Life should come with a warning label that says: Often appears to make no rational sense.

Take my masters degree in music theory and composition. A handful of childhood guitar lessons at the YMCA did not turn me into Segovia. As for singing ability, well, the kindest thing you could say is that it doesn’t, ahem, run in my family.

Which makes it all the more perplexing why I—with my scant musical background and even less natural talent—would consider studying music.

Yet one of the clearest messages God ever gave me was to go get that dang masters degree.

Rhythmically ignorant me had to learn mystical things like beating two against three. This is where, with one hand, you slap your thigh twice for each measure of music, while your other hand slaps three times. It’s the nightmare version of patting your head while rubbing your stomach, because guess what? You get to do it in front of the whole class and get graded.

Phobia of performing in public, anyone?

Then your grimacing teacher, who can’t comprehend your rhythmic retardation because this is preschool-level to him, makes you beat 5 against 4, 6 against 5, and other far worse combinations.

I wanted to wallop a big ol’ 6-against-5 upside the guy’s head, but they’d have thrown me out of school.

What I didn’t realize then was how much I was learning. Not just about the range of, say, a piccolo, or why the heck we need tenor clef, or what Gregorian chant has to do with tonal history.

But about hearing the beat.

Fast forward to today and you’ll notice I turned out to be a different kind of composer. I deal in words, not scales. I still call it music, just a different kind.

In a great irony, I jog every morning to a set playlist of songs, and what keeps me on pace for the last—and hardest—leg is beating 3 against 2. (My teacher would be relieved to know I can finally do this.)

Oh sure, I could slow my pace, but then I wouldn’t make my time goal.

I’m stubborn that way.

So while the snare makes its periodic appearances and disappearances, and the bass hits a syncopated half-beat kick, and the strings run counterpoint to the guitars, and the rhythm of the vocal line dances over the top, my feet have to pound a three against two triplet on the pavement.

To make things tricky, sometimes the beat I need passes from instrument to instrument. Add to the cacophony a brick wall of 20 mph wind roaring in my ears, the creaking of cottonwoods above me, the clamor of our friendly neighborhood kamikaze goose, and you’ve got finely tuned organized chaos.

Kind of like life.

Messy. Dissonant.

But I can still find my beat.

Years of practice, and all.

Plus I had a whole semester of 20th century mishmash music that taught me to appreciate its jumbled beauty. There really is a rational structure that makes sense to its creator.

I believe that creator is God. He’s the master conductor orchestrating this symphony called life.

It’s a music that’s messy and hard, but there’s a beat set by the master that leads us to our purpose. (Click to tweet this)

Through every dissonance, every jumbled cacophony—because that will come—there is nothing to do but focus on the conductor.

His order reigns in the midst of apparent chaos. A purposeful beauty in the intermingling of his instruments.

Even when I falter, he keys on me and guides me back to his tempo, to the part designed specifically for me to play.

His words are the beat I tune to.

No, I cling to.

Because his symphony is incomplete without me.

And without you.


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6 Comments on What’s Your Beat?

  1. Robin Patchen
    June 16, 2015 at 11:13 am (7 years ago)

    You have such a way with words, Erin. And your words have cadence and rhythm that reflect your music education.

    Like you, I sometimes wonder if life makes any sense at all. I have to trust that God’s putting all the pieces together into a beautiful tapestry–or symphony, as you suggest.

    • Erin Taylor Young
      June 16, 2015 at 3:49 pm (7 years ago)

      Amen to trusting God, Robin! The great part is that he’s trustworthy. : )

  2. Holly Smit
    June 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm (7 years ago)

    I have always wondered what you got out of that crazy Masters degree of yours. And now I see garden knowledge where I thought you only found desert; a flourishing understanding about things I didn’t even know existed. I love that design prevails in even the messiest music, proving the existence of a composer. Just as design in nature, the rules and laws and molecular architecture that governs all things, proves THE Creator. When it comes down to it, there is art in science and science in art. And one truth over all:
    How Great Thou Art.

    • Erin Taylor Young
      June 16, 2015 at 3:52 pm (7 years ago)

      Funny how much I actually learned about writing while I got that degree. Seriously! And I totally agree with your one truth over all.

      And when are you going to finish your book?? : )

      • Holly Smit
        June 16, 2015 at 5:10 pm (7 years ago)

        The JF baby is in critters’ hands right now. The memoir is getting resuscitated as we speak. Somehow it’s just hard to whittle down the words for something so complex and all-consuming as two years of Embrace the Suck and somehow find the narrative stream that steers it.

        • Erin Taylor Young
          June 16, 2015 at 9:36 pm (7 years ago)

          Ah, sweet to know that JF is moving along. That makes my day. As for the memoir, you will learn its rhythm. Give it time. Grope. It’s totally okay to do that. One day you will recognize it as an old friend you sort of always knew but just didn’t quite recognize.