Thursday, March 5, 2009

The ill-tempered organist

Those of you who saw (or heard) me at church last night know that I'm suffering from the flu bug that has been going around. While that does tend to make me a little grumpy, I'm thinking of other meanings of the word tempered today: the tuning of a piano and the strengthening of steel.

Geeky musicians can argue for hours about the technical issues of tuning, and many of the arguments are about Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. To give the quickest possible summary, the musical scale cannot be perfectly tuned to all keys simultaneously. It would be like building new cupboards for a kitchen, with everything at perfect 90 degree angles. We all know, however, that the kitchen walls will probably require a shim somewhere to make everything fit and keep it all level. Basically, tempering is the process of "shimming" the notes on the piano so that we can play in all keys. Thus, the little-known fact that the modern piano is purposely "out of tune" in comparison to a pure tuning.

This week, my body is ill-tempered - out of homeostasis and out of tune. Being sick in Lent is always a vivid reminder of the Ash Wednesday scripture that we are dust and to dust we shall return. With rest and fluids and stretching, I'll hopefully bring my body back into proper tempering soon.

Lent is also a season for reflection and tuning of our spiritual lives. Like the tuning of the piano, our daily lives are full of little problems, mistakes, and sins. It's my understanding that when you temper metal for a knife blade the molecules line up, strengthening the steel. Similarly, Lent can be a season for integrating our lives so that mind, body, and spirit all point in the same direction. Then we will be well-tempered Christians, in both senses of the term.


  1. hope you're feeling better!

  2. On a similar note, we are starting to learn that homeostasis involves all aspects of our humanity. We cannot be "well" until we meet all our needs. These include physical as well as spiritual, psychological, and intellectual needs. Probably someone can come up with others?