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The day I became Fred’s hero

I don’t know what triggered this memory today… but I might as well tell the story while I’m thinking about it.

I was in my third year at LeTU when I got asked to be the pianist for some special music during chapel. Now, this was not an unusual request; by this time in my college life I had become the de facto college pianist, doing lots of special music, I was lead accompianist for the singing group, etc. On this particular day, though, the musical content was going to be a bit different.

My friend Mark Holmes, a phenomenal tenor in the Singers, was slated to do a special, and he was having a hard time deciding what to do. Finally, in a move worthy of a bad college movie somewhere, he chose to sing a “Christianized” version of the classic Johnny B. Goode. As I recall, the lyrics were totally cheesy; the chorus ended “go, Johnny, go – go preach the Word.” Yikes.

So anyhow, I had been recruited to play the piano to back him up; we also had a good drummer, a bass player whose name eludes me, and then Fred playing the guitar. Fred was a couple years behind me; he was tall and redheaded, with a beard and ponytail completing his wanna-be rock star image. He was pretty much a goofball when it came to music, which made him fun. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to prove his electric guitar prowess on this dubious semi-cover, and so our band was complete. We practiced a few times, and got it polished enough to be acceptable at the musical abyss that was LeTourneau.

The morning came for chapel and we were slated to do special music right before the message. We revved it up and did an energetic (if not totally polished) rendition, just as we had practiced. What I had not practiced, however, was coming down on a glissando down the keyboard (that sweeping motion where you just run the back of your fingers down the keyboard) and hit a black key the wrong way, and, lo and behold, the black part of the key just broke off. I’ve never seen it happen before or since. The wood was probably kinda soft in that key, and I just torqued it the right way. It’s the only time (to my knowledge) that I’ve ever caused damage to a piano by playing it.

When we were packing up our gear after chapel, I picked up the key and tossed it over to Fred. You’d think he had died and gone to rock-n-roll heaven – he thought it was the most cool thing that somebody had broken a piano while playing a song. I think every time we did music for chapel after that the subject came up, always with amazement and laughter. Fortunately for me, a little bit of Elmer’s wood glue was sufficient to fix the piano so the next pianist in line could have their E-flat.

The epilogue to this story is the memory that this wasn’t the last time I played Johnny B. Goode in chapel. A year or so later, an instructor at the school (also a talented guitarist, now a co-worker here in Iowa) was up for special music, and he chose to do Johnny B. again. He did the original version, complete with the word “hell”, which raised a few of the stodgy faculty eyebrows. 🙂 He introduced the song this way:

“Last week, a Romanian choir came and sang some traditional songs from their homeland. This morning, I’d like to sing a traditional song from my homeland.”

This time, I managed to keep the piano in one piece.

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