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..: stories

..: Second Guitar

Tim says that he finds Him somewhere in the microtones between A and B; I think I found Him today somewhere in the chorus of "I Could Sing Of Your Love." It only lasted 20 seconds, but it was nice.

I've been leading worship now for so long, I have truly forgotten what it was like to simply play along to another leader. Have I even done that in the last 10 years? Can't remember. Not well, anyway. Today, at 9:30am, Harry briefed me on the set, showed me where the diamonds were, where the tags were, and which progression we would vamp on. We didn't get to have a real practice; something had come up for Harry and so we just met this morning. Everyone else knew the drill on the songs but me. This would all be new to me. The songs would be familiar, but being rythym guitar to Harry would be completely new.

We started at 10:30am, after the circle of prayer. We walked in from the side door as the lights turned down, and the congregation hushed. Those are the moments you sort of feel like a superstar. A performer. That feeling always fades when you look at the congregation, and know that you have a job to do. I took my place next to Harry. Beside me was an empty guitar stand and music stand. That was were George was supposed to be standing. He and his bass guitar did not arrive this morning. And so his stand was there, his direct box wired up, like there was a ghost playing there next to me. Beyond George's hole was Lawrence, the drummer. Lawrence always came wearing a tie. I loved the way the light from the spotlights would fall into his drums; the golden color of the wood inside would seem to be emitting light. I could usually see that from where kj and I sat every Sunday. We sat in the same seats every week. This morning, I couldn't see that side of his drums. I was on the stage side of things.

Beyond Lawrence was Cal. There is always that one musician, who because he has too much equipment, or maybe he is just too loud, or maybe he smells, is very far away off to the left or the right of the stage. Today, that was Cal. He was nestled so far into the corner, he and his electric were behind the house speakers. There would be no hope for Harry to communicate with him while the set was going.

On the other side of Harry was a woman I never knew the name of. She always sang when Harry led, and when I first starting attending I once mistook her for Harry's wife. Although she always sang with Harry, I never heard her voice. It was Clarabell's voice I heard. Clarabell shared the music stand with her. Clarabell has a pop voice, and can really belt the ad libs. She's wonderful at it. In my years of leading, I've only come across one other singer like her: Larissa. Larissa has another record out, she says. She sends out email updates all the time, always encouraging us to visit her website, see her at the next concert, buy her album. The commerce component on her site wasn't working the last time I went there.

Beyond Clarabell is Brett. He lives the dream bachelor life in Tustin, in his own two-story house. He has a small room dedicated to his massive home theatre -- he has the biggest big screen I've ever seen. He calls it the Rolls Royce of Pioneer big screens. The glossy black finish and gold trim reminds me of the furniture we'd see in the rich homes of my dad's friends, back when I used to go places with Dad.

Harry says a few words. I think he prays too. And we start. I have no idea which song he is playing. I think we didn't practice it this morning. I find my place. My notes on the song sheet say that I don't start strumming until the chorus. And so I wait. I look at the song sheets, layed out there on my black music stand. So many times I had dug through my bag to find the right sheets with the right chords for the right set; and then I would go copy them off for the Pedals, so they would have the right chords for the right set. As organized as I tried to be, my backpack full of a decade of songs was always hopelessly disorganized and cluttered. Duplicates upon duplicates, punctuated with the ocassional Master sheet or Single copy. But today, it was my birthday; Harry had copied off all the songs, shrunk them down, and all of them fit on these two pages. One tabloid, one legal.

The set ended after just two songs. I had already decided I would not unplug my acoustic after this set. I was once told that I would preserve battery life in the guitar's pickup if I unplugged when I wasn't using it. Problem is, when you unplug with the direct box, you never know if you're going to cause a thunderous pop to come out of the stage speakers. There are supposed to be ways to flag the sound guy so he will turn your instrument down first; but I worry that he will turn the wrong instrument down -- or worse, forget to turn me back up for the second set. And so I rest the guitar on the stand, plugged in for the 30 minute message.

The message is good. A visiting pastor and his wife share about their nine years of marriage, and the negotiations of raising four children. I have no children, but already empathize with this couple.

Every now and then, I glance at my guitar. It has a small red LED that comes on if the battery is low. The light is not on.

The congregation goes down for prayer. Harry gets up out of his metal chair. I follow. Strap the guitar on. The prayer finishes, and the guest speaker takes his seat in the front row. Pastor Kev comes up.

Kev introduces communion. It was fun to see the back of his head as he spoke. He is a good speaker, and I look at the faces that he is looking at. They look bored. Some are paying attention, but most look the way congregations always look -- totally unaware that they are being observed. I don't know how he keeps his humor up, week after week. Must be because he knows these people very well.

Harry leans over and tells me to turn up my guitar a bit. That's a good sign, I think to myself. We start the second set. The second set is always the one with more gusto. I can't wait for the last two songs. They finally come. I strum along to "I Could Sing of Your Love," but I know I am doing it as if I were leading it, and I think my strum is not matching Harry's. Or perhaps Harry has shifted his strum to match mine a little. I don't know. By the time we get to the chorus, we reach what the Pedals call "the wall of sound." That is the wall, like a wave, that pushes from the band and every instrument onto and through the congregation. For no particular reason, except to tell them the band is playing, and is happy, and enjoying themselves. It's somewhere in the chorus, for a few moments, I am totally at peace. I hear Harry somewhere there, Cal doing something, Lawrence's drums are on cruise control briefly, and there is a familiar stability in that wall of energy. It lasts only a few seconds, subsides too abruptly. We move on the next song, play it one or two times too few.

I wish we could play on forever. I love playing second guitar here. I'm leading, but I'm not leading leading. I'm just riding on Harry's coattails as he drives the worship sets. Please stand. Let's pray. He handles it all. And I enjoy the service, the playing, the music, the worship.
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