Earlier in the year, Dawn received an email from Getty Music inviting worship leaders to apply to sing with them at their Carnegie Hall (CH) concert December 17. She sent for the information, and as most of our friends know it culminated in her dad Paul, our worship leader Terry, Dawn and I singing backup in the choir for Keith and Kristyn Getty. It was an experience not to be forgotten ... Why? Let me write this down so someday I will remember.
First of all, nobody who takes seriously their art would willingly forego a chance to perform at one of the world's premier venues, and Carnegie Hall is arguably at the top of the list. navigating back stage halls and green rooms at CH you see posters from the scores of notable names who have occupied that stage, names from Fats Waller to Isaac Stern. More than many places I have been, The history of the place is palpable.
I will not deny the thrill of this opportunity. Although our names were not on the poster (except as "and friends"), how can a person not feel highly honored to be in such rarefied air? Seeing our names listed with the choir in a CH Playbill was surreal. The pictures Dawn and I have facing upstage with the CH house in the background will be treasured for years to come. I know my own ability, and am painfully aware that many people I know are more qualified to occupy that space than I. My musical background is satisfyingly rich, but not grand. I can honestly say that this kind of event was never something I would have wished for, because it would not have occurred to me to do so. With all that in mind, it is easy to see how singing there could be both thrilling and humbling, because it was indeed humbling.
The spirit of nearly everyone I encountered was as agreeable as you can imagine, from the other choir members, to the people serving coffee, to shaking the hand of Ricky Skaggs back stage. (Ask Dawn about her more extended conversation with him). The event was infused with a sense of deference and courtesy that belies all the cynicism even my disposition can harbor.
The concert itself was like a plasma blast. There was so much energy and artistry on that stage that even Scrooge would have had to sway and bob. I had been a part of the concert before at Calvary Church, and it was still amazing. The story of the Christmas cease-fire, the gospel readings from Luke and John, the intimate tableaux of Keith and Kristyn playing and singing together, alone on the stage, the unabashed fun the fiddlers and the band members who danced, laughed, and communicated telepathically with each other across the stage all through the show. This high power performance came through even though we had been told that some of the members were sick with the flu. You could not tell.
A few random memories I do not want to lose: Keith's wry sense of humor and wise insights into the place of music in the Christian life. Kristyn's lovely gold dress in the first half of the show and Keith's very cool vest. Her enchanting voice and speaking accent. The view of the harpist playing the high notes about 7 feet in front of my seat. The flashing lights on the bodrahn Shannon was playing for Sleigh ride and the flashing glasses the accordion player donned. The skillful playing of Ricky Skaggs who, once he was no longer considered a country star could have retired, but instead continued composing significant music. The children's skillfully executed counter-point on Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven. The dancers. Ben's patient and skillful leadership of the choir both during rehearsal and at the concert ... the realization that he was also leading a string sextet, wondering when he worked with them. Ashley warning us that anyone caught recording the concert in any way ... on a phone or whatever, would incur a fine for the Gettys from Carnegie Hall ... strict hall policy. Sharing the experience with Dawn, Paul, and Terry. My incredible gratitude to Dawn for getting me in shape for the concert, helping me with the thousand notes I would never have gotten without her.
Now here's the thing, and any performer knows this. The experience was not all pleasant. We sang for about 6.5 hours the day before the performance and another four the day of the performance, not including the 2 hour concert. These are not rehearsals where you can hold back and conserve your strength and your throat. The director wants to hear what you've got he wants to fix it where it's broke. He can't do that unless you give your all, so that's what you do. Two days after the concert, I am still hoarse. At the concert itself, there's no way you will hold back anything, because if you don't give it here, what are you saving it for? We climbed five flights of concrete stairs multiple times back stage to get to our places and sat in hot, crowded rooms eating sandwiches before the show -- legs hurting, breathing hard. I understand there was an impromptu concert in the stairwell as we were lining up to enter (a worship experience in itself I am sorry to have missed) ... the choir lined up on the whole five flights. The stage was packed. With about 225 people in the choir, we were so tight that I am not exaggerating to say if you fainted you would not fall. The people you were wedged between might not have noticed. Dawn tells me there was a real danger of her chair falling off the back of the risers if she did not stand carefully. The risers were so slight that I am sure a solid 2/3 of the choir could not see the director. I couldn't and I was on the second row. This means you have to know all sixteen songs so cold you can sing them knowing that you are doing what he wants even if you can't follow. I AM NOT COMPLAINING. Quite the opposite, but these are parts of the real experience.
But now, here's the biggest reality. This was not a day-off excursion for me, it was ministry. No doubt, it was more fun than people can usually say they have at work, even if they like their job, but it was still doing God's work. This concert was bathed in prayer by everyone from the top down. Almost every song rang with the gospel story, from Jesus' birth to His Resurrection, and the salvation plan is woven in the Getty's music like embroidery. The acoustics of CH give the songs of praise and adoration of Jesus a sound that must be unequalled on earth, and when Keith Getty got the 2800 people in that hall singing "O Come Let Us Adore Him" the sound was as close to being before God's throne as I have ever felt. The Gettys are unashamedly evangelical and at the end of the concert the audience was invited to reconnect with the gospel story, to consider the Christian faith, and to accept some literature to help them along the journey. I talked to two random audience members outside after the concert. They had attended a concert at Carnegie Hall for the "bucket list" experience and were delighted and surprised that the production was "so faith based." I continue to pray for the people, like those two ladies, who went to Carnegie Hall that night for a holiday concert and got a powerful gospel presentation. I am sure many who hold season tickets and who were simply tourists taking in a show got much more than they expected. The Holy Spirit will continue to cultivate that seed.
Pastor, Norma Mennonite Church.