Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Done Running The Show

For my whole adult life, whatever I was involved in, I always wanted to run the show. But cancer changed all of that. Now I have no desire to be the one in charge, the one who's organizing everything and making sure it all comes together. I'm done running the show.

I've wanted to run the show for most of the things I've been part of, especially musically. Many of the bands I've been in have been formed to do my original songs. I've been a sideman too, and had a gig as a backup singer in a country band for three years, along with my years as a wedding band singer. I was never the band leader for those gigs, and was happy not to be. But I've never been in a collaborative original music band. Every original band I've been in, I was in charge. We did my songs, arrangements, and parodies.

I've enjoyed singing in every choir I've been in, but in each one, what I really wanted to do was direct. I have directed many choirs. Choir directing has been one of my great musical passions over the years. But the last thing I want to do now is try to put a choir together and put on a Christmas concert. Not happening. I'm too tired.

Ditto for every church music program I've been involved in. For most of my life, I was a volunteer. I wasn't in charge. But eventually, that became an itch that needed to be scratched as well. I finally got the chance to lead from 2011 to 2015. I got to decide what songs we did, how the service would go, what the PowerPoint would look like, who was in the band, and all the rest. Basically everything but the sermon. I got to do it in my own style, the way I thought it should be done. But now, when I go to church, that's the furthest thing from my mind.

That's been the case in the studio as well, but since I'm the producer, and it's my studio, that's to be expected. But I'm even losing my desire to do that. I have one more CD project to produce. One more show to run. Then I'm done. I'm looking forward to capping off that part of my career, but it makes me tired just thinking about it. I'm looking forward to moving on to what's next.

I've been talking in this blog for weeks about my final big performance. It may seem ironic that I'm saying all of this after having just shared the videos of that concert on Facebook for the past two days, but for me, the two go hand in hand. The video of the full concert, and videos of each individual song, are on YouTube now. For anyone who reads this blog, but isn't on Facebook, here is the full concert video. It's an hour and 24 minutes long, so watch it later, or please come back!

That was one of the most difficult shows I've ever attempted to run, and not just because of cancer treatment. If you watch the video, you see how many people were involved. There were a lot of schedules that had to be juggled. The set was so long, I had to break rehearsals up into halves that rehearsed at separate times. Four rehearsals for each half were originally planned. We ended up rehearsing the first half three times, and the second half only two and a half times. And I wasn't there for one of the two full rehearsals because I was sick. I cancelled another simply because I was having a bad day and just couldn't do it. It came off remarkably well considering all of that - and adding a case of bronchitis on top of it - but it made me realize that I'm done trying to herd that many cats. I'm done running the show.

I went into the planning of that show fully intending to do another big one next year. After this performance, I realize that's not in the cards. It's not that I've lost the love of performing. It's that I've lost my desire to do all of the work that goes into it. And it is a tremendous amount of work. Even a standard 25 minute set for this same event next year is too much if I'm in charge. If someone else has a song or two in their set that they want me to sing, and they'll make it easy for me, we can talk. But I'm no longer motivated to put together sets of my own anymore. That itch was scratched very well this year.

You see, I'm retiring from music. Except for my work with the kids, my weekly song parody service for my two remaining radio clients, and my one last CD project, which will be finished in early 2017, I'm ready to step out of the spotlight. I don't have the energy or the desire to stay in it anymore. I have other priorities now. God is leading me down a different path, and I'm fine with that. Better than fine, actually. I'm excited.

My fellow musicians and friends look at me like I have two heads when I say this is it. How can I just lay down my main passion in life with no regrets? Surely I'll change my mind. Sorry, but I don't think so. My mind has already been changed. So has my heart. I have new passions, and I'm anxious to pursue them.

I have a story to keep telling. I intend to start putting it into book form soon. My wife and I have a 40th anniversary celebration to plan. But my wife will run that show! And I have a dark chocolate ice cream empire to build. But first, I have to get the recipe right.

I no longer have any desire to be the one directing the music in church, but what I love to do now is speak. From proposing toasts and pronouncing blessings to officiating weddings, I love to share from my heart what God has placed there. I got a brief opportunity to do that in church last Sunday.

As you may know, last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. The first candle of the season, which symbolizes hope, is lit. My wife and I were asked to light the candle, read a verse of scripture, and say a few words. My wife took care of the candle lighting while I read a verse of scripture and shared for about five minutes on the subject of hope. I talked about what gives me hope, and where my hope is placed. Most of what I said was taken from this blog. I closed with another verse of scripture and a prayer. The "speech," if you want to call it that, was planned ahead of time, but the prayer was totally off the cuff. I don't like read or rehearsed prayers. I'd much rather just pray in the moment, and that's what I did.

I think that five minute talk in church last Sunday was as meaningful for me as the concert was a week prior. And it took a whole lot less preparation and stress. But that's not the point. It felt like the future. The concert felt like the past. This whole process feels like one outlet, one ministry is ending, and another is beginning. I don't think this one will last 28 years, but I'll take whatever I can get.

Part of what made last Sunday so meaningful for me was that I was just a small part of the service. I could still worship. I didn't have a job to do while others worshiped. I just got up and said my piece when the pastor called me up. I didn't have to run the show.

I don't have to put a choir together, schedule rehearsals, and herd a million cats to make sure my church has a great Christmas program this year. But our closest friend is giving me a great gift this Christmas. I'm singing in her Christmas choir, and she asked me to direct one of the songs. A big arrangement of O Holy Night that she sings the solo on, (she's the best singer I know) and a really fun song to direct. I don't have to run the show. I don't have to make sure everybody knows their part. I just get to step up when it's my turn and direct the biggest song in the program. I couldn't be more excited. What God takes away with his right hand, he gives back with his left.

If, after watching my concert video or having seen me perform or lead worship over the years, you're disappointed that I'm hanging it up, if you're finding it hard to understand why I'd stop doing something I obviously love so much, I can only say this. Hormone treatment is making me weaker all the time. But more than that, cancer has changed my priorities and passions. I'm not the guy I used to be.

Months ago, when I was having a hard time getting past some psychological blockage and getting back into a musical head space so I could get work done, I said that it felt like a page had turned, and I had to keep going back and rereading what I'd already read. I still feel that way now. But I'm closer to finally being able to turn that page for good and move on. I have a new path to walk, and I can't wait to get started. I still have much to do, not the least of which is rest and focus on treatment. So no more big musical performances for me. I'm done running the show. #waroncancer


  1. Well written, Mark.
    Some may not "get it" completely, but you have given them enough to at least "mostly get it".
    Well done.


  2. Enjoyed the concert. No one sees how hard it probably was for you to recover afterwards. For myself, life is still good, but I can't say that I'm excited about the future, more like I accept it with reservations. Things are not clear enough yet. "now we see in a mirror dimly lit, ...then we shall see face to face"
    Thanks for posting your thoughts.

    1. Amen, Michael! It was great meeting you. Thanks so much for coming. Let's meet up after the holidays!