Posted by: The Amoeba | February 18, 2008

Foursquare Backstage

Regular readers of this blog will know that She is the devout one around here. If you’re a long-timer, you might remember reading about one of the reasons why. She’s a human being like the rest of us. But She comes as close to living the word she cherishes as anyone He has ever known.

He? Er, um, well, not so much. The world runs on natural laws, no supreme beings need apply, all that. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. “What about those rap lyrics for Epiphany, Science Man?” Cut me some slack, OK? The Dudes were so embarrassed by that, they haven’t shown their faces but once since Christmas. Much to Her relief, mind you.

And if they thought that was bad, wait ’til they get a load of this.

Y’know ’bout those TV evangelist megachurches? The ones with the rock bands and the slick videos and all those flashy production values? Well, guess what …?

It happened thisaway. He got a phone call from someone he didn’t know. It took a minute before He recognized that the caller was, in fact, speaking English, and was asking him to play second trumpet at the Saturday services [sic] of the local megachurch in a fortnight’s time. (The man turned out to be an alto saxophone player. And a good one. But those people always speak in foreign languages. Ask any trumpet player. They’re almost as bad as trombonists. Nyuk nyuk.) A fellow musician from one of the local community bands had recommended him for the gig, and there’s no money in it, but would he?

Now, in case you didn’t know, playing trumpet is a heavy-duty hobby. Practice every day, and play every chance you get, or you soon find you can’t play at all. Use it or lose it – and the need to use it increases with the number of gray hairs you’re carrying. And He’s carrying a whole pile of gray hairs these days. Except in the places where there aren’t any, any more. There are days when He’s afraid to play to his shadow, in fear that the shadow will run off, screaming, with its fingers in its ears.

And here’s this guy calling him to play in a band that will perform for maybe a thousand people live per service, and thousands more on the internet and local TV. What happened? Did they shoot all the hotshot horn players on O‘ahu? Well, they were prepared to take a chance on him. They must be desperate. And if they’re that desperate, why not?

So that’s how He, decked out in the all black that is the standard uniform of the session musician, showed up at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon to be part of a Foursquare church’s worship service. He didn’t bring a camera and wouldn’t have had time (or the gall) to use one, so what you get are a few verbal snapshots of what it’s like to be onstage and backstage in TV Evangelist Land.

He had been instructed to park in a lot about a mile away from the high school auditorium where the services were to be held. He was wondering how he was going to get himself, his gear, and Quilly to the hall, when a shiny white van appeared. Not the typical run-down conveyance that most churches have (if they have anything at all), but new and professionally painted. This van was a utility vehicle, its occupants busy laying out the signs directing parishioners to parking spaces. But a few minutes later, another shiny white van drove up, this one set up for passengers like the small shuttle buses you see at airports. They were ready for us, a full four hours before the first service.

He got off the bus and found his way to the stage. And that’s exactly what it was, a stage. Set up just as it would be for any theatre production. He settled into his chair and got ready for soundcheck. That’s the time when the guys and gals with the microphones fuss over the performers, making sure they’re all connected and everybody’s contribution to the mix is just so.

He had never before played a trumpet with a microphone attached to it. Most of the time, you play a trumpet in a room, the people wish you to put a sock on it, not an amplifier. Even when you’re playing well. He’d spent an entire lifetime trying to learn how to play quietly (see “shadow”, supra). So it came time for the sound people to check him out, and he let go with a lick that would, in any other location, have sent the ladies scrambling for earplugs – or the exits.

“Play louder!

Okay …

Then the bass player leaned over and shouted at both him and the seasoned pro to his right who was playing the first trumpet book, “You’re hired!” A small part of him wanted to know, “Who are you and what have you done with The Amoeba?” The rest of him was too busy to do anything but smile and get on with the soundcheck.

Which went on for three hours. In fact, it morphed into a full-blown rehearsal. This wasn’t any haphazard community theatre operation, and it sure as hell wasn’t a country church service where the people figure out what they’re doing half an hour after the service is over. These folk meant business. Everything slotted, in order and on time. And, amazingly, without any Hollywood histrionics from directors or performers.

It occurred to him that, with the eleven-piece band (trombone, two trumpets, three saxophones, a guitarist, a bass player, two keyboardists and a drummer), the singers (about a dozen of those), the dramatists (another half dozen), the sound crew, the green room crew, and (heaven forbid we forget) the preacher, there were more people on and behind that stage than in the congregation of the little church in Wai‘anae that He and She would attend on Sunday morning.

Ten minutes before the service was to begin, He heard a voice. “Thank you for joining us, I’m glad you’re here.” It was the preacher himself, the star of the show, the gentleman who put this performance together, who put the whole church together, his idea, his vision, his dream. If he was the kind of guy who puffed himself up over all that, or was the least bit tense about the service that was about to start, he hid it well. “Pastor” was chatting with this stranger trumpet player as if the two of them were alone at a fishing hole in some backcountry wilderness. The trumpet player excused himself after a couple of minutes. He worried later if he’d come off as being rude, when actually his foremost thought was “I don’t want to be distracting this guy just before he has to go on”.

A few minutes later …

“9 … 8 … 7 … 6 … 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1” followed by the drummer clacking his sticks together three times …

And we were off. There were empty seats in the auditorium, but not a whole lot of them. If he’d ever played before so many people – summing the total audience of any three prior gigs – he couldn’t remember it.

In the breaks between musical numbers, and in the half-hour dinner break between the two services, He had a chance to chat with some of the crew members. Most of them were young. Many were either professionals in music, theatre, or religion, or were studying those fields at the University of Hawai‘i or some other place. There weren’t many scientists, or amateur musicians, in the room. He wasn’t surprised.

He learned, as two of his new acquaintances were talking, that this service was more complex than usual for this church, with many more “elements” (like, for instance, the trumpet players) in play. They liked this development, but worried that, if they weren’t careful, the “elements” might distract from the preached message, and the whole thing become “just a show”.

He thought of the torch singer (he could think of no better term) who had just performed a sultry version of “Gravity” as a coda to one of the “dramas” being acted out onstage, and wondered if perhaps that line hadn’t already been crossed.

He asked about that singer.

“Professional?”

“Yep. Does a lot of work around town.”

“Thought so.”

“And she’s sixteen.”

Whoh-ah!”

When the last service was over, He packed, said his goodbyes (a Buddhist trumpeter would take his place for the three Sunday services), and He and She met in the back of the hall to talk about what they’d seen and get themselves back to the car for the drive to Wai‘anae. They noticed that the message they’d heard had been upbeat and positive, with little of the hard doctrinal posturing that He had more than half expected to hear, and that the people there seemed generally happy and, more surprisingly, connected with each other.

In the process, He and She managed to get on the shiny, new, professionally painted, shuttle bus to the wrong parking lot. It was late and it had been a long service at the end of a long day, especially for the numerous small children who were in the bus. But no one fussed (including the children); there were smiles and comforting greetings all around – made easier, no doubt, by the realization that the bus system was so efficient, no one would have to wait long for a ride.

He asked himself, later, what he would think if he got to know the activities of this church more intimately. He suspected that they would be supporters of “intelligent design”, if they bothered to turn their attention away from lifting the spirits of their parishioners long enough to address the matter.

But He also remembered the surliness and, on occasion, outright meanness of the people who were at the last meeting of professional students of evolution that he had attended.

And he wondered when was the last time any of them had bothered with production values.

Or spoken a word of forgiveness.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2008 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the report OC. I’ve been to few mega performances back in the days when we were selling church portraits. I always felt moved, but not enough to join.

  2. well, i’m completely unfamiliar with such megaevents but it sure sounds like no mean feat.

  3. Brian & Polona — I went in very skeptical and was prepared to dislike everything I saw. I did not come out feeling the same way. Yes, the presentation was flashy and slick, but in today’s media saturated culture that might be the only way to attract the young people.

    The first song was a “feel good, be happy” kind of piece and I thought, “Yeah, I knew it!” But the message took a hard (though very simplified) line against premarital sex. That most certainly wasn’t a feel good sermon. What’s more, as OC mentioned, the sermon was given in the light of God’s love and forgiveness, not in the light of condemnation.

    The sermon included skits performed by a believable group of actors. They helped highlight some of the consequences of premarital and extramarital sex. The songs were not all religious, but those that weren’t were chosen to enhance the emotions of the actors as they struggled with the consequences of their choices.

    Not to write another post here, but I was very impressed. Not impressed enough to leave our little church, but most certainly no longer skeptical about all megachurches.

  4. Is OC getting an invite for any return performances?

  5. Meow — They said he’d be getting a call around Easter time. They don’t do the brass thing but once every so often.

  6. […] If you’re a regular here, and are wondering where this week’s post went, it went here. Life’s full on right at the moment, and I can barely keep up with it, never mind write about […]

  7. Whoooooooa…. be careful OC! This is sounding almost testimonial! What an AWESOME experience!!! Congrats!

  8. Melli — I think music is a spiritual experience for OC wherever he performs.

  9. […] I know, and if you’ve been reading my stuff for any length of time you might have guessed, that I’m uncomfortable with, er, enthusiastic styles of worship. You know, where everybody’s jumping up and down, the pastor/worship leader is trying to get everyone to shout Amen! every ten seconds, all that. The stuff you mostly see on television these days. Complete with its production values. […]


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