Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Going Home

You guys know me by now...I'll post blog entries about anything from insects to absinthe. But I have wanted for some time to post a very personal entry about a trip I made last year, a trip back to Memphis, where I grew up during the Sixties and Seventies. This particular trip was for a reunion of the Mullins Methodist One Way Singers, a youth choir of which I was a part back in those days. Actually, I was a guitar player for the band which accompanied the group, and I suppose I wasn't always on the best of behavior, but my heart was always in the right place, and I loved this group.

Through the years, I've had several chances to attend high school and college reunions, but I have to admit that I've never gone. I've always heard stories about how people get nervous before attending, how they fret about their looks, what others might think of their accomplishments or perceived lack thereof, or whether the same petty differences that plagued them in earlier years might persist. I didn't feel any of that prior to the Mullins reunion, because I really wanted to see these friends again. I was just incredibly excited to have the opportunity to be back with this group and with people who had meant so much to me.

The musical and cultural landscape was quite different during the period this choir was active, and living in Memphis, we grew up surrounded by music. Much of it at the time was so-called "Jesus Rock", which had arrived on the scene in the late Sixties. We formed the One Way Singers one Sunday night in 1971, after collectively listening to Jesus Christ Superstar as part of our Methodist Youth Fellowship meeting program. We surveyed our skills and found that we indeed had a large enough number of people of different voices, as well as assorted crazy musicians (including yours truly), to make a go of it, and that's exactly what we did.

For the next four years, give or take a few months, we toured and performed at venues ranging from Texas to Canada to Florida. I will never forget the excitement of those days when we played our first really large "venues", churches who were eager to host a touring choir and to hear the unique blend of folk/rock that characterized our sound in those days. We rehearsed diligently, starting every Sunday afternoon about 4:00, and continuing until our evening youth programs began around 6:00. At its peak, the choir numbered over 120 people, with a band generally consisting of six or more -- two guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and percussion. I had played music for years -- piano, trumpet, french horn, and guitar -- but I had never felt such a rush as that I experienced when playing for so many people when we had the music "down", well-rehearsed and ready to deliver. The feeling was absolutely incredible, and we had experiences on those tours that will always stay with me.

So I jumped at the chance to reunite with this group last summer. A small group of us hung out most of the weekend, and we talked incessantly, staying up late and trying hard to catch up on all that had happened in the thirty-plus years since we'd been together. Each night, as we headed to our respective hotels and homes, we went back filled with excitement.

The reunion proper consisted of a barbecue dinner (after all, we were in Memphis) and rehearsal on Saturday night, followed by performance of three pieces of music at the regular Sunday service the next morning. These were three pieces that we'd sung so many years before, and it was interesting that even after all this time, the characteristic nuances of expression remained in our voices. I had brought along my Stratocaster, but I decided at the last minute to plug my baritone pipes into the choir -- I'd never sung these songs, just played them, but years of choral singing here in Atlanta enabled me to change gears on the fly, and it was fascinating to be a voice for a change. Looking out into the congregation, seeing faces I hadn't seen since 1972 or 1973, and being back in this familiar, warm, loving place, was a tremendous emotional experience, somewhat overwhelming, and also something I shall never forget.

So, "verily I say unto you", if you have the opportunity to experience a reunion of people this close to your heart, you should make every effort to attend. My weekend at home -- and over time, there have been moments when I forgot what home was about -- was an inspired gift that I will always treasure. Go home when you have the chance...go home and find peace. And when you do, remember that it is the accumulation of experiences that ultimately makes us who we are.