One of the salient points of living in a room with a hole in the roof during the wet season was that I had to keep anything electrical somewhere else. Fortunately, being a man of simple means and small bedroom, this really only affected two things. The first was my computer, which is a laptop and easy to move around.
The other was Samantha, my Korg Triton synthesiser and ever faithful companion through thick and thin. Over the years we’ve spent many an insomnious monsoonal night together, listening to the rain beat down, watching the lightning and pouring our souls out to each other through that special bond that can only be shared between a man and an electric piano.
But recently we’ve started to grow apart.
I first noticed the problem when Mary came back into my life. Mary is my old flame from high school who returned from out of nowhere over twelve months ago now. She has nothing like the bond with me that I share with Sam, but then I guess you never forget your first love. When prison ministry came along, Mary’s lighter body and … ability to run on batteries made her the perfect choice to carry along with me. Suddenly Samantha found herself left at home in her box while I was out ministering with another keyboard.
When we moved into a room with a crack in the wall, it was the last straw. We both decided it would be better if Samantha stayed at the church for a while until I could figure stuff out with … the roof. The roof has long since been repaired, but Samantha seems happy in her semi-permanent position up front at the church. It’s convenient for everyone (well, everyone except Sasha the church’s old Roland piano who has been unceremoniously relegated to the floor behind the wings) but there have been plenty of nights when I’ve come home late and missed the comforting glow from Samantha’s touch screen after a long night at sepak takraw training.
To be honest, things had been rocky for a while before Mary came back. Ever since we started up with the local apostolic church it hasn’t been the same. The music is all guitar based and all in the same key (E major, also known as “the key of alto”, “the key of Hillsong” and “the key of ‘for God’s sake hasn’t anyone told them there are 11 other major keys, to say nothing of the minor ones?’”) and there really hasn’t been the chance for us to expand, explore and experiment with the sounds we’re capable of producing together. Even when I bought her a brand new Roland amplifier for us to play with together, it just wasn’t enough to compensate for a life of repetitive chord progressions and shallow (some might say theologically untenable, but that’s a rant for another post) lyrics.
All that changed last Sunday morning. We amiably and respectfully went through the motions like we do every Sunday morning; two fast songs to get everyone hyped and then two slow songs to get everyone “worshipping” (Why do we even associate ‘worship’ with slow and emotional would-be power ballads?) and then the special guest preacher stood up to speak.
It had been a while since we’d had a guest speaker at church. I had forgotten that pentecostal pastors – especially pentecostal pastors from big flashy churches down south – like to have the big finish to their sermons accompanied by reflective piano and string music.
I’ve managed to convince the worship team at church not to make me do this, because in my opinion if the words the preacher is saying are true and spirit-breathed, then they’ll carry enough impact all on their own and won’t need help from a musician. And if they don’t carry the sort of impact that comes inherently with being spirit-breathed and true, then I’ll be damned if I’m going to lend any power to a bung message with my expertly crafted and emotionally manipulative soundtrack in the background. It makes me into a hypocrite and makes Samantha feel like a cheap prostitute.
Unfortunately, no-one had thought to warn the guest speaker that this church was possessed of a methodologically rebellious keyboardist, so when the preacher reached the end of her talk and realised she wasn’t quite as powerful as she wanted to be, she actually called over the microphone for the keyboardist to come up and help.
Tragically I was out in the lobby at the time, as I had quietly removed myself from the auditorium about half way through the sermon. I found her theology a little wobbly, but didn’t want to ruin it for everyone else, who seemed to think her interpretation of Haggai was fantastic. The worship leader had to come out and find me and tell me to get my butt on stage and fire up the emotionatron.
Ordinarily I would have resented this, but I realised something amazing as I reluctantly climbed on stage and started to play: It was just me and Samantha up there. No guitarists, no drummer and no singers. Just me and my keyboard, together again. We didn’t have to play in E if we didn’t want to. We were free to express ourselves properly and let the music flow into whatever key, mode or range she wanted.
And freak me sideways if we didn’t set that room on fire. Garry and Samantha: the reunion album. Except it wasn’t an album, it was just an altar call. But what an altar call it was. The congregation must have really got into Haggai that morning, because at least half of them came forward for prayer. And we weren’t going to fade out, as if the people who were prayed for last were any less important than the ones who rushed forward to be first. We kept playing until the last person had said amen and the preacher had finished.
Forty five minutes later.
For Samantha and I it was a new team record for endurance altar call backing, but the time just seemed to drift past like a … big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff. Me and Sam were back at last, better than ever. And now that the crack in the wall is gone, we’re thinking it might be time for us to move back in together. God knows I’ve missed her.
You can make of that what you will if you want to, but it’s probably best not to over-think it.
Garry with 2 Rs