Lessons from making a Steinway

Recently I watched a PBS documentary entitled “Note by Note,” the story of the year long process of building a Steinway piano from cutting down the tree to final tuning and sale of the instrument. The film was wonderfully made and highlighted what makes a Steinway a marvel of craftsmanship and excellence.  Let me mention just a few takeaways for me, not simply about piano building, but about the process of how we might view what it means to grow in Christ and our faith.

First, there was care and intentionality at each step of the process of building. It was clear that from the “wood technician specialist choosing the tree and lumber for the piano to the craftsman, painters, and tuners, that everyone was doing their part of the work well.  Each stop in the assembly process was touched by human hands and human hearts. It was clear in the film that each one viewed their job, not simply as a job, but as an opportunity to produce something of excellence that brought joy and pride to all involved.   I wondered, what if we brought this care and intentionality to our spiritual growth; what if it wasn’t about a mechanical process of going through meaningless routines and actions but was about the deep desires of our hearts and a commitment to be more like our Lord?

Secondly, the process of building a Steinway is a communal process. As I watched the documentary it was incredible to view how individual saw themselves as an important part of the process, but as only one part of the process. Each employee seemed to have a “specialist type title” for their role, yet each was very aware that the piano could not be completed without the other people involved.  In our day and culture, spiritual growth is often cast as an individual pursuit that resists the influence, pressures, and perspectives of others.   What if we saw our Christian growth as a balance of what we invest and do and what others do that I cannot simply produce on my own?  What if we trusted the Spirit’s work through other brothers and sisters, young and old, married and single, the mosaic of believers that God is working in and through all throughout the world.

Thirdly, there are mundane and boring aspects of building a piano that are necessary to successfully create a fine instrument.  As I was watching the movie, there were times I was tempted to think, “This documentary could have been shorter.”  Though I was enjoying watching the process, I was aware that I might be getting bored at some of the nitty-gritty details.  Then it occurred to me that I often grow bored or impatient with some of the everyday, mundane routines of life and neglect to see how important these elements are to my development.  What if we learned that God does great things in the mundane in life, that every spiritual lesson does not flow from exuberant worship times or dramatic life-change points?  How can God grow me through the normal, routines of life and how necessary are these to my spiritual walk and growth?

Fourthly, the process of building a Steinway cannot be hurried or rushed. “Note by Note” traces the year-long building of a single Steinway.  Other manufacturers might turn out thousands in the time it takes to build one Steinway. Though there is definitely a purpose and place for cheaper pianos in the marketplace, much is lost in the mass production.  My experience in the church and among many Christians is that we would rather have a quick and stable process to run Christians and converts through to say they are “good,” rather than allow for the time required for people to grow in Christ like thinking, living, and heart.  What if we simply learned to allow time for slow, solid spiritual growth that reveals itself in Christian character and its expression in life?

I am sure there are many other lessons we can learn from the making of a Steinway, but these are some that I noticed.  As I thought of these I was reminded of Colossians 2:6-7 that say, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…” What might we learn about this process of being built up in Christ if we brought care and intentionality in this new year, saw growth and development as communal and not simply something “I do” myself, and learn to face the mundane and boring aspects of life as parts of growth so that I am not tempted to hurry or rush what God is doing in our lives.

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