There is a light, burning in the darkness

Storytime. There may be some soapboxing as well- I’m not sure. Let’s see where it goes.

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved music. As a younger child, it was
whatever was on the radio- my father’s preference for what is now
classic rock influencing my own tastes. The teenaged years brought a
harder, more contemporary edge to my tastes, and the progression into
adulthood has brought me in a circle of sorts (no country- Dad wouldn’t
stand for it)

Music has slowed me to comtemplation and silence, brought me to
laughter and tears, and inspired me to greater heights. Orchestral.
Rock. Jazz. Praise. With words that resonated to the very core of my
being, or tunes and rhythms that made me bob and weave.

For whatever reason, when I started playing instruments, they didn’t
trend towards that end- never really had an interest in strings of any
sort. But I always knew what I’d wanted. I WAS a sax player.

I remember my first look at a saxophone (or, what I recall as being my
first look)- as a small child, growing up in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Our babysitter, Yvonne Hudson, had a son (might have been a nephew- she
had a big family) who played sax. I remember he played it one day for us.

I was drawn to it- the shiny look and feel, the silky smooth sound it
made, dancing effortlessly from a triumphant instrumental to a low,
mischevious jazz with the coordinated movement of fingers and breath
and horn. It was… cool. The sax exuded cool.

I was asked on what is now becoming a weekly Sunday afternoon jam
session how long I’d been playing saxophone- and I had to stop and
think about it, because I wasn’t sure. It just felt like I’d been
playing it forever. Were this a story, I would say I was fated to play
it.
 
But it’s not about me. God gave me this inclination… I know this to be true.

*****

I didn’t start on saxophone, but I got there soon enough. I remember
spending the last couple of months of Grade 8, still playing the
clarinet in band, picking up my adopted instrument. And I loved
it.  I loved the sound. I loved how it fit perfectly into my
hands. I loved how I could now try to play the “Pink Panther” theme and
sound cool (I still can’t play it quite right- working on it).

We moved to Ontario, and Dennis (still on clarinet) and I ended up
playing in the church there. No mikes, no system- just us, a trombone,
and a trumpet (depending on who was there from week to week- pretty
informal), alternating parts on different verses of different
traditional hymns before, during and after the service.  We sat in
the front pew, facing the stage.

This went on week after week, and then God came knocking.

One summer, our youth pastor, Graham Maw, concieved this radical idea-
a musical and drama tour, of such. We’d take our act to churchs all
across Ontario, spread the word, be an inspiration or something. He
asked me to play.

I don’t remember what the conversation was, or even if there was a
conversation. Whether I’d just gone up to him and said, “I play horn.
It make sound.” and he’d added me. But that was the first time I could
remember ever having really played
for Him- not notes on paper, which had the side effect of feeling
mechanical after a while. But something new. Singing to Him a new song.

I improvised. If it sounded good, I rolled with it. We had our
conflicts, I made my mistakes, and learned a lot about playing, and
praise, and worship (and people). But in the end, it was an incredible
experience. We hit up 11 churches in 13 days, loaded onto a bus, and
survived without killing anyone (save for the time when I attempted to
block our resident caffeine fiend from the coffee shop by standing in
front of the bus door. Not one of my more inspired ideas.)

I wish I remembered more of it. I wonder if Mom and Dad still have that
promo poster, which has Dennis’ eyes bugged out of his head. No,
really- they do.

Back on topic- We moved back to Calgary for the last couple years of
high school, but we’d had our fun. You can only do “Joyful, Joyful, We
Adore Thee” so many times, and the tour had made it’s mark. We took a
shine to Bonavista’s Saturday night service (You can thank these two
for getting Dennis and I in on that as well, but that’s another blog
post in itself, I think), and the more contemporary style of worship it
offered. Understand, this was mind blowing, to a guy who’d seen the
four hymns up on the front of the auditorium pretty much every Sunday
prior in his life.

The end of high school brought an end to the formality of the school
programs, and I gave it up for a while. No reason to play, save for the
odd visit from family folk who like that sort of thing.

But then, something strange happened. God knocked again.

Our small group leader, Art Thiessen, also had designs on being a
worship leader- and just happened to have a small group flush with
musical talent.

“I can play,” I said. And so, I did.

I wasn’t nervous the first time, which I’ve always found odd. I’m
usually terrible for that. I overthink, and overanalyze, and get caught
up in the moment. But for whatever reason, I didn’t here. I just played.

And it was good.

Art’s team has come and gone, and I’ve done it every once in a while
since then… but it was never formal. I was always an ‘on-call’
player- at my request. Part of it was work, and now, other commitments.
At least, that’s what I’d hung it on. I’d never made it formal, and
said, “I WANT to play.”

Maybe I did- maybe I didn’t. I’m not sure. I can’t remember. I just remember being… uncertain.

*****

‘Is it worship?’ I often wondered, and wonder.

Praise Him with harp, and lyre, and strings, and voice.

Praise Him with electric guitar, drums, alto sax… and voice.

What’s the difference? About three thousand years, and a little cultural context?

Or did would Jesus have cared whether or not I nailed that riff?

This was one of my struggles when I played for the services. I didn’t
want to become so obsessed with being good that it overshadowed just being there, and worshipping Him. And I feared that would be the case, with my tendencies towards perfectionism.

No music? No problem. Make it up as I go. Just follow along. Melody,
harmony, fills, what’s the difference? Just another song for the man
with the golden horn. Rack ’em up, knock ’em down. Great show, old chap.

I struggled to practice that which I’d occasionally said to everyone else with the same concerns: Just praise. Be there. He will appreciate your efforts, if your heart is in the right place.

Sing to the Lord a new song.

Just play.

*****

There’s more, but it’ll have to come tomorrow. This is pretty long, and my mind is starting to turn to silly putty.

For those of you that made it this far (and those of you TL; DR practitioners that do exist), a reward for your efforts. Simpsons fans will appreciate this.

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7 thoughts on “There is a light, burning in the darkness

  1. Anonymous

    Just play.  I love it.
    I had a crazy thought last night, an idea for a praise n’ worship thing.  Almost an impromptu praise n’ worship, one where there is no musical regiment.  We let the worshippers find songs and we just play them.

  2. no_wings

    Cool story, Dave. I went to this conference on the weekend and at the last worship service two artists painted pictures. There was also dancers from Corps Bara that led us into worship. It was pretty awesome.

  3. atomic_spirituality

    The idea of spontaneous praise and worship sounds good in theory, but in practice it usually doesn’t work very well. From a musician’s point of view, it’s hard to just get up and play. If people request songs that you don’t know, then what? From a worshipper’s point of view, nothing distracts more form the act of worship than a leader/team that isn’t all together. My church growing up used to do the “impromptu” thing… the leader would ask for favourites, and people would just yell out whatever hymn they wanted to sing at the time. When the pianist didn’t know the song, it wasn’t pretty.
    Paul’s doctrine of worship to the Corinthians was pretty clear; when we gather corporately, there is no room for chaos. Things are supposed to be orderley. There is room for spontaneity within the order, but there needs to be some sembalence of order. We have plenty of opportunity each day to be spontaneous in our personal worship; in the car, in our living rooms, and even in our offices. But I really think that the corporate worship experience needs to be kept orderly and directed.

  4. Shnuff

    As someone who’s been on the other side, I do agree with some of what Shawn is saying. More to come in the next post.I’m not advocating one viewpoint over the other, but as usual, there’s a moderation to be achieved, I believe.-DaveC

  5. Anonymous

    That’s awesome, and it’s great to hear you still play your sax. I wish I had oppurtunities like that here in Ottawa…my clarinet is still in it’s case, by my computer….-Miri

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