188 | Playing Piano Pronto

August 25, 2011
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #188: Playing Piano Pronto


Dear Family,

Hola! Today was a bit different—which, in prison vernacular, is saying a lot, given that most days you feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. While teaching choir yesterday, the school principal pulled me aside and asked me to play piano for the INEA graduation today. (INEA is sponsored by the Mexican government and is similar to our GED or Highschool equivalency diplomas, with a bit of salsa on the side.) The store-bought cake, sodas, and fried chicken are just a bonus for helping out with the event. The main blessing I get is to serve most of the top staff at the institution directly. Our warden, assistant wardens, school principals, chaplains, and top security personnel were in attendance.

Our choir sound guy came to assist me like last time, except I really put him to work today. The principal gave me music to the Mexican National Anthem and a separate sheet with the words in Spanish and English. Well, there was no way I was going to sing in last-minute Spanish while reading simultaneously from two sheets of paper. Enter Juaquin, my sound guy, who can speaky. I threw the words at him, and we had a half-hour to learn it. I wasn’t completely off the hook: I had to sing the American National Anthem to a room full of Mexican nationals, then play “Latin-style” music afterwards. Perfect. Just my thing. I’ve not played a single Latin song since quitting piano lessons soon after Mrs. MacIntyre had me playing “Jamaican Rhumba” with Michael and a set of Korean twins on two pianos. The time signature looked like this: 3+2+3/4 and my face looked like this: 🙁 ?!?

Gratefully, the keyboard had something up its sleeve today. Last Wednesday, I’d asked our sweet chapel volunteer, Ms. Peggy, to get us an estimate on what it would cost to get the chapel’s large keyboard fixed. The power outlet was broken, so we were stuck using a small keyboard like I used at Florence. This one, at 77 keys, is just shy of full-sized. Well, Sunday morning I showed up to lead worship in the chapel, and there was the keyboard, with the power fixed, a new power cord, a sustain pedal!, three microphone stands and microphones and cables! It was like Christmas, but just the awesome gift part. It dramatically upgraded our worship experience, and this keyboard has a lot of fun options.

Before the graduation, I put on big headphones and tinkered with the large selection of rhythms. With auto-chord accompaniment I could control with my left hand—and fills, intros and endings, too—and my right playing whichever pre-selected instrument came up (such as steel drums for the Jamaican rhythm), I sounded like I knew what I was doing. My sound guy did a great job, we made some lady cry to hear her anthem, and I got tons of compliments on the music. I was more surprised than anyone.

Afterward, I initiated the cleanup effort, so a bunch of guys started helping out. Held in the visiting room, I was on my hands and knees washing the floor, wiping tables, and emptying the trash. Afterwards, Juaquin and I hung up each of the 50 graduate gowns and put away the sound equipment. I recalled a fancy Christmas dinner event where my brothers and I were hired to sing—and we all stayed long after the participants had gone home, to help the lady in charge to wash the immense pile of dishes. I want to lead through service and humility.

Big news for me this week is that I called my brother, David, a youth/music pastor and volunteer sheriff’s chaplain in West Memphis, Arkansas, ever since some sweet thing won his heart seven+ years ago. He and I haven’t been exactly the bestest of friends, but we’ve been open to the idea. I love David and Jill, and God has been showing me my need for them in my life. This week, God made it clear I needed to apologize to David for not working at our relationship. He’s so easy to talk to and readily forgave me. We’ll be in more frequent contact now, for which I’m grateful.

David has a shepherd’s heart, so he’s helping me get ideas on preparing prisoners to integrate into churches when they leave here, a huge help to me. I’m grateful for how God can restore relationships, even when we work so hard to screw them up! I’ve hurt a lot of people, so I’m ever mindful of God’s forgiveness. David has a bit of catching up to do, since I’m just now including him in these “Dear Family” letters. Yes, David, that’s #188.

Thank you for praying. God is working on me!