Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Oh Happy Day

When very young, I played at the church coffee house, in the youth choir, and sweated in a too tight tie in an unairconditioned block building that was our church. As the folk-rock movement blended into those sounds, I was a comfortable kid music wise. With the Beatles and the Causes du Jour, I drifted away and then found myself like so many not liking country and not wanting to hang out and sing church music.

I don't think it ironic but strangely twisted that this year I find that in the next week, on Sunday during the traditional service, the choir will perform one of my new choral works (Epiphany), and that night, I'll perform my new contemporary work with the praise band. There are definite pluses. One, church musicians are better trained and nowhere near the level of arrogance of my old nightclub band mates. Two, they work for free so getting three guitars, drums, bass, piano, keyboards and a horn stack with four background screamers (ah, the good old days of the Motown sound) is reasonable without midi. I get to play the 12-string Rickenbacker stopping occasionally to hold my hand over my head and direct the other singers while I close my eyes and do my best Elvis voice with real musicians. Kitsch with class.

So the Byrds Meet Chicago In Memphis is not a bad sound for a praise song (The Gift). They play the arrangement the way I wrote it without complaint, in fact, with a grateful enthusiasm which is a big contrast from the band days. There is my son on horn, my wife leading the screamers, and me up front. Next time I'll write a marimba part for my daughter because asking her to play tambourine after many years of percussion lessons, well, that would be like handling a ukelele to Eric Clapton. He might play it but then he might not tune it first.

In traditional, I get a choir, a wind section with clarinets, flute and french horn, a bass guitar, a classical pianist and a director. They read the contrapuntal parts, comment on the simplicity and young ladies tell me how much they like the part I wrote for their instrument. I am referred to as The Composer instead of the songwriter. All I have to do is watch, listen, then stand up and bow at the end. Big juju.

And for both, the audience is guaranteed.

Next week, as recompense, I will be the "Special Music" at the traditional service, meaning it's just me and a nylon string singing Gounod's Ave Maria in Latin. It's a nice piece because the Ave Maria text fits the Gounod/Bach melody much better than with the Schubert which is a pretty melody but not originally written for the Ave Maria text. It's easy to play and a study in how to use diminished chords to change the tonal center without changing the key. It isn't easy to sing but that's why God gave me a falsetto.

So this is all pretty cool. I get to stretch in every direction but one: I dare not speak for as my daughter tells me and others, "Dad will open his mouth one day and we'll all get thrown out of church." And she's right. My sense of humor has no place in the congregation. "Ya shag one goat, ya know!"

But I'm glad, awfully glad for this week. Maybe it's worth my failure as a performer and after a lifetime of music, only making second rate. At least when I do these gigs, I rate, and at best, it's for a greater glory than my own.

I'm cool with that. Oh happy days.


Amber in Albuquerque said...

Second rate? Or maybe God keeps those he likes best for himself.

Len Bullard said...

That's an uplifting thought, Amber, and I thank you.

piers said...

Actually, I think Eric Clapton and George Harrison were both accomplished ukulele players... but you can't beat that rickenbacker sound!

Anonymous said...

sounds great, Len. Happy days indeed!

Len Bullard said...

Harrison and McCartney certainly were/are fans of the uke. My comment meant my girl can play it but she won't because it's beneath her. If I have a stage with guitar players and asked Clapton to play uke, it might not be polite. :-)

The Rick does have a great sound but god, it is a maintenance queen to keep tuned and keep the strings from breaking without me touching them. They are strung light and will pop in the case so any time I take it out, I have to check it nightly. In fact, I came home from rehearsal and my daughter looked at it and said, 'well there goes another one'. So I may have to revert to the Godin LZX this weekend.

Nice looking kid in your photo.

Len Bullard said...

Hey Dan:

Long time no sprecken! How are things in your camp these days?

Great to know you are checking out the blogs of the lesser mortals!



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