Ok, let’s do some background. I am a trustee of Sunbeams Music Trust, a really great charity. Apart from numerous other awards, two years ago, they were Northwest England’s charity of the year, and runner up in the national contest.
Sunbeams is a charity that provides ‘Music for Life’ to elderly and disabled people. Ok, they don’t call them disabled people and they don’t think of them as clients either, but let’s not quibble about words now. On Monday 7th September, they’re at St Martins In The Fields,for a lunchtime concert, and they asked if I’d play the piano. We have rehearsals in Kendal every Thursday, to finish at 6 PM. This way, I can get to the worship group meeting at King’s, which starts at 7:30.
It just happened that yesterday, everyone was on holiday, so there was no worship group. I was asked to stay for a meal, which I gratefully accepted. Better to eat in an Italian restaurant than face my own cooking. As I wasn’t ready to go home after that, I was asked if I’d go to the rifleman with them. Apparently, one of their members was playing and it would just be good to be there. Again, I agreed.
We got there about 8 PM, and then musicians started to appear. I spoke to one of them, and he said it was an Irish music night. It reminded me of the times I used to go to such evenings at the Yorkshire House, a pub in Lancaster. It was every Monday evening, run by one Jim Mcguire. The guy’s dead now, and the evenings folded up when he went to hospital for the last time. But they were such intimate evenings that I was sure I’d love this one. It was going to be an unplugged session.
There were fiddles, banjos, guitars, flutes, and that drum, (I’m not going to spell it here). That’s what our friend was playing. And then the music started. It’s interesting, one person picks a tune and everyone just follows. And all around you you hear the different instruments. It’s a room full of music. There is great skill in this room; you hear it as the fingers fly over the fiddle strings or as you hear intricate flute playing. Or if someone picks a song, everyone sings along. It’s so beautiful, the sound of everyone singing gently in a pub.
I was one of the few non-Irish people who went to the Pan Keltic meetings on a Monday evening at the Yorkshire House. And Jimmy would always let me sing, and everyone would accompany me. Of course I had learned several Irish folk songs at this time, but I couldn’t sing one of them, so I’d pick my own songs. And they didn’t mind at all, in fact, I believe they loved it.
Annie Mawson, who runs Sunbeams Music, wanted me to sing before catching the 10:05 back to Lancaster, so I stood up and began to sing “amazing Grace”. And as I started to sing, one, then another voice joined in, one instrument, then another found the key and the room was again filled with music and singing. I would have stopped just so I could hear everyone sing, then I realised I was the one supposed to be leading this one.
The truth is, except when I’m part of the worship group in church, I still feel nervous when I sing publicly. That is, until the first note, then I get carried away. But I’ve often wondered what it is about Amazing Grace. Last year, I sang it at a wedding and was told that several people had tears in their eyes. It is such a beautiful song. Or is it the thought of a blind man singing “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see”.
Or maybe it’s something else. For me, the song talks about my past, my present and my future. It reminds me of the transformation that God’s amazing grace has made in my life. It was a transformation from darkness and despair to the revelation of His light and His guiding hand to show me the way. The song reveals how His grace first taught me to fear God, and then freed me from other fears and how His grace sees me through all manner of troubles, till I get home to God, where I’ll sing His praise forever more. It’s more than just the present; the story is not over when I find His grace. It’s a forever thing.
Everyone knows the words of Amazing grace. It’s no longer just a church song, as demonstrated yesterday when I sang it, holding a glass of wine in an Irish evening. And many know the history too; it was composed by a former slave dealer who found God in stormy seas and became a Christian. I hear John Newton even advised William Wilberforce, the great anti slavery campaigner and MP.
When I talk to people about singing or playing, I always say that you perform best if you first stop to consider what the song means to you. So, I’ve told you what the song means to me, but why does everyone know it so well. Is it just the simple melody? Maybe not. Maybe it’s how it reminds everyone of what they either have, or need. If you have the grace, you recognize it’s full impact, if you don’t, it reminds you of your need.
As I walked home from Lancaster train station, I walked past another pub, I think it was the Merchants. I could hear the sounds of an accordion (oh there was one in the Riflemans in Kendal) and I could hear folk music playing. But this time, I walked past. It was time to go home. If I’d stopped, maybe I’d have been drawn again into that intimate gathering. You see, we walk past many things in our lives. We never know what it would bring if we don’t step into the room and feel it. Maybe it’s the same with faith. People hear about it and have strange concepts of Christianity because they haven’t walked into it, settled down and absorbed it properly. Those who do have often said that they got it wrong when they viewed it from the outside. Jesus is the source of the amazing grace, and He brings it to all. Those who receive it will end up in some church when they’re alive, and in heaven for the forever experience. But the message is for all, just like the song speaks to all.
I had great conversation with the staff at Sunbeams yesterday. I remember spending great time and trying all my selling skills to tell them about Twitter. Their collectiv eyes just glazed over, they weren’t having it. But when I sang Amazing Grace, they all listened. So, if you’re in London, perhaps you’d like to hear the troupe sing on 7th September. There might be this keyboardist, who’s already been asked if he’ll sing a song, and as it’s a church, he might just sing Amazing Grace. Before then, on Thursday 3 September, in Workington, there’s this concert to prepare us for the big day. I’ll be missing worship group for this one, and I think it’s at the St John’s church at 7:30 PM.