I play in a hand bell choir, an activity I love, even though I am not all that good at it. Often I bring bells home between rehearsals. Many publishers of hand bell music generously include a “listen” option on their web pages with recordings of their music. When I can, I use that feature to practice.

Last week, we got a new piece. I brought home my assigned three bells and two chimes, along with my copy of the printed music, which I carefully marked so that my aging eyes could pick out notes with relative ease. I googled the composer and title and felt most appreciative when a publisher’s page popped up showing a “listen” option with which I could play along.

It is not a difficult piece, and all went well for the first two pages. Then suddenly I lost my way. I started over, and the same thing happened. My score showed a change from 4/4 to 3/4 time that I didn’t hear in the recorded music—a problem I couldn’t resolve—and so I decided to skip that part and return to it later. However, a little further along, a similar thing happened. Throughout, no matter how carefully I studied the music and counted out the measures, I could not get my reading of the printed music to align with what I was hearing on the recording. Puzzled and frustrated, I began to lose confidence.

Two other problems showed themselves. My music indicated that chimes were to be used in a couple of places instead of bells—but in the recording, I heard no chimes. My music also showed an oboe accompaniment—but in the recording, I heard no oboe. As glaring as those differences were, I ignored them. Certain that I had the right composer and the right title, I struggled on. In doing so, I became more and more confounded and discouraged.

Finally, feeling totally defeated, I called in a friend. “Would you watch and listen,” I said, “and tell me what on earth I’m doing wrong?”  She agreed. Starting at the beginning, I played through to the first place I’d gotten lost before. “Why can’t I get this?” I demanded. I was mad, ready to rip up my music and quit the bell choir. “I just don’t understand,” I complained.

“It’s not the right music,” she said.

“But, but, but…, “ I stammered. “Look! Title. Composer. They’re the same. It’s got to be the right music.”

“It’s not,” she said.

She was right, of course. When I googled again, I found the same music on another publisher’s page, also with a “listen” option. Or rather, I found music by the same composer bearing the same title. However, it clearly was not the same arrangement as the one I’d been listening to. This arrangement matched the printed music I was trying to follow. This arrangement had chimes, and an oboe, and time changes corresponding to those on the printed page.

On the one hand I felt relieved. That’s why my careful counting didn’t work. On the other hand I felt completely foolish. Despite obvious cues that reassessment was in order, I had stubbornly clung to my initial certainty that I was practicing with the right piece.  Lord, have mercy. Here in the middle of Lent seems a good time to ponder this: How could I be so partially right and yet so utterly wrong? Here in the middle of Lent seems a good time to wonder: In what other aspects of my life, would my initial certainty about something, or someone, benefit from my taking another look?

Angier Brock