Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cowbells and Colossians

Daniel played bass for the jazz band portion of the Green Mountain District 5 Music Festival tonight. Shredded basically and his awesomeness showed the most when his sheet music fell on the floor and he just kept playing from memory with out missing a beat. In fact if I didn't know better, I would almost suspect that he purposely made the music fall so that his awesomeness at playing without the music and never missing a beat could be seen by all. Except that's not like him and also I think no one saw the music fall except me and the trombone player next to him who kindly picked it up.

Plus, they also played an absolutely gorgeous version of Charles Mingus's, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." Made you weep. (Of course, there is always the version by Jeff Beck, whose guitar weeps and which takes me back to my own high school days...).

There were other groups playing as well: a Women's Chorus and a Full Choir, which sang a really cool Magnificat which I love because school music programs across our great nation violate the supposed 'Separation of Church and State' every time they sing spirituals and no one raises a finger or even an eyebrow.

There was also a Middle School Wind Ensemble, but my personal favorite (apart from the Jazz Band of course), was the Middle School Concert Band. They played, "On Broadway." (Remember, "On Broadway?" Made famous and popular by the cool and suave George Benson in 1978? Well, remove the cool and remove the suave and remove George Benson and replace it all with 6th grade brass and a giant bass drum and you've got the picture...)

Anyway, the reason that this band was so great was because of their
cowbell player. This scruffy, blond, not-yet-pimply, shorter-than-the-girl-next-to-him sixth-grader was full of such intensity and determination as he pounded out the "tonk, tonk, tonk" on the cowbell. Man! that kid was on fire! "Tonk, tonk, tonk" went the cowbell, on and on. And on. "On Broadway," (tonk tonk tonk) "On Broadway...."

Now what I have not yet mentioned is that the super-expert guest conductor, with whom the kids had spent the day learning new dynamics on their chosen instruments (including our young cowbell player, presumably), had taught the young prodigies about the accessibility of improvisation within the realm of Jazz music. Pretty ambitious for middle-schoolers. Impressive even. And here's the thing: at the performance, with the raising of any of their hands, the conductor would recognize them and allow them to do a brief improvised solo. So after the first few verses, the improv section of the song came and up flew the hands, here and there throughout the band, each one taking a turn at adding their own unique musical voice to "On Broadway." This went on for several hours...I was really glad to have brought that sack lunch.

And as you have already guessed by now, cowbell boy had caught my eye from the start of improv time, putting up his hand, ready for his cowbell solo. Inexplicably, the conductor did not seem able to perceive his upraised hand. Over and over the poor lad raised his hand (without missing a Daniel as explained above, except on the cowbell) and over and over, other players kept getting chosen. I began to feel desperate. What would happen if he wasn't chosen? After playing with such heart! Such fervor! To not be given the chance to shine...the potential consequences were unthinkable. His grades would slip. His behavior would decline. He'd flunk out of college. He'd never get a job. Never get a girlfriend. Never marry, never have the white picket fence, the golden retriever, the swimming pool, the 2.5 children. All of it, gone.

I swear I almost stood on my chair and yelled, "The cowbell! The cowbell! The cowbell must be heard!"

I am not making this up when I say that there was an audible gasp of joy and exultation from the entire crowd (well, at least from me) as the final solo was given to our man. Obviously, the conductor had saved the best for last. How can I describe the vigor and passion this young man brought to his moment? Tonk-ta-tap-tap, tonk-tonkity tonk (tap-tip-tap) tonkity tonkity tonkity tap, (tap-tip-tap), tip-tappity tappity tap-tip tonk.

It was like the room became dim and skies parted and a single, perfect, silver beam of moonlight traveled across space and time and fell on his perfectly concentrated visage, and for three brief measures of cowbell heaven, all was right with the world.

He was in the groove.

And then he was finished, and the crowd erupted into thunderous applause. And then it was over. And I wept. Well, not 'wept,' really, but I did stand on my chair and fist-pumped the air and yelled, "dude! yes! Cowbells rock! You are the man!!"

Ok, I didn't do that either...

Here's my point. The kid went hard after that solo. He persisted. And he wore down the conductor till he had his chance to shine. There's something for all of us to learn in that.

And there's this too: I honestly liked how he played. He went hard after it - the cowbell - with vigor and energy and might. It was a cowbell. Made for cows and used for music. He hit a cowbell with a stick. And it made a noise.

And he reminded me, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..." Colossians 3:23


  1. wow! and hahaha and cool! I'm reading this blog with 'Goodbye Pork Pie Hat' playing over the speakers and I'm truly being transported into the crowd at this music festival... in fact Chris, I think I can see you off to my left just ahead. And now I can't take my eyes off this cow bell prodigy... his whole life was nearly ruined! ;D
    Well told story brother... and excellent conclusion... our ALL for the King of Kings.

    (tell me you're working on a manuscript..)

  2. I just laughed so hard I cried and woke katie up from her nap. Thanks :)

  3. And I know that mainly you were JEALOUS!! You were living vicariously through that cowbell boy, seeing your own dreams of musical fame from elementary band with Mr. Brown materialize before your eyes. You know it. I know it. Yeah.

  4. I hold Mr. Coffee Breath, er, I mean Mr. Brown personally responsible for single-handedly destroying any future I might have had with any kind of music, especially the cowbell. He was mean and he smelled. But I'm not bitter.

  5. Did you ever consider that if the Cowbellist (that is what we in the profession call the cowbell player) did anything but keep the steady pulse on his magnificent instrument that it may have led to total chaos and utter mayhem for the rest of the band?

    Like one building the immortal soul needs the solid foundation of Christ, so too the band needs the solid foundation of...the cowbell.

  6. Ha ha ha ha...Cowbellist...good one....oh, you're serious? I am so sorry! Actually, I must agree, "On Broadway" would have flown apart like if you could spin a meat-lover's pizza on your finger - the centrifugal force would create a greasy, cheesy mess - so with the cowbell. It stops the mayhem and panic and brings it all in for a landing...all for delicious 6th grade musical consumption.