Friday, May 18, 2012

My Summer Memories


Hers was The real Voice.

Radio and recordings didn't do justice to its nuclear sound.

I discovered that the first time I heard Donna Summer sing  live; her vocal timbre as large as the Santa Monica mountain range with peaks and vales just as wide.Not only did her voluminous voice turn heads,

it stopped birds in flight.


At a rehearsal for a women's conference in late '80's, Donna told the story of how she was singing  in the courtyard of her Westlake Village home (named "Holywood Ranch"). A bird flying by stopped mid-air and jerked his head toward her at the sound her striking song. She wasn't boasting. She was matter-of-factly relaying an unusual experience. Her crazy-big vocals just happened to be the main point.

Most remember her belting out Bad Girls, Last Dance and On the Radio. I connected to some later songs: Dinner with Gershwin, Forgive Me and Everybody up to the Dance Floor.

She also had a lesser known gospel side. During  the women's conference performance, where I sang back-up, she joked how we four resembled an Oreo cookie--she and her African-American sister flanking me and my Caucasian friend.  We sang Gospel classics like Operator, Give me Jesus on the Line, I Anticipate A Miracle, and I Worship You Almighty God. Man, could she sing the last one! I remember accompanying her at Gateway Foursquare church in Agoura Hills where both our families attended.


But my gospel favorite was "His Eye is On the Sparrow".
Here's the chart I wrote to accompany her when she  performed at a black mega-church in L.A. Her personal assistant, Gina, had asked me to write it.

We musicians joked about how we'd like to have a 'Gina' - she cooked, drove the kids and kept Donna's schedule together.

I fought rush-hour traffic from Thousand Oaks to Crenshaw, got lost in the worst part of South Central LA off the10 freeway, (not far from where they had the Rodney King incident a few months later) and made the rehearsal an hour late. I repeated the drive the next morning to play at Fred Price's charismatic church service,  which was an experience in itself!

She invited my husband and me to the induction of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The reception at a nearby hotel was delightful with its made-to-order pasta station and coffee bar complete with whipped cream and raspberries. I remember lots of beautiful people and Hollywood buzz in the room. Someone thought I was an actress. Ha, mother of two that I was. She was busy with several interviews and photo ops, but still made time to come by our table to say 'hello,' joke with my husband and make small talk. She had a great sense of humor and was so down to earth considering the super-star that she was.

Her husband Bruce Sudano was friendly, very grounded, and a musician/songwriter in his own right.
He would sometimes call Donna by her real name, "Adrian."

I was honored to have sung and played with her, but was so out of her league, in more ways than one.
What we did share were things dear to my heart: faith, music, and children of similar ages.

Most obvious was our artistic and economic disparity. Did I mention she was a painter? Forgive me if this next story is a little gauche. (Read my daughter's blog for a more tasteful and spiritual take on her memories of Donna: http://aprilmccullohs.com/donna-summer-how-i-knew-her#comment-250).

One afternoon while rehearsing at Donna's house, I complimented her very large embroidered rug (that incidentally covered only half of her enormous living room). She casually commented back,
"Thanks. I'm thinking of changing the rug out for the Spring. "Do you do that?" she asked me.

Before I had a chance to give an awkward answer, her husband, Bruce came to the rescue and deflected the conversation. I was spared from having to explain that I was lucky to have one nice living room rug for my 2-bedroom apartment, much less two to change out seasonally!

She possessed a kind of humble obliviousness to certain things; mostly how staggeringly great her own voice was.

Now she's made her debut appearance in Heaven. I wonder if it included a duet with Whitney Houston,  Ella Fitzgerald or other great singers gone before her!

I bet the sound of her epic voice is turning heads everywhere.

Even stopping angels in flight!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Art of Falling

Clumsy is what I am.

Spatially impaired.

All my life I  have physically slipped and tripped so many times I think I've nearly perfected the art of falling.

 My mother even sent me to Charm School!! What  I remember at age 11 or 12 was going to the department store sponsored classes (Was it The Broadway?), getting a lot of cool, free Bonnie Belle cosmetics, picking out outfits upstairs for the fashion show and yes, I remember being taught how to walk properly on the runway.

Little good that did!!

Stumbling, losing balance, reeling backwards and sideways, running into doorjambs, and hitting my head on low ceilings, etc, etc. I have practiced these so often that they have become a dance-step, a hip-hop move, a gymnast's tumble and cheerleader's flip.

Family reinforced my malady every time I broke an heirloom plate or crystal glass. :(

Yesterday, while working an event, walking too fast, my heel skidded sideways about 24 inches, then righted itself, leaving a nice black tire track on the Pergo floors. "Oh! You Ok? .....That was a graceful recovery,"  a kind bystander reacted.

And there was the time I fell backwards off a 3 ft high stage while playing a 5/4 time jazz version of 'O Come All Ye Faithful' at a Christmas Eve service. Groovin' to the music, my heel missed the platform and I plunged backward. To the great surprise of the pastor sitting behind, I landed on my feet. Went right back on the stage, took a flamboyant bow and joined the band to finish the song. The worst part was trying to recover as if nothing had happened. Attempting to mask my mortification, I smiled weakly and kept playing the keyboard, freaking out inside.

It is so tempting to blame high heels, sticky soles, slick floors, narrow doorways, and low soffatts. My knee-jerk reaction is to make excuses, to find fault in exterior circumstances or make others the scape goat - instead of taking responsibility for being careless and negligent.

And so it is with our walk with Christ.

It's all about learning to gracefully recover from our failures, flaws, and faux pas. To own the error, bungling ways, humanness, and personal penchant for selfcenteredness.

It's getting back on the jumper horse after catapulting headlong into the turf. (Which I have done). It's shaking off debilitating shame when we have fallen for a familiar temptation. (Which I have also done ). It's allowing the grace of God to get us up again...
                                                             
and again.....
                                                                                                                  
and again.

Do we fall on our faces and just stay there? Do we allow shame and hopelessness to keep us paralyzed in our spiritual journey? To keep us enslaved to sin?

What if ,when we fall, we fall at the foot of the Cross .....allowing mercy to raise us up again?

What if, while we are laying there injured from the crash, we get on our knees and confess, find healing and the will to stand?

Of course, we should never take the grace of God for granted and premeditate rebelling knowing He forgives. Although He restores and rehabilitates, consequences remain. A hard fall always leaves a mark;  a scar we wear all our lives.

That, I believe is perfecting the art of falling; a necessary discipline in walking with Jesus.


Took the slippery slope
Displaced trust and hope
Empty promises abound

Still in spite of it all
Mercy caught my fall
Before I ever hit the ground

When I fall
I'm falling at Your cross
Perfecting the art of falling
I'm falling on my knees
Perfecting the art of falling
Fall at the feet
of Jesus




Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tents and Tabernacles

I've been here before. Standing in a high pitched tent with the people of God. 



 As the music starts, I sense Him near. Feeling His indescribably sweet presence. Heavy like the arbor of tree branches. Warm like the hearth of a fire. We bask in the anticipation that something epic is about to happen. Standing on the cusp of a new spiritual work.



38 years ago it was a grey big top. The shelter and temporary church where the 'Jesus People' transitioned from the Little Chapel to the new 4000 seat Calvary Chapel sanctuary.  We were caught in the tidal wave of God's move then. Swept away by a force we had no control of. Grateful and honored to have been included. Some of us sang, played instruments, preached, hosted radio shows, lead Bible studies, street witnessed in Hollywood and Huntington, or just picked up cigarette butts around the church grounds. 
All the while we fed on the Word. We worshiped arm in arm with brothers and sisters, overwhelmed with joy and blessing.  

 (My parents outside the tent  Easter 1972 or '73, Costa Mesa, California)


Today it was a white open sided 5-peaked tent. We took our weekly church staff meeting offsite to celebrate the newly acquired 132 acres in Martin county. It was an unusually cold late April morning; in the lower 50's as we gathered for breakfast, worship and prayer to dedicate the place. Asking God to do mighty things with the land.



There's something powerful that occurs when God's people purpose to build a house for his Name. (I Kings 5:5). Solomon did it and the crowd could not stay standing at the dedication ceremony because of His glory in that place.

When Moses went to the 'tent of Meeting' to meet God the cloud of His presence was visible to all of Israel as they watched from their own tents. The invitation for his Face to shine upon them was for each and every one,  not just Moses (Numbers 6:25). God wanted to meet them all in his earthly abode.....and so we did today.

And here's amazing side thought: This earthly tent, our physical being, is meant to be His dwelling place. Our bodies, the temple of God!!! And together, we are living stones built up to be his Church!

God has shown up in tents and tabernacles all through HisStory. I witnessed a great work in the 70's with the Jesus Movement.

And I'm just gonna stand back and watch it all happen again...


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