|George Strait: 50 Number Ones MCA Records 2004|
Amarillo by morning, up from San Anton. Everything that I got, is just what I got on.
In a split second, I pictured the dashboard of an old, black step-side truck and my dad's beard. I recalled the air freshener hanging on his radio knob and his deep tone - that sounds much like my adult voice, mind you - bellowing into the open window as we drove down the highway and my younger brother perched in the middle of the seat.
So without hesitation, I loaded Apple Music to the George Strait channel (and Apple Music or Spotify are great tools worth the money, by the way). An album featuring 50 number one hits by George Strait was listed, and even though I have been a casual fan of country music, I wouldn't call myself a George Strait disciple. I have never seen him in concert, never bought his album, never worn a shirt or pretended to rock his cowboy hat, though I do have good boots.
But as I skimmed through the shuffle button on my steering wheel, something magical happened. I realized I knew every single song. All 50 of them.
Well, excuse me, but I think you got my chair...
They call me the Fireman, that's my name...
You've got to have an ace in the hole...
Well, if you buy that...I got some...Ocean front property in Arizona.
I cross my heart, and promise to.
It started way back in third grade. I used to sit beside Emmy Lou Hayes.
From West Virginia down to Tennessee. I'll be moving when the good Lord leads...
That's why I hang my hat in Tennessee!
You know the me that gets lazy and fat. How moody I can be, all my insecurities...
I could keep going all day. An essentially, I did. Doing so, I learned a valuable lesson this rare, strange Thursday battling the Nashville humidity and interstate and listening to a classic country crooner: music is powerful, and it transforms our mind and soul to places that jar even the longest term memories.
You see, as a pastor, all of us realize that music itself is not redeemable. You can apply the same bar tune to a hymn and find chord progressions which work at a dance hall and a worship center. It is the lyrics which connect spiritually to a greater purpose of worship, but that does not diminish the power that a song has on our psyche.
Songs drive our emotions and can channel our happiness, loneliness and peace. When we learn to harness the power of music, we transcend time and understand how generations of composers in every genre cast a spell upon our heart with beautiful and haunting tones that plant themselves in the darkest and brightest corners of our mind.
My experiences with music are broad. I would say my favorite is a combination of modern rock/pop and then the ever-classic 1980s soft metal and hard rock. You'll find that my playlist makes my mother tap her toe to Southern Gospel, will light up the eyes of a grandfather with a bit of old-fashioned swing, poetically mesmerizes the classical palette with sounds of Bach, Beethoven and marching bands, and makes my kids light up with Christian rock, rap and the pump-up jams of local gymnasiums.
But back to George Strait for a minute...his music was so powerful that my friend Djery Baptiste, a sophomore center for Vanderbilt University basketball from Gonaives, Haiti, learned to speak English by listening to his songs. True story.
I want to take a moment to share the top influences and memories of music in my life, and see how they compare to yours. As this article is shared on social media, I hope you will find a place where your tranquility met its maker by the jarring melodies to trigger your mind.
Here are a few of mine:
Hymn - Are You Washed in the Blood - The song was number 177 in the old church hymnal at Halltown General Baptist, where I first took the stage beside my grandfather. My grandmother kept a dummy mic on the top of her China cabinet and placed it in her purse, and while my grandfather was leading singing, I would stand next to him and pretend I was doing it, too. It was this five-year-old Kris that would eventually overcome his stage fright to preach the Gospel on that same stage as a staff member of the church where I grew up some 17 years later.
Hymn - I Surrender All - My pastor lost his life on a mission trip. I remember his three girls singing this old hymn at Mt. Pleasant Church before the new building was constructed with my uncle Larry Biggs playing the piano. Pastor Rudy smiled with so much pride listening to his girls sing and every time I hear it, I think of him.
Classical - First Suite in Eb by Gustav Holst - A 10-minute, three movement military march that earned our high school band our best rating in concert competition. I had three solos or duets as a trumpet player, most notably a muted duet with Nakya Murray in the second movement as she played her clarinet. As one who easily learned music, I never practiced a piece of music more than this one. Our band played this piece on a trip to St. Louis in which everyone voted to go to Six Flags instead of the Cardinals vs. Expos game. I will never forgive them, though I could still pick up my trumpet and play every single note of the march.
Rock - Pour Some Sugar on Me - The power rock anthem by Def Leppard. My mom hated the cover of the Hysteria album. She was convinced it looked Satanic and truthfully, it wasn't but I still have really no idea what it is. Had I grown up to play Major League Baseball, this would without fail be my walk-up song to the plate or entrance song as a pitcher. What I recall, though, was my first intro to the band was when my friend Mike Webb gave me the cassette tape as a Christmas present when he drew my name at church. As a poor kid with little money, no one had ever bought me an album before and I thought I won the lottery.
Country - Keeper of the Stars - My uncle Larry played and sang this at my wedding with Jennifer. Tracy Byrd does an amazing job but to this day I still think its the greatest thing my uncle has ever sang. Incredible. When I hear the song, I see my wife looking into my eyes and smiling, every time.
Contemporary Christian - I Can Only Imagine - I watched Bart Millard debut this song on television, sitting on a stool with a single spotlight. I believe it might have been the Dove Awards. Nevertheless, I decided once to sing it in church and the sweetest lady I have ever known, Miss Ina Bell, asked me to sing it at her funeral if she ever passed because "she would be dancing with Jesus." She was, and I did.
Jazz/Early R&B - Easy Like Sunday Morning - I have to like a band called the Commodores, right? #AnchorDown. This is my favorite song of all time. I played it every single Sunday morning on my way to church when Revolution Church was meeting at H.B. Williams Elementary School. It is my peace and tranquility song. Lionel Richie is so smooth.
Classic Rock - Will You Still Love Me? - Chicago was the power ballad king. But this song makes me think of seeing my wife in her wedding dress. You really can't beat that.
Heavy Metal - Enter Sandman - Yes, the preacher like Metallica. Get over it. But if I am getting ready to step onto the ball field, I want to run through a wall. This song, Crazy Train and Thunderstruck make me want to run through walls. And Welcome to the Jungle gets an honorable mention here.
Pop - Blank Space - You had to know something crazy was coming on the list you did not expect, and yes Taylor Swift made an appearance. But every time I hear this song, I picture my kids singing and dancing and laughing and that makes me smile.
Hymn - How Great Thou Art - I played this in front of a concert hall with a piano accompaniment for over 1,000 power and slapped the power C ending like a boss. But nothing compares to playing it in the walls of an old country church with my humble friend, Rita Crafton, on piano, always thinking she was never good enough and never realizing she was always perfect.
One of the things I like to do in the vehicle with my kids is sing. Often, I make up lyrics to funny songs, sing off key on purpose, or play classics and introduce my kids to Journey, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Guns N Roses, Phil Collins, Reba McEntire and Keith Whitley, to name a few. My son likes TobyMac. My daughter idolizes For King and Country and 21 Pilots. My wife might have an unhealthy crush on Kenny Chesney. I once planned to marry Faith Hill and that story got me in trouble on a church version of the Newlywed Game.
But no matter, music is a connector to our psyche. It fosters our development and cultivates our past, present and future with this magical weave of power that cannot be measured or explained.
So this Sunday, I fully expect and hope that my words about Jesus from the Bible will be spoken in power and authority, and used by those who come to know him. But God forbid we miss that essential element of worship when the music matches the Word of God, and we can lift those voices of praise to our Heavenly Father.
Just like my dad, I hope God likes to sing, too.
Maybe he sounds just like George Strait.
Come to think of it, there's a song about that.
Have a good Friday!
Pastor Kris Freeman serves at Revolution Church in White House, Tennessee, and is the public address announcer for the Vanderbilt Commodores basketball program.