Music of “Freedom Song”

“God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing….” — Psalm 68:6a (New International Version)

All music that tells the story of redemption through Jesus Christ is gospel music.  Yet in some circles “gospel music” is confined to a niche — a certain style of music, generally music associated with African-Americans. 

True, while there are variations of “gospel music” depending on region (usually a modifying region of the United States: Southern gospel, Appalachian gospel — is there such a thing as Asian gospel or Indian gospel?) , for the purposes of this conversation, track with the premise that in many views, the phrase “gospel music” is synonymous with “black gospel music.”

In that sense, components of “gospel music” are symbolized by two easily identifiable images: a choir, and robes.  These symbols come from a powerful aesthetic in African-American heritage; yet there are dangers in defining gospel music and African-Americans by these two symbols alone.

One danger is that of co-opting the sound of gospel music for other messages.  Think, for instance, how often you have heard “gospel music” in a film, television program or commercial, none of which is associated with the gospel of Christ? Enjoyable as the sound may be, the listener must discern the context.

The other danger is underestimating the impact of various styles of music upon liberating Africans in America.  That liberation developed as the robed-choirs connected the music of the times and the regions where they lived with the lyrics from which they were rooted:  the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures those that professed good news gospel music of Jesus Christ as He intended — to link man and God.



Hear “Free Indeed” based on John 8:36.

More than Black’s History

Exploring that link, and telling the story of how gospel music has developed in the United States is the purpose of “Freedom Song,” one of the ensemble plays from the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries history cycle.  The script was created in 2011 as reader’s theater presentation in response to a  request for a church’s African-American History Month program.  Since then, “Freedom Song” has been presented annually as part of church and corporate commemorations in February.  Because of those performances, “Freedom Song” has received subsequent off-season productions – not just during African-American history month. 

Its  themes extend beyond February, beyond the topic of physical slavery in the U.S., beyond the confines of the American shores.  The weaving of Scripture, song history and musical genres create a tale of liberation through Christ from an assortment of enslaving circumstances and behaviors.

Indeed, taking into account the headlines of any given day — perhaps, even, the last hour — it’s natural to conclude that if cries and flights to freedom are universal, then perhaps the key to liberation is beyond the state of any particular union. Or nation. This ageless human cry to escape through a designated liberator became more recognizable as the music listened to over time and in different places became more poignant when heard collectively, especially as the tales of how they were created or utilized were discovered.


Films & Noir

Over 30 songs from America’s colonial slavery to millennial technology bondage are sampled, dramatized and  in the program that is staged as an abbreviated one-act or movie-length  outreach complete with a post-performance talk-back.  In the course of the evening, the audience receives new insight into traditional, beloved gospel music, and is introduced to newer selections that don’t have the gospel music sound, but deliver the gospel of Christ message.   Researching the songs that inspired the script provided more insight than performance times allow.  Nevertheless, the insights and sounds are too important to NOT share.  And so, we compiled most of the songs that inspired the script’s creation into a playlist, assembled on our KIT Ministries YouTube Channel, and have written short essays about each song or song sequence.  We will post those essays and the songs on these pages and our social media pages in coming days as our commemoration of  how Scriptures have shaped African-America.

For starters, we present the entire playlist here along with a brief introduction to the show.   By listening to the playlist, you’ll find unlikely musical connections between  Czechoslovakian classical composer Anton Dvorak and American folk icon Paul Robeson; poet James Weldon Johnson and rappers Doughboy the Midwest Maestro and DJ Kool Rod;  Peter, Paul  & Mary, and Mavis Staples.  You’ll also see rare performances by Sister Rosetta TharpeMahalia Jackson and Richie Havens, and provocative movie clips the voice of African-Americans and  gospel music in film.

​Visit these FacebookTwitter and Pinterest pages for daily posts on individual songs.  Most of the songs will be posted during African-American History Month.  However, don’t be surprised if posting continues into the days after Feb. 28.  Just as African-American history occurs beyond the end of February, the gospel of Christ cannot be contained to just 28 days.

Please consider adding the entire “Freedom Song” playlist to your YouTube channel.

Michael Edgar Myers Freedom Song
Videos of Paul Robeson, Burt Lancaster, Eddie James influence the “Freedom Song” script.

A History of Gospel Music

For those who wish to learn about the genre of “gospel music,” we recommend, “Make a Joyful Noise!  A Brief History of Gospel Music Ministry in America,” available in print or audiobook.  The book was written by Kathryn B. Kemp and is narrated by KIT Ministries Founding Director Michael Edgar Myers and award-winning audiobook actor Barbara Ann Martin.

Make a Joyful Noise Cover

Dr. Kemp gives great detail and colorful anecdotes about how many gospel songs in the U.S. developed through painstaking adaptation and recording from their roots among African Tribes and maintained throughout despite the efforts to disassociate the slaves from those roots on these shores.

Kemp also relates the development of those songs on record, mostly through the efforts of Rev. James Cleveland, founder of the Gospel Music Workshop of America.

LEARN MORE

MEMos and Musings

Because we were asked to create a new script based in faith and African-American history, we are not touring “Freedom Song” this February. It’s the first time in five years. “Freedom Song” is available after Easter, and our new show, “Strolling Down MLK Street,” has limited availability through the spring and thereafter.

Since both shows evoke questions and conversation, we want to make available not just the music and song stories that we’ve employed, but also other research and commentaries about faith and ethnicity in America. Not just because this is African-American History Month. Just because they’re fascinating and sometimes fun. Like, we hope, the three below: previous faith-race-and-history blogs from Worship Wonderings and a MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers that seem to still have relevance as well as an occasional off-kilter perspective about race. Feel free to read, ask questions, share a thought, and enjoy.

Related African-American History Stories

A Black Jew, A Female Pastor, A Segregationist and Thou

“Look, Grandfather (Nubians)!”

MaMa & Obama: 10 Years After

Carol Story: As Others Wonder, The Faithful Pay It Forward

A great difficulty with contemporary celebrations of Christmas is the misconception of the events and timing of the birth of Jesus. This occurs even among Christians Believers, particularly in Western cultures. The problem? The prevailing concept that Christmas climaxes on a singular date: December 25.

Yes, there are further celebrations of Christ’s birth in assorted denominations – the 13 days of Christmas continuing through the Epiphany in Catholic and related congregations; and the remembrance in the Orthodox Church observed January 7, or 12 days after the “traditional” Christmas. 

However, if you look around, come December 26, “the Christmas spirit” begins dissipating. Observe three tendencies:  the urgency to remove decorations; the rush to return gifts; the reduction of Christmas songs in public.  Even the most earnest pastors and worship music leaders may wonder how many weekends after December 25 should the congregation continue singing “Christmas” songs in Services of Worship.

FURTHER READING:  “When the 26th Is Over,” a poem for reflection

The transitional songs of the Kingdom Impact Theater production “Carol Story” belie the idea that Christmas music should go away immediately after December 25.  Indeed, a number of Christmas selections build on the concept of evangelizing – that is, telling others the Good News of salvation through Messiah’s birth. Lyrics of three carols,  “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and “I Wonder as I Wander,” can be viewed as tools in the on-going witnessing concept first noted here in “Go Tell It On The Mountain.”  Taken as a whole, these lyrics should remind Christ-followers that the birth of the baby was the beginning of the Christmas story, not its conclusion, and their a responsibility to share this information. 


LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.


To grasp this idea, it’s necessary to review the scriptural timeline of the Christmas narrative rather than Hallmark cards.  The Biblical story recorded in Luke Chapter 2 indicates that Jesus was born at night. So, unlike us who often open presents at the crack of dawn, Mary and Joseph’s gift of parenthood didn’t arrive until nightfall … at the END of the day.

(Jesus wasn’t swaddled in cloths on Christmas Eve, either, for it didn’t exist yet.  Though we’ll give some allowances for a right-after-midnight arrival, meaning the shepherds COULD have been stirred by middle-of-the-night celestial viewings).

Lifesize Nativity Chicago
Lifesize nativity in downtown Chicago represents the worship vistiations that may have actually taken place over a couple of years. (Photo: Michael Edgar Myers)

By the time the shepherds saw the stars and singing angels, and walked (or ran) to see this thing, arriving at the manger took time. And it wasn’t the same evening as the three visitors from the East recorded in Matthew Chapter, whose account of the Wise Men’s arrival likely was two years later.

Indeed, for point of conversation, it’s possible that the Wise Men’s encounter with King Herod was less about the birth itself, but as a result of what occurred afterwards:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. —

Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 15:18 (New International Version)

Three things did happen that night that continue in today’s Christmas season:  1) people came to worship the child, believing the Old Testament (Hebrew) prophecies were fulfilled after 500 years; 2) witnesses went and told others the significance of the child’s birth; 3) others came to discover for themselves, and began to ask questions.

This worship and investigation led to the wonderfully imagined nativity scenes which decorate our landscapes and homes.  However, these are a composite of what happened over time, not on the night of, Hallmark notwithstanding.

Three songs in the middle passage of “Carol Story” capture this sense of “shepherds’ telephone line” that inspired the crowds to visit Bethlehem and ponder what occurred. Their lyrics inspired a poetic encounter between the shepherds heading to the manger and the people they meet on the way to Bethlehem. Those people, like us, have questions.

“Shepherds, why this jubilee…?”

“Angels we have heard on high…”

“Come, all ye faithful! Join the triumph of the skies!”

(Sotto voice): “I wonder, as I wander…”

— Songs Lyrics, adapted in “Carol Story”

The questioning lyrics come from a latter-day carol from Appalachia, representing a person curious about the possibility the newborn babe could be the prophesied savior, while at the same time questioning one’s own belief in Christ during a time of crisis, period.  Questioning occurs even among those who have heard the scriptures for years.  Ask a teenager, as we discovered at a high school dinner party years ago.

LEARN MORE:  The Virgin Shall Be With Child, Really?

The story of how this folk carol from rural 1930s America came to be a beloved Christmas witness is its own miracle.  The accompanying video, a live performance by Vanessa Williams, maintains the reflective intimacy of the lyrics despite an orchestra accompaniment.

VIDEO MOMENT:  “I Wonder as I Wander,” captured in revival after jail

That solitude is contrasted by the acappella power of Italy’s SoundDiva Classical Choir whose harmonies in the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a scaled-down version of how the Heavenly Host may have sounded singing, “Gloria! In excelsis Deo,” (“Glory to God in the Highest!” Which is echoed as “Carol Story” some to its climax (in days to come).

DISCIPLE SOMEONE“Angels We Have Heard On High,” A French carol anglicized

The idea of inviting people to Christ, and musically sharing the gospel door-to-door and outside church buildings, is captured in the remarkable violin-driven flash-mob “O Come All Ye Faithful,” by The Five Strings. This relatively new video reached the Kingdom Impact Theater offices via a friend’s private social messenger as a Christmas greet to be shared.  And so, we do. Here. Interspersed with James Chadwick’s translated lyrics of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” are a wonderful interview dialogue: A question asked, a story told, an invitation made to join. Heading to Bethlehem, we imagine they encounter a new curious fellow: a little drummer boy.


SoundDiva Classical Choir

SoundDiva is actually a production studio in Italy that’s dedicated to improving the quality and production. The assembled choir in this video is directed by Antonello Martina for part of a series demonstrating the work quality by the studio.

LEARN MORE: SoundDiva Recordings.


The Five Strings

The Five Strings are a performing family band from Utah. The band is made up of 5 siblings, ranging in ages from 8-18. The Five Strings’ high energy concerts showcase eight different instruments including violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, ukulele, percussion, five-part harmonies, clogging, and choreography.

LEARN MORE: The Five Strings YouTube Channel.


Vanessa Williams

Vanessa L. Williams is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first woman of African-American descent to receive the Miss America title in 1983. Since then her critically acclaimed work in film, television, music and Broadway has been recognized by every major industry award affiliate including 4 Emmy nominations, 11 Grammy nominations, a Tony nomination, 3 SAG award nominations, 7 NAACP Image Awards and 3 Satellite Awards. She often performs in the Rob Mathes Holiday Concert, from which this clip was recorded.

LEARN MORE: Vanessa Williams’ autobiography.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over


Carol Story: Africans in America Go To The Mountain

It may be fair to conclude that the first Christmas carol created on the shores of the U.S. was by Americans of African descent. That is, African-Americans.

Keep in mind that, in #CarolStory, the ten-minute play by Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, the definition of a Christmas carol is a song that includes the salvation message of Christ amid the story of the birth of Jesus.

Until “Go Tell It on the Mountain” was put to paper by John Wesley Work Jr., in 1906, the traditional carols sung in the States originated in Europe. Work collected, transcribed and published numerous songs born from the oral traditions of African-American slavery. Many were sung by the original Fisk Jubilee Singers after the Civil War.

LEARN MORE: John Wesley Work & Fisk University Singers

“Go Tell It…” embodies the faith many slaves deeply held in Christianity as their route to freedom once they unraveled the scriptures for themselves. This contasted with acquiescence to the limited Bible knowledge misappropriated by their owners to justify enslavement.

As with many slave songs, “Go Tell It…” is coded. The title implies the direct evangelical imperative to go and tell others of Him that Jesus gave after His resurrection; His earlier declaration that even the rocks would tell who He is, and the post-birth sharing by the birth by the shepherds and the Wise Men. Such allusions made the song palatable to owners who missed the potential abolitionist cues “to go” from place to places and prepare for liberation.

The latter idea was not lost upon civil rights advocates in the 1960s who adapted the tune and lyrics as a freedom song.

Many recorded arrangements of “Go Tell It…” embellish the lyrics with joyous gospel funk rhythms, and live choirs embrace the audience sing-along qualities. Either interpretation is effective. The #CarolStoryPlaylist includes video versions that show the universality of the lyrics, and represent the sacred passion of the Negro spirituals which Works captured from the Jubilee Singers.

The playlist again employs a rendition by the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, that reflects the soulful hope characteristic in spirituals.
The universal influence of “Go Tell It…” is illustrated in two videos borrowed from the playlist of “Freedom Song,” the Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries historical program about African-American music and Biblical scriptures. One is a recording by a choir in Oslo, Norway. The other, by the 1960s folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary, captures the abolitionist spirit by adapting the lyrics as a civil rights anthem show.

LEARN MORE:Adapted Lyrics and Recordings History.

One More Thing…

John Wesley Work Jr.
John Wesley Work Jr.

Not as well known as the European composers before him, many of the authors of gospel and Christmas songs afterwards, or even the Fisk Jubilee Singers whose music he catalogued and chronicled, John Wesley Work Jr. Is an important person to know and study. And so, we link.

LEARN MORE: John Wesley Work Jr. Biography.

LEARN MORE: Songs Adapted, Arranged by John Wesley Work Jr.


Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s classic, unplugged recording, 1950.

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.”  She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

LEARN MOREMahalia Jackson Biography

Mahalia Jackson is also one of the individuals whose story is included in  the Kingdom Impact Theater production, “Faith, Hope & Love:  History-Making Women of Faith,” a one-woman performance by Vikki J.  Myers.


The Oslo Gospel Choir

Oslo Gospel Choir is a Norwegian gospel choir centred in Oslo, Norway conducted by Tore W. Aas. The choir started in 1988 and has become one of the most successful in Europe and America. They have released around 20 albums. They are very much influenced by the American black gospel sound and Andraé Crouch is a major source of inspiration, with his approach in taking the gospel out of the churches and into other arenas, reaching a larger audience. The choir has sold over 1.5 million albums.

LEARN MORE: Oslo Gospel Choir History


Peter, Paul & Mary

Peter, Paul and Mary was an American folk group formed in New York City in 1961, during the American folk music revival phenomenon. The trio was composed of tenor Peter Yarrow, baritone Noel Paul Stookey and alto Mary Travers. The group’s repertoire included songs written by Yarrow and Stookey, early songs by Bob Dylan as well as covers of other folk musicians. After the death of Travers in 2009, Yarrow and Stookey continued to perform as a duo under their individual names.

LEARN MORE: Peter, Paul and Mary History.

Carol Story: Hark! It’s The Gospel, Charlie Brown!

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


As with Handel’s “Messiah,” discussed in the previous Carol Story essay on songs about the night Jesus was born, the development of “Hark! The Herald Angel Sings” exemplifies  the ever-evolving collaboration (some say interference) of artist, patron and theologian.

The original poem which begat the song, written in 1739 by Methodist pastor and song writer Charles Wesley, was entitled “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  Wesley’s hymn was an epic with over 10 stanzas. It included words that showed Wesley’s intellect but left listeners scratching their heads.  Wesley’s pastor friend, George Whitfield, pointed this out and suggested revisions, simplifying the text.

Half of the Wesley-Whitfield stanzas survived into the next century and made an impression on English composter  William  Cummings. Cummings liked the lyrics, but not the slower, Easter-season tune Wesley had composed (“Christ  The Lord is Risen Today.”) However, Cummings felt the words were compatible with the tune of the popular “Gutenberg Cantata” recently written by German composer Felix Mendelssohn.  Cummings believed Mendelssohn’s symphonic arrangement captured the implied awe and power of a sky full of “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” the passage in the Gospel of Luke that  inspired Wesley’s hymn.

The “Collaborators”

In 1855 the Wesley-Whitfield-Cummings-Mendelssohn  composition debuted with  the structure changes familiar today, but maintaining the essence of the words first recorded centuries before in the gospel of Luke: 

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace,

good will toward men.” —

 (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)


LEARN MORE:  Comparative lyrics.

Centuries later, these words and music created controversy when used in what is not one of the most iconic annual Christmas television programs, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown,” the 1965 TV special that almost didn’t occur.

The overt gospel presentation that author Charles Schulz included in the script had CBS network offices and sponsors concerned.  They were okay with the “Peanuts” gang rendering one of the most poignant versions ever of “Hark! The Herald…” as they caroled at Snoopy’s house with Charlie Brown’s revived tree to end the show. 

LEARN MOREGlenn McDonald, CBS & Linus’ security blanket.

What scared the executives was an earlier scene when Linus explains the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the gospel of Luke in the pageant rehearsal. This makes Charlie Brown one of the  few programs that directly speaks the gospel of Christ for a non-church audience.  There was the rub.  Fearing a public backlash about show including the story of Christ in Christmas, CBS wanted the scene cut. Schulz stood firm.  No gospel; no “Peanuts.”  And unto us, a franchise was born.

LEARN MORELinus recites what Christmas is all about.

Many wonder if – or how – the should could be created and aired today.  Nevertheless, the evolution of “Hark! The Herald…” from lengthy, erudite poem, to symphonic anthem, to simple children’s song, to uncomfortable gospel message, point out the enduring strength of the essay researched by Luke the historian.

Poetically, the visuals of the lyrics as presented in #CarolStory starts a sequence of dialogue between the shepherds and the angels.  “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” another carol more recently associated with a children’s cinema favorite (“Gremlins”), is added to the conversation to  begin the evening’s journey.  First , hearing, then seeing the angels,  the shepherds are moved from fear to comfort as they interpret the angels’ mission and  instructions to begin  a Pied-Piperesque journey to Bethlehem, picking up a drummer boy and others as they go away to the manger.

The videos here — the  majesty of Mendelssohn’s  anthem in  Alan Silvestri’s arrangement of “Hark! The Herald…,” contrasted with its  quiet message to Charlie Brown and connected by the intimacy of Johnny Mathis asking, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” — allow us to experience various ways the Lord speaks:  with herald trumpets and a sweet, still voice.

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” Live


Alan Silvestri

Alan Anthony Silvestri is an American composer and conductor known for his film and television scores. He is best known for his frequent collaboration with Robert Zemeckis.  He is a two-time Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee, and a three-time Saturn Award and Primetime Emmy Award recipient. 

LEARN MORE: The Film Music of Alan Silvestri.


Vince Guaraldi


Vincent Anthony Guaraldi was an American jazz pianist noted for his innovative compositions and arrangements and for composing music for animated television adaptations of the “Peanuts” comic strip, as well as his performances on piano as a member of Cal Tjader’s 1950s ensembles and for his own solo career which included the radio hit Cast Your Fate to the Wind. 

LEARN MORE: The Guaraldi-Peanuts Connection.


Johnny Mathis

John Royce “Johnny” Mathis is an American singer of popular music. According to Guiness Music Chart historian Paul Gambacini, Johnny Mathis has sold well over 360 Million Records Worldwide making him the 3rd biggest selling artist of the 20th Century. Mathis has received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for three separate recordings.

LEARN MORE:  Johnny Mathis Biography.

LEARN MORE: Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

Carol Story: A Silent Night Anniversary

Silent Night” is the quintessential Christmas song. It’s virtually impossible for any artist to record a Christmas album and not have a rendition.  In this 200th anniversary of the song’s creation, we thought  it fun to expand the variety of recordings of the song to show its durability and to underscore the need to not let musicality overshadow the message of the lyrics.

Sis. Vanetta Pinn, who curated our Carol Story YouTube Playlist, included versions by Mariah CareyJustin Bieber and Boyz II Men for our re-posting consideration.  We’ve linked these videos to give a glimpse of vocal variations, musical arranging and technical production growth through the years. 

LEARN MORE:  “Silent Night” 200th anniversary observations

We’ve also included a medley by KIT Ministries co-founder Vikki J. Myers as a sample of how Christmas music can be merged with non-seasonal worship selections to give a sense of how the Christmas message lasts beyond the holidays.

However, for the purposes of our #CarolStory live presentation, the renditions that best  reflect the backstory nuances are by Andrea Bocelli and Mahalia Jackson . 

See December Archives (left) for other “Carol Story” stories.

In the context of #CarolStory,  the 10-minute worship play, “Silent Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “O Holy Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15)

LEARN MORE:  “Carol Story” The Script

Bocelli, singing in Italian, brings to mind the European feel of the original German carol written by Franz Gruber.  We wonder how Gruber may respond to the variety of arrangements of the song, especially considering the urgent and somewhat controversial circumstances  under which he wrote the piece for Christmas Eve 1818.

LEARN MORE:  History of “Silent Night”

There’s a nostalgic prejudice for Mahalia Jackson’s version.  It was among the first “church” Christmas songs I heard (as opposed to the just-released “Frosty,” “Rudolph” and “Jingle Bell Rock,”) and was a family favorite.  Mother was not a singer but held her own singing along whenever the record  (as in vinyl) played , or when the Spirit moved her to burst into song  while baking cookies — thinking she was alone in the kitchen in the middle of the night.

As with other selections in this piece, the lyrics of “Silent Night” are woven throughout the play to move the story along and work effectively as scene exposition transitioning between scenes.

​LEARN MORE:“Carol Story” Live


Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli, “Silent Night” (Italian)

Andrea Bocelli is an Italian singer, songwriter, and record producer. Celin Dion, with whom he recorded “The Prayer,”  has said that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” 

Bocelli has recorded 15 solo studio albums of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 90 million records worldwide. He has had success as a crossover performer, bringing classical music to the top of international pop charts.

He was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at age 12, following a football accident.


 “The Prayer,” his duet with Celine Dion for the animated film Quest for Camelot ,  won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1999. — Source:  Wikipedia

LEARN MORE:  Andre Bocelli Today

Mahalia Jackson

Mahalia Jackson’s “Silent Night,” a personal family favorite.

Mahalia Jackson was an American gospel singer. Possessing a powerful contralto voice, she was referred to as “The Queen of Gospel.”  She became one of the most influential gospel singers in the world and was heralded internationally as a singer and civil rights activist. She was described by entertainer Harry Belafonte as “the single most powerful black woman in the United States”. She recorded about 30 albums (mostly for Columbia Records) during her career, and her 45 rpm records included a dozen “golds”—million-sellers.

“I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free,”  Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” — Source:  Wikipedia.

LEARN MORE:  Mahalia Jackson Biography

One More Thing

Mahalia Jackson is also one of the individuals whose story is included in  the Kingdom Impact Theater production, “Faith, Hope & Love:  History-Making Women of Faith,” a one-woman performance by Vikki J.  Myers.

More Christmas MEMos and Wonderings

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: Songs of “The Night”

This carol is one of 61 on the playlist of “Carol Story,”  a 10-minute play that tells the story of Christ solely through lyrics of Christmas songs as dialogue.  Learn More.


“O Holy Night” is an English translation of the French carol “Le Christien Minuit” that was translated and became a rallying cry of abolitionists during the Civil War. The third verse of “O Holy Night” was a direct Christian call to eradicate slavery, a sentiment that led to the song begin edited  or outright banned in some sections of the country. We address this story more in our production, “Freedom Song.” 

​In the context of #CarolStory, “O Holy Night” is woven with five other standard carols — “Silent Night,” “Hark! The Herald,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “The Hallelujah Chorus” to establish the atmosphere of fear, awe and respect that the shepherds experienced when the Heavenly Host appeared on “The Night” when Christ was born. (The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 2, verses 8-15).

Danny Gokey, a former American Idol runnerup, cleanly expresses those emotions and the abolitionist sentiment in his elegant yet simple video.  As a bonus, we add a unique one-man barbershop quartet performance by Julien Neel, aka Trudbol A Capella, in the original French.

LEARN MORE:  Original French Lyrics

LEARN MORE:  Beloved Carols with non-American Origins

LEARN MORE:Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.


About the Singers


Danny Gokey

Danny Gokey — “O Holy Night” (English)

Daniel Jay Gokey is an American singer and former church music director from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was the third-place finalist on the eighth season of “American Idol.” After his placing on the show, Gokey signed to 19 Recordings and RCA Nashville at the beginning of a career in country music, releasing the single “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me.”  

LEARN MORE:  Danny Gokey’s Biography.

Trudbol A Cappella

Trudbol A Cappella — Le Minuit Christien (French)

Trudbol A Cappella (Julien Neel) is a one-man barbershop quartet. Julien sings all the parts from bass, to baritone, to tenor.  He typically covers classic barbershop tunes, but also Beatles songs, video game and TV theme songs, choral music, etc..  Julien lives in France and sings in French, English,  German, Swedish and will try other languages. Julien sells audio learning tracks and publishes a cappella videos each Thursday. 

LEARN MORE:  Trudbol’s Biography.


MORE CHRISTMAS MEMOS AND WONDERINGS

Advent Revelations

Christmas and All The (Indy) News

Shopping at 15

Combatting Cultural Christmas

Sinterklaas, Piet and Me

Sophomoric Christmas

Worship in The Barn

The Virgin Shall Be With Child: Really?

When the 25th Is Over

Carol Story: The Life of Christ Through Poetry of Songs

There  has been much conversation lately about the meaning of some songs that have become associated with the Christmas season.  That is,  songs song about cold and winter that are sung during the Thanksgiving and New Year’s  holidays then not heard again for another 12 months.

Without assessing a viewpoint on a particular song, admittedly it’s  good to frequently examine what we sing and what we say.  Scripture reminds us to do so, especially teachings, spirits and self.  Re-examination not only yields growth, it also deepens discoveries that yield fruit.  Those who lead music for Christian worship are regularly challenged to test the lyrics of newer songs for theological accuracy as well as singability.

 At the same time, it’s important to frequently revisit beloved “traditional” songs to make certain we know what we’re saying, and not just singing songs because “it’s my favorite.” Grasping the intent or rationale of creator (small C) is essential in evaluating any work of art, be it music, book, film or visual.  This is, perhaps, a reason for some of the conversations about holiday outside of church circles today.

Carol Story Promo
“Carol Story” cast, Michael Edgar Myers, Vikki J. Myers and Garlan

Over a decade ago, Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries, which my wife and I co-founded as an outgrowth of our work in Christian education at our home church, took such a lyrical journey. We took a fresh look at the lyrics and origins of songs associated with Christmas, and discovered fascinating and cathartic messages. 

Exploring the Christmas songs — notably the carols —  enables a careful listener to actually hear the gospel message of Christ:  from birth to death to resurrection to second Christmas yet-to-come.  This discovery enabled us to create a one-act play, “Carol Story,” that consists solely of the lyrics of Christmas carols spoken as dialogue.

Carol Story The Easter Edition
“The Easter Edition” songs & scripture.

“Carol Story” has grown beyond our expectations and is now a requested holiday season presentation.  So much  so, we received a request for a companion piece for Easter.  While our “Carol Story” schedule for this year is filled, the stories associated with the songs are on-going.   So, in this space and in our social media outlets, we’ll share some of the stories behind the 61 songs that are adapted for the scripts of “Carol Story” and “Carol Story: The Easter Edition.”

LEARN MORE:   The Carol Story & Carol Story Easter Edition Playlist

We do so because, just as there are some songs we only hear during the Christmas season then forgot for a year, there are many more whose message should be remembered for eternity.

LEARN MORE:  Donate and Partner with Kingdom Impact Theater.

From the Other Side of the Pond

Many of the songs we associate as Christmas songs, or as Christmas carols, originated in other nations.  As often occurs today, new songs were created by adapting fresh lyrics to standard tunes.  The process made the new tune singable more quickly. 

LEARN MORESee “Carol Story” Live.

Two well-known non-Christmas examples are “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),” whose tune is the British national anthem, “God Save The Queen;” and, the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That patriotic poem Francis Scott Key wrote during the War of 1812 was paired with a popular drinking song hailed in American pubs as if to thumb their noses at the British. 

LEARN MORE:  KIT Ministries Ensemble Productions

The prelude to “Carol Story” demonstrates examples of this technique with brief samples of popular Christmas songs whose origins were folk songs on foreign shores.  One from England, one from France, one for Ukraine. As a bonus, we  wish you a Merry Christmas in the spirit of Christmas today — joy in His name — not as the song was originally intended: as a sarcastic response from the poor to the rich, but a heartfelt sign for you to learn and share when the time is appropriate.

Greensleeves (England)

Shchedryk (Ukraine)
Minuit Cretiens (France)
We Wish You A Merry Christmas (signed)

Patton, Prayer & The Quarterback

Military films intrigue me, especially those on the American Revolution, the Civil War and World War II. On holiday weekends such as Memorial Day or Independence Day, I often find myself inadvertently absorbed in commemorative film fests on TCM, A&E or the History Channel.

Sometimes they’re just white noise while I catch up on belated household tasks. Sometimes my viewing is a concentrated respite from the daily headlines.  The action sequences need not be viewed, and the sparse dialogue creates picture-radio images in my head. Like them or not, such historic films are insight into people who became leaders and decision-makers in times of strife.  They reassure us. We know the outcome: Our nation won independence. Our nation was preserved. Our nation saved the world from evil. That star-spangled banner yet waves!

Today we have less assurance.

I’m aware of history, journalism and film-making enough to recognize literary conceits as historical fiction and dramatic license, so I embrace these films in the spirit in which most are created: entertainment and storytelling. So, I ‘m also skeptical. If a film entertains and intrigues me enough, if the story I hear causes me to stop and watch the screen,  invariably there will be a moment or two when I hear myself saying, “Really?” whereupon my latent detective gene emerges.  Once the film is done (or paused), I begin my most delicious house-cleaning-avoidance,  writer’s block diversion: research. This post-movie research most frequently occurs following biographical films, the so-called biopic. I often find myself scouring my bookshelves and, most handily, the Internet to discern the answer to my latest, “Did that really happen?” quandary.

Many times I’ve discovered poetic license won out, so I’m relieved whenever I find the screenwriter not only trusted the facts, but left enough intrigue that research enhanced the experience.

Which brings us to ” Patton, ” the 1970 film that earned George C. Scott the Best Actor Academy Award he refused, and Francis Ford Coppola a screenplay Oscar he didn’t refuse, and therein launched his directing career as patriarch of “The Godfather” trilogy.

At the Movies

“Patton” is good storytelling and Scott compelling, even though his gruff, sandpaper voice contradicted the actual Patton, whose tone calls to mind voiceover artist Mel Blanc. (It’s been said that Patton’s penchant for profanity was purposeful — to be taken seriously and to offset a voice considered unmanly and un-military.

(VIDEO: George Patton speaks.)

There are many “Really?” scenes in “Patton,” but the one that stood out on my most recent viewing and propelled this missive was when he summoned the 3rd Army chaplain to write a good-weather prayer to counter the German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge in the Christmas season of 1944.

Though I’ve seen the film often, I had to stopped painting my kitchen. What struck me was the chaplain’s perplexed response: “I don’t know how this is going to be received, General, praying for good weather so we can kill our fellow man?”

But the Bible Says…

My immediate thought was that it seemed incongruous for the chaplain to be surprised by such a request, for King David wrote many in Psalms asking God’s guidance in battle.  Psalms 20 and 21 are examples.  Earlier in the film, Coppola’s script included Psalm 63, David’s embattled prayer fleeing his son Absalom which Scott narrated while “Patton” prepared to apologize for slapping a solider.  In light of these passages, I sought the brief clip of the chaplain scene for readers less enamored of the genre to experience here:

VIDEO:  Patton’s Weather Prayer

However, before I got to the movie links,  I came across two printed stories about the scenario that brought the film, the man and the Bible into new focus.  Something to remember when encountering how Scripture is quoted — whether on screen or from the pulpit. In the words of the apostle John:

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)”

Merry Christmas, G.S. Patton

One story is the transcript of the film scene, the anecdote written by Patton’s aide, Col. Paul Harkins, that was no doubt the source of the movie moment above.  The other story was written by the clergyman who wrote the prayer,  noted in the credits only as “3rd

oneill
Col. James Hugh O’Neill

Army Chaplain.”  Indeed, the author was hardly anonymous, but integral in the Third Army’s zeal and morale that holiday season.  The chaplain was Monseigneur James Hugh O’Neill, who was hardly unknown to Patton, but a U.S. Army colonel whose served with the general in five campaigns. The prayer itself was a but part of a larger Christmas missive to the troops which O’Neill explained in “The True Story of the Patton Prayer,” an article published as a government document first in 1950, then re-published not long after the movie premiered.

O’Neill’s story outlines the complexity of Patton, a devout believer in scriptures and the power of prayer, whose behavior (temper and tongue-lashings) and beliefs (that he was reincarnated) seemed contradictory. After writing the prayer, along with a ghostwritten Christmas greeting for the commander, O’Neill delivered a draft to Patton not sure how it would be used:  by the general himself, or delivered to other chaplains in the unit to be intoned at services among the troops.  Patton ordered copies of the Christmas card prayer to be printed and delivered. “See to it that every man in the Third Army gets one,” he said.

There were 250,000 copies made of this:

Patton_card2Pattons Prayer2

Patton then said to O’Neill: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.”

Patton then began a conversation about prayer became the basis of a larger treatise.

“I am a strong believer in prayer,” O’Neill recounted. “There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by praying.

“I wish you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer… We’ve got to get not only the chaplains, but every man in the Third Army to pray.”

Patton Prayer

A Contemporary Translation

Several passages of the O’Neill article are pertinent to America today.  Yes, in light of Memorial Day commemorations of military personnel who fell in mortal combat; but they have greater relevance in light of spiritual warfare that threatens our independence and unity from within; forces of evil far more insidious than tanks and rockets.  They are evils flourishing on this continent and endangering the liberties for which this nation was established, for which men and women died and stand watch to preserve — freedoms of expression and faith.  The evils of racism, sexism, selfish political ambition (add your own hashtag-creating #isms) are not only limiting our pursuit of happiness, they modernize the kind of societal behavior that led to the demise of Old Testament Israel.

The sermon we heard Sunday exhorted the congregation to pray, for prayer is a value of its mission. The pastor, a native Brazilian and naturalized American, invoked God’s word to David:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” — 2 Chronicles 7:14

Take a Knee

As the pastor spoke, I  could not help but think of Colin Kaepernick and the controversy surrounding his kneeling during the national anthem during NFL games.  Kaepernick came to mind because a few days earlier the NFL owners imposed a penalty on players who kneel when the anthem is played.

After the church service, our choir stayed to rehearse to sing at our town’s annual Memorial Day ceremony.  The director announced that in addition to the tradition songs we’ve song, we were asked to lead singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My inner bad boy was pricked.  After rehearsal I told the director that I was debating kneeling during the song.  I never had intentions of doing so, but I couldn’t avoid needling in anticipation of his priceless expressions in the moment of deciding whether or not I was serious.

Not one to let go a good running joke, at Monday’s final rehearsal I assured him that after prayer and meditation I’d decided to not kneel.  And he shook when he laughed. So humored, joking ended. Topic done. Time to raise the Banner.  But to our surprise, The Kneel soon came back to the floor as the mayor framed his Memorial Day speech around The Kneel. opened his remarks passionately saying how proud he was that no one kneeled during the anthem; then closed his speech with reminders why we shouldn’t.

A gamut emotions swirled. As I was one of four discernible Americans of African descent in the crowd of hundreds, I could not applaud. I was not offended. After “anger,” “dismay” eventually settled. For while I understood the mayor’s endeavor, and though I have relatives interred in Arlington National Cemetery, as part of the 2.9 percent of African-Americans living in the community, I found his statements another illustration of misunderstanding and misinformation. Weariness emerged.

OB Funeral.jpg
Interment of father-in-law Col. Otrie Barrett Sr., U.S. Army, Retired, Arlington National Cemetery, 2012.

Misperceptions

From the outset, Kaepernick’s protest has been misinterpreted as anti-American and anti-military despite his assertions to the contrary.  When Kaepernick, who is biracial and whose adoptive parents are white, began his protests during the preseason of 2016, he sat.  At a post-game press conference that fall, the once-celebrated quarterback spoke of his disappoint with the response, and explained his protest was a civil rights issue related to increasing police action shootings involving black males.

“I think it’s a misunderstanding. “The media painted this as I’m anti-American, anti men and women of the military, and that’s not the case at all. I realize that men and women of the military put themselves in harm’s way for my freedoms of speech and my freedom in this country and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee. I have the utmost respect for them. I think what I did was taken out of context and spun a different way. “

Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since shortly after that statement appeared in The New York Times in September 2016.  Though newsworthy fewer people took note of the initial protests.  After all, he started in preseason. To me, having come of age in the 1960s when higher profile black athletes as Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali were more vocal protesting racial injustice, Kaepernick’s sideline bow seemed mellow. This was no John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists in the Black Panther salute during the Mexico City Olympics and getting their medals revoked. It wasn’t until critical Presidential Tweets began that mellow became maelstrom and the issue of injustice was swirled away.

John Carlos Tommy Smith_Post
John Carlos, Tommy Smith, protest, Mexico City Olympics 1968 (Photo: Washington Post)

RELATED: “They Didn’t #TakeTheKnee”

Oh, Say, CAN You See?

When I finally caught my attention about the Kaepernick protest was when he literally switched positions.  From sitting to kneeling.   The pose struck my ironic funny bone. The image of one man or two men kneeling while everyone else was standing during a song that has been more widely disrespected when sung at games, struck me not as angry protest.  I viewed it as the free expression of prayer.

Kapernick 2

Whenever I’ve seen players kneeling at games since, I’ve imagined them praying for the country while others sang…much as I occasionally sit while others sing choruses and hymns during musical worship.

Maybe it’s because Kaepernick kneeling reminds me of the football locker rooms I’d enter after a Friday night game in my reporter days and I’d hear the coach say, “Let’s take a knee,” as the public school players recited The Lord’s Prayer.  Maybe it’s because that around the same time that Kaepernick began to take a knee, a high school football coach in Washington state was fired for initiating a post-game prayer.

bremerton_team_prayer_800x500
Bremerton High School football team post-game prayer, circa 2015. (Photo: OneNowNews.com)

Maybe it’s because the fourth verse of Francis Scott Key’s poem, a verse never sung, reads as a Psalm of David:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Maybe it’s because the song that some suggest would be a better national anthem, the song which our choir sang to close the Memorial Day program, the song written by an immigrant composer, Irving Berlin, begins by beseeching God’s blessing on America:

While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

kate_smith_1
AUDIO: Kate Smith introduces “God Bless America,” CBS Radio 1938.

Let US Pray

Whatever the reason, I am less offended by The Kneel than I am by protracted conversations that not only don’t recall the reason for his protest but ignore the debate by imposing an unrelated issue.  The Kneel is not about disrespecting the flag.  It’s about healing the racial divide in the U.S. — a fissure that seems to widen each day.

Lincoln, paraphrasing Jesus recorded in Mark 3, warned of the dangers of such splits.  “And if a house be divided against itself,” the King James says, “that house cannot stand.”

The Apostle John records how Jesus prayed for his sheep to live in unity.  If this country, which purports to be a Christian nation, is to overcome the clear and present danger of division, Christ-followers would well embrace the actions of a radical preacher, symbolized by a radical quarterback and spoken by a radical general.

Kaepernick knelt to weather a storm as Patton knelt on stormy weather.  Specific prayers for specific battles.

“As chaplains it is our business to pray,” O’Neill wrote to chaplains for Patton in The Training Letter. “We preach its importance. We urge its practice. But the time is now to intensify our faith in prayer, not alone with ourselves, but with every believing man, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Christian in the ranks of the Third United States Army.

“Those who pray do more for the world than those who fight; and if the world goes from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers.”

Think:  “If my people will humble themselves and pray…I will heal their land…” from racism, sexism, genderism…#hashtag your own #ism.

Agree or disagree with the analogies. Don’t lose the point. Pray for our nation. Evil engulfs us that mere protests and legislation will not thwart.  As Jesus told his disciples unable to cast a demon from a possessed lad, “This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”

You may be compelled to respond to these thoughts.  You’re welcomed to do so below.  There’s one request. In the Spirit of Gen. Patton: I want a prayer…a prayer for the United States.

#SDG #Shalom #TakeAKnee #AndAmen.

When the 25th Is Over

When the 25th is over

And all the kin are gone,

When you’ve packed away the tinsel,

The lights and all the songs…

When you’ve paid the bills for all the frills

And feel your ample girth,

Will you gaze upon your bottom line

And find your peace on earth?

When the 25th is over

And you’re standing in a line

Returning gifts you didn’t like,

But that you said were, “Fine.’…

Will you run a tab on your whole life

To see just what it’s worth?

Will you ask yourself, “What must I do

To find some peace on earth?”

As crabby girls and sulking boys

Cry over broken brand-new toys,

When the 25th is over

And you’re taking down the tree,

Can you tell them of the irony

Of that tree with lights so bright?

That ‘t’will stand for a cross on Calvary

On a darker silent night?

Yes, the 25th is over

And life is back to normal.

You’ve tossed your cookies

And squeezed the candies

(to find the one that’s caramel).

You’re feeling glad Christmas is gone

With all its hype and prices…

Yet, deep inside remains this thought:

“I wonder who this Christ is?”

Then simply search, and simply ask, 

And think of His good news.

Then simply make His sacrifice

An offer you can’t refuse.

For if you do, He’ll give to you

His peace on earth so strong…

You won’t have Christmas on the 25th

You’ll live it…all year long.

— (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2002.  All Rights Reserved. Use granted through written permission of the author only.  Cover photo (c) Michael Edgar Myers, 2014.  All Rights Reserved

dons-save-it-all_1
“Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day,”  a Mom & Daughter Duet, Vikki J. Myers & Cami Myers

 

 

 

Garnering Old School Praise

“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High..” — Psalm 92:1

Sunday, my wife and I attended a morning Service of Worship at Bellevue Baptist Church,  our sister church in Converge MidAmerica​, and the home church of our partner and musical director Garlan Garner​. In the 25 years of our association with Bellevue, as often as we’ve presented together through Kingdom Impact Theater Ministries​ or Elk Grove Baptist Church​, we had never been able to go to a Sunday morning service.  Add this to our list of #holyspiritmoments.

Bellevue, on Chicago’s South Side, is what we call an “old school” church.  It’s often found in an urban setting or the center of a long-ago established smaller community in a building that was built to be a church decades ago (as opposed to being a converted office building, mall, movie theater or multi-site complex).  Its founding residents were likely another ethnicity than those currently attending, and perhaps that change in demographic was problematic, so much so that it may have hastened the change though few of the current attendees recall.

Such was the case with Bellevue, whose congregation was predominately Caucasian when Lucious Fullwood, a pioneer in encouraging racial unity through the Gospel of Christ, became the senior pastor almost 40 years ago. “Black” was still being accepted as the preferred reference to Americans of African descent.  That there are few Anglos in the neighborhood or congregation Pastor Fullwood still shepherds at Bellevue now is moot, for his messages of maintaining faith in Christ in the face of daily human struggles transcend any particular DNA.

Vikki_Garlan Bellevue

 

Vikki J. Myers and her musical partner Garlan Garner embrace musical styles that transcend neighborhoods and unite communities.

Old-School Worship

Besides,  while the people may have changed certain elements of Sunday worship passed on tradition. In the context of modern church-ulture, “old school” likely means the church has not totally abandoned occasionally reading from The King James Version; announcement time may include conversations from the platform and the pews; guests  may be welcomed by name, invited to stand, and an opportunity to give a greeting during the service; and may have a small, non-flashy, yet boisterous choir whose singers may include those not-yet qualified for AARP.

Garlan led the musical worship as he does three Sundays a month.  In something of a concession to contemporary settings, Garlan plays keyboards that can replicate other instruments.  He is frequently backed-up by what my wife — the gospel jazz singer — calls the rhythm section: drums and electric bass.  They also have an alto sax.  Another modern adaption is having words on the screen versus singing from the hymnal.  Although  there is a printed order of service for the congregation to follow, the printed order is a template.

In old-school church, there is no countdown clock to follow.  No kickoff to hasten home to watch.  DVRs were made for old-school churches (microwaves, too). The first time a preacher says, “As I close” is the 15-minute warning.  the choir, the people and the technicians have to be ready to change. It’s called letting The Spirit work.

Improvisational Worship

Among Garlan’s great gifts is musical improvisation — accompanying in the moment. Without being told, asked, paid or noticed he senses when the atmosphere of a prelude, prayer or offertory  would be more worshipful with keyboard underscoring. He conducts the choir confident that they have done their homework, reviewing their charts, lyrics and mp3s.  Sundays are not for rehearsal, he tells them during their Monday practices,; Sundays are for worship.

He embodies the old old-school form of leading worship, call-and-response, where the person guiding the singing sings or says the upcoming line and the others follow along. An echo. The structure is not dissimilar from Old Testament psalms (e.g., Psalm 136) yet emerged as a distinct element of Christ-centered worship among African-Americans — out of necessity during slavery and as tradition after Emancipation.  At the core of call-and-and response is that there’s no sheet music to follow.   It’s about trusting the leader, listening, knowing the songs by heart, and hopefully singing them from there. Those in the congregation who don’t know the lyrics are not left out.  When the musicians yield to the spirit, the people’s hearts and minds will follow.

All of that history is to help you understand the impact of what happened when Garlan called for a song that wasn’t planned.

 

Garlan Interps

The hands of an arranger:  Hear the score, score the script, play the music, make it your own.

Here We Are to Worship

It started as a “Is-there-a-doctor-in-the-house?” moment.   Garlan moved toward the keyboard, then walked to the edge of platform and shouted for the ushers to see if a choir member was in the lobby.   This was her Sunday off, or she perhaps attended the first service of the morning hours before. Nevertheless, she was not expected in the building, yet Garlan thought he saw her from the stage, and in doing-so a new song came on his heart for the pre-sermon selection; a song he felt was particularly suited to her interpretation.  When the singer could not be found, the song remained appropriate, so Garlan went to the keyboards and began singing “Here I Am to Worship.” The choir and congregation responded. While moving in its own right, the power of these moments became more inspired when we finished singing and recognized what had transpired.

 

Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me
— (c) 2001, Tim Hughes

Three weeks ago, on a Saturday when we were preparing to serve as KIT Ministries in Sunday worship in Libertyville, IL, Garlan texted Vikki he had lost his hearing during the week.  A medical procedure to alleviate pressure in his ear canal was not only painful, it did not totally take and left him with minimal hearing.  Not good: not for the service plan; not for Vik, whose musical growth has corresponded with Garlan’s interpreting her thoughts; least of all not good for a pianist who — pardon, yet it’s true — plays by ear (as in, Garlan doesn’t read music. For newer songs, Garlan’ collaborated with his wife, Tracey, also an accompanist at Bellevue.  Tracey does read music, so she plays and records the tunes which Garlan listens to a few times, replicates and then adapts. )

Despite prayers for relief, we did not expect him in Libertyville Sunday, and when we arrived at the location before he did (extremely rare) were certain we’d need to improvise and make adjustments with the host lead worshipper.  Silly us.  (translated, “Oh, ye of little faith!) Garlan not only had confirmed his attendance the night before with our host…he not only drove over an hour from his south suburban home to the northern suburban near- the-state-line site and played our set, but only AFTER the service did any of the other musicians know he could barely hear them.

Standing arm’s-length away he explained, in his normal voice, “You sound like you’re in a barrel and feel like I’m shouting.” When he laughed, it felt safe to make a Beethoven reference — something about “Ode to Joy.” He chuckled then headed home, reassuring us he was all right to drive…despite his balance not seeming right.  We waited for news of his followup visits.

Last week, he had another excruciating ear procedure done.  So painful he had to take off work (Garlan does NOT miss appointments), and listening to him tell what occurred creates weak knees and watery eyes.  In the weeks since the initial problem occurred, Garlan and the Bellevue Prayer Ministry (the whole church), went into overdrive.

 

Pastor Fullwood

Pastor Lucious Fullwood:  Preaching the gospel, providing stability throughout transitions.

A Word from the Pulpit

On this particular day — Communion Sunday — as he finished “Here I Am to Worship”by seguing into “Thank You, Lord” in such a way you thought it was planned, as the singers left the choir box to return to their congregational seats, Garlan intercepted Pastor Fullwood just before the pastor announced, “It’s Preaching Time!” He felt compelled to share a brief medical update with the congregation whose last news was that Garlan was unable to hear what he’d been playing that morning’s music.

“I just want to say,” he said hurriedly, apologetically but necessarily to Pastor Fullwood, “prayer works!  I just wanted to thank you for praying.”

Beat.

“The doctors say I’ve got 80 percent of my hearing back.”

Beat.

“I don’t know what God’s going to do about the other 20 percent, but I’ll still be serving, so I just wanted to thank you.”

With Garlan’s testimony still ringing in our ears, Pastor Fullwood resumed with his regularly scheduled “Preaching Time!” message, “Having Faith In God.” He read from the selected  New Testament passages of Jesus healing the leper and Roman centurion’s daughter. (Matthew 8:1-10, 13).  Healing, by faith.  Garlan took his seat in a pew. And the band prayed on.

 

This essay is one of a series called, “Benediction,” a collection of reflections on sermons, keynotes and workshop presentations heard, and church experiences we have had.

#SDG #AndAmen #MEMoFromMichaelEdgarMyers