Broken Strings

When I was a wee high-schooler, I got to see Billy Joel in concert at ASU. The year was 1979 and Billy was touring with his new album 52nd Street. (Yeah, THAT one.)

The concert was amazing, Billy gave an incredible performance. During one of the songs, he was pounding on the piano particularly hard and he stopped for a second and said, “Whoa!” After the song was over he told us that one of his piano strings had broken and whizzed past his face. I didn’t see it, and wouldn’t have known unless he told us.

Later, there was an intermission intermission and a guy came out onto the stage with a briefcase. I found it curious, so I watched as he opened it and saw a bunch of tools and coiled wires inside. I watched as he replaced four or five broken strings in the piano, and then tuned them. I’ve since learned that that is what a “Piano Technician” does. I’ve also learned that breaking a piano string happens, but not that often – and FIVE strings? That meant that Billy wasn’t ‘tickling the ivories,’ rather he was really pounding them.

Billy came back on stage and started up again and sounded great, just like before. I wasn’t able to see the whole concert because all the second-hand pot smoke gave me an asthma attack. I had to go home early. What a rip.

Anyway, what I found interesting is that even while playing with multiple broken strings, he was still the consummate entertainer, and sounded great! I didn’t notice, and I doubt that very many other people in the audience did. He was able to do his job at a really high level, even with some broken strings.

Years ago, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a classic General Conference talk, and spoke about pianos. He said, “The gospel might be likened to the keyboard of a piano—a full keyboard with a selection of keys on which one who is trained can play a variety without limits; a ballad to express love, a march to rally, a melody to soothe, and a hymn to inspire; an endless variety to suit every mood and satisfy every need.”

Elder David A. Bednar used a different kind of string to make a point about the gospel, saying, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a magnificent tapestry of truth “fitly framed” and woven together.” (link)

There are unlimited strings in a tapestry and a piano has around 230. I don’t know how many strings the gospel has, but you could count for a long time. Each principle, each commandment, each truth represent a string in this grand piano of the gospel.

Yet when I think of Billy Joel, it still surprises me that he was performing without all the strings on his piano. How can that be?

When I look at my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there are strings that are strong, well-mounted and beautiful. There are others that aren’t so strong. Yes, there are even a couple in there somewhere that might be a little out of tune or broken.

What strings are you missing in your testimony? Tithing? Church attendance? Joseph Smith? Do you have any that might be a little out of tune, or broken. I believe that most of us do.

Last week I wrote about how a doubt can spread and stink up our testimonies if we give it too much weight and focus. (link) A missing string has the power to ruin our testimonies – if we let it.

When I was watching Billy Joel perform – even with broken strings – he captivated the audience and most of us had no idea that anything was missing.

Simple truth: We don’t have to have a testimony of every single string of the gospel intact and tuned to perform in God’s Kingdom. We can have missing strings yet still have a testimony. For example: We can testify to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, even though we might struggle with ministering. We can testify of the Savior’s love, even if we can’t testify of the blessings of the Sabbath.

My testimony is NOT an all-or-nothing proposition. Thank heavens for that, because I m not functioning with a full set of strings, installed and perfectly tuned. We walk forward with what we know, then add to it “line upon line, precept upon precept.” (The fact that we can add to it teaches us that we don’t have it all.) Elder David A. Bednar said, Small, steady, incremental spiritual improvements are the steps the Lord would have us take.” (link)

The Lord said it first, “For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth, I will give more…” (2 Nephi28:30)

We can play the piano even if some of the strings are missing. We don’t have to sit in the corner and bemoan the fact that all of our strings are not strong and functioning. We can perform. We can contribute.

To do that, we have to accept the fact that we aren’t functioning with 100% of the strings, 100% of the time, and that is OK! (Billy didn’t quit mid-song.) But rather than focus on, or obsess over, the stings that are missing, we need to play as beautifully as we can with the strings we do have – the strings we’ve already earned.

We can also trust that there is a technician who wants to help us repair broken strings, or install missing strings, and is eagerly waiting for us to let Him, but we have to do our part. What is our part? Elder Whitney L. Clayton explained it like this:

“Belief and testimony and faith are not passive principles. They do not just happen to us. Belief is something we choose—we hope for it, we work for it, and we sacrifice for it. We will not accidentally come to believe in the Savior and His gospel any more than we will accidentally pray or pay tithing. We actively choose to believe, just like we choose to keep other commandments” (link)

I don’t have all the answers. You don’t have all the answers. We all have testimony strings that are weaker than other strings, some strings that are stronger or some strings that are just plain missing. Until the day that those strings are tuned or installed, we can still perform without embarrassment or guilt.

Because the show must go on.


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  1. Your posts often give me something I need to hear. This one, perhaps, more than any others. Thank you.

  2. I always love your analogies! Your writing is so interesting, thoughtful and accessible. As a pianist I definitely know that I can keep working and even though I may not YET have everything figured out, it’s still enough to make some beautiful music.

  3. As a pianist, this really resonates with me! I’m excruciatingly aware of my flaws, but music is my ministry and I know it benefits our worship, even if I’m not a virtuoso. I don’t apologize for any “spontaneous creative notes” which I might play, and when addressing the comments or thanks of the church-goers, I love to say “it’s my blessing.” Thanks for a great perspective, Brad, and a fun story!

  4. One cool thing about a piano is that many of the notes have multiple strings, each tuned to the same pitch, that are are struck simultaneously by a felt hammer when that note is played. Not only does it creates a fuller, more resonant sound than a single string, but if one of those strings breaks, the other(s) will continue to produce the correct pitch. Likewise, I think over time we can develop a multi-faceted testimony of a principle through varied experiences and perspectives!

  5. Such a great comparison of piano strings and gospel principles. I was edified, uplifted, and reassured reading your inspirational words. Thank you for writing and sharing.

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