Though my mind was ready for another day, my stomach was not…it was crazy to realize that according to the time zone my body was accustomed to, I was getting up at 5:00 a.m. – eating breakfast at 6:00 a.m. – having lunch at 10:30 – and consuming dinner at 3:30 p.m. – and not eating again until an “after the concert snack” at anywhere from ten to eleven o’clock! I can’t even imagine what our Canadian and West Coast students felt like! Grumbellies galore, no doubt.
Anyway, I had breakfast with some friends of mine from Nebraska, then headed over to Chapel, where Jeff Stice played for David Sutton as he sang a solo, Mercy, Forgiveness and Grace. Since I had a songwriting lesson with Jim Brady right after piano class, I detoured to my dorm and picked up my guitar. I never realized how bulky that thing was until I had to start squeezing it into these different classrooms and find a place to set it that would be out of the way!
The class in the morning was taught by Jeff Stice on Knowing When To Disappear as a musician. He emphasized that a band of musicians have to work together as a unit, and if you accompany singers, you need to complement what they are doing and not be focused on showing off your own skills. Something that I noticed this year was that the other piano teachers were sitting in on each others classes. Andrew Ishee sat in on this class. I was very impressed by the way he interacted with the lesson, asking Jeff questions for certain situations, even though he was a teacher! The funny thing was, everyone in the piano class was kind of quiet, they didn’t have a lot of questions, in fact, to get someone to ask one was like pulling teeth! But once Andrew asked a question (he being a teacher himself), it seemed to loosen the atmosphere in the classroom. It was also nice to see that he wanted the students to be aware of certain things, and therefore wasn’t afraid to ask something himself, so everyone else could learn from Jeff’s answers.
From Jeff’s class I walked across the hallway to my private lesson with Jim Brady. I was excited and nervous all at the same time! He would be my first “Southern Gospel” instructor to have at SHS for songwriting, and I was very interested to hear his view on writing. Well, I wasn’t disappointed! He took a completely different view point than anything I’ve heard at SHS (that’s including my experiences from last year too!). He had a 7-9 point outline he went over with me…and did I have some questions for him! LOL! Towards the end of my lesson he checked his cell phone to see what time it was, then commented, “We have a few minutes left, get your guitar out and let’s hear your song.” I didn’t know what time it really was, so I took his word for it and sang my song. He spent more time with me, more than just “a few minutes,” and gave me some pointers, said what he liked about my song and what could be improved, then the lesson ended and we went on our merry way to lunch. Heading to the elevator (which has a habit of making really odd noises when you ride in it, by the way!) – I took out my cell phone to see what time it was…I was shocked to see it was 11:46 a.m.!!! My lesson with Jim was supposed to end at 11:15!!!! I have a feeling that when he checked his phone to see what time it was, the lesson was probably over, but since there were no other classes or lessons to worry about, he just kept on going because the only thing we were missing was lunch! When I arrived for lunch my sister asked me, “Did you just get out of your lesson?” I replied, “Yep!” She gave me a momentary look of disbelief before displaying a very huge smile across her face. She was thinking the same thing I was. That this was just another example of how much the teachers at SHS are really there for the students. They truly are one dedicated bunch!
At lunch I began to notice a reoccurring theme that would become the central joke of the week. It had to do with a certain food the cooks made for us EVERYDAY at EVERY MEAL! *** CHICKEN!*** I can’t remember if it was for lunch or dinner, but we had chicken tacos, and let’s just say the chicken didn’t look like chicken! One of the teachers commented that it looked like sawdust…it was pretty bad. Ya know, on the way to school I think I must have had a premonition about chicken … or maybe it was just that this vehicle happened to pull up next to me with a bumper sticker that read – HONK IF U LUV CHIKIN … (SHS students will enjoy this photo!)
After lunch, I clucked on over, oops … I mean, skipped on over to the Humanities building where the Songwriting Session was to be taught by Stephen Nix. This particular class was on Poetic Devices and Crafting Lyrics. This lecture was fast paced and packed with a lot of technical things we term “science in writing.” Song structure, for example, went over the purpose for the chorus, bridge and tags in a song, and what a verse is supposed to do and/or create in the lyrics. Before I knew it, three o’clock rolled around and it was time for my private piano lesson with Matthew Holt!
So…back over to the Curtsinger building went I! This private lesson with Matthew Holt was one of the best piano lessons I had all week. When I explained what I was looking to learn musically (playing hymns differently than what’s written in the hymnbook), without hesitation, he began telling me about a formula he was going to teach me to use in arranging. He used two hymns as examples, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus and I Surrender All, then proceeded to explain in a step-by-step fashion what to do. What I really liked about his teaching style the most was, on the first hymn he showed me what to do, then, on the second song he made me do it on my own to be sure that I understood the process! All in all, I really liked Matt’s teaching style!
Back to back with my private lesson was the final group class of the day for piano. This session our instructor was none other than Mr. Eric Ollis from the Whisnants! He was teaching on “Missing Links.” Eric began his class by asking if anyone has ever been frustrated when they hear a song … then buy the sheet music for it and find the chords are not what you heard on the audio recording. Those “fancy” chords are what Eric called missing links…the chords you hear, yet have no idea on how to play! He gave each student a handout that outlined what chords can be substituted with ones that have more color and how to use connector chords. At the beginning of class, Larry Buchanan came to sit in on Eric’s class. It was really fun to get to see these two work together when Eric opened the class up for questions. A student asked a question Eric wasn’t sure about, so he turned to Larry and asked him if he knew the answer. Larry timidly replied that he could explain it, but, he didn’t want to take over Eric’s class. Well, Eric got him up there and we had an impromptu theory lesson! At the end of the class, Eric had Garret Anderson (one of the piano students he had with a private lesson that day) come up and play a solo for us. When Garret started playing, I thought to myself, “Wait a minute! I know that arrangement!” It was none other than Roger Bennett’s “Bush Arbor Medley!” Garret brought the ceiling down with that one! When he was finished, Eric proudly announced that Garret learned all of that by ear! What a talented guy!
Piano Fan Fair:
Four keyboards sat on the stage in Dixon Hall just waiting for the program to begin so they could display masterpieces of musical composition. Soon, the lights slightly dimmed and the announcer welcomed the audience to the 2011 Steve Hurst School of Music Piano Fan Fair. The show began with Steve Hurst playing Amazing Grace, a few seconds into the hymn, Eric Ollis added another part on a separate piano, and so it went on until Stephen Butler, Andrew Ishee and Larry Buchanan were all on stage playing at once. As the last note faded and the pianist exited the stage, Steve introduced his co-host, Gary Casto. Now, Gary insisted that a piano show just wouldn’t be right without one of those good old “red hymnbook” quartet songs … the next number just so happened to be one of those, it was none other than the classic, I’ll Fly Away! Matthew Holt, Channing Eleton, Jeff Stice and Josh Singletary jammed together on this one, then the solo’s began!
Matthew Holt was up first with a well-known piece, When They Ring Those Golden Bells. Steve introduced him by telling a little story about Matthews wedding. Before Matt was married, he called Steve and asked if he would play at his wedding. Steve said he was dumbfounded as to why Matt would ask him, and mentioned it. Matthew made a comment to Steve about Anthony Burger being his first pick … “but, Anthony Burger’s dead!” – So, Steve played at Matt’s wedding!
“Wasn’t that exciting?!!” Gary asked when Matt finished his solo. Steve addressed the audience, “He’s just excited because the next one is a camp-meeting song.” And so it was! Stephen Butler played I’m Winging My Way Back Home. Instead of the host introducing the next pianist, Stephen B. did! He announced, “Here is a man who met his wife here at school … so if you’re saved, single and searching, this is a great place to be!”
Andrew Ishee jammed a robust version of Goodbye World, Goodbye, taking it to a minor key about half way through the song. I thought his expressions were hilarious, until suddenly, he kicked the piano bench almost off the stage (knocking over a microphone stand in the process!) – and finished the song standing, bouncing on one foot!!! (After three days of school – I want to know where he found that kind of energy!!!!)
Laura Ollis (Eric’s wife) had the pleasure of introducing her husband to the stage. Laura shared that she and Eric began dating back in 1985 when she was 15 and he was 16. Not being able to see Eric play on the road very often, she thought this was a special occasion, and picked the song she wanted Eric to play! Laura shared, “I choose Blessed Assurance with a modulation into In The Garden with a twist of Puff The Magic Dragon.” Eric peeked his head out from the curtain and gave her a blank stare … everyone giggled. Yet! He did it! Laura’s request is exactly what he played!
Next, we had a “special guest” – Jim Brady! No, he didn’t play the piano, but rather, delighted us with two songs! The first was We Have An Anchor. When the track ended he said, “Wow! Ya’ll are still wound up!!!” He also performed his powerful song, Truth Is Marching On, and then proceeded to introduce Josh.
Josh Singletary played a worshipful arrangement of How Great Thou Art. When Gary and Steve came back out on stage, they led everyone in singing the chorus while Steve accompanied on the keys. Getting ready to bring the next pianist to the platform, Gary said, “A few years ago I came to understand that this next man is the quiet one of the bunch…”
Larry Buchanan struck the keys with a fast tempo of Unclouded Day. I liked the way he added the “pig robins” style in on the left hand. (They actually mentioned in class that the pig robins technique is being left out and lost in a lot of piano music). Brownie points for Larry! 🙂
Channing Eleton was next on the set. The guys introduced him as a man of faith who lives to worship the Lord. What a coincidence that his solo was Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee! When he finished his piece, Steve said, “Don’t you wish you could play like that?” (Absolutely!) Gary casually replied, “Well, I’m the one who taught him.” Steve said, “That’s not in the script!” Then he began ruffling through the “script papers” on the music stand where they were standing. Gary smiled and proclaimed, “I’m sticking to my story!”
Last but not least, was the incredible Jeff Stice! He played a long arrangement with lots of orchestration backing him on a track. I’m unsure of the song’s title … but I think I’m safe to say it was a hymn! After Jeff’s solo, he stepped out and encouraged everyone to sing a chorus of Allelujah. Then all the guys came back on stage and played together while Steve and Gary led the congregation in singing. While the guys led us in Standing On Holy Ground, He Touched Me and Through It All, they had Jim come back out on stage and sing with them. It was a unique evening jammed full of talented musicians using their God given gifts to encourage Believers!