A minister I like has a saying that you need to be very careful about distinguishing the promptings of the Holy Spirit from the churnings of indigestion. I’m not certain if it is something from the Divine, or my family’s touch of Second Sight, or what, but there are times when I’ve gotten a very strong sense from outside of myself that I really, really do not want to do something or go somewhere, or take a certain route at that very moment. And there have been times when I’ve been pushed by that same sense to do something, usually something I’m not comfortable about but that turns out for the best. But there was one time I didn’t do what I was moved to do.
I had not thought about it for many years, until I was driving home from worship and turned on the radio. It was the last two verses of “Walking in Memphis.” I’m not sure why that took my memory back to that concert, unless it was because the narrator talks about going to a club and being asked to perform. The lady pianist “asked ‘Are you a Christian, Child’ and I said, ‘Ma’am, I am tonight’!” I was singing in the twice-yearly community sing in the little town where I went to worship, back when I was in Flatter-than-you’d-think state. There was a Christmas music thing, and a July patriotic music thing, both with Christian leanings. A number of the denominations in town restricted music in worship, but had no problem with members singing in a church-friendly community thing, so the concerts were a way for everyone to get together and “do music.”
So one summer, the next-to-last song just cried out for a gospel harmony line. In fact, I’m really surprised one was not written in, sort of like in “Shut de Do'” or Moses Hogan’s “Battle of Jericho” (the ultimate arrangement of that spiritual, IMHO. Hard as all get out, but WOW.) But for what ever reason, the composer had not seen fit to add a gospel descant, and we sang it as written.
I probably should add that I’m the one who gets put at the end of the row because if the music moves me, I move. As in sway, especially with Spirituals and gospel. And I was known at my usual place of worship for adding in descants, especially when the congregation sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic. (In fact, at a funeral, the family specifically asked me to do just that, singing the Wilhouski soprano line on the last chorus.) So there I was, trying to stand still during rehearsals, listening to jazz piano accompaniment and watching the people around me not moving at all.
During the dress rehearsal, I don’t know what got into me. Probably leftover pizza that I should have reheated before eating, or something. But I added that “missing” line. Quietly, but something inside just couldn’t take it any longer and up I went, improvising on “oo” and “ah.” And no one said a word, no one fussed, no one called me out. It felt great! It felt as if I’d done something necessary, like I’d finished an unfinished story.
The next night was the concert. There we were, either in military uniform or in red, white, and blue, almost a hundred of us from a town of 5,000 give or take. Concert starts, concert goes very well, and here comes That Song. And once more, I feel something inside me pushing, pushing, driving me to add a vocal-jazz improv line. The passage drew closer, and closer. Three bars left. Two bars left. One bar left…
And I kept quite. And I felt terrible. As if I had failed something or someone. It bothered me for several weeks after, as if I should apologize for disappointing someone.
What would have happened if I had added the descant? I don’t know. I’ll never know. But I wonder, every now and then.