I can still remember when my lovely wife Amy told me that a friend of ours, Pam Mertz — who was the worship director at the Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2009 — had asked her if I might be willing to take on a performing role along with Amy in an Easter weekend Sabbath program Pam was preparing in the weeks to come.
It was a musical program with narration, but I wasn’t being asked to be the narrator. I was being asked to sing a solo part, as the disciple Peter, in an original production called “Driven Decisions,” which had been put together by Pam and her friend Linda Oswald in North Dakota in 1983.
Pam is not just a good friend to anyone willing or wanting to open up to her in any way, she is also a gifted musician. And the music that she and her friend put together turned out to be a “gift” in many ways.
I may be able to sing with a deep bass voice, and I may have a good ear when it comes to the right musical pitch, but I wasn’t known so much as a soloist. I had done it before — I played the role of the Sergeant of Police in a high school production of “Pirates of Penzance” in 1977, and I’d done well at it. That was years prior to 2009. I had sung in many choirs and other small groups ever since my high school years, and I’d even sung the song “What Do I Want For My Children?” in front of my church as a solo for my daughter Alicia’s baby dedication in 1999. I still wasn’t known as a soloist.
That didn’t stop Pam from asking me to sing for the role of the disciple Peter to a song called “Peter’s Denial” for the special Easter weekend Sabbath service. It didn’t stop me from accepting the part.
I may be able to sing, and I may have a good natural pitch, but I can’t read a note of music. I would need all the time I could get to learn the music for “Peter’s Denial,” to learn the words, and to think about how to play the part of one of Jesus’ most faithful disciples who nonetheless felt extreme shame and anguish upon having denied knowing the Savior three times as He faced crucifixion.
It was not a small part. One thing I cannot claim to be is an actor, or at least anything close to being an accomplished actor. I still felt the desire to accept the challenge.
This would not be a small production either. Special lighting and a fog machine would be rented, special props were made. Video recording would be done. We were expecting a “full house” for this very special production.
I had practiced my part musically over and over. I knew it back and forth, but I still planned on taping the printed music on a prop where I would be performing on the stage just in case I happened to forget my part or get lost.
Amy herself had an important role to play: Mary, mother of Jesus, doing “Mary’s Song.” The words gripped her, and Amy often found herself crying with tears streaming down her cheeks as she sang. Amy has performed solo and in groups many times, so it wasn’t a case of stage fright gripping her. It was pure emotion as she thought of the words she was singing … mother Mary seeing her son as He was hanging on the cross, dying in front of her.
We had a full rehearsal the night before the actual performance, and I went through my part easily — musically, that is. I was confident that I was ready as far as my singing. I still just hadn’t been able to figure out how to “act” the part, and that did concern me a bit.
The answer would come to me in a truly mysterious way the next morning, when we’d do it for real.
We had Communion that Sabbath morning as well, so there was plenty to do to prepare for that as head deacon at our church. Then, once the foot washing and the passing and partaking of the emblems was done, the lights in the sanctuary went down. A single floodlight was all that illuminated the stage, aside from a light on the piano so Pam could play the accompaniment. As the main program began and the narrator began speaking and the other performers sang through their parts, I sat in the front left pew in the sanctuary — waiting for my turn to come.
A feeling of anxiety overwhelmed me. I couldn’t understand where it was coming from, or why I was feeling it. I wasn’t feeling it because I was nervous about performing in front of our church. These were mostly all our friends, I’d done many things onstage in front of them before in the years past — leading intercessory prayers, singing, speaking in a mini-sermon. Being onstage was nothing new to me.
On that morning, however, I was visibly shaking as I sat there in the front row, well before it was time to play my role as Peter. It was totally unexpected and unexplainable at the time. I’d take deep breaths to try and relax, and it wouldn’t do any good. Finally, I closed my eyes, bowed my head, and said a silent prayer. Not even that would settle me down.
When it was my turn to take the stage, the shaking coming from me was still visible. I made the immediate “decision” to act through it, to use that nervousness — that deep sense of anguish that was racing through me — almost as a prop all by itself. It would have to be what I’d need to actually “act out” the part of Peter, the person who would have been feeling that exact same anguish over having denied Jesus three times.
I am not an actor. At that moment in time, I suddenly became one. I played Peter’s part for all that I was worth. My uncontrollable shaking would make me convincing.
It was a good thing that I’d taped the music and the lyrics I needed to sing to one of the styrofoam “rocks” that I would kneel beside, where only I could see them, as I sang my part. My anxiety would make it harder to make it through the music that I’d prepared for so hard in the weeks before.
I made it through, I took my seat again in the front left pew, and the anxiety suddenly vanished just as quickly as it had appeared.
It wasn’t until I was driving home with my family after church that the thought came to me about what I’d just experienced that morning as I played my part, and I mentioned it to Amy as I drove home: I was “made” to experience that anxiety, that anguish, that uncontrollable shaking. That was how I was meant to act out the role, but no human being directed me in that way. No one on this Earth told me how to act out the part. It suddenly made sense to me.
I was being directed by a much higher power. That was indeed a “driven decision.”
Part 2, Easter Sunday: One of the writers tells the story behind “Driven Decisions.”
Copyright 2012, Daddysangbassdude Media
- The Passion Narrative (tvaraj2inspirations.wordpress.com)
- O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing (jamesgilbertmusic.wordpress.com)
- Easter Day 8.4.12 John 18. 1-20 (stephencherry1.wordpress.com)
- ‘Where I go you cannot come’ (tvaraj2inspirations.wordpress.com)