He was amazing. With fingers flying and an appreciative audience jumping up to whistle and applaud his wizardry at the end of nearly every song, Tommy wowed us… and appeared to genuinely enjoy himself in the process.
Near the end of the evening, Tommy talked a few minutes about songwriting, inspiration, and his connection with guitarist Chet Atkins, whom he called a father figure to him.
He said as a teenager in Australia, he wrote Chet a fan letter. And Chet replied. That, he said, inspired and motivated him to work at his own guitar-playing craft. “I knew I had to make that same kind of music,” he said.
“I worked hard and saved up my money and went to Nashville, Tennessee.” He called up his hero, thinking Chet would say, “Who?” But, to his surprise, Chet said, “Come on over.” When he arrived, Chet invited Tommy to play for him.
As Tommy played, revealing his own unique style, Chet would comment every few minutes, “I didn’t do that. I didn’t do that.” It was a lesson in encouragement and affirmation.
Chet was saying, “You’re not just mimicking me. You’re going your own way.”
That helped launch Tommy Emmanuel on a nearly five-decade-long career and worldwide acclaim as a guitar virtuoso.
It’s a great lesson, no matter what field you’re in. We all have heroes and role models. We gain inspiration from them. But we neglect our own God-given talents if we stop there.
I’ve heard it said in several contexts: Many of the world’s greatest achievements were accomplished by innovators who didn’t know that what they were doing couldn’t be done.
So pick on, Tommy Emmanuel. I can’t wait to hear the generation of guitarists that you inspire.
Tommy Emmanuel’s concert was sponsored by Richmond Cultureworks, an organization that seeks to strengthen arts and culture organizations and independent cultural artists in the greater Richmond, Virginia area. My friend John Bryan is the organization’s president. Check out his blog.
It was one of those situations where TV just can’t capture the experience.
We try to overcome the medium’s limitations. Sometimes we succeed. Other times, we fail miserably. Mother’s Day was one of those other times.
It was a beautiful worship service. Eunice Kim’s piano prelude ushered us into the presence of the Living God. We sang and prayed. We dedicated two babies. The Church Choir and the Youth Girls Ensemble sang beautifully. Dr. Somerville preached an insightful and prophetic sermon. And 15-year-old Sarah Kyle played an oboe solo: Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of Song.”
Sarah said during rehearsal that she was having a hard time hitting one of the notes. But during the 8:30 worship service, she played it almost perfectly.
As she was standing at the side of the platform, ready to move up and play again at the 11:00 worship service, she was horrified when she looked down and saw that her reed was split. She had a spare, but not in the room. No time to change it. So she bravely took her place and started to play. Nothing came out. Just air… and an occasional squeak. The accompanist played on. And Sarah kept trying. As much as she must have been tempted to run off the stage, she stayed with it all the way to the end. She held her composure, showing maturity beyond her age.
From my vantage point in the TV control room, I could see choir members behind her silently rooting for her. Some were obviously praying for her.
When the piece ended, the congregation applauded. It was one of the few times I’ve appreciated applause during a worship service. With their applause, they were not saying, “Good job! Thank you for entertaining us.” The members of this community of faith were showing their love and support for Sarah. And perhaps they were expressing their solidarity with a fellow imperfect human being who was willing to risk embarrassment to be creative in their worship of God.
At the end of the worship service, as is his custom, our pastor, Dr. Jim Somerville, offered a charge and benediction to the congregation. He mentioned that one of our members, Millie Barnes had hit a hole-in-one at the church golf tournament the day before. And then he said, “I’m guessing there are lots of times that Millie swung her club and the ball didn’t go in the hole. But that’s how it is with golf. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
“I was thinking about Sarah Kyle who got up to play the oboe today… And I was thinking about how heart-breaking it must have been for her to stand there and struggle to make music when all she got was squeaks and breath. But I also know that I was here in the 8:30 service when she played beautifully. This is how it is with playing oboe. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And any of you who have tried playing Mendelsohn on the oboe in front of hundreds of people know exactly what I’m talking about.
“I remember that Olympic diver Greg Louganis used to say that when he stood on the end of the diving platform, he would always say, ‘even if I blow this dive, my mother will still love me.’ It’s what made it possible for him to take risks and to try things other people were afraid to try.
“I’d love to think that this congregation would be that kind of safety net for people who are bold enough to take some risks. So that if a young woman stood up to play the oboe and she began to fall, we would catch her with our love. That she would know this is a safe place to try and fail and get up and try again.
“I’d like to think this would be the kind of congregation where everyone would feel free to take some risks. To live their life in a more open and fearless way than ever before because they knew the safety net was there. And that if they fell, somebody would be around to catch them. Maybe that could be our charge in this week. To be those kind of people, to catch the ones who fall, to pick them up, to set them on their feet again, and to tell them, ‘listen, no matter what, we will still love you.’”
I’m not sure we handled this well in the television broadcast of the worship service.
We brought Sarah into the studio after the worship service and got her to overdub the oboe part while watching the video and listening to the piano accompaniment. And that’s the version you’ll see if you watch it on TV this Sunday. We edited out Jim’s comments at the end. Someone watching the TV program wouldn’t have any idea of what really happened in the sanctuary that morning.
I’m thinking that, for the sake of a more polished TV program, we sacrificed the “teachable moment” that God had provided. Sarah’s oboe solo… the congregation’s spontaneous show of support… Jim’s using it as an illustration of what it means to be a community of faith… that was the real sermon Sunday morning.
With Sarah’s and Jim’s permission, here it is – unedited. Be sure to watch all the way to the end, to see how the congregation responds to the pastor’s comments at the end of the service.