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Words of Abundance

Your Host, Randy Petrick
  • Writer's pictureRandy Petrick


Updated: Mar 28

How Oboes, Hertz, and Donkeys Helped Me Think About My Purpose in the Body of Christ

"Use what talents you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." –Henry van Dyke

Close-up of a woman in an orchestra playing an oboe.

Have you ever listened to an orchestra tuning up before a concert? I always wondered why it is nearly always an oboe that starts the tuning process, so I recently turned to a Google search to see what I could find out.

One explanation I found said that the penetrating sound of the oboe stands out from the orchestra, so it’s easy for all the musicians to hear. Fair enough. Oh, and its pitch is also steadier than that of strings such as those of a violin. This was especially true, apparently, back when all violin strings were made from gut. (Yikes.) These days, I learned, those violin strings are more often made from steel. Steel? Huh. I had no idea.

Most other instruments are somewhat unstable in pitch because of how heat, humidity, and other conditions affect them. But such is not the case with our dear friend Oboe. says, “It is difficult to adjust the pitch of an oboe. Therefore, the other instruments in performance must be made to match, and that is why the oboe is the standard for tuning.”

The next site I visited was Here, I found an interesting bit about the “etiquette” involved with orchestral tuning: “Tune quickly and purposefully; then wait patiently and quietly.” Additional etiquette included these words to the wise: “Nobody likes the person who uses tuning time…to test how loud or high they can play. Wind players: Play your A at a mezzo-forte dynamic and adjust slightly if needed.”

Close-up of a donkey that appears to be laughing (mouth wide open and big teeth stuck out) while standing in front of an old adobe building with a tile roof.

I sure could have used that knowledge back in second-grade music class! I could have avoided the “hours” of agony that ensued after I tested how loudly I could sing a solo when our classroom was otherwise relatively silent for a moment. I may have started my solo at mezzo-forte, but I adjusted greatly and was thereupon escorted out of the classroom with an admonishment to the effect of “You can just sit your [another word for donkey] out here in the hall until music class is over for today!”

I digress. Anyway, the final point I learned about orchestras is that they always tune to 'A' because every string instrument has an 'A' string. But wait. Not just any 'A' will do, though! And this is where the explanations started getting a little over my head. As best I understand it, large quantities of rental cars also got into the picture back in the early days. I figured that out only because several articles I read agreed that the standard pitch is A=440 Hertz.

But what would happen, I wondered, if the oboe in question decided to use Alamo or Budget instead of Hertz? Would that cause the entire orchestra to be out of proper tune? And why not just let each orchestra member use an electronic tuner ahead of time? Wouldn’t that be more efficient? “Well sure,” I can hear you saying, “but that would take away from the enormous pleasure the audience takes from listening to all the cacophony during tuning.”

All right. If you say so, but if the audience is getting such “pleasure” from the cacophony, why don’t we increase their pleasure quotient by letting four or five different oboes play “A” simultaneously during tuning? Can you imagine the audience delight ensuing from each orchestra member trying to decide which oboe to tune to? Ha! [Sorry. I’ll take my donkey out in the hall on my own. You won't need to assist me.]

Close-up photo of a Northern Flicker.

Enough meandering. I really do have a reason for all these oboes, the Hertz corporation, and the donkey business. And my reason is birds. I was sitting out on my patio recently and happened to hear a bird repetitively chirping the same single note over and over. [A Northern Flicker, I think, but I’m a neophyte on this bird stuff.] “You go, little buddy,” I said. “You may only know one note, but you are putting everything you’ve got into it. Bravo!”

Pretty soon, I noticed lots of multi-noted birds joining in with my little friend. And, suddenly, I remembered the whole oboe business. I’ll be darned. My one-note buddy may have been the “oboe” of the entire bird orchestra. Wow! I had almost felt sorry for a bird with only one note to sing…until I realized his or her one little note may have been the key to the entire winged symphony in my yard.

Are you sensing where I’m heading here? God has designed us all with specific purposes in mind, and we each need to play our parts in His symphony. If you’ve been feeling “sorry” that your part is so “insignificant” compared to everyone else, fret no more. You may be “singing” only a single note, but your note may be like the oboe’s note or the Flicker’s note. God’s entire orchestra would never be able to perform His symphony successfully were it not for the single note they each tune to. That single note could be you.


1 Corinthians 12:17-22 says,

If the whole body were an eye, how could it hear? If the whole body were an ear, how could it smell? God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.

The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without.

Be joyful and celebrate your role in the Body of Christ whether you feel it is great or small. Remember the importance of the oboe, celebrate the Flickers, and visualize me sitting out in the hall if you run into any donkeys. [Ouch. That Hertz.]


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