Friday, December 23, 2011

You Can Be A Winner!!!!

Two things.

Kevin's back at PCC, and boy, am I happy about that. If you heard him sing at Behold the Lamb, if you've been at Powhatan or Westchester when he's been leading worship, then you've seen his talent in action. We're doing another special tune together for tomorrow's Christmas Eve services, and rehearsal last night reminded me just how much I love working with this guy.

But there's more to Kevin than meets the eye - or the ear, in this case. He has a passionate love for God and God's people, and he's also an excellent pastor.

And darned if he isn't pretty creative, too.

He tossed this idea to me a few days ago and I was tickled pink, as they say. Now it's time to share it with you. It's a contest!

First, a 55-second teaser:

And now, the info; here's a quote from Kevin's blog:

 The Prize... Travis Wagner, of PCC's "Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God" fame ("straight A" VCU Med student; musician; singer; future Nobel Prize winner and all-around great guy)... Travis will personally play and sing for you the song "Matthew's Begats" from "Behold the Lamb of God."

This is just too fun. Go for it. Read all the details on Kevin's blog. Check out his FB page. And get on board! Do what you gotta do, which is pretty darn simple.

And by the way, I can personally attest to the fact that Travis is an all-around great guy, and the idea of him singing to you personally? Pretty darn cool.

Plus - reading the Bible? Pretty darn cool as well.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Processing "Behold The Lamb Of God"

We wrapped up our major Christmas production last night, our version of Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God. After a day away to process and recover (sort of - I'm still so exhausted I nodded off in small group tonight, while Dave Ramsey was yelling about negotiating a better deal...), I remain firmly convinced that this was and will be one of the highlights of my personal and professional life as a musician and as a leader.

Here's a few things I learned, on the professional side:

  • Inspiration strikes at unlikely times and often presents itself as an utterly ridiculous idea. Our executive pastor, Dennis Green, reminded me last night that after we heard Andrew Peterson and company do Behold the Lamb last year in Richmond, he had leaned over and asked me if we could do something like that at PCC. I had laughed and pretty much told him he was nuts. But the seed was planted, and it slowly sprouted...
  • It helps to give things away. I think, for the first real time, I learned the value of delegation. It was hard, at times, having to say, "I don't know" to a myriad of questions. But everything was so much better because other people lived into their strengths. Christine Peyton created a dramatic element with the children, the manger, Mary and Joseph that reflected her understanding of the story. It was beautiful. Walter Felton eat, slept and breathed this music for months, and cast visions of dedicated excellence to the other musicians that was impossible to deny. He led, spiritually and musically, in a way that allowed others to grow and prosper.
  • Moving our big event to the weekend prior to Christmas, rather than Christmas Eve, was a very good decision.  Less stress, more availability, better results. 
  • You can mix serious ballet and acoustic music in a church with incredible results.
Personally, I learned a few things as well. 
  • It's very cool to play limited amounts of notes. The less I played, the more I heard and felt the music. I had to adapt my style and it was harder than I expected - but it made for much better music.
  • Certain songs humble you. I had the privilege of delivering the message of Labor of Love, and each time I sang it, I became less. I was no match for the beauty of the song. Certain works have had that impact on me; a Bach invention, the second movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata...but rare is the contemporary song in a contemporary church that has the same weight.
  • Art - good music, inspired dancing - is sufficient unto itself. It stands alone. However, in our setting, art inspired and infused with spirit - the spirit of God, invoked in our preparation and even in the creation of the music a decade ago - is a completely different, living matter. Behold the Lamb was entertaining, inspiring, beautiful - a good way to invest an hour for anyone. But beyond that, lives were changed. Lives were changed because of the experience created by the fusion of music and movement. Internally and externally, some people were irrevocably changed. That is a remarkable thing, an unexpected miracle, a great privilege. 
It wasn't a perfect performance. Notes were dropped, lines were skipped, technical gremlins ran loose. But we inhabited the music, whether we ran tech, sang, played, danced or acted. It was an act of grace, a song of praise.

And Someone inhabited that. And thus arrived the Christmas Spirit.

I would love to read your comments in the space below, if you were impacted in any way by "Behold the Lamb". It helps us in our evaluation and gives us valuable perspective. Plus, if you liked it, it's just cool to share the love. :-)

Dancers from Stavna Ballet. They. Were. Amazing.

Travis in rehearsal. He's an amazing musician. He's also my daughter's significant other. Epic win.

Walter, speaking. I didn't plan on him playing this role...until I heard him recite the entire introduction. He was prepared....

Matthew, as the dancers entered...preparing for beauty.

John, absolutely brilliant on cello. The final note on "Deliver Us" resonated through my soul.


More Matthew. We love Matthew.

One of my favorite photos; see the intensity?

Surprise. More Matthew. Did I mention that we love this guy?


Carlisle, who played beautifully with his daughter Paige on "O Come O Come".

Yeah...there he is again...

The end of "Deliver Us", with Andy voicing the part of God.

We were so proud of Paige! Great trio.

Father and daughter - magic.

I imagine that Paige will never forget her performance. It's a privilege to know that we will be part of her musical memories.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

They Can't Take That Away From Me

I have a reputation for being something of a Scrooge at Christmastime. It comes with the territory, sort of; in my line of work, Christmas is so challenging. You always disappoint somebody, it seems. Church programming at Christmas is a challenge, to say the least.

And is a joy. There are exquisite moments.

But somebody's always left wanting a little something more, or something different.

So I find myself struggling, every year, to claim some part of Christmas for myself. It's difficult. Eventually, I get there; but often it is at 10PM on Christmas Eve, when the work is all done and I'm home with the kids. We light candles and sing songs and dance and open one gift and go to bed and have a grand day on December 25th.

Up until that time, it's intense, stressful and challenging.

This year is much the same; and yet...

(Two of my favorite words these days...)

And yet, there are two bright shining spots. One has been months in the making; the other, a last minute surprise, a gift of grace that warmed my heart, made me cry and brought a huge grin to my face. Simultaneously.

Painting the set
First, the planned event: Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. I've posted about it before, but it is upon us now, and I am overwhelmed with excitement. Sunday afternoon we had all the players in place, and the dancers, the percussionist, the hammered dulcimer - all connected with the parts we'd been working with for months and it was magical. I've never been so excited about Christmas music. I hope you'll come experience this with us (December 17, 6PM; December 18, 9:30, 11:15 and 6PM)

And the surprise event? I accompanied my dear friend Kevin (also singing in Behold the Lamb of God) in a Christmas concert. Kevin not only works at PCC, he also leads a terrific ministry called Encore, focusing on folks who live in places like Chesterfield Heights, a local retirement community. Tonight he was the singing pastor, and we covered not only holiday standards like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Let It Snow", but also a few traditional holiday carols and a couple of standards, just for fun ("They Can't Take That Away From Me",  "Stardust", etc.) Kevin is a huge fan of Sinatra and that era, and I'm a huge fan of Kevin and any jazz standards.
Kevin at Behold the Lamb rehearsal

It was a wonderful evening, with an opportunity to play some beautiful music on a nice digital piano. But what struck me was the spirit in the room. Folks gathered to simply be in the moment, and the music not only created a special moment, it also struck chords of nostalgia and memories that were almost palpable in the room. As Kevin sang "The Days of Wine and Roses", you could feel the room change, as if folks were piecing together memories of times gone by and changing the atmosphere as they did so, slipping in and out of the present and the past as easily as I shifted chords on the keyboard.

Music is so powerful. I felt so blessed and honored tonight, to use the gift I've been given to bring an hour of beauty, joy and memory to some precious people. As they clasped my hands and thanked me, one by one, I noticed the record of the years on the faces I saw. Lines, creases and crevices on hands and faces that were open and kind, appreciative and, in that moment, filled with joy.

Tonight, I felt as though I did not disappoint. I brought something of value to people who expected only light entertainment, and were pleased with what they received. It was so refreshing, so precious, and so meaningful on many levels. So gracious.

The spirit of Christmas was very real to me this evening. I didn't see it coming. But I'm sure glad I was there.
A few of the folks thanking Kevin.

The dynamic duo.

Kevin and his remarkable bride Candy.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Born Is The King

Here's a cool video of the closing song from this week's service at PCC. It's a fun song; see if it doesn't get in your head and make a nice little soundtrack for your Christmas season!