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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Do You Ever Break Out in Song Without Warning?

"I know what my people are thinking tonight!"

These words used to send my daughter scurrying to hide in the closet. This "opening line" meant Dad was about to "do" the his complete and emoted version of "I Wonder What the King Is Doing Tonight?" from the musical Camelot.

I admit it.  I like musicals. Not all of them mind you. Some are pretty stupid and some really strain credulity.  Many musicals shameless push a leftist political agenda I find extremely uncomfortable. Many espouse a highly immoral lifestyle.  But there are some (and Camelot is one) that I just absolutely love.

My Dad took off on us when I was five years old or so.  I remember walking back to our apartment on Anglin Street in Cleburne, Texas on day.  We were coming from the courthouse with my Mom, probably from the divorce hearing.  Mom was upset. She was trying not to show it, but she was.  She remarried a short time later, mostly for the sake of us kids I always thought, but as a result of everything, I was never really close to my Dad or Step-Dad.  I looked instead for male role models in the world of literature as I was growing up.

King Arthur was one of my big male role models. I loved the Arthur story, as told in T.H. White's Once and Future King and in the musical and movie based on it. I took my cues on what it means to be a man from Arthur's example. There were other examples as well, but when my sister told me her community theater group was doing Camelot, I decided I'd try out for my dream role as King Arthur.

I admit I was a little ambitious, thinking I'd land the lead role my first time out, but I really really wanted it.  So to prepare, I learned "I Wonder What the King is Doing Tonight"  and several passages from the play.  I got the role of Merlin and played one of the knights after Merlin disappears early in the play.  It was hard work, but a lot of fun.  For years afterword, I developed a habit of breaking out with that song in the car, along hiking trails, over dinner and in all sorts of inconvenient places.  My poor kids used to just cringe.

My daughter, however, finally decided I wasn't going to stop.  We were driving along one day in the car and I tentatively started up and to my surprise, she joined me.  We roared through the song and finished with a nice sharp ending.  It was a real kick for me and Meg evidently knew it.  I didn't even know she knew the song.

I've always wanted life to be more like a musical. I've always thought we should break out in song once in a while in public places, just to shake things up. I even found a group called "Improv Everywhere" that were doing just that.  The video above is just one of their flashmob musicals on youtube.  They're fun, but what interests me is the crowd that is watching these production numbers unfold.

You can tell, they really want to join in.  You can see them swaying, doing little dance steps and even joining in on the chorus. I love that human beings come up with stuff like this for no other purpose than to make their fellows smile. I think God gets a kick out of watching people come up with stupidly creative stuff like these shepherds with way too much time on their hands.

I was tempted to think the spontaneous musical number was not at all a natural thing and far too rare in this sad old world.  Then one day as we were washing dishes, I realized that my wife and I were singing an old hymn.  It was spontaneous.  We were singing in harmony.  We did several of them as we washed and dried the dishes, then I kissed her on the cheek and she hugged me back and we went on with our housework in much the same way the action goes on in a musical.

 This one is fun because not everyone who stands is part of the choir.  Many stand because it is traditional to do so during the Hallelujah Chorus. You can see some folk joining in. If I were a choir director, I'd take my kids to food courts all over the land and do this kind of thing.

I think that there is a profound link between that sort of spontaneous music and our connection with our Creator.  When I was a kid, I heard an evangelist say that God puts a song in our hearts. I wonder if that's not literal. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Christians break out in spontaneous song.

I remember two pastors when I was a teenager who used to turn these kinds of singing outbreaks into choral events. They were John Thurber and Bob LeBard. We'd start singing and before we knew it we'd have contrasting parts and harmony.  Both men treated spontaneous singing like a choir rehearsal and in a way it was. It was as if we were preparing to be part of heaven's choir. Sharon Hansen, Brother John's daughter used to sing "Precious Lord"  while John or Bob (depending on who happened to be around to draft her into it at the time, while they led us in a four part harmony backup singing "Lead me" over and over in four part harmony.  It was beautiful and we got to where we could do it acapella on a windy night standing around the campus fountain at Valley Grande Academy or sitting on a log beside Echo Lake at Lone Star Camp and make it sound beautiful.

When I was attending Valley Grande, a Christian boarding academy (I worked my way through),  music seemed to break out everywhere.  We didn't do a lot of dance numbers, but we did sing a lot in circles around fountains, beside lakes and even in our dorm rooms late at night. We had these outpourings of joy in the form of music and it was because our hearts were full and we could not hold it back any more.

We had our pain and the typical teen angst, but people like Brother John, Sharon, Brother Bob and others helped us to find that peace that passes all understanding and that has made all the difference. I rather think that, after all, my life became something of a musical after I found God.  I just didn't notice it was happening. You just sort of fill up and on occasion it overflows. I learned to go ahead and let it from several people I knew back then. Tim Ponder taught me that there is a place for even a poor singer like me out on the boat dock with people who really do know how to make music. Dave Dameron and Steve Urick taught me to sing bass (Brother Bob made me stand between them to keep me on key).  They also taught me not to take anything too seriously or you could go crazy. Bow Walker taught me to love folk music and campfire songs. Jack Allen taught me that I could get away with funny songs even though I didn't have a good voice. Clay Read encouraged me to play weird instruments like the banjo. Mike Gregory taught me that you can make music on all sorts of kitchen appliances and instruments out of leftover packing materials. Nancy Voegele taught me to sing when I felt sad. Mike Maloney taught me the power of music to help lift your spirits when your girlfriend dumps you. Steve Darmody taught me that there are some people I shouldn't try to sing with. Vicki Tucker showed me how much fun it was to sing in a group and taught me that some people with really good voices don't mind you singing along with them.

My wife, Sheila, taught me to step back and let others lead. She also taught me how to find a singing style that was my own and wouldn't make people cringe. She also taught me about how much obsessive practicing lies behind a breath-taking performance and her singing still makes me cry it's so beautiful. My daughter, Meg, who inherited her mothers perfect pitch and incredible voice taught me how much fun it was to let the kids take over the music and run with it. She also taught me what God must feel when His children sing for Him.

Lexa Arante and her brother Dunn showed me that talent and humility are not exclusive qualities. From Blake and Brody Snyder, I learned that perseverance can make you really good at playing an instrument in an incredibly short time. From all the kids at Tyler SDA Church I learned about how powerful is the music of praise.

So, if you love God and are called according to his purpose, life really is a sort of musical. Next time you feel like breaking out in song, go ahead.  There are likely some folks around who will join in and how much fun would that be?

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Comfort Food - The Cornerstone of Civilization

(c) 2013 by Tom King

Mom's garlic and cream cheese 
mashed potatoes - mmmemories!
You forget just how important it is to cook to suit yourself until you share a kitchen and have to cook to suit the tastes of another.  Since my wife and I moved to the carriage house, we've been enjoying a change in our diet that happened without us really thinking about it.  When you shop for your own groceries and cook for yourself, you soon revert to your old habits and old favorite dishes.

We've gone almost completely vegetarian again.  We've had some tuna, but other than that, we've gone back to the old SDA vegetarian dishes I grew up on.  I've made cottage cheese loaf, oatmeal patties, barbecued Tender Bits (bought a case of that stuff), all kinds of spaghetti and pasta dishes seasoned with vegeburger, homemade vegetable pizzas, Chinese vegetables.

We've started stocking frozen veggies by the giant economy bag, fresh produce, fruit and vegetables.  Avocados are cheap up here in the Pacific Northwest for some reason and tomatoes and peppers aren't too terribly expensive either.  Haven't had anything made of hamburger or chicken since October except on the road when traveling.  My veins feel degreased. I've been making homemade whole wheat bread again and homemade cookies, pies and even did a German Chocolate cake for Sheila's birthday.

We celebrated her birthday by going to Goodwill and buying cooking utensils, pots and pans and kitchen stuff for our new kitchen. It was fun.  I highly recommend spending money to properly equip your kitchen. There's nothing quite like cooking with the proper tools.  It's faster, things come out better and taste better and it's more fun.  I bought a set of Eversharp knives that are so sharp you have to be careful not to pitch them in the dishwater.  You can cut yourself badly groping around for them when you do the dishes. 

I have begun to believe that the real problem with the next generation of young people is that they haven't learned how to cook properly. Young people don't cook anymore.  They're always going out to eat at restaurants and they eat a lot of takeout.  What happens when you don't cook for yourself, you have your taste in food determined by someone else - some chef or short order cook or, worse, a gaggle of teenaged fry cook operating out of fast food joints.

You don't develop your own signature dishes if you eat out all the time.  You miss the routine of making a pan of rolls on Friday for Sabbath dinner.  You don't learn about homemade cinnamon rolls, Dad's breakfast burritos or pancakes every Sunday morning.  It's those sorts of things that anchor your life so you're life is not drifting around consuming whatever somebody offers you on a menu.  You chart your own course, Create your own family traditions so that your own kids remember things like family taco night or inviting folks over for homemade pizzas like we used to do when the kids were little. I remember back at Valley Grande Academy, Mrs. LeBard, the principal's wife, used to make a whole pile of pies on Friday nights once a month or so and feed all the kids in the school pie after Friday night vespers.  It was a lovely tradition.

God gave us food for other reasons than to keep us alive. He could have made food utterly tasteless, but he did not.  He gave us flavors in infinite variety and endowed us with an innate creativity that we might enjoy the fruits of the Earth in all the shapes, colors, textures and tastes imaginable. No two families eat precisely the same meals and snacks and yet we are able to meet all our nutritional needs just the same.

If your refrigerator is full of soft drinks and frozen pizzas, I invite you to create yourself a menu for one week and determine to not go out to a restaurant for the full week.  Then, take a trip down to your grocery store.  Buy a week's worth of ingredients.  Splurge on a few things like olive oil and favorite spices. Get some produce for goodness sake.

If your kitchen tools are woefully inadequate, you don't have to spend much.  Run down to Goodwill or the Salvation Army thrift store and do like we did.  Create yourself an eclectic collection of dishes and pick out some good kitchen tools, pots and pans to cook with.  Cook with flair. Experiment.  Make stuff from scratch. It's actually fun if you have the right equipment and a properly set up kitchen.

Make yourselves some lovely meals during your week off from eating out.  Set the table and sit down at it. Fix a pitcher of iced tea.  Eat slowly and talk about your day. Let civilization creep up on you and transform your mealtimes.  If you've got kids, you'll be making memories they will never forget. The best and strongest memories of childhood are almost inevitably tied to smells and flavors as well as sights and sounds.  You owe it to your little ones to fortify them with those memories. When they go off on their own, they'll want to come home and have you recreate those memories for them.  They'll steal the big yellow bowl you used to make banana pudding in because they'll want a piece of home to carry with them out into the big, bad old world.  They'll want your recipes, but they'll always make them their own and they'll never be quite what they remember from Mom's kitchen.

You'll also be surprised how much your food costs drop every month too. You can use the savings to buy yourself some toy trains and start a hobby.  But then that's another blog and I don't have time for trains now anyway.  I need to finish putting together the telescope I'm building.

Sometime life is just so very, very good.

Just one man's opinion....

Tom King