Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness (Romans 6:13 NIV)
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; We Are God’s Tools. (Acts 9:15 NIV)
This blog is about being used by God as His instruments. Specifically, I will be discussing how the music created by humans using instruments is symbolic of how God can use us as His instruments. Part of being created in God’s image, is our creativity in making music. Every culture has music, it is part of all important ceremonies, as expressions of love and joy, and in all religions. Socially, it is important for gatherings of people. It is part of being human because it is part of God.
Each culture also has musical instruments. Instruments are made with great precision and care. Each instrument is designed for a specific sound. In the guitar family, there are acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, mandolins, banjos, and ukuleles. They are made with great precision and care because that influences the physics of the sounds they make. In fact it takes specific instruments to make musical instruments and great skill is required of the maker.
As with instruments, the Bible speaks of how we are made:
I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. (Psalm 139:14 Holman Christian Standard Bible)
Next, I want to present the specifics of one instrument which will be showcased in performance at the end.
I picked the cello. Why? Because it is big like a person is and has many parts which must fit together perfectly to work. I give a great deal of detail here for a reason, to make a point of what must be already in place to make a cello sound like a cello. It is NOT a test so will not be quizzed!
WHAT IS THE BASS BAR?
This strip of seasoned spruce is hidden inside the cello but has a large effect on the instrument's bass tone and lower register in general.
The bass bar is a thin strip of seasoned spruce, mounted in a standing up position under the left side of the top. It is mounted in line with the strings and reaches almost from one end of the cello body to the other.
The bass bar shapes the waves of vibration inside the cello to produce deeper, more resonant bass tones.
WHAT ARE THE BOUTS AND WAIST?
The cello is shaped with bouts and a waist to maximize sound production and make room for the bow.
The terms "bouts" and "waist" or "c-bouts" describe various parts of the cello body's distinctive shape. When the instrument is held standing on end, the waist or c-bouts are the cinched-in area in the middle, cut out of the curve of the wood of the top along its edge. This allows the bow to pass over the strings at a variety of extreme angles without hitting the side of the body.
Above the waist emerge two upper bouts and below are two lower bouts. The hourglass shape made by the bouts makes the cello recognizable instantly by the player and non-player alike.
WHAT IS THE BRIDGE?
The bridge is a small, decoratively carved piece of maple that holds the strings away from the top of the instrument and transfers vibration to the body.
The bridge is a small, decoratively carved piece of maple that is positioned on the top between f-hole notches and holds the strings away from the cello's top surface. This allows the strings to vibrate freely while transferring that vibration to the resonant cavity of the body. It also provides a spacer between the strings so they rest evenly above the fingerboard. The bridge is not permanently attached to the cello but holds it's position firmly under the tension of the strings.
The height of the bridge can be adjusted within the standard specifications to suit the playing style of the player.
WHAT IS THE END PIN ROD (SPIKE)?
The end pin rod keeps the cello firmly planted into the floor while playing
The end pin rod is a thin rod of metal that emerges from the bottom of the cello and is held fast by an end pin thumb screw. The height of the end pin rod can be adjusted to fit the height and playing style of the player. On the end of the end pin rod is a rubber tip or sharp tip that can directly pierce the floor.
The end pin rod anchors the cello to the floor in front of the player so the instrument does not slide forward.
Some players remove their endpin rod before moving the cello or storing it to avoid accidentally bumping it against something hard, which can result in damage to the cello.
WHAT IS THE END PIN THUMB SCREW?
The end pin thumb screw holds the cello's end pin in place
The cello's end pin thumb screw allows the end pin to be easily adjusted and removed. Care must be taken not to tighten the thumb screw too tightly, as this can damage the end pin or the threads of the thumb screw.
WHAT ARE THE F-HOLES?
F-holes help shape and direct the sound of the cello.
F-holes are openings carved into the top of the cello that act to increase the power of the tone emitted by the instrument. They allow some sound from the resonant interior of the cello to escape to the listener, but that is not their primary purpose. In fact, most of the tone provided by the cello comes from the vibration of the top and the back transferred directly to the air.
There has been a lot of study about the placement, size and effect of sound holes on stringed instruments. These features have in fact changed quite a bit in the course of centuries worth of cello design experimentation. Scholarship suggests that they allow more freedom of movement between the top and back and help focus the production of sound, affecting the tone quality in a way that is much more than just allowing sound waves to escape.
WHAT ARE THE FINE TUNERS?
Fine tuners allow for more precise tuning of each string.
Fine tuners are found on the tailpiece of the cello, most commonly on the A string. However, some instruments have fine tuners installed for all four strings. The fine tuning is done by a small lever that is adjusted by a small thumb screw. Fine tuners can either be individual pieces that are affixed to the tailpiece at the end of each string or they are built-in to the actually tailpiece.
WHAT IS THE FINGERBOARD?
The fingerboard provides a hard surface for the string to be pressed down onto so notes can be played.
Cello fingerboards are mostly made of ebony, a very hard black wood. Other hardwoods are sometimes used on lower quality instruments and are artificially blackened to look like ebony.
The cello fingerboard does not have frets like a guitar to delineate one pitch from another, so the player must have a strong ear and sense of pitch to play confidently in tune. A cello fingerboard must be planed professionally with the proper curve and "scoop" in order for the strings to vibrate freely without buzzing against the surface.
WHAT IS THE NECK?
The neck extends from the body to hold the strings and fingerboard.
The neck is an extension of the body of the cello that holds the strings and fingerboard and ends at a stout pegbox & scroll. It is typically carved from sturdy maple.
WHAT IS THE NUT?
The nut (or string nut) holds and directs the strings down the fingerboard to the tailpiece.
The nut is found at the top end of the fingerboard, holding the strings in perfect alignment and exact height from the fingerboard to maximize the cello's tone and playability. Four small grooves or notches are carved into the top of the nut, into which the strings are placed before winding around the pegs.
WHAT ARE THE PEGBOX and TUNING PEGS?
The pegbox holds strong tuning pegs for the strings to wrap around so they can be tuned.
The pegbox houses four strong tuning pegs for the strings to wrap around so they can be tuned. The other end of the strings is anchored at the tailpiece. Each peg is slightly tapered in shape, allowing the player to adjust the hold of the peg by applying more or less pressure and turning. Often, the pegbox and the scroll of the cello are carved out of a single piece of wood.
To make the pitch of the string higher, the pegs are twisted to tighten the tension of the string. A looser tension results in a lower pitch. An inexperienced player should be very careful when using the pegs to tune because it is very easy to over-tighten the string, causing it to break.
WHAT IS THE PURFLING?
The decorative edge looks good and keeps the violin from developing cracks.
Around the edge of the top and back are seen a decorative edging known as "purfling." This inlay has decorative appeal and also helps reduce the chance of cracks developing in the cello's top and back.
WHAT ARE THE RIBS?
The ribs (or sides) are carefully crafted to hold the cello's top and back apart, creating the space for the sound to develop.
The cello's ribs (or sides) are the wood pieces that run around the entire outer edge if the cello body, between the top and back. The ribs hold the two pieces apart, creating the resonant cavity that produces the cello's sound.
WHAT IS THE SADDLE?
The saddle helps spread the force of string tension away from the cello's center toward the endpin.
A cello saddle is a small rectangular block of wood, often crafted of ebony, which helps relieve pressure exerted on the cello's body by the force of the string tension.
It is found at the end of the cello just in front of the endpin and supports the tailgut.
WHAT IS THE SCROLL?
The scroll is a decorative carved wood piece at the end of the cello.
The scroll is a decorative carved wood piece at the end of the cello, usually carved out of the same piece of wood forming the pegbox. The most common carving is a delicate scroll shape knows as a "volute" that dates back to the Baroque period.
WHAT IS THE SOUND POST?
The sound post bridges the top and back of the cello on the inside, allowing them to vibrate together more harmoniously.
The sound post of a cello is a small dowel-shaped piece of wood (usually spruce) that is positioned inside the cello with the tip touching just below the right foot of the bridge. It runs between the top and back of the cello, transferring vibration from one surface to the other to maximize the tone of the cello. This simple invention greatly increased the resonance of the cello when it was discovered.
WHAT ARE THE STRINGS?
The strings vibrate and transfer that vibration to the body for amplification and resonance.
There are four strings on the standard cello, typically tuned to C, G, D and A with the C being the lowest in pitch. The player draws a horsehair bow across the strings or plucks them while fingering notes on the fingerboard to produce single notes, chords and other sound effects.
The classic string was made of sheep's gut, though few strings are made of this material today.
Every player has differing opinions on how often the strings should be changed, but when the string snaps or loses the ability to stay in tune or produce a pleasing tone, it should be replaced.
WHAT IS THE TAIL GUT?
The tailgut holds the cello's tailpiece to the endpin collar.
The tailgut of a modern cello is threaded at either end and attached to the tailpiece with a small adjustment screw. These vital pieces are made of both metal and nylon materials today, though traditionally they were crafted from twisted strips of animal intestine.
The precise adjustment of the tail gut has a major effect on the sound quality and tone of the cello, and it may require occasional adjustment when it is new. Over time, the cello's tail gut will settle and not need as much attention.
WHAT IS THE TAILPIECE?
The tailpiece anchors the strings to the body of the cello on its lower end.
The tailpiece is the anchor holding the strings to the body of the cello on its lower end. Many instruments have an individual fine tuner on the tailpiece for at least the A string, if not for all the strings. Some tailpieces have built-in fine tuners on the tailpiece for all the strings. The tailpiece can be made of several types of wood or composite material and is seen in other wood colors besides the typical black.
WHAT ARE THE TOP AND BACK?
The top and back of the cello resonate to provide much of its tone and volume.
The cello body is constructed of two large, arched pieces of single wood that are held apart by the ribs. When the cello is resting on its back, the soundboard or "top" is seen on top with two distinctive "f-holes" cut through. The back is one large expanse of resonant wood without any hole.
The quality and age of the wood in the top and back of the cello have a large impact on its sound. Cellos are very subject to their environment, including heat and humidity, but a well-made, well-cared-for, frequently played cello will improve markedly with age. The age, type and condition of the varnish used on these pieces also affect the sound.
The typical wood used for tops is spruce, while the back & ribs are generally made of maple.
Around the edge of the top and back are seen a decorative edging known as "purfling." This inlay has decorative appeal and also helps reduce the chance of cracks developing in the top and back.
So, as you can see one could say that a cello is “remarkably and wonderfully made,” made by humans, similar to but still inferior to how God has made humans. But also shows the creativity, hard work, precision, and love we are capable of giving.
However, as remarkable as it is, it is, by itself, lifeless. With no one to play it, it could still be beautiful to look at, but it could not produce great music, one that moves the listener’s emotion and even soul. Although we are literally alive, I would say spiritually one could be as lifeless as the un-played cello. Or we could be played by someone other than God in case we would indeed “make sounds.” Satan is quite capable of playing us in a negative way. It is a battle as to who we chose to be played.
Music “speaks” to people, even a piece that is all instrumental. But what about the quality of the music, what it is saying? Is it for its own purposes, or for God? The following quote represents this concept.
Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the pipe or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle. (1 Corinthians 14: 7-8)
We are to be the instruments of God, to proclaim beauty and wonder.
Now, like instruments, we are all different. God can use us as instruments as varied as the total number of different instruments on earth. God does not expect to “play” us the same way because we are different instruments. You do not play the trumpet like the piano; in fact these seem as far apart as could be in the musical family. But the trumpet is no greater than the piano, they are different but equally capable of great music. We are all different, but our decision to use our natural gifts as spiritual gifts are all equally pleasing to God. And what about an orchestra, a magnificent jazz ensemble, a gathering of country/western artists? Individually, each musician can produce wonderful music, but when all played together in complete respect and harmony with each other, you get something magical. Note that the artists must have complete respect for each other, a full recognition of the artistry each other, and a selfless commitment to the entire group, and love and dedication of the music they are performing. If the musicians are trying to outdo each other or compete against each other, there is chaos, nothing special. If just going through the motions, they could individually and collectively hit all the right notes, in the right order and time, but still not produce great music. A church congregation composed of people just doing their Sunday “duties” will not fully resonate with God.
Similarity we should respect how God uses as different instruments. No pride that your spiritual gift is better than another. It would be like a poet not having respect for a plumber. God wants us to not only recognize Him as God, but to see the Holy Spirit in each other.
This excessive pride is especially wrongheaded because look at what we are. We are basically animals. Geneticists say that chimpanzees’ DNA and humans are about 98% the same. Our body runs on an assortment of chemicals and electricity. Yet we are different than the rest of the animal kingdom because God made us so.
Although the races of humans seem physically distinct, we are all 99.9% the same. Yet, there is something special about each one of us, even though modern science says we are 99.9% the same. People are not even the same within the same group of siblings. But we are individually made, we are not just different instruments but different makes of the same instrument, different brands of the exact same instrument. Two musicians can take the same instrument and produce vastly different genres of music even on the same song; God can take two people who seem identical in every way but produce in them vastly different beauties, modes of service, and form of contribution to others.
What do humans have? We are capable of great good and great evil. We are not just our physiology and anatomy, our neurological and our functions of our organs. We are made in God’s image and thus are capable of more than anything physically about us could predict.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Genesis 2:7 NIV)
If we are instruments of God, then let us look at the beauty of how we can use instruments. We are a pale comparison to God in our ability to make greatness. However, the fact that we can take an inanimate object like an instrument, one yes “beautifully and wonderfully made” but still in an inanimate object, and produce moving music is a testimony to what practice, skill, and love can do. It should be an example to us for what can happen if we fully embrace God’s love for us and guidance in our life. Each of us can be a masterpiece of musical performance.
I end this blog with examples, all the same instrument, the cello which I described the detail of how it is made. Without that detail, such music could not be produced. If we did not have the Holy Spirit in us, we could not produce what we do. But it is the playing of it that turns into something beyond what is needed for survival or gain, beyond something that is just joyful, beyond what should be the limitations of our fine motor skills. Similarly, what would happen if we allowed God to fully use as instruments to produce beautiful results as these instruments allow themselves to be made to do something that could not be expected just looking at them.
The first two videos have an accompanying piano and the third one is when the cello is accompanied by different instruments, different people. There is beauty to fully embracing and accepting God’s love, but when done in harmony with others it is increased. The third video most vividly demonstrates this trait which is shown in the following Bible verses:
“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25 ESV)
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 ESV).
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16 ESV)
“And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31 ESV)
“Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3 ESV)
“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Psalm 133:1 ESV)
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5 ESV)
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)
Perhaps the difference is that the instruments willingly give themselves to their creators, while we resist, we doubt the majesty, we do not trust to hand ourselves over as instruments. Great musical groups are more together in harmony than people of faith. Imagine what we could accomplish together being instruments of God, in harmony and perfect complement with each other, with selflessness, with no pride of who is “best”, with focus on God, with appreciation, love and respect of each other’s spiritual gifts, and most importantly with collective love for our mission. Here are three examples of the musical equivalent of what we could be spiritually. Note they have more than technical skill, but true love and belief in their instruments and the music they are performing, as evident in their playing and the expressions on the faces of the cellists in the second and third videos. I believe these musicians here using their natural gifts, infused by God as spiritual gifts, with the resultant power of the performances.
One of my favorite jazz musicians Christian McBride doing the song “Spiritual” with piano accompaniment.
And here is cellist Boaz, also accompanied by piano on song “In Christ Alone”
“Ave Maria” for Cello and Orchestra, cello László Fenyö with Ukrainian academic youth orchestra