This will be a vulnerable post. 2020 has been hard for a lot of us, myself included, and the past two weeks have been almost as dramatic when I think of the year as a whole.
I have to confess, I didn’t really mind when we went into lockdown in mid-March, especially when it came to leading worship. It was sad not hearing the voices of my team members and congregation sing with me, but I became accustomed to the new normal and the flexibility it provided me in terms of preparation and practice time. When I only had to consider myself on a musical level, my practice time became efficient and almost comforting in its routine. There were a few of our crew along with my pastor and his wife who joined in our pre-recorded services, and it was enough for me to feel connected to the process.
Through most of the Summer, we were able to meet in person for worship again, and I slowly began to integrate more team members as long as we socially distanced while rehearsing. I felt relief when I realized I would have the help of my team. I hadn’t realized until then how much I relied on my team members’ help with lyrics if I would happen to blank out during a service. Just in case you weren’t aware of this, let me remind you that I never have lyrics or music in front of me when I play and sing. I just can’t get close enough to the music rest to see anything no matter how large I make the font on the page in front of me. Being without my team for a few months in the Spring wasn’t easy and I had to really concentrate on memorizing the music, so having some singers with me during the Summer was incredibly freeing and I enjoyed participating in community.
But then in Mid-November, we were advised to go back into lockdown and return to pre-recorded or live services with just our crew in the room. My pastor’s wife no longer attended our recording, and all of the crew wore masks and distanced in the back of the sanctuary. I couldn’t hear anyone singing, and I felt the separation keenly. Three services in a row, I blanked out on lyrics. One time, I even had to stop and start the song again because I didn’t know the first line. My confidence wasn’t just shaken; it was rattled. I’ve always been nervous while performing or leading worship, but as the weeks progressed, my nervousness became a pit of dread in my stomach.
Now, before I go any further, please don’t jump to the conclusion that I dreaded or hated my role as worship leader. I have always loved my job and been grateful for the impact working at FRC has had on my life. But as November drew to a close, I was desperate to find some calm and perspective. I still loved to sing, but I was consumed with the fear that I would continue to forget lyrics. In the times I forgot the words, I quite often fumbled on the piano as well because of my anxiety.
Late one afternoon, I sat down at the piano and just cried. I didn’t want to practice. I didn’t want to sing. I was so tired of fighting my negative thoughts and nervous dread. So I prayed… for a long time… telling God everything that was in my heart. I was exhausted by the time I finished with everything I had to say. I didn’t move for a long time but just sat there until I felt as if I perceived the nudge to check out prompting technologies.
Now, I’ve considered having a prompter on stage before, but everything I’ve researched has never seemed to fit me visually or as a piano player. I would need a screen or some kind of system at very close range that wouldn’t require much attention while in use. I have found that the larger font I use, the less that fits on a printout or screen, so usually that means I have to turn the page or swipe to the next slide after just a few phrases. When you’re playing piano, you can’t afford to lift your hand to turn pages or swipe to the next slide, especially when you would have to do it constantly in my case.
That afternoon, I was thinking my research wouldn’t amount to many options. But even though I was doubtful, I had a tiny bit of hope rise to the surface. It was 2020, after all, and there had to be some new technology out there.
Within an hour, I had found a free application on the Google Play Store. It came highly recommended in the reviews; a user who was visually impaired even remarked that it worked well for them. I downloaded the app immediately after reading the promising words from my visually impaired peer, and upon launching the app and importing some lyrics, I started crying all over again.
I COULDN’T BELIEVE MY EYES! There is no pun intended there! I was instantly transfixed on my screen, and I practically ran to the piano to try it out. I don’t have a music rest on my piano at home, but I was able to set my Tablet next to me and start the prompting. I increased the font to 70 and it began to scroll. IT SCROLLS! I quickly learned I could time it to scroll fast or slow, depending on the speed of my songs, and I can place stops or blank lines in certain places if I need to play an interlude or instrumental between the vocal lines and I don’t want the lyrics to get ahead of me. I basically never have to touch the prompter while in use— NO SWIPING OR TURNING PAGES!
As if the app wasn’t enough, two days later, I was on the phone with a family member, and I related my discovery over the weekend. Within an hour, an apparatus was ordered on Amazon, a swivel/ boom-type stand that I can place my Tablet inside and have lyrics essentially inches in front of my face. We had to wait a week for it to be shipped to me, but I was excited at the possibilities.
In the meantime, I tried a few songs with prompting at a recorded service. Since I didn’t have the rest of the equipment yet, I simply propped my Tablet on the folio stand in front of the music rest and let the prompter run during two of my five songs. IT WAS A GAME-CHANGER! All of the nerves and dread were GONE! I was at ease. I was calm. I LOVED IT! I went home, motivated and excited for the weeks to come.
But the very next day, I came crashing back to reality. I won’t get into details here, but 24 hours after we recorded our service, I found myself in the ER. Within a few moments, I was diagnosed with a somewhat common heart condition that I have probably had all my life without knowing it. From what I understand, this condition is manageable and treatable, but these past few weeks have been overwhelming. I have many doctor appointments on the horizon and medications to manage. I feel like I came from the valley, shot to the top of the mountain, and now I’m back to the valley. I’m anxious about it, but I’m grateful that I’m able to still work and function without depression or negativity.
I think the hope of the Christmas season is helping. I have had such great support from my co-workers, neighbors, and household assistant. I am getting to appointments and receiving help around the house when I need it. I am loving my Christmas lights and practicing with my prompter. My friends even brought my Tablet to the hospital so I could keep working on importing songs into the awesome app. Working on the prompting kept my thoughts from spiraling in anxiety toward my new diagnosis.
I’m grateful for the ER doctor who diagnosed me, the nurses in the hospital who cared for me, those who are driving me to appointments, and those who are checking in on me periodically. I’m also grateful for SingerPro (the prompting app) and the developer who created it. And now that I’ve been able to set up the equipment on the piano at church, I am grateful for a piece of hardware that has made a MONUMENTAL difference for me as a musician.
I might be in the valley right now, but I can still see the victories. I am hopeful, grateful, and blessed.