It’s Excellent: Opening
I was sharing with someone I have the honour of tutoring that there two ways to approach learning. Learning to pass or learning to love.
For some it’s easier and more constructive to set up an environment for learners to learn to pass and where exceptional students are found stretching them further where possible. For this to function as in a lot of areas of life, it requires standards to be in place.
When you learn to pass, you reach the standard and don’t do much to pass it. When you learn to love – by which I mean you love what you’re learning – the standard can sometimes be easily surpassed.
It’s about the joy of getting the rudimentary aspects and then seeing what can be done on top of that to develop an understanding and dynamic engagement with the subject matter. Whether that’s Maths or English, Psychotherapy or Drama, Social Care or Music. Before you know it, you realise the love of learning was never meant to be confined to academia – it is meant to impact life as we know it in that sphere of interest. That’s how the learning can become a vocation – a true calling to accomplish throughout life. It’s not a career, it’s not a job, it’s more than a pastime and money is never the primary object. Welcome to the world of excellence.
The World of Excellence in a Song
When I reflect on the call to think on whatever is excellent, I am drawn to this particular piece of music. In all likelihood it’s probably the first thing I have a recollection of that I would define as excellent. I loved the track for so many reasons and as I got older the number of reasons increased. Sitting here listening to it now, I can say without any hesitation this is excellent.
Why? First of all the lyrical content. Three words of the title at the heart of the song and repeated frequently says also a lot about the standard of excellence – it’s met by people who don’t do a half-hearted job. They are not doing something to just pass off as adequate and acceptable in any given area. This is about commitment – a life commitment to complete something thoroughly. In this context it’s about going all the way in walking with Jesus to do whatever He calls you to do. The journey of discipleship thoroughly enjoyed and thoroughly endured so that the crown of life that awaits can be worn with joy and delightfully thrown at the feet of the Saviour on His return. The lyrics are just inspired. It is excellent.
Then there’s the vocals. I am not the biggest fan of Andrae Crouch as a vocalist, but this song is where he finds his sweet spot and I loved it from beginning to end. There’s nothing about it I disliked or thought was out of place and when he belts a high note in the bridge of the song, it’s a home run. I have heard a number of cover versions of this song by some pretty decent vocalists who don’t hit it like he hits it on this song. Then I consider the harmonies from the strong males at the beginning to the beautifully blended harmonies taking this commitment thing to the next level at the bridge. The arrangement of the vocals and their role in taking us through the song is masterful and it just sounds like something carefully crafted in the studio so that it could just sound so right – from the dedication and forward thrust to the driving commitment to keep going at the end as it fades. Lead vocals, backing vocals, superbly arranged. It is excellent.
What about the instrumental contribution? Wowsers. I could spend a good hour or so raving about the funky bass driving this song and the electric guitar that plays a riff at the beginning and pops up throughout the song to buzz in the ear with that insistent riff – it’s joy. That bass is something, that electric guitar is something. Later in life I had a brief stint learning and playing the drums and I know this song had a major part in the reason why. Folks might think it’s relatively easy to do it, but then you try it and have to keep the beat as well as the little flourishes here and there and to keep that going is no easy feat at all. The keyboards decorate this piece even more than the icing and cherry does on the world’s second greatest dessert the Cherry Bakewell Tart (we all know a the triple chocolate cake gets top spot). There’s a mood to the piece that those blessed keyboards guide us through with such consummate ease that it might give you the impression it can be done – but then try it for yourself and realise – this is not all that easy at all. Brilliantly done, though. Then they had the thought to slap a string group in there. I mean, the strings on this piece are such a delight to hear with their cut and thrust inserts before giving a more flowing and humming contribution. This entire musical ensemble just sounded beyond music to my ears. It is excellent.
This brief tribute to the song barely scratches the surface of just why this piece of music is excellent. Doesn’t touch on the hours I can imagine spent in the studio recording and editing making sure the parts fitted perfectly and that the final piece would sound like the gorgeous soundfest it does from a decent set of speakers. All those production values, all that talent, all that investment to produce just over five minutes of listening pleasure that turned a little boy onto loving music so long ago.
Excellence Yesterday, Today and Beyond
Over thirty years later, when I think about excellence, sure I think about Daniel and his brilliance in Babylonian court. Yeah I certainly think about how Joseph prospered in whatever state he found himself in because of that commitment to excellence. Yep, I am reminded of the beauty of Esther in the court of Xerxes and how her commitment to a character of similar excellence saved her people and also gave the opportunity for her Uncle Mordecai to likewise play an integral part in playing a positive influence in the political administration.
For sure, I definitely think about the Ark, the Tabernacle and the Temple which are architectural constructs that were never anything less that magnificent in build and purpose at the outset. I don’t have to go long before thinking of the entire ministry of Jesus on the earth and how excellence ran through it with consistency from the way He lead His disciples to the way He organised folks at His teaching, even to how He had the foresight to prepare a brilliant final meal with His disciples before being crucified.
I have been privileged to witness excellence in my brother and his music and writing. I’ve observed excellence in my wife’s commitment to prayer, intercession and helping others. I’ve watched excellence flow from brothers and sisters doing things from setting up halls with the chairs to writing correspondence to hospitality to serving those on the margins of society.
All of those element and more I think of when I think about excellence. I also think about this song, though and how it was my first introduction to that concept and how since then it propels and stimulates me to employ excellence in what I do.
When it comes to the call of God on my life, I’m not looking to learn to pass, I’m looking to learn to love, because it’s right there that I know I will excel.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden