I broke Chorale protocol to swivel in my seat and spy out my parents and children, even though the rule was to never draw attention to yourself, even before getting to the stage. Ah ha! I attempted to catch their eye, but I was only one black dress in a sea of dark apparel and I knew there was no way they'd see me. Ah well. I knew I was the director's favorite (as were all the other 192 Chorale members) and thus decided I probably wouldn't get in too much trouble for breaking several concert rules. So I stood up and stared waving. Huh. They still couldn't see me. I grabbed my standing buddy, hoisted her up as well and we both started flailing our appendages to get their attention. Being my sister-in-law, she didn't seem to mind my enticing her into such a serious Chorale faux-pas, and seemed happy enough that her nieces and nephew finally waved back. I made eye-contact with my parents, and blew kisses to the kids, who held their Hershey's kisses aloft in response.
There were roughly 1300 people packed the gymnasium, and the general hubbub of friends and families chatting while they awaited the beginning of the concert filled the room with an ebb and flow of rolling decibels. I settled back into my seat, nudging my belongings further under the chair in front of me, and checked my binder for the third time. Songs in order, check. Tissue tucked into a pocket, check. Last sip of water, check. Binder held in my right hand so that it is farthest away from the audience, check.
Oh! Can't forget to start recording. I booped my phone and fired up the voicememo app, tossing the device onto my scarf just in time to see Doc give the signal to rise. As a unified wave of concert black, nearly two hundred vocalists stood and stormed the risers.
Well, not exactly. The young ones (the current chorale members) did an excellent job rushing onto the stage in fury and formation. The alumni, however (some of which were over four decades older than the freshmen) were acutely conscious of popping hips, balance issues, and general aging, which resulted in more of a mildly aggressive flurry rather than a storm.
The energy on stage was something I had never before experienced. Even 15 years after my last Chorale concert I could still remember the way my sternum would tickle the back of my throat, and the tightness in my lower back as my seldom-used heels changed my posture just enough to make me aware of the way I held my shoulders. I anticipated the excitement, the joy, and the little flutters of nerves but this... This was something different.
Physically, there was an ease that had never been there before, simply because I knew far better who I was and why I was there. Mentally, on account of being able to use sheet music, there was a freedom from my old nemesis of a forgetful mind. Emotionally, there was elation. To be surrounded by a representation of 43 years of music with a common conductor was a platform I had never considered enjoying. And reaching through each feeling and thought, and draped over the wonder of opportunity being in that place at that time, was a weighted blanket of... Well, there's no better way to describe it than feeling completely curled up and tucked in by a rich velvet cocoon of home.
I knew far better who I was and why I was there.
And then we began to sing. Doc's familiar hands led us the same way we had grown to love, and he directed us with the gestures and gesticulations unique to his conducting and character. Though many of us had not sung in a choir for several decades, Doc had trained us so well that his direction was intuitive and natural. With just a twitch of his pinky he was dropping us to the barest mezzo-piano and growing the intensity without hardly adjusting our volume, pulling the purple richness out of every consonant and breathing gold into every vowel.
And the power! When we were called to drive the song in forte and fury I realized I was leaning over my toes as a tangible wall of sound blew me forward. Even now, thinking about the force of that unified sound I have goosebumps crawling over my arms. THAT. If I only keep one physical feeling from that night it'll be the undertow of musical strength crashing into my rib-cage, filling every one of my molecules with a palpable energy.
That man, though. Dr. Paul T. Plew. The man we were there to recognize for his 43 years of faithful service to Jesus at The Master's University School of Music. The man who not only led us in music but also in character and upright living. The man who taught me that JOY is a choice founded on my trust in my God, rather than a response to my circumstances. The man who married Jason and I fifteen years ago. The man who remembers my children's names (most of the time) and checks in on us periodically to see how we're doing, and to see if we're "happy serving the Lord."
The man who will accept nothing less than honesty and transparency when he asks us where we've been "in the book in the last 24 hours." That man who cares more about a person's soul than their status, and calls them to excellence simply because he believes every Christian's purpose in every one of their opportunities and objectives is the glory of God.
There was a gymnasium full of people who had seen Jesus through Doc, and were the better for it to such an extent that they traveled as far as Cambodia to celebrate him that evening. Yet, when asked during a public interview, "What is the legacy... you want to impress on our hearts and souls?" Doc replied, "I want you to forget the name Paul Plew, and just remember, 'Give me Jesus.'"
I want you to forget the name Paul Plew, and just remember, "Give me Jesus."
And then that dear man spoke his heart for us, espousing his desired legacy in the midst of a growing challenge for the college and for churches who are in the midst of a broken world, urging us to live in such a way "that we will not be swayed by the culture, but we would be swayed by Scripture."
After a full evening of curated remarks and special musical offerings by some exquisite people who had grown under Doc's conducting hand and caring heart, there was a presentation of thanks by the school board. Much to the tearful delight of everyone present, the music program was given a new name: The Paul T. Plew School of Music.
As the applause quieted and folks sat back down, a board member stated, "Dr. Plew said earlier that he was content to see his name be forgotten..." As the bursts of laughter settled he continued, "It's gonna be a little tougher now. We've already made a plaque and stuff, so... I hope that's okay." Yes. Yes, it's absolutely okay.
"You can't stage this kind of affection." That was the sentiment as we all sang Great Is Thy Faithfulness and the Doxology followed by the Chorale benediction: You Are The Light.
"You can't stage this kind of affection."
And as the last note whispered away like a dust mote in a sunbeam, there was a collective breath. For everyone knew we had just experienced something special. Something that would most likely not be rivaled this side of heaven, yet would be echoed a million times over as the saints through the ages would one day be surrounded by the fruits of their faithfulness. And each faithful man and woman and child will take every accolade, and every praise, and every evidence of their love for Jesus and will carry them to the feet of their Savior with absolute joy, saying, "This was all for You."
May my legacy be one that showcases Jesus so well. For each person who sees Christ in me, and is thus spurred to know Him more and love Him more, therin will lay my greatest achievement and my eternal reward. After all, my purpose and objective in every opportunity is the glory of God. And thus His legacy is my greatest prize.
My amazing SIL; she's pretty much the coolest.
Doc lifted up 5 feet so that everyone would see his pinky of power
193 voices, all crammed on one stage, in front of one man, for one Audience.
Plew getting into the piece! (How Great Thou Art)
The renamed school of music