I grew up during a transitional time for church worship music. We had a small youth group and my best friend Joe would make a mix tape of gospel songs for us to sing at the beginning of our youth meeting. His mom was a packrat and had a slide projector laying around, so Joe and I would make slides to throw the words on the wall because we thought the overhead projector was too archaic and we wanted to be cutting edge. He could change from “Jehovah Jireh” to “Spring Up A Well” with the touch of a button. Techies.
During my junior year the music minister bought a set of drums for the church and asked me if I would be our drummer. I played the trumpet in middle school, so it only made sense. I spent the next two years boom chucking for the adult service. My friend Joe, who was proficient at the piano decided that we could get rid of the mix tape in youth and go live. So we formed a band. We were the Black Keys before there was a Black Keys.
When I left for Bible College I told myself that I would learn the piano because when I became a youth minister, I didn’t want to have to go back to mix tapes. At least we would have one instrument. So my freshman year of school, I took a keyboarding class where I learned chords. I then got a private tutor who actually played and toured with Prince for the last several years. I feel like I should be better. He worked with me for about a year.
On campus there was a small building between the guys and girls dorms that had been converted into a hallway of individual piano rooms. When Tiff and I started dating, she would go in there with me and I would have her sing along while I played. At some point, she talked me into singing with her. I had never sung in my life in a way that I intended on people enjoying. She heard me sing and said, “You’re amazing!” I didn’t believe her, but the more I sang with her, the better I thought that I sounded. She kept telling me how good I sounded and I kept singing. At some point, I think that I actually starting believing her. Not that I was amazing, but that I could at least carry the tune. During my junior year of college, we were asked to come lead worship at a church service with my friend Andy. I was extremely nervous, but Tiff kept telling me that I could do it. We arrived at the location early so I could get a feel for the out of tune piano and I led my first worship service ever to a Nursing Home filled with elderly people who kept screaming at us to, “Sing louder, I can’t hear you.”
When it came time to interview for our first youth ministry job, Tiff told me to write on my resumé that I could lead worship too. There were more opportunities for those that had both abilities. Somehow I just believed her that I could do it. My second time to ever lead worship was for an interview in Tennessee. For some reason, they hired us. And I just kept believing Tiffanni that I could do it. She made me sound so much better than I was and made me believe that I could actually sing. I got better at piano, picked up the guitar, and started playing it too. And she just kept telling me how good I was. Believing music into me. Music that without her, would have never been discovered.
I drove back from Nashville last night thinking about the journey from mix-tape-slide-projector-button-pusher, to hack drummer, to Nursing Home worship leader, to today. I had just finished recording my third album with my friend Sean in his studio. I shocked him when I told him that he and I had written, played, and recorded over forty songs together in the last four years. Each one of them, a single person’s belief in me away from ever being created.
Creating music has become therapeutic for me. The process of sitting at a piano, experimenting with chords and melodies, tones and lyrics, cathartic. The greatest pain of my life and the therapy by which I deal with it, stem from the same person. The pleasure and pain of music, another paradox in my life, were brought to me unintentionally by the same person. While we sat in those make shift piano rooms in the mid-90’s, I don’t think Tiffanni ever saw me writing and recording songs in Nashville. But without her words of belief after each missed note sung and each wrong chord played, I would never have written one. And four and a half years ago, I took my first trip to Nashville searching for a way to deal with her diagnosis. It’s ironic to me that she gave me a way out, a way to deal with our future. The future that she had no idea that we would have.
So, on November 1st of this year, my 40th birthday, I’ll release my second studio album with a live concert CD release party. The songs about life, love, pain, heartache, joy, pleasure, grief, and hope- most of the emotions that I had never felt that first time in the piano room when she told me, “You can really sing. I promise. Why would I lie?” I’ll look out into the crowd of people and see her smiling at me, mostly unaware of what any of the songs are about, listening proudly without a clue that we’re all in that room, listening to that music, because of her. The reason behind the songs, the reason for the songs, and the reason they ever had the ability to come to life.