Posts Tagged ‘Valentine’s Day’

Story by Fred James. Photo by Susan Brown.

I am not a fan of Valentine’s Day. I have long contended that it is a legal extortion racket perpetrated by the Greeting Card/Chocolate Industrial Complex. Any link to the actual St. Valentine has long been glossed over in the name of “romance.” Give me a break! With that said, my lovely wife, Julie, and I had an acoustic Gospel musical performance scheduled on the morning of Valentine’s Day 2015 at Glenburnie Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Richmond.

Fred and Julie James

Julie and Fred James

With our two children in tow, we arrived with less than ample time to spare due to the efforts of our four-year-old daughter. When we started setting up, there was a lady parked in a wheelchair where we usually perform and a table with Valentine’s Day refreshments where I usually place the guitar cases. Already a bit mentally scattered, I had to get the instruments and equipment in place while Julie got the kids situated. The room was fairly packed so the children had to sit directly behind us with very little room to stretch their legs. They saw what we saw.

Once we were ready to start, it occurred to me that our capos (clamps placed on guitar necks to adjust pitch and to allow for certain chord-fingerings) were nowhere to be found. I could have sworn that I packed them, but I couldn’t find them. We had to get creative very quickly because we use them for many of the songs.

The day before, I read an article about my guitar-hero Eddie Van Halen. He spoke to an audience at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. about innovation and what it means to be an American. During his remarks, Van Halen referred to “throwing yourself down the stairs and hoping you land on your feet” when performing live. He also stated that it was more important to capture the emotion of the moment than to hit the right notes. When you play as many notes and are as gifted as Eddie Van Halen, the law of averages would dictate that you hit more good notes than bad. Distortion pedals, tremolo bars and inebriated audiences also help his cause. Unfortunately for me, the songs we play are acoustic, the solos are more melody-driven, and I don’t convert guitar keys in my head, on the fly particularly well.

But this was our situation, and Julie and I had no choice but to perform in front of a wheelchair-bound audience, with one of them reminding us that she was hungry. At this point, I referred to Eddie’s comments and said that we were going to throw ourselves down the stairs and try to land on our feet. Julie and I would briefly confer on how to do a song and then were off and running. Some songs she sang higher, some lower, and some I managed to convert successfully.

We were actually doing fairly well until “Love Lifted Me.” We started in the key of A, but it quickly felt too low. We then realized it was in C. No capo needed. Julie did not accompany me on the guitar and instead stood up and “worked” the audience. Immediately, the entire room was singing at the top of their lungs and well within the key of C. At the end of the song a woman kept singing in her own melody “God Lifted Me! God Lifted Me!” I thought of Ben Harper and The Blind Boys of Alabama’s “Take My Hand.” The entire song proved to be one of the most purely joyful moments of my life. After the song, I shouted, “We ALL threw ourselves down the stairs and landed on our feet!”

We went on to perform with confidence and emotion and even played two songs from our wedding, “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” We finished with “Amazing Grace” and our son Ian joined us on the ukulele.

At the end of the performance, I told the audience that I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day than with them and glorifying God through music with my beautiful wife. I believe one of the reasons God joined us together as a couple is to make music together for Him. The other reasons were sitting behind us watching the whole thing.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that our Christian walk is a lot like playing the guitar. Spending too much time trying to hit the right notes is like our futile attempts to obey the law. Without heart or genuine faith, we end up making noise, not music.

Author’s notes: I found the capos in my jacket pocket as I was packing up after the show. And the next morning, Sunday, February 15, the first hymn we sang with the congregation of FBC was “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

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