A friend of mine lovingly describes how he met his wife. He was at church choir practice, and a member of the alto section tripped and fell right in front of him. After asking if she was okay, he thought to himself, “I suspect I’m going to marry this clumsy alto someday.”
And so it was that I found myself at a reunion of my college a cappella group more than a year ago. These reunions are humbling affairs, partly because I’m more than twice the age of the current students, and partly because the group to which I belonged is now a much more polished and professional ensemble than when I was a student; indeed, most of us in attendance at the reunion realized that we would be hard-pressed to become members of the Pitchforks of Duke University if we were students today.
After singing through a number of old favorites, we arrived at a newer song called “Home”. It started low, with the basses humming a simple two-note motive that sounded a little like the theme from Jaws, not threatening, but still a bit ominous. The baritones entered next, humming a figure that rose and fell like a moan on a journey. A soloist entered last, and he sang about a father and a son, a road trip and a celebration, a Delta city and water; he finished out the song with a near quotation of a Spiritual. This strange song tripped over its feet and fell right in front of me, and I thought to myself, “I suspect I’m going to do this song in church someday.”
Now, I get a little nervous programming music that is outside of my comfort zone, so I’m always happy to find reasons to play things safe. I stood there during the reunion rehearsal, looking through the song lyrics. I knew instantly that there was no way that “Hot damn” would find its way into any worship service, but that phrase would be easy enough to change. But, I still wondered about what a song about a journey, a party, and a father and son would bring to any worship service.
And then it hit me. Hot damn. The Prodigal Son.
It’s not a perfect match, but sometimes the interesting stuff happens when the matches are less than perfect, when we can set a song in a worship service and introduce it to a biblical text and wait to see what kind of strange friendship might develop between song and text. After all, the Prodigal Son is the mother of all parables, and it can stand up to just about anything. The choir has put up with me teaching the tune while cringing a little at the idea of teaching a cover of a Marc Broussard Blues song to a church choir; but the GPPC choir really will sing nearly anything, and they’re probably more open than their director.
And so, we’ll hear PJ Freebourn sing this song on Sunday, with the choir humming and moaning and singing, and a vocal percussionist propelling us through the song’s strange journey.
“This Greyhound is Delta-bound; baby boy done finally found his way home.”
Playing the organ, rehearsing a choir, sharing a blog post, or singing with the Pitchforks in 1991 (photo, far left) – Doug Brown finds the ways to entertain.