The Chance to Play Unplugged

The bassist leans forward and presses a button on his laptop keyboard to start up some YouTube sensation, two oddballs singing the praises of Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. Across from him, the big kid guitarist whips out his smartphone and tucks it away again, a tick of habit, and then closes his eyes to snooze off the sleep deprivation from the usual Saturday night club gig.

A fork full of waffle helps the fried chicken go down. Ridiculous makes hilarious. We all chuckle on the greenroom couches. And so the bandmate clicks to replay.

I check the clock, the ancient variety with the round face and hypnotizing hands. And then the saxophonist, a philosopher of sorts, turns to my husband to ask what’s going to become of the book industry with all this new media.

We talk of folded page corners, notes penciled in margins, and the cracking sound a book makes when its covers are pulled back like shoulders stretching to the spine. I think of our little library at home whose shelves are lined with the Harvard Classics I rescued from a dumpster. Talk turns to end times and conspiracy theories, and I scoot out to the edge of my seat. I vow it then, to become a book hoarder, to have something in hand in case the digital grid fizzles and goes kaput. And, you know, part of me wants it to. Maybe then the potential of face to face won’t be spent staring at a screen.

Soon, our friend, the worship leader, comes in to pray over the band, that we will make more than a joyful noise, that we will play with excellence. It’s a quick amen and we’re stepping out into the dark hall backstage. I put my hand in the bend of my husband’s elbow and let him lead me to my mic on his way to the drums. I squint in the beam of a spotlight.

Across the platform, the newcomer grand piano glows in the colored stage lighting, promising to rival the usual keyboard. The mics are hot and ready. The electric guitar revs. The snare whips. The saxophone whirs.

And then something pops loud, something unseen.

It kills the rainbow of lights, the white noise of speakers, the slight feedback of amplifiers. A few scattered lights compete with the dark. Tech guys scurry, tugging on wires, twisting plug-ins. I look past the hundreds of chairs, only half of them filled, now stuck in the shadows of the power outage. At the faraway entrance, natural light and gawkers peek into the black. They stop their feet at the doors.

I set my mic back in its stand and catch a wink from my husband, the only unpaid musician in the band. He turned away his share of the Sunday morning money for a higher reward, to let the holy rhythm rush through him, to mouth the words and express his heart right on beat. The partial power outage may be our little dream come true, this whole mess of excellence finally unplugged.

The piano’s lid prop points up like an old church steeple. I picture us all gathered around the instrument, blending our voices in mid-air, hearing them resonate as one.

There are skitters and whispers behind. I turn to see the lead pastor in a panic, looking for the culprit. Nothing’s working, not switching wires, not flipping switches on the circuit board, not restarting things in the soundbooth.  To me this is a sign to go with it, to let the people be more than an audience, more than swaying spectators whose voices have no chance of being heard over the booming speakers. This is our chance to let them be a congregation. Minutes are ticking by. The pastor sends the worship leader out with a prayer to stall for time. His voice is small in the sizable space.

In the balcony, there is a laying of hands on the soundboard. I cringe. I know God will probably give them over to their desires like He did when Israel begged for a king so they could fit in among the nations, so they could be relevant.

Another unexplainable click and pop and then something that sounds like an old slide projector. Red, yellow, green, blue. The lights cycle through as the system reboots. Our opportunity is lost. A tap of the mic. Check- 1, 2, 3. A strum of the acoustic. The rumble of the bass. People applaud as they crowd in. And someone onstage sings out in a farcical vibrato the cliche meant for concert halls: “The show must go on.”

3 thoughts on “The Chance to Play Unplugged

  1. I sense a profound sadness and a love/hate relationship with the complexities of technology! Another friend of mine just remarked the other day that she would love it if our phones stopped working and we had to have an actual face to face conversation. Perhaps misunderstandings would lessen, what with, tone and body language in the imagination of the receiver!

    • Yes. With technology, we go more wide than deep, complete more tasks and create products of “professional” quality, but lose the capacity to really meditate on the thing in front of us or to simply be content with technology easing a burden. It’s kind of like the invention of the washing machine- it could have lessened the work of the laundry, but when we saw the speed and convenience the washer brought, we just had to quadruple the number of pieces in our wardrobe, thereby pushing the machine and ourselves to the limit. :/

  2. The human voice singing pure praise is often lost in the noise of our programs. Oh that we would be still and know that He is God.

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