Saturday, July 12, 2008

Silver Bullet down!!!!!

It’s morning. There’s a knock at the door.

“Is Kyle here?”

The voice of Dan Worral, the personnel director, projects firmly through the screen door.


“Kyle, can I pull you out of bed for a moment?”

Oh, great. My mind begins to question: Am I in trouble? Whatever for? Dan’s in charge of all of the staff, but he hasn’t talked to me since the day I arrived.

I roll out of bed, a painful experience as I’m on the top bunk, and walk outside. Alongside Dan stands a scrawny kid of 16, maybe 17 years of age.

“Well, the short of it is, Mitch here hit your car last night.”

Crap. More car trouble over 800 miles from home. For once I’d like something like this to happen when I’m in a familiar place. (My last bit of car trouble was in Memphis, during my first semester at Visible School.)

We start the long walk from my room to the staff parking lot, which is really just a gravel road tucked away in a corner of the camp that is seldom traveled by guests.

“It happened at what, 10:45 last night or so?” Getting a nod from the young beanpole, Dan continued. “Do you like that car?”

Why is he asking me this? I get the feeling he’s trying to gage how intense my reaction will be. It’s not that big a deal. Stuff happens. He’ll pay to get it fixed, and we’ll move on. No biggie. So, he hit my car. In a tiny parking lot. How bad can it be? A little dent and some scratches-it can’t be much more than that, so—

SWEET GEORGIA BROWN!!!! My poor car!!! Oh, he hit her, he hit her gooooooood… How the heck did he manage to do that in this confined, densely packed little space? He clearly has a talent for destruction…

“It was not intentional, I promise." The kid uttered for the third time as I surveyed the damage.

No kidding. You mean you didn’t hit my car on purpose!? I am so very relieved. For a minute there, I thought this was the result some kind of repressed anger toward me surfacing from someone I’ve never met before in the form of an anomaly of parking lot rage. ‘Not intentional’? Are you serious? What kind of consolation is that supposed to—

Wait a minute. This kid is like in high school. He looks terrified.

Suddenly, a shockingly well-produced epic montage of my automotive blunders suddenly runs through my head, accompanied by an overwrought Hans Zimmer-esque soundtrack.

I've made the same mistake. I actually know exactly how he feels. This probably sucks for him more than it sucks for me. Poor kid.

So we move on to exchange insurance information as my car’s bumper sags limply to the ground in clear defeat. For future reference, a 2004 GMC Sierra always wins a match with a 1997 Plymouth Breeze. A one-round knockout.

And now, pictures from the fight. WARNING: Graphic content.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Staff Fellowship (or lack thereof)

Two posts in one day? Oh, yes I’m doin it. I actually wrote the following last Sunday night, but didn’t post it because I was a little angry when I wrote it. But the same things happened tonight, and I find myself feeling much the same as last week, so I’m gonna go ahead and throw this out there:

Sundays can be hectic days for the music staff here at Camp of the Woods. We rehearse before the Sunday service, play for the service, then rehearse for the Sunday evening concert of praise and worship. For a few, (including me) there’s also usually a small jazz combo rehearsal in order to prepare a jazz rendition of a hymn to perform on Sunday nights which we never have time to work on until Sunday afternoon. On top of that, at the end of the concert, we have something called staff fellowship, which is a required worship service just for the staff. As you might imagine, music staffers are usually unexcited for this mandatory service. Tired and often hungry, bad attitudes run rampant.

Last night’s service was no exception. I think that what makes this time particularly grating to the highly trained musicians here is the fact that the worship at staff fellowship is led by music hobbyists who are full time staff in other positions and volunteer their time to serve by leading worship at this event. Schedules are full and practice time scarce, so the music is usually pretty rough. It is admittedly distracting at times, but God meets people who come ready and hungry for intimacy with him, regardless of the quality of the music.

How can a perfectly just and holy God allow dirty sinners into his presence? Grace. Worship is such a gift, and we can’t afford to lose sight of that. (Check out Hebrews 10, especially v19-25.) Today I found myself looking around at many of my colleagues on the music staff during worship and seeing them either trying to conceal their laughter or mocking the staff onstage with sarcastically jubilant gestures. It made me angry, and I think at least to some extent, rightfully so. How can we, as the community of Christ, mock each other for what gifts we have or have not been given? Why should someone who has freely given of themselves in service to the body and to the Lord have their offering technically analyzed by “a professional?”

Most importantly: How can anyone who has been given a gift strictly by grace mock someone else who is gifted differently but freely serves the community of Christ? It’s as if a poor man brings what little he can afford as a gift, while a rich man who gives nothing mocks it. This has helped me realize that it really doesn’t matter what I can do musically or intellectually; if I forget for even one moment that everything I have is a gift—by grace—from the Lord, then my accomplishments, my talents, my skills, my ideas—it will all be for nothing.

I am not innocent of this brand of pride. I frequently forget that my gifts are not my own. I sometimes think that because I play better than someone else I am somehow more valuable. But this is such a worldly view. How quickly I lose sight of the fact that God looks at the heart.

It is important to recognize that in trying to fight this spirit of pride, it is easy to be lulled into a pattern of false humility. It’s easy to judge people who are struggling when you’re not. It’s easy try to find some self-satisfaction in the knowledge that you’re not guilty of this sin (at this particular moment). It’s easy to judge in a moment of strength someone struggling in weakness. I’m praying that Jesus will keep me in a spirit of true humility, and that every time he and I hang out, he’ll remind me of what is not really mine.

Independence Day and face melting

This week was perhaps the most intense yet here at Camp of the Woods. The concerts over Independence Day weekend are some of the most anticipated events of the summer from the Camp of the Woods orchestra. I’ve got to admit, I was pretty moved to be a part of it. We had a color guard of four soldiers from the 10th Mountain division at Fort Drum come to present the flag and perform a flag folding ceremony. All of these young men had been in direct contact with terrorist elements in Afghanistan and had engaged in fighting at altitudes of 10,000 feet. We also had a Brigadier General, who is the father of one of the singers on the music staff, come to read the Declaration of Independence. This guy has been a test pilot for many years, has logged over 3000 hours of flight time, and oversaw the F-22 fighter jet project. He was just promoted to a position at the Pentagon where he will oversee all Naval covert operations.

The concert itself contained 16 separate pieces of music. I played for every one of them. The concert was divided into essentially three acts. The first contained some traditional patriotic songs (including “Fanfare for the Common Man” by Copland and “The Star-Spangled Banner”). The second act was a mock radio show from the ‘40s, with a bunch of Glenn Miller big band stuff. The third act contained more modern patriotic songs, my favorite of which was “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams, from the Saving Private Ryan soundtrack. During this piece, there were pictures of members of the armed forces from WWII to the present shown on a projection screen. It was powerful. (By the way, if you haven’t heard “Hymn to the Fallen,” definitely check it out.) And, of course, we closed with "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Although I am grateful to be here and to be a part of the most professional music ensemble I have yet experienced, I miss rock. My reading is getting way better, and my tempo has been honed further. My jazz playing is improving remarkably quickly. But I want to rock. I play in a music ensemble where my default volume level is AT LEAST two dynamic markings below what is indicated by the music, and I wanna rock out. For chapels, we play songs by Lincoln Brewster and Israel Houghton that need to be so hot they melt peoples faces, but we aren’t even getting them warm. Chord progressions that you find in popular worship music today don’t sound interesting when the brass or the strings or the woodwinds or even piano take the lead on everything. Give me some freakin’ guitar!!!! I am getting exceptionally good at playing softly, but sometimes I just wanna unload. I am so looking forward to getting back to Visible and playing some Spirit-led, spontaneous and prophetic, passion-filled, unleash-the-rock worship. I’m already planning on bathing myself in rock during the drive back to Memphis. In the meantime, I’ll have to continue practicing putting the music first and yielding to Dr. John, even if I think the music could use some more rock and the director does not.

(By the way, Dr. John is fantastic and always encouraging me, and we get along great. We just come from very different backgrounds. I’ve got all the respect in the world for him.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Regular Season, Week 1

I want to thank everyone who offered a word of encouragement and prayer for me after my last post. I'm very grateful for you all.

It seems like such a long time since last week, as I have played three major concerts, one worship concert, CHOPs, four chapels, one session of "jazz on the beach," and in one recital concert since last Saturday. But more than that, I'm feeling very different than I did last week when I wrote. God showed some amazing faithfulness and gave me an extra measure of grace this week--so much, in fact, that I hardly know where to begin.

Last Saturday, we had our first concert. Although I spent a good amount of time practicing for it, I wasn't really sure of myself. I thought I would be scared, nervous, and shaking the entire time. But I wasn't. I felt relaxed and determined to nail every last rhythm, note and fill. Before one tune I remember sitting at my kit and literally staring at my hands, wondering why they weren't shaking. The concert went by in a blur, but somehow during that hour and a half I found myself actually having fun and enjoying the music.

Since then I have felt much better in rehearsals. I feel more comfortable around the other music staff people as I have come to know them better, and found some really amazing people in this group. I have also received some very meaningful encouragement from Dr. John, the director, as well as several other music staff people regarding my playing. I'm beginning to relax and realize that I actually know what I'm doing and can be an asset to this staff of musicians.

Last Thursday night, we had our weekly recital concert where music staff members play solos, duets, small ensemble pieces (we had a string quintet and a brass quintet play). And of course, every recital concert ends with an offering from the jazz combo. I was sitting back during the recital listening to this incredible music being played by some of the most talented musicians I have been around and thinking, "Wow. I'm getting paid for this." Then it was my turn to play with the jazz combo, and we did a fun rendition of a Thelonious Monk tune called “Well, You Needn’t.” I actually felt like I belonged on the stage. It was a good time.

On Friday, we had our first impromptu "jazz on the beach" session. This is where the jazz combo sets up on a beautiful stone patio that overlooks the beach and call out tunes to play for an hour. Of course, I don't know as many tunes some of these players, I have found that God again has been preparing me for I need to do. I have my trusty Real Book, and through the hours and hours of playing piano, guitar, bass, and my good ol' sightsinging/eartraining classes, I have found myself being able to look over tunes quickly and hear a rough version in my head before I play. I'm really excited for this part of my week, as I will be learning a huge repertoire of jazz tunes.

This week at "jazz on the beach" we had the pleasure of having Walt, an elderly guest join us on keys. He had been asking when we were gonna play all week, although he was worried that he wouldn't know any of the tunes that we play, because he was "two generations behind us." But we let him call the tunes and he had a blast. Every time it was his turn to solo, he would usually just comp and sing the melody as loud as he could. He knew every word. At the end, he was so thankful to us for playing with him. It was obvious that this is a big reason why he comes to camp.

Now I am sitting here having completed my first Friday/Saturday consecutive concert weekend, and I feel really good about the way I played. At this weekend's concerts, I played on every song but one (that's eight of nine pieces, including one suite of excerpts from seven selections from the musical "Camelot"). I'm exhausted, but really excited about playing here for the rest of the summer. Tonight my fellow percussionist, our bassist, and I did a really cool version of "Black Orpheus" for vibraphone trio. Tyler, the vibes player, is AMAZING. I'm really hoping to get some free informal lessons from his this summer. I think I've learned more in the past week about playing jazz than I have in my entire life before this. I remember earlier this year longing to play with some really amazing jazz musicians that I could interact with and could teach me to interact with more sensitivity and musicality. God has not only met that need, but surpassed what I ever hoped for.

Right now I'm incredibly thankful to the Lord for the way he has allowed me to get comfortable with myself here and given me the grace I need to relax and stop thinking about myself. Right now I am just praying that he will continue to sustain me and help me to continue improving for the rest of the summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Some phone pics for y'all

sunset from the camp beach

view of tibbitts auditorium from my kit (my home for the summer)

and my other home

a stop on the way up

view from the camp beach

ahh... Lake Pleasant: home of Camp-of-the-Woods

the nearby Sacandaga River

more Sacandaga River

Sunday, June 22, 2008

first week in NY... well, speculator, NY

NOTE: I actually wrote this entry before our first concert on June 21, but didn't post it until the 22nd.

Well, my first week in New York is coming to a close and I was thinking that I should jot down a few notes about how things are going. A lot has happened this past week so forgive me if this gets long. This first week of the summer season for the camp is called "challenge week." It's a good name for it, I'm not gonna lie. There are no guests, only intense training for every staff member. It's a big operation to get everything ready for a summer season at a camp where there are over 250 summer staff members and a capacity for over a thousand guests at any point in time. Being "music staff," our challenge week meant rehearsals. and more rehearsals. We rehearsed everyday this week from 8:30 am until about 4:30 or 5:00 in the afternoon, with about an hour break for lunch. I don't think I've ever done so much reading in my life. I hop around from drum set to xylophone to timpani to concert snare, reading pieces from Copland's "Hoedown" from Rodeo (for which I am playing xylophone, by the way) to a medley of Richard Rogers tunes (I play drum set on this one) to the big band standards Take the A Train and Corner Pocket (obviously drum set tunes). I spent like 2 hours of personal practice time (which I cram in during the evening) studying a video of Sonny Payne playing Corner Pocket with the Basie orchestra to try and really make the piece pop, but I'm just not happy with my playing yet. I'm going to be exhausted by the end of the summer, because as the only drum set player, I'm playing for not only the orchestral pieces, but every worship tune, big band tune, many choral features, instrumental worship features, small combo jazz pieces, and CHOPS, the pep band that plays once a week. I have some sort of event to play for every morning and evening of every day of the week except for Tuesday, which is my day off, and every other Saturday morning. Fun little fact: the music department here at Camp of the Woods plays an average of 90 different pieces every week. (granted, some of these are solos, quartets, etc. - but most of the pieces I play for.)

To be perfectly honest, I feel a little out of place here. I'm surrounded by people who are highly accomplished and highly educated, and I feel pretty intimidated a lot of the time. I feel especially out of my league when I play the small combo jazz stuff. The guy that leads the big band and small combo has a master's degree in jazz performance on sax and can comp on piano in complete darkness better than I can when I try. (Literally, we had a rehearsal in the dark one night this week.) The bass player also has a master's and went to the Manhattan School of Music, so I know he's played with some pretty heavy players. Needless to say, I've really been humbled this week. I would really appreciate your prayers, as this first week has been a real challenge. I know God will use this, and that he has put me here. (Seriously, all of the timpani, orchestral percussion, and mallet lessons I took in high school I thought I would never really use. Now I can't imagine how lost I'd be here without it!) Anyway, I've felt uncomfortable here pretty much all of the time so far, and my playing has been pretty tentative. I'm having a hard time being myself and playing the way that I play, out of the fear that people will hate my playing. I really need the Lord's help right now to just be myself and know that he has always had his hand on me and my training. I need to start having fun when I play and leave the rest up to the Lord. Thanks for taking the time to read this guys. I would love your prayers.