Rhythm Band


The four males were clearly trying to impress one another—or at least three of them were.

“I like to play baseball,” said one. “It has such a long history, and everyone plays it at some time in their life. Developing the skills and strength to ‘hit a round ball with a round bat and hit it squarely’ (as Ted Williams once said) is an accomplishment worth practicing.”

“I like to play football,” said a second. “Being able to throw others to the ground and push and shove are things I like to do anyway, and football gives me an opportunity to do it and be cheered for it.”

“I like to play basketball,” said the third. “Basketball has continuous action and, once on the court, everyone will get to have the ball. There is lots of scoring and is such an exciting game, especially if the score is close.”

The fourth respondent was the youngest of all, really a child. “I like the triangle,” said the child.

The other three looked at each other with amazement and amusement. Clearly, the child had not understood the initial question posed. Sure, one “plays” the triangle, but that is not at all germane to the conversation. The last and only time they had played a triangle was in a preschool rhythm band.

As often happens, remnants of our childhood continue into our adult lives and sometimes take on new meanings or importance. A simple bar of metal (usually steel) is bent into a triangle shape, not closed at one end. Suspended from a loop of thread or cord, one strikes it with a beater of similarly constructed metal. If the triangle were closed, when struck it would make a single pitch. Because it is open, however, when struck there are overtones or harmonics. Not limited to a basic stroke, percussionists can add rolls and other variations requested by the music score.

You and I live in a world of much complexity. We fail to remember that the complexity we see is the result of individual contributions that blend to make a result. In the case of the triangle, it is most obvious in a musical sense. However, the concept exists in every outcome of an organization. Single contributions in an orchestra are obscured by the harmony and blend of sounding together. If we were to listen to just the trumpets or the cellos or the flutes during a symphony, we probably would not be able to recognize the piece; only when all are involved is the final product as the composer intended. Therein lies the genius of the composer; he or she wrote not only a grand melody and its extensions, but also generated all the notes and rhythms for the individual instruments. 

We may have first encountered a musical triangle when we were children, but it is no child’s toy. In fact, many of our activities as children were not limited in importance just to that age. In many ways, some of our best selves and best characteristics were present when we were children. It is not an accident that Jesus (Matthew 18) says that those of us seeking to enter the kingdom of heaven must become like little children.

One of the most famous images of the church is that of a body (I Cor. 12). Using the obvious biology that Paul knew, he noted that the body is composed of multiple units that construct a whole. No one part is more important than the other. An eye cannot say to a hand, “I have no use for you.”

It is too bad Paul did not write a parallel image of an orchestra. “Because I am not a trumpet, I do not belong in the orchestra. Because I am not a viola, I do not belong in the orchestra. A triangle? A simple twisted piece of metal? Has anyone ever heard a triangle solo?” Paul could have continued, “All the instruments belong. Some may be weaker in volume or intensity, but the orchestra depends on the presence of each individual instrument. There should be no dissension.”

Let us use our ears to hear the symphony.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

One comment

  • Your analysis is especially appropriate now as much of world seems to have gone individually insane. Sometimes it is hard, if not impossible, to hear the sane voices among the insane one.


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