By Ken Boone
A big televangelism show was coming to our town for a month-long series of meetings. I described the setting in my blog post of April 8, 2019. The arena was booked. The featured speaker was in place. The opening acts were ready to go. The semi trucks filled with audio, video, and satellite gear were all gassed up and to ready make the drive from Illinois. Heck, even the local volunteers were freshly trained and had their marching orders. All that was missing was the pianist.
We weren’t planning to attend any of the meetings in that month-long crusade. So we were surprised when Celia got the call from the show’s booker, asking if she was willing to serve as the pianist for the entire month. After carefully considering the offer, she decided to commit to half of the sessions. It didn’t hurt things when they asked her to fill out an IRS Form W-9. Hooray, a paying gig.
We are not mercenaries, but we do have highly marketable skills in the area of Christian music and entertainment. We also feel strongly, though, that it’s our decision whether we get compensated or if we are willing to make an in-kind donation of our services. Delicately getting that point across to some people has proven to be challenging. They don’t seem to understand that the local grocery store doesn’t accept a church bulletin with our names printed in it as a payment for our groceries.
Opening night had an air of glitz and glamour. The first thing we encountered was the volunteer parking attendants. I remember asking one gentlemen where we could find handicap parking spaces. Although it was announced from every pulpit in the conference that “our very own Celia Boone” would be playing a big role as pianist for a large share of services, we chose not to make a big deal when we arrived at the venue. No valet parking for us, just a spot near the door.
In the previous blog post, I told you how calm Celia was when I let her know that all these television shows would be broadcasted live nationwide and livestreamed in 22 countries. Celia had assumed it would be aired sometime in the future. Though she hadn’t performed on television yet, she took it all in stride.
I took a seat backstage. It was a packed house, but I could have found a seat in the audience. I like living the entertainment life from behind the curtain. It’s more interesting and it gives me a chance to lend a hand if anyone needs help.
On my podcast, I vented about an incident that happened right after Celia’s first performance on this show. While working our way through the crowded lobby, we ran across several familiar faces. Celia was receiving lots of compliments on her music that night. I have to admit she was damn good! But I can say that about her playing every time she hits the stage.
Praise doesn’t go to Celia’s head. On the other hand, if someone heaped praise on me, I probably would have asked them when they last had their hearing checked. I get embarrassed and tend to deflect, but I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to accept praise gracefully.
We almost made it out the door when we were approached by another couple we knew. I wouldn’t say we were friends, but we were always cordial to one another. After pleasantries were exchanged, the wife rather spitefully announced that Celia was going to get a big head because she played on the big stage and received so many accolades. I was willing to write it off as nervous small talk, except that she repeated herself at least two more times in rapid-fire succession.
The drive home was interesting to say the least. That woman’s comments were not going to make Celia retreat into her shell. Nor did her comments make me want to confront her and her husband with a lecture about showing respect to a superior musician. That would have made me “Asshole of the Month”.
We did dissect her motivation and concluded that it was another case of “crabs-in-a-barrel” syndrome. And it wasn’t the first time Celia encountered that. I’ve been on the receiving end of it myself a time or two. It was just another episode of “The Hater’s Ball.”
Because my mother always told me to try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before criticizing them, I was able to identify that woman’s issue. Her husband was the featured (and only) male vocalist of a praise band from a local church, and his wife clearly had an inflated assessment of his talent. He had potential, but regularly sang songs that were too high, clearly out of his range and audibly straining his voice. In addition, he had the stage presence of a scared third-grader in a school play. All that said, he and his family would attend that crusade nightly. I swear he was hoping that he would be called on stage to sing, and get discovered.
Hater’s Balls have chapter throughout the United States. The local and conference chapters are just petty. The national and global chapters become blood baths. The skullduggery is mind-blowing. Things get so bad that the threat of a denominational split is openly discussed. That lasts until the very next week, when everyone shows up at church. You may see a couple of paltry “protest offerings,” but that only lasts for about a month.
I remember an experience I had when I was still living in NYC. I’d taken a paying church gig at a church that featured gospel music. Parts of the engagement required me to direct three choirs and accompany anyone who could wrest the microphone away from the pastor. While that work load, along with the church politics, were a challenge, on balance I had a lot of fun.
All was going well until I received an envelope containing a letter from one of the church ladies from my mother’s church. Although I was a baptized member since before my teens, my relationship with the body church was conflicted at best. So I opened that letter with dread.
Since this woman was the paid bible worker, her words carried a lot of weight. And the fact that she probably had all the scriptures committed to memory added to her gravitas. Anyway, after her warm salutations, she proceeded to use the rest of her 10-page letter to rip into me about the perils of taking money to play music in church. Especially playing in a church from a competing denomination. She used multiple scripture verses as weapons towards me.
I was stunned and hurt by her hypocrisy and sheer cruelty. The pianist for the church choir she directed (the same choir my mother sang in for almost 30 years) had a paying gig at a church of a different denomination. And that’s not the kicker. Her beloved granddaughter was a first-call studio background singer. She appeared on dozens of Grammy-winning tracks from some of the biggest names in R&B. I guess she escaped the slings and arrows because her tithe envelope was fatter than mine. Actually, I don’t know if she got the same unkind treatment I received, but have just assumed she didn’t have to put up with the same kind of criticism and emotional abuse her grandmother inflicted on me.
If I ever decide to write a tell-all book, I’ll devote a couple of chapters to all the times I found myself at a Hater’s Ball. As isolated as the haters made me feel at the time, I can honestly look back now with laughter after surviving them. You come to realize that these are people controlled by fear. They are conditioned to feel inadequate and therefore criticize and tear down others as a means of feeling better about themselves. It’s sad, because these people tend to be accomplished, and in some cases, quite enviable.
Celia and I still play in church sandboxes from time to time. We do our thing, say our hellos and goodbyes, then head home. Oh yeah, and once in a while we ask them if they want a W-9 form from us or will they be paying us off the books? (I’m joking … sort of.)
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About the Author
As owner of the Descant Music & Media Group, Ken is a creator and producer of several podcast shows. He is also a music producer, as well as a writer and an accountant for small businesses and nonprofits.