My return to China

Ellie Lin at the Piano
My son, Max was a member of the Texas Boys choir for five years. His time with the TBC unlocked a world of musical artistry that very few people may ever know. I am deeply indebted to his directors, Mr. Bryan Priddy and Ms. Ellie Lin for teaching him to strive for an extremely high level of musicianship. Along the way he also learned a great deal about being a part of a community of musicians. These years are more precious to him than almost any other experience and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. It has shaped him into who he is.

On a couple of occasions during his time with the TBC, I was able to come and play piano for the ensemble which offered me a front row seat to observe how this very special ensemble operates. This also allowed me to become very close to both Mr. Priddy and Ms. Lin.

Max and his friends on a break.
A year ago, when his voice began to change, his time with the TBC concluded with an amazing tour to Germany. It is a huge understatement to say that this ending and transition into a different singing ensemble was an emotionally difficult one for the entire family. When Max aged out it also seemed that my time with the TBC had also come to a close.

Max and I were very sad to hear of Mr. Priddy’s resignation shortly after spring break this year. His hard work and dedication to the TBC provided countless memories for Max and his departure would surely be a huge blow to the boys.  Ellie stepped in to fill his shoes in the directors position which left the seat at the piano vacant for their upcoming month long tour to 16 venues in China.

When Ms. Lin contacted me and asked if I’d be available to join her, it was incredibly bittersweet for me. Of course the opportunity to tour China with a world class ensemble and with a musician of her caliber was a once in a lifetime chance and a huge honor for me. However, to go without Max is heartbreaking to say the least. However, Max was incredibly supportive as was my wife, Mary.  They encouraged me to say yes and find a way to make this happen. 

Although my duties as a high school choir director are minimal in July, I still have 4 services to sing and play for at First United Methodist church each Sunday as well as a summer musical to music direct at Brookhaven College in Dallas. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to sneak away from these commitments, but both institutions were overwhelmingly supportive in my seizing this opportunity to travel. Peggy Graff and Robert Stovall at the church were able to find pianists to cover for me there and wished me well on my journey. As for the summer musical – I was lucky enough to have a great friend and musical soulmate willing to take on the enormous task of playing and musical directing the show for me. I told director, Darise Error that my friend Debbie Pesnell and I share a musical brain and I truly believe she would do an amazing job picking up where I left off. It was a true act of faith and good will on her part to allow me to make this arrangement.

With all these loose ends tied up, I was finally able to say yes and sign on for this unforgettable opportunity to perform all over China.

I am incredibly excited and can not wait to see what unfolds.

Cold Travels

Well all that snow seemed great last night, but the morning we woke to was just cold and no sign of white.  However, somewhere along the line the generator for the bus stopped working.  Usually that just means no power for our laptops or for watching movies.  However, now that temperatures dipped close to freezing heat became really important.  However, there was no time to fix the generator so we rode 5 hours on a near freezing bus to our next stop.  Brrrrrrrrr.Tonight’s performance was by far the very best of the tour.  Made even better because we caught it on video tape.  I can’t wait to see it.

The Meeting and Dark Travel

Day 2 was now over and sleep and food had been in short supply.  One thing that hadn’t been in short supply was whining, griping and complaining about communication and food and on and on.  Of course everyone has their own set of beefs with how things are being handled.  Most of the concerns are completely substantiated and needed to be addressed.
Well at noon, or Director, Producer, Writer, Talent and Bus Driver, Matt decided it was time to address them.

Matt gathered us all together and laid into us all with as many expletives as were possible.  This went on for a couple of minutes and I’ll need to paraphrase a little to convey to you the jist of what he was trying to say.

Basically he told us we were on our own for meals and that if we were hungry we needed to find a solution on our own instead of depending on him to appoint meal locations and times.  His biggest beef was that we had all whined about it over and over, but hadn’t actively tried to be a part of the solution.  This was what got him angry.

These are the first days of a close symbiotic relationship between 16 very different people and we are all working out how, where and when to be.  Now that he had said we needed to fend for ourselves we all know we are responsible for finding our food either by ordering Pizza or stashing granola bars or what not.

His point about whining was also a very good one.  We had all gotten pretty negative.  HOWEVER – The stern cussing out we all endured was, in my mind, uncalled for.  Steven got up and left and I considered it – as did most of us.

I stayed because I could tell Matt was genuinely ticked off and maybe even hurt.  From his perspective, he’s doing EVERYTHING and trying his hardest to make everything work and we’re just complaining about how bad a job he’s been doing, so I can see how he might be upset.

That being said, I don’t know if many of us would put up with another verbal thrashing like we received today.

With no generator there was no electricity or lights or air-conditioning on the bus.  We were forced to travel with the windows open and lights off.  As long as the bus was moving it was actually very nice to have the cool breezes of Alabama and Tennessee floating by.

The lack of electricity meant that when batteries died as they tend to do on a 9 hour bus ride, we had to resort to talking to one another for entertainment.

I spent a couple of hours talking to our new bass player Lauren.  I learned all sorts of things about her that – had I been buried in my laptop I would have missed out on.  It’s nice when circumstances pull the plug and cause you to get back in touch with where you are.

Now, as it was getting dark I settle back in my seat and called Mary to check on how things were back home.  She seemed good and I was feeling better about being trapped out on the road being cussed out and sleep deprived.

Then, I talked to my boy.  There’s really nothing quite like hearing your own offspring talking to you from thousands of miles away.  He was bright and cheery and sounded genuinely excited to talk to me.  I started to loose it on his second sentence.  Or conversation went something like this.

Where are you daddy?
Well, I’m in Alabama sweaty.
I don’t know where that is.
Well, it’s pretty far away.  About a thousand miles.
Are you coming home?
Well, I’m afraid it’s going to be awhile sweetie.
Are you coming tomorrow?
Well, no.  I’ll be home after Halloween.

At this point Max started to cry and it was hard to tell exactly what he was saying, but I could tell he was upset and I think he may have thought I was telling him he couldn’t dress up for Halloween.  He started to cry and say he wanted to be Pablo and dress up like a Penguin.  I was a mess at this point and couldn’t talk anymore.

Mary took the phone back and asked me if I was okay.

I wasn’t.  I’m still not.

In the back ground I heard him saying I broke his heart.  I know it was 8:30 or so and he was past his bedtime and therefore prone to dramatics due to his need of sleep.  I also knew that he missed me and I missed him.  He wanted me there and I couldn’t be.

I thought I was doing alright, but apparently not.