind and then we die. How miserable we make ourselves and the people around us by clinging to those things that will never last! But if that is all there is, what other choice do we have? How tragic. We get little enough of either. Thankfully, life and happiness are not all. Each of us is given an immortal soul and access to an immortal God through Christ. How much better to develop and cultivate our souls and learn to know our God than to obsess over things that will run out and hopes that will inevitably disappoint?

When I listen to L’isle Joyeuse, I’m reminded of James 4:14, “…For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”  Life is fading fast like The Happy Island, giving way to eternity.

Practicing Piano

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

I recently wrote an article for another website that I have for the music lessons part of my business.  If you are a student of piano (or of any other instrument, for that matter) I encourage you to read it here:

If you like it, please come back here and comment.
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