"Better late than never," right? I hope so. I meant to have written and posted this months ago. You know what they say about good intentions.
THANK YOU to all those of you who attended, or helped coordinate, my Christmas gigs: three worship services, one dinner, one luncheon, and one evening concert. At the time, the three gigs we booked to launch In the Bleak Midwinter in 2013 felt like a lot to me. A lot can change in a year. I think I can honestly say that the six engagements In the Bleak had in 2014 were WAY easier on me than the three the previous year, and they taught me some important lessons.
- December 6th: Canoga Park Presbyterian Church, Canoga Park, CA. CPPC puts on an annual Christmas Luncheon and I had the privilege of offering some of the entertainment for it. I've attended / been a member of the same church for twenty-three years (not this one) so I have a very clear, very specific picture of what a church family looks like. I was fascinated to find myself immersed in the traditions of another beautiful family... albeit one significantly different from my own. But like any good family, they fed us well, and they were very patient when things went wrong. LESSON: sometimes the backing track is going to fail, and it's just you and the piano. Learn not to lean on the track so heavily.
- December 7th: Monte Vista Presbyterian Church, Newbury Park, CA. Songs from In the Bleak contributed to both of MVP's morning services, and Tom, the pastor at MVP (whom I have known for years) showed an especially fetching picture of me as part of a sermon illustration. LESSON: be careful what photos you post on Facebook. No, really, I think the lesson this morning was in the power of spending time with wise people who know you and your story. Tom drew a line between a piece of my story and the Christmas story in a way I wouldn't have thought of. I got to be grateful for the shape of my life, the other people present got a living sermon illustration... AND, I got to hear a roomful of people singing along with songs from In the Bleak. Wow.
- December 13th: Rancho Ventura, Ventura, CA. Rancho was one of the three 2013 gigs, so it was an honor to be invited back. In the interest of not singing the exact same things we did last time, Jimmy and I worked up a short unplugged set of three Christmas songs from the 40s, and this set taught me something crucial about performing. LESSON: if I don't freak out when things go wrong, neither will anyone else. I'd done it perfectly several times in the studio, but when we took that set in front of an audience, I could not for the life of me find my starting pitch on one of the songs. When something comparable happened at one of the 2013 gigs (not the Rancho one), I freaked out, clammed up, and the whole rest of the evening labored under the weight of my nervous tension. This year when it happened, I made a joke, people laughed, Jimmy (my producer / accompanist) fed me my note, and we moved on. Amazing.
- December 14th: First Presbyterian Church, Santa Paula, CA. I was in a dark place when I got in the car to sing that morning, but the warmth of the welcome I was given and the poetry of the lyrics came together and handed me the gift of a fresh mindset even as I sang, and I think that something of that gift translated to those who were there. It was a beautiful morning and I was (and am) deeply grateful for it. LESSON: Great art and the grace of God are in the business of bringing light into darkness - even my darkness.
- December 19th: Lemonwood, Ventura, CA. One of the biggest gifts of this gig season was the vocal quintet I had the privilege of working with. These are people with decades more experience than I have who are much better musicians than I am who opened the Rancho and Lemonwood gigs, willingly sat through the same set of my music twice, and joined me to close both evenings by singing backup on O Holy Night. I was calmer and looser than I've been for any other gigs I can remember doing and I KNOW they were a big part of why. Thanks, you five. You rock, and I love working with you. LESSON: good company makes a world of difference.
- December 28th: Good Shepherd Community Church, Columbus, OH. Proof positive that I do not ONLY sing for Presbyterians. I sang three songs during the morning service, and for whatever reason, I was not connecting emotionally with the music this particular morning. Despite this, at one point I looked around and several people were in tears. This kind of disparity has made me anxious in the past, but that morning I just kept doing my job and trusting that everything would be okay. And it was. LESSON: my experience will not always be the same as anyone else's, and that is okay.
What a gift this season was. Let me reiterate my thanks to all those of you who were part of it, and who stick with me as I learn some of these things... even if sometimes I learn them - or share them - a bit late.