And then he was….GONE! Vol 55
I went to a very small college in the late 70’s. It is now a very large University. Back in the day, LBC was more like a glorified high school with a big dream. It was hard to tell when you were on campus or at church. There were no real classrooms or college-like buildings back then…and my dorm room was on the 3rd floor of the Stewart Arms hotel in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia. I’m sure it was a lovely hotel at one point…with doormen bustling about helping travelers to their rooms…but that day had long past with one exception. We still had a bellman (who was almost as old as the hotel) who operated the elevator during the day. Everything in the building was old…including the elevator. Occasionally the elevator brake would slip allowing the car and its occupants to fall a few feet before the brake caught. It was a real life thrill ride! This was especially amusing when it happened after picking up a load of girls on the 6th floor.
The accommodations and learning environment didn’t really matter much to me. I was wasn’t there all that much. I was recruited to sing in one of the groups that was tasked with supporting the fund-raising effort for what now is Liberty University…one of the largest Christian universities on the planet. Two or three days a week we were in another part of the country trying to keep the dream alive. It was an exciting time and an incredible experience. It changed my life in a lot of ways… and along the way I made some great friends.
Every year at homecoming the school held the Miss Liberty pageant. There was the obligatory “big game” of course and afterwards the college would host the pageant complete with a former Miss USA. There was great music and big hair… it was about as red carpet a deal as a small school could have…and it was a great opportunity for Dr. Falwell to do some vision-casting in front of the very people who made the college possible by their support.
Those of us who traveled and sang would often be asked to help out with music at these events. I had been asked to sing the opening song of the program. I chose a Barry Manilow tune “Daybreak” …(quite edgy for this VERY conservative Christian College) The program was held in the Thomas Road Church auditorium. That evening the auditorium was packed with 5000 people. Friends and family and alumni there to enjoy the homecoming festivities.
Thomas Road Church was, and still is, a very large church. The Old Time Gospel Hour television program was broadcast around the country from this very auditorium. That meant there was a full complement of broadcast quality lighting already in place and our stage crew brought in two additional carbon-arc, Super-Trooper spotlights to add some “pop” to the lighting. (If you are not familiar with the Super-Trooper spotlight…let’s just say it’s like discovering a Quasar in the room with you. They are like a go-zillion candlepower….you could get a sunburn bright…OK…they are blindingly overwhelmingly bright.
I’m backstage warming up…and just a little nervous as I was singing in front of everyone that was anyone at the college and I had yet to get approval to do the Barry Manilow song I was about to sing in about 60 seconds. I was hoping…nay… praying I wasn’t going to add to my frighteningly long list of demerits for what some were sure to consider a musical trespass…but I was committed…it was Barry or nothing.
I heard the piano player start the vamp into the song…that was my queue. I opened the door from back stage and it was as if someone had turned off all the lights…which of course they had, in preparation for the first musical number…me. As my eyes tried to adjust to the dark, I could make out the faint glow of the orchestra pit and carefully made my way toward the light and the runway that jutted out into the auditorium. Just as I started to sing the first notes, the guys hit me with both Super Troopers. Searing shafts of intense white-hot light hit me like the sun. My poor pupils which had been fully dilated trying to gather enough light to find my way across the stage in the darkness… were now completely overwhelmed … leaving me momentarily blinded…but I wasn’t on my mark yet. I had to keep moving..not knowing if I was headed in the right direction or not. It didn’t matter. My ill-fated trajectory was set. I got three words of the song out and walked directly off the runway into the orchestra pit…in full voice. Both spotlights dutifully trained on the now empty stage where I used to be just a second ago. It was a YouTube moment if ever there was one. The place went quiet.
Thankfully, magically, I landed on my feet ( in the clarinet section I think.) Slowly I clawed my way out of the orchestra pit…up the stairs to the platform and back into the spotlight’s glare. Now that everyone knew I was ok, the whole thing was suddenly hilarious. The audience was laughing and applauding. I could hear the tech guys in the back laughing so hard they were crying as they played back the video again and again…There he is…now he’s gone…there…gone! Mark Lowry was sitting up front and came up to the stage to offer a joke to save my embarrassment. It was a Miss Liberty pageant for the record book.
I can’t help but think about unintended consequences as I remember this infamous night from so long ago. I had no intention of walking off the stage. The orchestra pit was not where I wanted to be or should have been. But sometimes God let’s us step off the stage as we are blinded by the light of pride or some other foolish thing where we have made him play second fiddle. . Sometimes the fall is just embarrassing…sometimes it’s a full face-plant…sometimes we have to call the ambulance.
In all cases, after we get up from the fall… God has a much more attentive audience. Well at least I know I listen better…