Let me clarify that we murdered the song Little Drummer Boy, and not an actual small child that plays a drum. That would be beyond awkward. That would be a felony.
No, I'm talking about my most botched attempt at playing a song in front of an audience, of which there are many.
It was a dark, cold December night in Wisconsin (shocking), and I was leading worship at Crosspoint Community Church in Oconomowoc. This particular worship set was a challenge. We had planned a 5 songs set, but one of the songs was actually a medley of 3 Christmas carols. Just because it's a medley and you're only playing one verse and chorus of the song, you're still basically learning the song. On top of the medley, we were also doing the Jars of Clay version of the Little Drummer Boy, which has a funky, syncopated rhythm happening. Very cool, but a little tricky and very unlike the standard version we've all heard a million times.
A few minutes before the service, I was chatting with the senior pastor, Terry about how the rehearsal went, the transitions, the amount of material there was that week, typical Christmas work load ramp up, etc. He said something to the effect of I hadn't had any major screw-ups that year, so I had a mulligan coming. Thanks. I think.
We started the service with the medley, which I considered the most challenging part of the set - three embedded songs with transitions. I think it was Holly Jolly Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock and some other hokey, Burl Ives type deal. Anyway, smooth sailing. That was followed by a worship song. Odds are 3:1 it was by Chris Tomlin.
Then the real fun started.
The drummer started the click track for Little Drummer Boy and then began playing his beat. Unfortunately, I didn't recognize it. I tried to focus on what he was playing, but it didn't even seem like his beat was following the click. "This could be a problem," I remarked to myself. Or maybe I said "oh crap." Hard to remember. I tried to fall in line on guitar, but I could not find the rhythm. I stopped playing and stopped the drummer.
I asked the drummer to try again with similar results. It was around this time I started hearing comments from the back of the room. Good times. Turns out it was the senior pastor heckling me about not having a screw up yet. Yes, hilarious. At least the congregation was in a good mood about it.
At this point I was just a bit flustered. I tried attempt number three without drums. I still could not find it. I was hearing the standard version melody and rhythm in my head, which only made things worse. However, despite my anxiety level spiking you could sense the audience pulling for us. Then someone else in the band gave it a shot. Nothing. Still more laughing and smiling and a supportive energy in the room. I can't remember how many restarts there were in what felt like seven and a half hours standing there trying get the train rolling again.
Eventually I remembered a 3 note riff in the verse that brought me back. I started the song on my own and got through verse one, line one. The crowd went wild. Okay, not wild, but they cheered and you could tell they were still rooting for us. The rest of the band fell in and we made it through the song. It was a little clunky. It didn't matter. There was much rejoicing by the band, the crew and the congregation. And the senior pastor.
A few things I took away from that night...
One, be careful about working at or over capacity. Especially in a ministry position at the busiest time of the year.
Two, no matter how bad the train wreck is, church is gonna happen. I've participated in services where the drummer had to cancel at the last second, where a singer lost her voice minutes before service, where we lost power and had to set up in the lobby with no PA system. I can be prepared for lots of things, but not everything. Trust God that it'll work out.
Three, my church family is family. And they love and support me even when it all falls apart. Maybe especially then. And because of that, what felt like a total disaster as it was happening ended up being a unique, funny, touching moment we all shared together. Pretty awesome.
Merry Christmas, all!! And if you'd like to check out Jars of Clay doing their version and not murdering it, here you go!