This is the story of how learning a new tune can sometimes lead to a very profound insight. Every musician knows, when we learn new tunes, they can have the power change our brains. By the process of learning the new tune, we become more proficient at our instrument. And in the process of learning, that knowledge carries over to every other tune we play after that.
But this particular new tune that I was learning did much more than that for me. It caused me to think about a lot of things that expanded my concept of what life is really all about.
I’ll tell you the lyrics later, but first let me describe my newest method for learning a new tune, using the latest technology, for all you other computer enthusiasts out there. First you download a free app called Tefview. With Tefview you can view standard notation and instrument tab for any of the major bluegrass instruments. Then you go to a tab site, for example Alltabs. Take your pick from the scads of free tunes for download.
I selected my new tune to learn, the one with the unusual title, punched the mouse and bingo. There it was on my screen in a flash. I remembered the tune a little from a CD I had borrowed from the library but I wanted to refresh my memory so I pushed a button and the computer played an electronic version of the melody. Not Ricky Skaggs but tonally acceptable for learning purposes. I picked out the tune reading the music. Then I tried running the computerized music version and playing along with it. It was too fast for me to keep up. By this time my 11 year old son had become fascinated by all the cool technology I was using. He punched a few buttons and was able to slow it down for me. (Are kids born with technology in their brains these days? It would have taken me a couple of weeks to figure out how to do that.)
Thanks to technology, but even more to good old practice, the tune is coming along well. I’ve learned a lot and I could probably play it in a jam and other people would like the tune as much as I do. But I learned so much more by checking into the meaning of the unusual title of this tune.
A while ago I promised you lyrics but there are none for this tune. It’s an instrumental. The learning experience for me began with the unusual title itself. I looked it up on the Internet: First Corinthians 1:18, by Ricky Skaggs. The first hit I got on Google was from the Christian Bible. A passage of scripture for which the tune is named:
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
I thought to myself: “Well is that really a quote worthy of naming a bluegrass tune after?” Most of the folks out here where I live in Sonoma county never go to church and a lot of them don’t believe in God. They think the whole concept is ridiculous, like the Tooth Fairy. Educated people here in northern California tend to put their faith in science and objective reasoning. Philosophy and spirituality are not something they’re comfortable with.
It was when I read further that I got an insight that would actually mean something to most people here in Sonoma County (or even neighboring Marin, where as everybody knows they’re all communists). Bear with me and read this, I’ll get to the point later. Your welcome columnist today is not a “holy roller”. He has not flipped his marbles. He is playing with a full deck (well, almost). Read on, because there is something good you can learn here, no matter what your belief system happens to be:
“For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?’ ”
If you think about it, you realize it’s all true. We’re all boneheads! Nobody understands anything even though we think we’re so smart. We’re searching to prove the existence of the Higgs boson but does anybody even have a clue about how our whole universe could have started from an explosive mass the size of a thimble? It’s amazing that human beings have evolved with this amazing ability to comprehend the universe but let’s not kid ourselves, we don’t know anything! Humility is the order of the day.
There are more good insights from the rest of this chapter from Corinthians, but I’m not a preacher. I encourage you to read them for yourself but I won’t quote them here. We all have to believe something, but I’ll leave your choice of belief system to your own discretion. If you believe that there is something called love, which is a real thing, then you believe what I believe. There is such a thing as good. There is such a thing as evil. And humans have knowledge of those real things. We might not all formulate those things in a grand scheme with an old man sitting in the clouds throwing lighting bolts but it’s all the same thing.
You might call yourself an atheist, but if you believe in love you believe in God. You just say you don’t. Good and evil? Easy concepts. If you’re in favor of the former and against the latter, then you’re in my boat with me. Simple as that. We could argue all day about whether there’s anything out there for us after we die but it matters not a whit. Maybe what matters is that we have a knowledge of love, and of good and evil right here and now, in this life.
The unusual title, First Corinthians 1:18, reminds us that we are only human. We don’t have all the answers. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”