What I find fascinating about Mehldau is not only his genius but also his chaos. Trained at Berklee School of Music, he is one of the most talented pianists of our time. He is an improviser and embraces the wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep respect for the formal structure of music. The two sides of his personality—the improviser and the formalist—play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.
Mehladu possesses an amazing ability to tell a good story through his music, whether creating his own songs or re-working someone else’s. I had the privilege of seeing him live in concert several years ago at the Del Rey Theater in LA and the experience was nothing less than amazing. One of the most amazing songs to hear live was his rendition of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” The way he draws out the melancholy melody and re-sets it in a new light is incredible. He draws you in with the sweet melody, stirs up chaos in the middle with the inventive rhythm section and provides the calm after the storm with his ending. Mehladu’s tunes have a strongly felt narrative arch, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended. Donald Miller describes the importance of this narrative arc in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years when he says, “We were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.” In Meldau’s case that character arc is not only felt it his music. In real-life, this arc could have been his personal struggle with heroin for years and his ability to overcome, to change and become something different in the midst of his chaos.
Largo is a music term that means “slow movement,” two words that have not been characteristic of my life recently. I keep waiting for life to slow down and finally have realized that it will only happen if I make it! It feels good to finally be creating that space, slowing down long enough to discern all that is happening around and in me.
I’ve been reflecting on how this idea of telling a good story, on how MY life can tell a good story. I think at times I’ve tried to make my life a better story, tried to give more inspirational moments to make it have meaning. What I have been learning is that my story is not about me, but what God is doing through me in my story. How he is using the messy parts, the broken parts, the exciting parts and the parts I still don’t understand—to bring his gospel to the world. Somehow, though I don’t always understand how, he is weaving it together. And great character development involves conflict and the ability to want to overcome that conflict in a good story.
Mehldau’s inventive music is defined by his ability to tell a good story, to improvise old melodies in a new light. My prayer is that I would have the ability to trust God with my life to be able to re-work the story of my life into stories of love, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, and surprise. I believe the gospel is shared when we dare to tell the world around us how God is moving in our lives.
I recently finished a fantastic book called Bittersweet and have found great encouragement in the pages of the book to tell my own story. One of my favorite quotes from the author Shauna Niequist says, “This is what I want you to do: tell your story. Don’t allow the story of God, the sacred, transforming story of what God does in a human heart to become flat and lifeless. If we choose silence, if we allow the gospel to be told only on Sundays, only in sanctuaries, only by approved and educated professionals, that life-changing story will lose its ability to change lives.”
So go improvise your song, write your poem, and create your manifesto. Your story must be told.
“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our heart by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)