“What was your favorite seminary experience and why?” – Part 6

As an adult, I’ll occasionally joke with my mom (and really, mom, this is a joke): “Look, you were the MOM. Why didn’t you MAKE me take piano lessons?”

Oh, how my mom tried. She loves music; she has a beautiful voice, plays the piano, and just plain loves all kinds and styles of music. And she wanted her sons to share that love of music with her. My brother responded and was in band; but my usually compliant self for some reason never did band, never did piano lessons, never did choir. (I came close my senior year in high school, briefly giving my mom hope, I think; tried out for choir, got in…but didn’t take it because of a schedule conflict.) So, my musical experience consisted of the following resume: I listened to it, sang in the car and shower, and I won two lip sync contests. Julliard, here I come.

Near the end of my second year at Fuller, Laura Schmidt Roberts and Matt Colwell founded an a capella group they called The Matz. They were quite good, and made a splash on our campus. Matt had been a part of small performing groups while in college, and served as the musical leader. Laura has a gorgeous alto voice, and their choice of musics was quite varied and very fun.

I really have no idea what made me brave enough the next fall to try out for the group. I remember sitting in a class with Laura, and she was talking about the open auditions they were having. I sort of cleared my throat and said, “I was sorta thinking of trying out. I like to sing; well, I’ve never been in choir or anything, and I can’t read music, but I thought I might try, if that’s all right.” Laura was really polite, but I could tell I was getting the “let him down easy” speech. And I don’t blame her a bit. It was sort of like saying to Nolan Ryan, “I was sorta thinking of trying out for the Rangers. I’ve never really played on a team before, but when I throw the tennis ball against the wall, it comes back really fast.”

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure it was Elaine who pushed me to actually go the audition. It was in the preaching room at Fuller, and I know Matt and his wife Jill and Laura and Carla Grover Barnhill were there for sure. First, I had to sing something on my own; I chose “Wonderful Invention of Love”, which I’d learned from a Azuza Pacific group that spent the summer at Forest Home when I was on staff the summer of 1987 (it was the signature song of my summer friend Francisco Collado, but that’s another story).

Carla is very funny. (She’s now an author and she’s been an editor at Campus Life and THE editor of Christian Parenting Today). But I’m telling you, even with all those accomplishments, the truth is her claim to fame is that she’s extremely funny. But she had no idea how nervous I was at the audition. I sang the song, and I ended up snapping along with it, and she popped off with “Hey! He even accompanies himself!” I felt my face get hotter than a pistol, and just about gave up; but, I pushed through and did some stuff with them to see about blend, and it was quite fun. I went home and told Elaine, “Well, I did it, and it was fun, but that’s the end of that.”

Matt called a few days later, and he started in with the “You know, thanks for trying out, but there were just so many people…” and man, I was backpedaling before he could finish the sentence, telling him, don’t worry about it, it was fun, thanks for the opportunity, blah blah blah. He started laughing and said, “But we want you!” Totally shocked me. And that’s how I became the bass in The Matz, and got to be a part of by far the most fun thing I did in seminary.

There were six of us: Jill Colwell, soprano, Carla and Laura, altos (who could sound like one voice, they blended so well), Matt Colwell and Jeff Schulz as tenors, and me. We practiced an hour and a half twice a week, which meant I finally really got to know some people. And, we practiced enough that we got pretty good. I learned a ton about music, and got to experience what our worship pastor Mauri Macy calls “true ensemble.” When six people sing parts and it all comes together, it’s such an amazing picture of community.

The first song we learned was an old spiritual, “Gonna Ride in the Chariot.” (Click here to hear it.) Matt sang bass with me, afraid I’d not be able to hold the part on my own, I think. And actually, I would go home and have Elaine plunk out my part on our little Casio keyboard over and over and over again. But once we got that first song down, I felt like I could do this.

Laura’s song was our cover of “Operator”, made famous by The Manhattan Transfer (she actually preferred her lead on “Sittin’ in Limbo”, but “Operator” was the crowd pleaser.) We did this 14th century piece that was Jill’s shining moment, “O Magnum Mysterium”. Jeff would hit “In the Still of the Night” out of the park. Carla had the lead on a fun arrangement of “Hey Jude” (hear it here), AND she had the lead on what was Matt’s shining moment.

Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was re-emerging at the time, thanks to Wayne’s World. There was a talent show called Fuller Follies, and Matt did this brilliant arrangement and re-writing for us, coming up with Rhapsody of a Seminarian. It’s full of inside jokes from seminary, but trust me, this was a work of musical and lyrical brilliance.

It was also very, very hard for us to sing. We nailed it one time, in my memory…only really nailed it once. It was right before we debuted at the Fuller Follies, outside in the courtyard, and it was bliss. Then it was downhill from there. The harmonies were intricate, and everybody was out on their own a lot, and we train wrecked underneath Carla many times…including the time we recorded it. So, no, I won’t post it in mp3 (not unless there’s a wild, desperate outcry to hear it, AND if Carla gives permission). But I will give you the lyrics:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in an M. Div…an escape from reality.
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see
I’m just a first year, I need some sympathy,
because I’m easy come, easy go, financial aid is very low
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me…to me

Mama, just came from class,
they say Paul didn’t write 1 Timothy,
tell me how can this be?
Mama, will I lose my faith,
If I question what they taught in Sunday School

Mama…ooooh ooooh ooohh
I don’t want my faith to die,
I sometimes wish, I never had Greek at all,
carry on, carry on…as if nothing really matters

Too late, my time has come
sent shivers down my spine, mind is achin’ all the time
Good bye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth

Mama…ooooh ooooh ooohh
Didn’t mean to make you
If I’m not back in church this time next year,
carry on, carry on… as if nothing really matters

I see a little silhouette-o of a man
(scara poosh, scara poosh, could it be a professor)
NT 2’s enlightening, but very very frightening me
“What’s he saying?” “What’s he saying?”

“What’s he saying?” “What’s he saying?”
What’s he saying can it be…can it be sooooo?

I’m just a first year, nobody loves me
She’s just a first year, and a conservative
spare her her faith, from this monstrosity

Easy come, easy go, I don’t want to know
(Bish mil lach, NO! She doesn’t need to know!)
She must know!
(Bish mil lach, NO! She doesn’t need to know!)
She must know!
(Bish mil lach, she doesn’t need to know)
She must know! (doesn’t need to know)
She must know! (doesn’t need to know)
She must know! (no, no NO NO NO!!)

Oh Mama Mia, Mama Mia, everybody has to know
1 Timothy, wasn’t written by Paul at all…at all…
At all, at all…..

Nothing really matters, anyone can see,
If Paul didn’t write,
If Paul didn’t write…1 Timothy
(Anyway the wind blows now….)

(We brought down the house in both sessions of the Follies, by the way…)

It was just fun to be with those people. Carla would tell us about Minn-e-so-ta (you have to kind of sing-song it to do it right), about this camp where she worked all summer, and how week after week on the last night of camp, out at the bonfire, she and the rest of the staff would take bets on how long before somebody at the camp would break down crying and say, “If you just look up right now, you can see that the opening in the trees forms the shape of a cross, and I just…I just think that’s SO AMAZING how much God loves us right now!” Every week, it happened.

My favorite moment actually happened in a practice. I loved being in the group, but I never really felt I belonged with these true musicians. I had to work pretty hard to get my parts down, and I was always afraid to improvise at all, cause I didn’t want to mess it up. But we had this one night, in a practice without Matt, our director, where we just spontaneously broke out in “Lean on Me.” It wasn’t one of our songs, so we just took the parts and did what we wanted with it. And it ROCKED! It was so fun. I got a brief glimpse of the rush that comes with actually creating music with talented people. (We told Matt, and he got out this arrangement he had of that classic, but it just sucked. No life in it. We never touched it again.)

After we all moved on, The Matz continued and hit the semi-big time. But I guarantee they didn’t have as much fun as we did.

7 thoughts on ““What was your favorite seminary experience and why?” – Part 6

  1. I’m getting goooooose bumps over here! You didn’t mention your own shining moment–“Screen Door.” If I knew how to post it, I would. But since I don’t, you should and let the world know that you have severly underplayed your singing ability on this post.And you are so right about “Rhapsody of a Seminarian.” We sang it in other incarnations of the MATZ and never, ever got it right. It was those damn “no”sThanks for all of this. It’s been fun to relive it with you.


  2. Hey man, you’re great. Preacher, Duke fan, bass in an improbable music group– me too! All of ’em.I must say you had more fun in seminary than I did. Not Duke Divinity School was it?


  3. That “no” section always did us in. A later (and, in my humble opinion, superior) musical director of the MATZ, Stevan Del George, rearranged those infamous “no’s” to try to make them easier to sing—still never worked in performance, however, at least to the best of my memory. But we’ll always have the courtyard…Jill and I agree that the year you described in the MATZ probably was the most fun, and thanks for remembering the immortal Carla quote. I continue to see that cross, right up there in the trees…


  4. Gregg, were you there the year we sang “Rhapsody” for the trustees (I think it was at a SOT banquet), and they all got really worried b/c they heard it as a serious commentary on the demoralizing nature of the typical student’s seminary experience?!

    The other interesting (perhaps not musically, but…) rendition of Rhapsody was when, some years later, David Scholer (Biblical Studies faculty after your time, and a great MATZ supporter) had us come to his NT class and sing it for his students. David also made a special guest appearence in our final performance of the song at the first MATZ farewell concert (the bass lyric was changed to “Dave Scholer, No! She doesn’t need to know!” for the occasion).

    But, yes, the courtyard rehearsal was the only time we rang it. And through all the 7 years I was with the group, that first year was indeed the most fun. Never since have I had such trouble with breath control while singing due to excessive and uncontrollable laughter. Just seeing Jimmy & Carla’s responses is provoking a memorial stitch in my side (and didn’t the two of them MEET at the Follies?!).


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