Djembe Thanksgiving – Part 4

January 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm 2 comments

Djembe Thanksgiving
Part 4:
A Joyful Chaos!

Read Part 1: The Drummers and Joe
Read Part 2: Kurzweil Jeff
Read Part 3: Oy! Logistics, Permissions and Switzerland, Oh My!
Read Part 5: Drums In Church — Some Concluding Thoughts

One of my most favorite times on Sundays and special service days is my morning walk over to the church.  I love to see the sun’s light starting to illuminate the church and the huge plaza with the reflecting pool that runs right by it.

Morning at The Mother Church (Tony Arruza/Corbis)

There is often a security guard somewhere along the plaza all bundled up that I wave to, and there is such peace, tranquility and beauty. Thanksgiving Day was no exception.

I always think of this phrase from a favorite hymn during my ritual walk:
“A glorious day is dawning and o’re the waking earth,  The heralds of the morning are springing into birth.” 1

As those morning heralds, I like to get into the church good and early while it is still quiet.  On this morning, I needed to get there even a bit earlier to get warmed up.  The drummers were coming!  I had to be ready!

To my great surprise,  (and momentary consternation) upon arriving at 6:45 am, sound was already reverberating through the church.  I found Bryan Ashley up in the organ loft of the Original  Mother Church, already in full swing, making lots of music — rehearsing his prelude, postlude, and hymns.  That’s when I thought, “Oh poor guy!”  He had to get into the church well before we all descended on him and took up all of his normal rehearsal time for drumming!

Bryan Ashley

Bryan Ashley

Let me tell you why you haven’t heard much about Bryan in this story.  It’s because he was just there all around us, showing up when we needed him, supporting all the prep work, but meanwhile churning out the music for lots of church services.

Thanksgiving week is probably the busiest week of the year for Bryan – and many other organists across the country.  While I was busy preparing the ensemble, Bryan had already prepared and played 4 services that previous Sunday and Wednesday — only to gear up again the next morning at 6:30 am for this fifth service.  Whew!  He was BUSY.  I needed to give him some slack!

So I did.  It was part my spiritual prayer and concept for this particular day: graceful flexibility.  It’s what this day was all about – new people, new schedules, new music and new inspiration!  I changed course and went off to the Children’s Room, found a quiet corner, grabbed the piano, warmed up and got ready to go…

All the musicians —  Teresa Ambugo,  Joe Galeota, Nate Frederick, Tamie Kanata, Koblavi,  Steve Okwor, Doris Olawuwo and Jeff Williams — all showed up at the appointed time: 8:00 am.

OK.  Can I just tell you what a miracle this was?  It’s hard enough to schedule one or two extra musicians to show up at the right time, in the right place.  Here we had 8 additional people — all gorgeously attired in native African dress from their various countries, who were on time and even early – they were actually ready to go!  One of our drummers, a dad, even had his two little girls in tow, perfectly dressed and outfitted for the day – and they weren’t even in “the show!”  This was a truly impressive start to our Thanksgiving Day.

Teresa Ambugo, Nathan Frederick, Joe Galeota, Steve Okwor, Jeff Williams, Julia Wade, Tamie Kanata, Kolavi, Doris Olawuwo

We had 90 minutes to get through everything before the doors of the church opened at 9:30 am.

There were cameras, video crew, and techie guys on headsets.  Our Manager of Local Activities, Joan Pedersen, graciously came early to oversee and be with our 2 little girls while Dad rehearsed.  My husband, Peter Link, a techie man himself, was handed a head set and he helped to direct our ensemble while talking on headset to Tim Malone, our sound engineer who was down in the Audio room.  And all of the musicians were  yacking, practicing, warming up… and yacking!

Given that I was amplified on mic and have traditionally been one of the louder members in any given group,  (I am not shy in these moments) I called out directions like “Hey Bryan… Where’s Jeff?  We need you guys over here!”  “OK, drummers, let’s try places from the pew… again!”  “Tim, I need more track in my monitor mix to hear over the drummers!”  “Jeff, Bryan, can you guys see Joe when he throws cues?”  “Peter, Joan, how are we doing on time?”  And so it went…

It was joyful, organized, happy chaos… And we got it all done – with a few minutes to spare.  Oh, and we rehearsed the music too!


During the church service, we sat the whole ensemble in the front middle row of the church, covering the drums from most of the congregation’s view.

When it came time for the solo song, it was a gorgeous sight to see the drummers stand up in the vibrant colors and patterns of their native dress — and a great surprise to see the drums dramatically appear as the ensemble strapped them on and got into position facing the congregation.

As mentioned in earlier parts of this story, we performed a beautiful medley of “For As The Rain Comes Down” and  a Nigerian hymn, “Allelujah Y’in Oluwa.”  (See Djembe Thanksgiving: Part 2.)

The song began delicately with the “sssshhhhhhhh” of African rain sticks played by Joe, Tamie and Doris.  Bryan entered with a sweet syncopated melody with steel drum-like sounds and Jeff followed on bass keyboards.  I made my entrance singing “For as the rain comes down to water the ground and make the green earth bud…”

When we arrived at the end of the first chorus, I sang,“The mountains and hills into singing shall break, and all the trees shall clap their hands.”

And that’s exactly what we did!  The whole ensemble started the rhythm section with a joyful a capella hand-clapping segment that took us into the drumming.  By the time we reached the Nigerian hymn, the drums were in full force, accompanied by the keyboards and Joe took a great solo drum moment too.  We finally segued back to the first part of the song, with a joyful tag-ending – drumming, playing and clapping our hearts out.

The congregation spontaneously broke out into a robust round of applause.  This is very special, because applause is not necessarily a regular expression in these church services. This show of appreciation was so sweet and acknowledging of the drummers and a moment that brought fresh energy and inspiration.

Our Second Reader, Beth Schaeffer, told me that during the solo, she watched some of the children and young people.  There were some excited and rapt expressions on their faces as they weaved and bobbed to the drums.


At the end of the service, the congregation was to sing the Nigerian Hymn for the closing hymn.  We had one final obstacle to surmount.  Our concern was to figure out how to get this song across to the congregation so that they would feel comfortable singing a new hymn in English and in Yoruba.

The group rehearses the closing hymn with Readers Curt Wahlberg and Beth Schaeffer

After much discussion and debate, we decided to simply print the melody line of the hymn with the four verses – the first three in English and the last in Yoruba.

Our First Reader, Curt Wahlberg, announced the Nigerian hymn and told the congregation that they would probably remember the tune since it had been sung as part of the solo just 15 minutes before.

Meanwhile, the drummers and I got into place and together we sang the hymn twice in Yoruba with Bryan and Jeff on organ and keyboard.  As we came to the end, I signaled the congregation to stand…

…And they were AMAZING!  The congregation was truly awesome!  They stood up on cue and some even jumped out of their seats ahead of time, already moving in rhythm to the music.  They sang  — we all sang together — in a joyful collective voice.    It was a tremendous conclusion to a beautiful service.

After the hymn, everyone in the church stood with quiet joy as the final benediction was spoken.  It  felt to me that the whole service experience sent us all back out into the world filled full with healing thoughts, blessings and maybe a few new ideas.  We were full even before the day of feasting began!

My privilege was to get to know the drummers, to sing with them, work with Joe Galeota and his ensemble member Koblavi, continue a great collaboration with Bryan Ashley and our consultant Jeff Williams – and to see all of this and these people come together in the church.  This experience was supremely unifying, filled with interesting obstacles that we overcame, and full of collaboration, healing… and fun!

Together, out of our happy chaos, we made a “joyful noise unto the Lord!”2

This concludes Part 4

1quote from Hymn #2, “Missionary Hymn” by Lowell Mason, text by Author Unknown; The Christian Science Hymnal; ©The Christian Science Publishing Society
2quote from Psalm 100:1, The Bible; King James Version

Read Part 1: The Drummers and Joe
Read Part 2: Kurzweil Jeff
Read Part 3: Oy! Logistics, Permissions and Switzerland, Oh My!
Read Part 5: Drums In Church — Some Concluding Thoughts


Julia Wade is a Recording Artist and Director of Digital Sheet Music

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Entry filed under: Church Music, Inspiration, Inspirational Music, Inspiratus, Performance, Practice & Performance: Working It Out, Spiritual Thinkers. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Djembe Thanksgiving – Part 3 Djembe Thanksgiving – Part 5

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sharyn Baird  |  February 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Julia, I just finished reading your blogs about the Thanksgiving service. I am thrilled that such beautiful music was used at the Mother Church. Thank you so much for describing what took place. I enjoy visiting the Mother Church sometimes and liked hearing about the way the variety of music is being used now. Thank you so much for what you do to keep the church more current with new music. I have enjoyed hearing you at the Mother Church and on your CDs. I am waiting for the next one!! Your support and love for the church activities really shows and I am grateful the church has you to lead the church into such God inspired joyous music. Thank you for all your work. Sharyn

    • 2. juliawade  |  March 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm

      Dear Sharyn,
      Thank you for your heart-felt comment! The music goes forward because it is a full circle of communication — which means that the congregation — local and worldwide are open and fellow seekers for additional expression in our services. So, thank you for being so receptive! And FYI, I am finally working on my next CD, and am thrilled to be doing so. I will put do some future blog posts to let everyone know about the process. Thank you for your support and interest! With love!


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