The Story Behind “The Little Drummer Boy” (Portraits of White Version).

From the very first time I heard the arrangement, I was hooked. So was Ed, the conductor. We knew we wanted it to be part of the Portraits of White concert experience and Ed was sure it would be the showstopper of the night, if we could find a local high school drum line to perform it.

It took us all summer to find the right one, but it really paid off when we found George Clements and the West Shore Drum Line – a combination of two schools put together: Cedar Cliff and Red Land. We didn’t know they’d end up placing 3rd in 2015 and 4th in 2016 at the US Bands National Championships @ MetLife Stadium in NJ.

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West Shore Drum Line performs “Little Drummer Boy” in Portraits of White 2015.

But this post isn’t really about finding the drum line or my concert. It’s my reflections after watching them perform the song at their own high school this week – Tuesday, December 20, 2016 – for their holiday program.

I don’t know what goes on in other performer’s minds when they are on stage. I can only write from my own experience.  Perhaps it would be different if we performed the same concert over and over, night after night all across the U.S. Maybe I could stand on stage and become totally wrapped up in the moment and just enjoy all the surroundings. But for the most part, I do that when I’m practicing at home. That’s when I enjoy the music; every note, every lyric, every little nuance that many people might miss the night of the show.

When I step out on stage I go into a very different mode. I challenge every brain cell in my head with the ultimate multi-tasking job. The pitch, the dynamics, the lyrics, the sound surrounding me, the lights, the little girl smiling up at me from the first row and noticing others seated in the audience so I can smile at them and acknowledge their presence.

When you amplify all of that by adding in a drum line marching up to you on the stage and feel the power of their presence and tight rhythms and couple that with a year’s worth of rehearsing, soaking in the song and listening for every little cue in the music to keep you on track AND try to deliver with poise and power, you have one incredible task on your hands.  To say that I can sit back and “enjoy” that performance is a stretch, not because I don’t love it, but because I MUST stay focused. As soon as I start “sitting back in my musical easy-chair” to recline, my brain can go into sleep mode and then I’m in trouble.

But last night, I got to sit in the audience and not think about the loops, the pitch, the timing, the mic, the monitor, the lights or anything else. I just sat in anticipation knowing what was coming and I was still blown away and totally mesmerized by the West Shore Drum Line. I got to sit beside a few of the moms and they too knew what was coming and one of them even squealed when the auditorium doors flew open and in walked her son at the head of the line.

West Shore Drum Line performs "Little Drummer Boy" (Portraits of White version) at Red Land High School, December 20, 2016.
West Shore Drum Line performs “Little Drummer Boy” (Portraits of White version) at Red Land High School, December 20, 2016.

My eyes filled with tears and my heart pounded. I knew I was reacting to months of rehearsals and hearing that first piano riff that starts it off. I was squirming over the memory of the big glitch from the concert of 2015 that forever sealed that song in the audience’s memory (in a good way) and then I was momentarily carried away by the overall power of the song. Now, I didn’t have to think about anything but watching them and they were truly amazing.

The cherry on top came when one of the mothers told me that the drummers were very excited that I had come to see them and wanted their picture with me afterwards. Since I don’t have children of my own, going to see others perform is such a special treat and for one short moment, I get to beam with pride just like I think a mother must do when her kids perform something so well.

There’s no deep point to this blog post, I simply indulged in expressing my thoughts so that some day I can look back and smile again at this amazing dream that is starting to connect me with other people in ways I never thought possible.

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Drummers from West Shore Drum Line hang around for a picture together after their school program.

I’ll end with a quote from a book that’s carried me through this elephant-sized dream.

“By definition, a God-sized dream is beyond your ability, beyond your resources.  If a dream is from God, it will require divine intervention. But I’ve also learned that sometimes a dream feels as if it’s too big for us because it’s not just for us!” – Mark Batterson, “Chase the Lion”.


Credits to Bradley Knight who arranged this song and to George Clements (Drum Line Director) who wrote the parts that the drummers play when they line up in formation.

Reflections after Portraits of White 2016.

portraits-of-white-2016The Portraits of White 2016 winter concert is over and my feelings are all mixed up this year. Last year, I felt nothing but joy and relief that the big event was over. It took more effort and time than I ever imagined and there was no “let down”, only “let up”.  I loved every minute of it but was glad to move on.

But this year felt different. I struggled with both “let down” and “let up”, something I wasn’t prepared for. 

As Ed (conductor) and I contemplate whether to do the show again next year, given the fact that it is a year-long marathon for us and for some of the team, I have to consider lots of variables – which contributes to the feeling of “let down”. Can I really pull this off year after year, I wonder to myself. But then I picked up TIME magazine at the library yesterday in preparation for what I planned to be a “do nothing” day today since they forecasted snow and ice. 

It’s the first day I’ve done “nothing” for a very long time. Even when I try to “do nothing” I can feel and see the clouds of the snow monster (my nickname for Portraits of White) billowing in my head. I can’t truly unwind until the show is completely over. I’ve learned that’s the nature of pursuing dreams and callings. Doing the show is like enjoying the snow fall for a few short moments and then realizing you have to get up and start shoveling to clear a path so life can move on.

As I turned the pages of TIME, I was so struck by one of the articles, I put down the magazine and wrote out my thoughts in an email to Ed and realized I was actually writing a blog…..

So here it is:

Good morning Ed,

My laundry is done, house is clean and Christmas decorations are up and we are getting the wintry mix they called for – though I was hoping it would be snow. It feels nice to do nothing after a year of preparing for Portraits of White….the snow monster, as I affectionately call her now.

I picked up a few books for Tom at the library yesterday and a couple of the latest TIME magazines and decided to peruse the latest issue of TIME (something I rarely do).  I was struck by an article featuring the most influential photos of all time. Page 80 has the caption: “How a picture can save 1.5 million lives” with the image of a woman who is barely skin and bones, in a wheel barrow, that is obviously dying but is being hauled to a feeding center.  It was taken during the famine in Somalia in 1992.  

As I turned the pages, they listed one image after another that illustrated how the image started a chain reaction of awareness or change, such as the photograph of the boy on the beach in Turkey in the refugee crisis. In a world of millions of selfies and social media posts, you can start to forget the powerful impact one image can have and TIME somehow reminded me of the potential of one photograph…which led to the realization that additionally, one song can have that kind of impact.

As much as I love to entertain people with the Portraits of White concert (and other concerts that I do) these pictures reminded me of what I REALLY want to accomplish with what I write and perform. 

I want to create songs that serve as an “audio snapshot in time” that could potentially change someone’s course in life from despair to hope, from ignorance to awareness of God’s love for them, from hatred of the holidays to a realization that things can be different if they simply stop and Take Another Look.

My prayer today: “God, help me capture Your heart for people and display it with such starkness and wonder, that it could potentially save 1.5 million lives or more.”

I don’t know if a song or a photo can save 1.5 million lives, but I want to spend my life giving it a shot.

TIME magazine’s article on the most influential photos of all time.