There are times in our prayer lives when the gathering for prayer takes a different form from the symphony. A piece of music can be built very successfully around a virtuoso solo instrument, or a small group of instruments, with the rest of the orchestra (although frequently not the full symphony orchestra) providing a supporting role. Some of my all-time favourite pieces of music feature concerti: Elgar’s Cello, Sibelius’ Violin, Rachmaninov’s Third Piano and, perhaps incongruously, ELO’s Concerto for a Rainy Day!
The solo instrument performs in the spotlight. The concerto is written to bring out both the special qualities of the instrument and the consummate skill of the performer. Sometimes a piece has been written specifically to cater for a particular person – like Ravel’s piano concerto for the left hand. At any time in our lives, any one of us may be called upon to stand out from the symphonic gathering (and remember that prayer is action as well as conversation). Each of us is an instrument with exquisite qualities (gifts, if you like) which, when played by a skilled performer, can move the listener in extraordinary ways.
The rest of the assembled instruments are no less important for all that their role is subsidiary in the performance. They are to use their own gifts and skills, as directed by the composer and conductor, in a way which does not highlight themselves but enhances the soloist, to give the soloist a brief rest while the work continues, or to be an appreciation society; a body of encouragement (as, for example, in ‘Mr Blue Sky’ – the virtuoso turn in the last movement of Concerto for a Rainy Day).
Whether, in any given prayer movement, we are called upon to take the solo or supporting part, there is one vital thing to remember. A Stradivarius may have qualities and capabilities not evident in a cheap factory violin but it still relies on the skill of the performer. In prayer we cannot play ourselves or one another, although to our shame it doesn’t stop us trying. So who is drawing the bow across our strings, pressing our keys, or blowing through our tubes?
The Spirit intercedes for us with [tunes] which words cannot express….!