By: Ken Boone
I was backstage at Ovens Auditorium, a 2,400-seat auditorium in Charlotte, NC pictured below. Celia, one of the pianists for a month-long evangelistic crusade, was about to go onstage. I peeked out from behind the curtain and noticed that there wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
I was still a smoker at the time, so I wanted to duck out and grab a couple of puffs before it was show time. Exiting through a stage door, I noticed a couple of large vehicles with lots of activity. One was filled with recording equipment while the other had a couple of satellite dishes on top. Wow, looks like this is going to be a pretty big deal!
I saw a member of the crew catching a much-needed break as I reentered the arena. I casually asked him when the event would be aired, so we could catch it. He told me that it was going out live on their cable network as well as being streamed on the internet. By the way, it was going to go global! Step on it Ken, Celia needs a heads up.
Returning to my seat in the wings, I see Celia calmly working on one of her logic puzzles. I’m a crossword puzzle nut myself. The easier the better. But Celia is always exercising her brain. I like that about her. I didn’t want to break her concentration, but I felt I had no choice.
When I told her about their intent to go live, I didn’t know what her reaction would be. Was she going to freak out? Was she going to run around backstage, looking for a piano to get in some last minute practice? None of the above. She just looked up and said, “oh… really… ok… cool”, then returned to her puzzle. Not the reaction I expected. But if I knew anything about Celia Waller Boone, her reaction shouldn’t have surprised me one bit. She was born for moments like this.
I’ve heard her play hundreds of times. I’ve played with her dozens of time. The thing that is I’ve noticed is that no venue is too big to affect her nerves. That’s because, as a youngster, she practiced more than anyone I know. And unlike most talented musicians I know, she liked practicing! I remember my conservatory-trained brother had to almost be forced to practice until it became second nature.
As she said on her podcast “ISO Peace & Healing”, Celia had a troubled relationship with her mother, who was prone to fits of rage. Often, Celia was the target of that ire. The one escape Celia had was to constantly practice the piano. And she got to be damn good! Learning the entire hymnal and most of the pop tunes of the day by the time she was 13-years-old, she was an in-demand pianist in the Asheville, NC area.
I grew up in a religious denomination that took music very seriously. At least it was that way when I was a youngster. The pianists generally fell into two camps. There were the classically-trained sight readers and the hip sounding gospel cats who only played by ear. I had a toe in each camp, which kept me busy. Celia could do both, which made her a first-call keyboardist. Oh yeah, we grew up in the same denomination, hundreds of miles apart. Her legend even reached my neck of the woods.
As well as she played, she always had to take a defensive posture. Challenged at every turn, and with her confidence shaken from time to time, she kept on playing. She kept getting better. The bigger the stage, the better she played. And it rubbed off on a talented, but lazy musician named Ken.
I didn’t like to practice. I thought it was a waste of time. A waste of my single mother’s scarce resources. I stopped taking lessons at age eight so the focus could be placed on my brother, who grudging practiced and got better and better.
Celia, however, recognized my talent and encouraged me to dive into my music head first. She graciously shares her stage with me. I insist on giving her top billing, because she’s clearly the star of this duo. She doesn’t insist that I practice scales, arpeggios, and modes. She just insists that I continue practicing being true to myself. I do that, and I’ve gotten really, really good at it!
But wait... there's more!
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.