Confessions of a Choirboy by Tom LeFevre

Elkhart, Indiana was an interesting place to grow up, musically speaking. For some reason - probably proximity to the New York Central railroad - certainly not the climate - it became the national center of the band instrument business in the early 1900’s. Names like Conn, Selmer, Vincent Bach, Blessing, and Artley dotted the industrial landscape. John Philip Sousa used to visit the house lived in by one of my childhood buddies - pretty neat stuff. My father, a chemical engineer (with a decent bass voice), served both Conn and Selmer companies as their chief chemist and electro-metallurgist, and I literally grew up tagging along after school and weekends in horn plants. Had I been so inclined, I could have had one of the best instruments in the world to play. Since God works in mysterious ways (as all parents know), I naturally became a singer. After church choirs and an excellent high school choral program, I turned down two voice scholarships to study technology at Purdue (my dear dad could only adapt so much). With no music school, Purdue still had (and has) a great voluntary band and vocal music program. I sang four years in their Glee Club as a baritone soloist and folk guitarist - one of the best musical experiences of my life. We were on the hotel convention circuit, sharing billings with Bob Hope and Dinah Shore - singing our way through college, and learning things never taught in the classroom.

After college, and meeting my future wife while singing, I took a job in Connecticut. There I quickly found a thriving community of musical theater - from Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival to the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven. A few breaks landed me in musical works ranging from a lead chorister role in a new Stephen Sondheim musical (Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep were then unknown singers in that chorus), to understudy to the Celebrant in Leonard Bernstein’s "Mass" (the European premiere production), and a role in Beethoven’s only opera, "Fidelio". I later auditioned for the Baltimore Opera Company. I didn’t get the gig, but one didn’t get to sing for Lily Pons without having something on the ball vocally. This was all a long time ago, and I mention it because, with experiences like these, I had developed a profound love for vocal and choral repertoire - both sacred and secular. But I’d also rocked & rolled my way to L.A. in the summer of ‘67 (that was an interesting time, but I’ll save some of those stories for my memoirs.) And I’d done time as a guitar sideman in an obscure redneck country bar in rural Connecticut. It turned into a two-year gig that was bad on the lungs, but great for my country licks. Raising our son brought us back into active church membership, and my life has never been the same. Christian music, singing, playing, and writing have grown to be a bigger part of my life every year for over sixteen years. More recently, being a worship and contemporary music leader has become a role of great joy in both faith and musical ways. I continue to sing with our church choir - traditional and blended musical forms - and I write an occasional choral introit or S.A.B. piece for our "traditional" service. Nothing is - nor will it ever be - quite like the thrill of singing a Handel aria at Christmas, or "The Holy City" on Palm Sunday. But (and here is my confession) since we developed our contemporary service with a good ensemble of players and singers, my musical faith life is profoundly changed. There is an unmatched immediacy, a sincerity, and an excitement in the energetic production of a praise standard, our twist of a favorite Wesley hymn, or even a fresh original praise song or offertory number. We sing or play a new song or instrumental to the Lord every few weeks or so.

Nor can I separate out the joy of making praise together in fellowship with newfound brothers and sisters in Christ, who unselfishly sing and play every week in our ensemble. What a wonderfully loyal and faithful family we have become. So, I take this opportunity to give thanks: to God for these meager musical gifts and for long skinny fingers that are better used on a keyboard than palming a basketball; to my father for not forcing me to take up the horns that he spent his career building (though I admire and envy those who can); for an ornery spirit that didn’t need a music degree or piano lessons to become a decent songwriter and ensemble leader (Lennon & McCartney were right about that!); and for the chance to humbly lay these gifts at Jesus’ feet every Sunday morning. While I so enjoy this new form of praise, I also pray for the grace to know when it, too, has become traditional, and to embrace the next new way of lifting up the Lord in song.