This happened early on in my musical career, back when I was starting to write the gospel songs that I was later known for. At the time, I was one of the lower echelon keyboard players at Hillsong. I was working my way up through the ranks of the “synthesizer” players and hoping to one day be considered accomplished enough to join the ranks of the “piano” players. They were heady days indeed.
On this occasion, I’d been asked to perform one of my original songs during a Hillsong church service. It was the first time I’d ever done so. Although I was a little nervous, I practised and practised, making sure that I knew my song back to front. I’d written a very heart-felt song, which I was sure would resonate with the congregation, and, who knows - it could lead to an outbreak of revival.
They had set up a Steinway & Sons grand piano for me to play at with a microphone on a “boom” stand. I was introduced, sat down and with a brief intake of breath, I began my song.
It started well. I had great foldback and could hear everything I needed to in order to stay in tune and be in the moment. I glanced over at the front row. There was Brian Houston, Geoff Bullock and many others, behind whom sat about a thousand people.
I noticed my voice getting fractionally fainter and opened my eyes to notice that my microphone was a little lower than it used to be. My “boom” microphone stand had begun a very gradual descent. It is a piano/vocalist’s worst nightmare, as you just can't stop and adjust the stand without stopping the song.
I wasn’t going to let this detract from the heart-felt meaningfulness of my song, so I started my own gradual hunch and continued to sing into the microphone as it continued to droop like an old lily.
I cast a glance over to the crowd. They hadn’t as yet, noticed my microphone’s decline. I continued into verse two.
By the end of the verse, the “boom” microphone stand had completely given up on it’s task. The microphone was now resting upon my knuckles, bouncing up and down as I played. I had to keep my hands beneath the microphone in order to continue the song, so my master plan to flourish up and down the octaves and secure my inevitable place in the “piano” player Hillsong roster would have to wait. This was now simply about survival.
Now some of the congregation couldn’t see me at all. I was hunched over, singing into a microphone which now bounced up and down on my knuckles. I was playing the entire song within one octave of notes and hidden away behind the piano. I think that they might have thought that I had been "caught up in the moment" somehow.
Brian Houston and the Hillsong leadership were still able to see me, and it might have been my imagination, but I thought I caught the faintest looks of puzzlement on their faces.
I was now singing for my life. No eye surgeon, air traffic controller or bomb disposal technician could have matched me for my sheer focus on continuing this heart-felt original song despite the microphone bouncing on my knuckles. By now, the “boom” microphone stand had only become all the looser as the microphone arm moved up and down. It almost had metal fatigue by now.
In the quietness of the back of my mind, behind my singing, problem-solving, intensity, I thought to myself, “This could not get any worse.”
It was at that moment that I thought I’d somehow had a vision. A hand was reaching up from below me, between my legs. As I continued to sing, the hand grasped the microphone and proceeded to elevate it up to normal singing height.
Because of my laser-like focus, I was unaware that my fellow “synthesizer” fellow rosteree, Paul, had commando-crawled across the stage, before rolling under the Steinway & Sons grand piano to set right my microphone conundrum. Although he couldn’t quite see, he reached up and had become a his own version of human microphone stand.
The congregation who couldn’t previously see me for a while, could now could view me in all my diminutive glory. I sang with a new confidence.
Although I could now no longer play in the previous octave of the piano notes which were now blocked by a manly arm, I could still play in all the other octaves of the Steinway & Sons grand piano left to explore.
I cast a glimpse to the front row, only to catch people using their fingers to count. Suddenly it dawned on me that they couldn’t see Paul beneath the piano. They could only see what looked like a three-handed piano prodigy. My heart-felt song was becoming a circus act!
I was determined to continue singing and to play in the genuine spirit of my intense, meaningful, heart-felt song.
In the moment, it soon became apparent that this would made a little more difficult, as although Paul was doing a fine job as a microphone holder, his inability to see from below meant that he now had the microphone a little too high for me. Whereas before I was having to hunch down, now I was being forced to partially stand, almost like Peter Allen did during “I Go To Rio” as he reached for his maracas.
I continued to try and keep forging ahead with my heart-felt, meaningful song.
By this stage, there was a general murmuring from the crowd. A fragment of laughter found it’s way to me from one of the balconies. I think people were a little confused between the incongruence of the Abbott and Costello comedy routine and the seriousness of the lyrics I was singing with all my heart.
Suddenly I realised that the laughter from the balconies wasn’t the only laughter I was hearing. Large chuckles were erupting from beneath me. Paul had started to giggle. I would have ignored this, save for the fact that Paul's arm (which was holding the microphone like a clamp) started bouncing around as he laughed.
I was now in a semi-crouch, getting a cramp in my calf, singing a heartfelt, meaningful original song to an amused and confused audience, which included my great mentors and heroes. Should I do that quadruple chorus I’d planned for the end of the song? I think not! I quietly concluded the song in as graceful a way as I knew how.
I can’t remember if I helped Paul up off the ground beneath me, or whether I just simply walked off stage to my own sense of despair.
Thus began a number of awkward musical moments that I have suffered over my many years. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that they were filming the whole thing, and that at some stage of my career, it will emerge from the archives.
I am thankful for the brotherly kindnesses of people like Paul.