Here’s the worst morning of the whole eleven and a half years I spent as the Instrumental Music Director at the Big Church:
We were doing a series called ‘The Syndicated Christian’, using old TV shows as a starting point to talk about living the Christian life. This morning was the kickoff week for the series, and I’d decided to do a medley of all the theme songs – MASH, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, etc. as a prelude. Except that two weeks before, as I did a mockup of the medley using the sequencer in my old Korg O1/W keyboard, it sounded so good that I decided to use it in place of the live band, because it would sound better. In retrospect, it was an ego-driven move. It just sounded so good, you know?
But what to do with the live band? And then I had a stroke of brilliance:
The pastor would introduce the prelude, walk off, and a slide would appear on the screen:
“This morning’s prelude has been boycotted by the band. They apparently have no taste, don’t recognize that rebellion is a sin, and in general are difficult to work with. It’s always like this with them, but now it’s boiled over and you see what I have to work with. So with my apologies, you’ll be hearing a pre-recorded version, played from my keyboard. – Ed Schief, Director of Instrumental Music.”
I would then walk out and push the start button on the keyboard, my prerecorded version would play, the spotlight would hit the keyboard all alone on the stage, and the band would then act insolent and bored, goofing off as the song ran.
It was supposed to be funny. I cracked myself up in the office as I concocted it. One guy would make paper airplanes, another would pull out a paperback and start reading, etc. And the Power Point guys would run several slides I’d prepared which made fun of the band, complete with little arrows pointing down at particular players. It was going to be a hoot.
We also had a great performance number, a real barn-burner by Steve Camp called “Run To The Battle”. Plus, as a fun audience-participation thing, we’d have a sing-along to the Gilligan’s Island theme (the first topic of the series), during the offering.
I was pretty excited about it all.
The drummer never showed. Only time in all those years it actually happened. A no-show drummer is a nightmare. Any other instrument I can cover. Drums, no.
Cancel ‘Run To The Battle’? Do it without drums?
The Director wanted to know NOW if I could do the song or not. I decided to quickly, insanely quickly do a drum track in the keyboard. I recorded a four-bar loop, made a couple variations of it for endings, verses and choruses, saved those, counted the number of measures, inserted the loops where I hoped they’d go, and hit ‘save’. It was lame, but I had to do something. I should be allowed into heaven for that drum track alone. Half the band thought we should cut the song, and while the world swirled around me, I recorded that three minute drum track.
During rehearsal I called up to the Director in the balcony and informed him I’d be leading a little sing-along for the offertory, and after about three seconds of deliberation he called back, “I don’t like it. Just play the song as a performance piece”. Except…I hadn’t arranged it that way. It needed the audience participation.
No matter – the opening number would set a fun tone, and we’d all have a good time.
The pastor welcomed everyone, walked off, the slide came up, and I ran the prelude sequence. The band surprised and delighted me with their creative goofing-off: Dan grabbed Lisa and they danced across the front of the stage, Jim threw paper airplanes, somebody pushed a broom across the stage, the media guys did some hilarious slides, beyond what I’d asked for, and…
Complete silence. Crickets chirping, a few muffled coughs. Nothing. Nobody got it. At all. Longest four minutes of my life, ever. Waiting for my dad to come home after I’d done something bad…that was NOTHING compared to this.
Then the song with my makeshift drumtrack. Utterly, dismally lame. Had my grandmother sat in a rocking chair onstage and done her own rendition of it, it could not have come off worse. A rock number that that needed flash and volume, it sounded like a kid with a Casio keyboard. And no way for me to end the song but to try and push ‘stop’ right at the end of one of the loops. (Hey, it just occurs to me now that I could have faded it. Doh!)
And then the Gilligan’s Island theme song offertory. Even with a drummer, it would have been lame without the audience participation. Without the drummer, it was like watching your garage burn – horrible, but you can’t take your eyes off it. Over and over we played that 15 second ditty like a dirge, up through the keys, the audience just staring. If our rendition of that song were food, it would have been three boiled hot dogs sitting on the stove in a pan of cold, filmy water.
And then, the final, horrible capstone to it. To intro the sermon, the media people had taped the opening of Gilligan’s Island – including the entire theme – then followed it by showing several quick clips of the cast of the show trying to get off the Island. The point was supposed to be that, as Christians, we should not be spending our energies trying to escape the world – we’re stuck here, so let’s make the most of it.
The thing to do at this point would have been to fast-forward past the opening music, and let it roll from the spliced together acting scenes. But…no.
The Director started the Gilligan’s Island video, let it play through the opening theme song, decided it wasn’t going well, that the audience had had enough, and stopped it without showing the clips of the cast trying to get off the island.
So the audience was treated to eight minutes of the Gilligan’s Island theme song – an abysmal four minute version of the Gilligan’s Island theme played by our band, then the real version – then the pastor walked out. We didn’t build him a platform from which to speak – we dug him a hole so deep he could barely peek out.
I spent all Monday (my day off) anticipating the Tuesday morning meeting, where I fully expected raised voices, death-looks, flushed faces, butt-covering (mine), ranting and threats of reprisal, but no one said a word. Like a Nixon file, it just went away.