Today I am going to do a bit of 'spiritual reminiscing'--focusing on memories that helped shape my personal identity as well as my spiritual life. I do this with the hope that you will do your own spiritual reminiscing. It is an enriching exercise.
My memories today focus on the first time my parents took me to a Southern Gospel concert. This would be a significant, watershed moment in my life that would forever change the course I would take.
I was but a young boy, wide-eyed, and excited about seeing some of the famous quartets I had seen on TV. The church in which I grew up was rather 'high church' for Baptists. The choir had singers that read music very well, and many had received vocal training. Thus, their selections tended to be formal choral music.
Now, don't get me wrong. I love that kind of music. When a good choir can sing selections such as 'the Hallelujah Chorus' by Handel, and other such high-brow selections, I am the first to say 'BRAVO.' Not only am I blessed in my spirit but I simply love to hear quality music written by great composers and sung by singers who know what they are doing.
But, as was the case with many Protestant churches in the 50s and 60s, people began to note that the worship style had practically wiped all emotion out of the experience. Worship did not seem to be relaxed and enjoyable. And, people began to seek ways to worship God that included ALL of their emotions. Some turned to the charismatic movement to fill that void.
As for me, I never went down that path. But what happened to me was just as good. My parents took me to a gospel quartet concert in my hometown.
The place was packed with 3000-4000 people, standing room only, and we were seated in the balcony with a direct view of the stage. It was perfect. There I heard four of the great quartets from that era--The Blue Ridge Quartet, the Harvesters, the Kingsmen Quartet, and, my favorite of all, The Florida Boys.
I remember to this day every song they sang and every move they made on stage. I watched in rapt attention, mesmerized by what I saw and heard. When the Florida Boys sang that night, I noticed something that set them apart from the rest. Even at that young an age I could pick out harmonies, balance, and tone. And I noticed that on that evening, the Florida Boys came as close to perfection as I had ever heard. The balance between the tenor, lead, baritone, and bass was perfect. Nobody overshadowed the others. All of the parts could be heard equally, except for the lead voice, which is meant to be slightly louder than the harmony parts.
And the harmony, to my way of thinking, was astounding. To me at least, it was music that resonated with me...exactly what I was looking for.
And then there was another thing that happened. Gospel music is by its nature emotional. The Boys seemed to love what they were doing. We clapped while they sang. We cried when they sang a moving selection. We laughed at pianist Darrell Stewart's antics on state...always good for 'comic relief.'
But the nature of the songs they sang touched me at a deep place in my heart...at a level never before reached by anyone or anything. I was a Florida Boys fan for life. I was a Gospel Quartet fan for life. And my spiritual life was molded and shaped by the 'plain-spoken Gospel truths' contained in those songs.
That night I also got the thrill of a lifetime when I was given the opportunity to go backstage and meet the Florida Boys. Lead singer/manager Les Beasley signed the printed program I was carrying. Bass singer Billy Todd smiled and gave me a pat on the head.
But the one who took the most time to just stand and talk for a long while was baritone Glen Allred. Glen seemed to love children, especially those interested in Gospel singing. I told him that I wanted to sing in a quartet someday. I remember to this day what he said.
Glen said, "Good for you! We need clean cut young men like yourself, if you can stay that way as you grow up. And you have the looks, too. But let me hear you sing."
I sang the notes he demonstrated. He said, "Yep, you've got the pitch. I think if you apply yourself and learn how to use your voice properly, you can sing Gospel music."
Then, I asked Glen about Gospel singing and the spiritual life. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the road. And he said, "To me the spiritual part is the most important part. Prayer is the key to my survival on the road. When I get through with a program, and we pack up the bus to leave, I just go back to my bunk, lay down, and pray. Staying in touch with the Lord like that is a big help."
Naturally, I had heard all of this before, about the importance of prayer and having a personal relationship with the Lord, but hearing if from one of my heroes seemed to be different. It just sank in and 'took.'
From that time forth, Glen Allred was a friend. Even in adulthood I would go backstage to talk to him when the group was in town--sometimes on the bus. The same with Les Beasley and Darrell Stewart. But it was Glen who had the greatest impact.
I am always thankful for the role these men played in the life of a young boy. Those 'precious memories' can never be forgotten.
And part of the reason I am who I am today is due to the influence of these men. Thank God.