It all started back in February, probably near Ash Wednesday sometime, when Lent and Easter were on my mind. I was driving in the car when Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” came on the radio. Bruno Mars started singing “Uptown funk you up,” and yet all that was going through my head was “Christ is risen up.” I couldn’t get it out of my head. For the next week or so whenever that song came on the radio (which, as you know, is approximately every 12 seconds) I kept singing my “Easter version” of it. I added bits about the Hallelujahs, and that was about it. But I obviously would never consider actually hiring a funk band and performing it live on Easter morning in church, would I? That would be crazy, right?
I walked into Rumple Station’s office and said “I either have the best or the worst idea in history, and I need you to tell me which it is.” To her credit, she was wary. She has met me after all, and not all of my ideas are gold medal winners. They always seem like such good ideas at the time, but then, well, you know how that goes. We both agreed that the lyrics had to be spectacularly non-cheesy, and that it would have to be spot-on excellent. If I stood up in front of the church singing silly rhymes with what sounded like a middle school theater production band behind me, it was going to be a disaster. In fact, I decided that it was not a good idea after all and I would not pursue it. Way too hard.
Later on, at a worship planning meeting, somehow the idea came up again and our senior pastor, Dark Murmurs had never head the original song. Clearly he does not listen to enough modern pop-funk radio. So we played it for him, and he said “Well, can you just sing it with a karaoke backing track?” No, of course not, I explained, because that would be lame. If it were going to work at all, which it wouldn’t, I would need the sound and energy of a live band, which I did not have, and besides, Easter was now only a month away, which was not enough time to put something like that together. Case closed. And yet, he did seem to really like the idea. Maybe I should pursue it…
That week at choir rehearsal I was organizing my desk and I came upon the information sheets that I had asked everyone to fill out months earlier, and one of the papers caught my eye. “Proficient at trombone” read one of the “other skills” sections that my student baritone had filled in. So I asked him. Could he play trombone? And did he have some other musician friends that might want to be involved? And suddenly we were on. I sent a message to my regular bass player and told him this might happen, but we needed a guitar player. And he had heard his neighbor playing guitar through the walls! With no promises made, my bassman offered to go knock on the guy’s door and ask him to join our religious parody pop-funk band. That was when I informed Dark Murmurs that he had joined my funk band as well by default, as the keyboard player, and that I would be sending along music shortly. I started writing lyrics.
It was the next week at choir when my horn section evaporated. “Oh, Easter?” said my possible trombone player, “I didn’t know it would be on Easter. We all go home on Easter weekend because we get a break at school.” Ah well, so much for that idea. Now what was I going to do for Easter music in three short weeks? Maybe I would just sing a solo… I think it was the very same evening that I got the e-mail: “Talked to my neighbor, he is in. We have a guitar player for the funk band.” Crap. Now I needed a horn section.
I don’t usually use people’s real names here in the blogosphere, so as to not piss people off, even accidentally, but I want to let the musicians of Vermont know, if you don’t already, that I know a guy who can get you what you need. He is an amazing trumpet player and runs a bit of a side business as a contractor for musicians in this state, and if you want his contact info, send me a message. I desperately told him that I had lost my funk band’s horn section, and I needed a trumpet, trombone, alto sax, tenor sax, and bari sax in three weeks time on Easter morning, one of the busiest days for freelance musicians, and I needed them to be awesome. And the son of a biscuit pulled it off. I hired myself a horn section and then began rehearsing with the bass, guitar, and keyboards.
We have a fine drummer at our church, but I wanted an electronic sound, so the bass player, who is pretty much awesome at everything, put together a percussion track for us which was amazing. We also have a fine piano at church, but again I wanted an electronic piano sound, so our poor pastor had to play something new and different, which he is luckily good at doing. By Holy Week I was starting to have hope that this would not be a disaster. The only thing that we were missing were some backup vocals.
I tried to record the back-up doo-doo-doos myself and add them to the percussion track, but they are too low for me. We tried to record me up the octave and then lowering them, but then I sounded like a dying robot. I didn’t know what we were going to do. We walked out of church after several failed attempts at recording me, ready to give up. And then providence walked by. Literally, as we were giving up on the back-up vocals and walking out to our cars, one of my voice students walked across the church parking lot on his way to somewhere cool. I told him what we were doing, and he offered to sing, and maybe bring some friends along. Clearly a force more powerful than myself wanted this song to happen.
I was still worried leading up to Easter. I wasn’t concerned that we were not awesome, but I knew we were doing something very different from the normal Easter morning music. Yes, I also had handbells playing and the choir singing, but I kept telling people, “Either people are going to really love my prelude, or I’m getting fired Monday morning.” Would people get into it? Would traditionally stoic New Englanders start getting thier grooves on if I asked them to? Would they sing along? Would they dance? Would we start the service with so much energy and joy that one could not help but feel the Spirit moving? Only one way to find out.
The final step in my plan was to set up cameras around the front of the sanctuary. If this went well, I wanted to have a video of it, and we have no video capabilities currently in our sanctuary. I would have also loved a decent sound recording of it, but we need a new sound board with more inputs and I didn’t have one lying around at home. I did have several iPhones and a Go Pro though. I set them up, hoping to capture whatever was going to happen. I also had people recording on their own phones, and I thought I might have some video of people dancing, although that never materialized, so I just filled in those spots where I was going to showcase dancing with added video of me dancing in my car on the way home. I assembled it all into this video, and the feedback I have gotten has been mostly positive. I will leave it here for you to decide if it was worth it, but I think it was. Also please note my sweet outfit, which I assembled at the behest of the bass player, who was also our costume designer.
The most exciting thing for me is how much the kids and youth were talking about it afterwards. My family brought a neighborhood boy with us to church, and he recorded some of it on his iPod. When I walked outside that afternoon, he was showing the other kids in the courtyard the video and talking about how awesome it was that the church he went to did “Uptown Funk.” My daughter used it as her show-and-tell style “share” that week. She was so excited to tell her classmates what we were doing at our church. Some of our youth have shared the video on social media. To me, whether the grown-ups liked it or not (which they did, by the way), to have the kids talking to their friends without fear or embarrassment about what happened at church on Sunday morning is worth all of it. Except now what the heck am I going to do next Sunday?!