from a least the time I was in elementary school and even performed from time to time since then. Piano, violin, mandolin, guitar, bass, ukulele, vocals, all of them at one time or another were part of my musical life. Music was always just there, inside, outside, in my head, and flowing through my life.
In the lean years, especially during high school, it was my comfort in those uncomfortable times when I hid in the band room and played piano instead of facing where and whom to sit with during lunch. Out there was a place where I didn’t really belong, in the room with the piano I was safe.
College came and the music took a back seat for a bit but then after seminary in those painful first years of ministry it came back again, an old friend come to comfort me as my prayers flowed through my fingertips in song. From then it has never left and in my early 30’s I encountered the instrument that changed everything.
I had always wanted to be in the band but for the sake of shyness, the fear of other’s ridicule, or the people in my life mentioning the sheer impracticality of it all, such things never seemed to happen. I would play for small groups and at church but mostly it was about me alone with everything from the inside finding an outside with my songs. At a friend’s urging I borrowed the money and purchased my first bass, a black and white Fender Jazz and a small amp actually made for a guitar.
It took a while to teach my fingers to find the spots but they did and then the spirit of the instrument began to capture me. I began to love its sound and its place, the rhythm, the solidity that only bass notes can provide, and it opened up doors. The time for being a virtuoso guitarist had, perhaps, passed but there was always a need for a bass and I had one. I could be in the band even if it was for playing the instrument no one wanted to play but everyone needed.
And out I went, first playing by myself and trying not to irritate my wife or frighten the cats, then on to the local jams, and from there into small groups. I still recall the almost dreamlike sense of realizing that here I was on a real stage making music with real people and what I had too often enjoyed alone was being shared. It’s an addicting thing, really, and I can see why famous musicians, when they are not on the stage, could contemplate drugs to replace those short two or three hours when there is nothing better than making live music.
The instrument became a part of me and I could slap, or pluck, or tap, or mute, whatever I needed and sometimes, because it was a bass, I could just thunder to the point where the motion of the music was like a second heart beat. Perhaps it was the instrument that no one else wanted to play but there were, and still are, times when I don’t just play but feel the music and it’s everything to me in that moment.
Yet, being a bassist also means you need other people in ways that some musicians don’t. Bass is a team instrument, vital to the group but very alone without it. On the stage it’s a glorious rumble, in the quiet of the practice space it can be notes without the larger context. And did I mention that people, especially musicians (myself included) can sometimes be very quirky. One band fell apart because the guitarist lost the use of his hands. In another someone, and I think it was after being overwhelmed by seeing the inside of my church, decided I was wasn’t a good “fit” in his evangelical band and off I went. In between there were tryouts, tryouts that were masked as jams, and moments where there was promise and then promise found a way to be dashed.
I understand. The life of a Priest is very different from the life of a musician. I couldn’t always make the kind of promises that are the mark of being in a band like Wednesdays and Fridays in Lent and all the potential time changing emergencies and fluidities that happen when you work in the Church. For some, too, there is just something about the “vibe” of having a Priest in the band and, again, I get that. Sometimes that means I feel alone and outside even if I know that I could knock it out of the park with the right bunch of folks. But the truth is that I would try, even if I weren’t a Priest, to live this Christian life as best as a sinful person can and Jesus would always come first even if I never wore a collar. I owe Jesus that much, at least, for all the grace, forgiveness, and mercy that comes to me daily from His hand and, in the end, it is before Him, and no band or record company, that I will stand.
So I juggle my life with that in mind. God first, family second, music third. Some day, of course, I’d like to be in an ongoing and vital band. There’s nothing like it. Until then I pick up a jam when my schedule allows, perform as a solo on the uke when the opportunity presents itself, and share my music with the Seniors who live where I work. Every so often the longing, and I have to admit this, for the limelight beckons and a certain sadness sets in thinking about what could, should, or might have been. Still, there’s a different kind of light that calls out to me. Long after the lights on stage have gone out this Light will remain and there is nothing that can extinguish it so I choose to be wherever it shines and let everything else fall where it may.
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