In the Practice Room: Reflections on a Musical Marriage

Like making music, making marriage work requires persistence

Author’s Note: This post is being published on my wife and I’s 20th anniversary, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share some thoughts with our readers on what has helped us remain committed to each other. I hope it encourages you to see the benefits of working through the difficulties in a relationship, no matter what your current marital status happens to be.  

It all started in a practice room.

She was one of the background singers; I, the pianist for the ensemble. We were music students at the University of Miami, stuffed in a dingy carpeted room that had seen one too many bands dragging amps and drums through its doors.  The song was “Silver and Gold”, the 90s gospel hit by Kirk Franklin and the Family, being performed by a jazz singer that wasn’t the most experienced with contemporary gospel. We were part of her recital band. To this day, I say my future wife was winking at me during the rehearsal. She claims she had a cold and was blinking away due to her sniffles.

20 years later, it appears very appropriate that our relationship began in a room where people work out their mistakes together.

As my wife and I mark the beginning of our third decade of marriage, two components of our lives stand out. One is our acceptance of change – in our circumstances, in our family, in each other. Every year has been different. We’ve experienced detours and setbacks that have shifted our thoughts and our mindsets. We’ve definitely endured changes in our emotional attachment through the years. Sometimes it was strong. Other times, it was frail and brittle. The reason we’ve survived the changes is because we’ve grown to expect them. Only dead things don’t change. A relationship that is still living has to evolve and grow. We do not have the same relationship that we started with, but it’s still a beautiful one.

The other constant has been music. There hasn’t been a time in our lives together that the music lifestyle hasn’t been a part of our marriage. From arguments over which album to play on road trips, to essentially raising our children on the organ bench and in the choir stands, to swaying side by side – together in a lip-synced choir backing up Mariah Carey, to late night post-gig discussions with our close friends that ran into the early morning hours. We’ve lived our lives in front of microphones and behind keys and cables.

But music has never defined our marriage.

No matter how much we love performing, playing and talking about music, we are a couple first before we are artists. I can honestly say we’ve attempted to keep our musical lives as invisible as possible in our home. People assume all the time that because I play piano and she sings, that we are a virtual Partridge Family / Sound of Music / Jackson 5 home where someone is breaking out into a number while washing the dishes with full orchestral accompaniment.

Sorry, but that’s a fantasy this musical couple doesn’t fulfill.  When we have to work together on a song, we’re more likely to have an argument than a duet. Just being honest.

Through the years, we’ve learned to share the blessings and the struggles of full-time ministry, full-time musical entrepreneurship, and full-time family management. We’ve made amazing friends and enjoyed wonderful moments of artistic fulfillment.

It just took a lot of practice.

In that practice room over 20 years ago, we didn’t know exactly how to explain what makes a gospel song sound like gospel. It was just something that you had to experience – an emotional and spiritual attachment to the words that made the song come to life. There was no manual, no “5 keys to a great gospel sound” that could make that ensemble play gospel in the way we thought it should sound.

The same is true in our marriage. I can’t tell you why it works. I can just tell you that we’re still working. There’s no guaranteed way to make a relationship between two creative souls automatically sync into a harmonious whole. We have to jump in and allow for mistakes, for the awkward silences, for the moments that our two styles clash and create a deafening dissonance in our lives. Then we have to stop the music, ask what went wrong, say I’m sorry, and start the song again.

Marriage is a never-ending rehearsal of love and forgiveness.

But I can tell you, without a doubt, it’s worth staying in the room, working out the notes, making the music sound more beautiful than we could alone.

If you’re in a marriage relationship, that’s my only advice. Keep practicing.

If you haven’t begun a marriage but you want to, be ready to accept a whole new way of life. It’s not going to sound the way you thought. And that’s a good thing.

And if you began a song with someone, but you’ve had to stop the music, know that there’s always a chance the music could start again. Be open to getting back in the room.

And to my wife Lia, thanks for being the most amazing woman in the universe and for sharing this wonderful journey with me. I can’t imagine life without you. To steal a line from Mr. Franklin, I’d rather have you than silver and gold. 

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