It’s been about five years now that I’ve performed for a summer service at this community church in Hellertown. It started out as a children’s program but has morphed into something a little more satisfying, with only a few kids in the congregation. Being a lapsed Presbyterian and Unitarian, I have strong spiritual roots and I feel comfortable providing secular songs that promote hope, love and understanding and fit well with this church’s liberal teachings. It’s also an acoustically wonderful chamber, with lots of wood, a listening audience and a simple mike with an experienced sound person on board.
I did a slight warm-up before the service: All God’s Critters and Magic Penny, both of which were picked up on by the early folks, including a young fan-girl and her grandmother. I’m am amazed by the connections that surface during these rare church gigs. Several happened throughout this session.
We Are Welcomed was my first song in the program, and I was surprised to see it printed in the bulletin. It’s usually presented directly from me on stage, so this misdirected the congregation into reading the words and singing along from a page. Not exactly what I wanted. But…… it set the welcoming concept well.
I had several songs in my gig bag for today: Bird of Paradise, Here Comes the Sun, Step by Step, Thanksgiving Eve and a couple others, so I was glad to have material to pull up and not have it printed in the bulletin. I had room to move, and Phil, the pastor, was up for maneuvering, as well.
Phil grasped the welcoming part, and, surprisingly did a riff on sowing seeds. I picked up on that, and at the end of his “sermon”, I came in with a quote I picked up on in the gospel of Face Book from Cora Hook:
“There was a farmer who grew excellent quality corn. Every year he won the award for the best grown corn. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned something interesting about how he grew it. The reporter discovered that the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. “How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbors when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why sir,” said the farmer, “Didn’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
So is with our lives… Those who want to live meaningfully and well must help enrich the lives of others, for the value of a life is measured by the lives it touches. And those who choose to be happy must help others find happiness, for the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all…”
I read it to the congregation (to some applause!) and Phil responded nicely. That was cool and a gamble on my part, but he was in tune with the approach. It’s a very nice parable, as well.
My next musical inclusion was a piece during communion. Phil and I had discussed that a vocal would be appropriate and, in the moment, I chose Bob Franke’s Thanksgiving Eve, as powerful a spiritual song as there is. I was able to stretch the song for the long communion line but it was a little inappropriate to be singing as folks came up to take a moment in front of the church’s backdrop behind me. An instrumental would have been better. Still, a great song.
As we headed for the big finish (oh my, that’s gauche…), I was scheduled to do Down in the Valley to Pray as my last song. It is a gospel, non-hymnal song that I have done before, and I count on the congregation to pick up with the format (that’s part of engagement that I insist on….). It was good, but I really had to play it hard to get them to sing along. But, that’s part of the performance that’s necessary in these situations. Gotta rock and roll, so to speak. It was good.
I came out of the session energized; I played hard and clean. I injected humor, my spirituality and my cultural ethics to an audience that appreciated my skills and philosophy. That’s a pretty good thing for a Sunday morning.
Check in the mail, though. And “Dave Frye” in the bulletin.