The Chicken or the Egg?

We had chickens on our farm and I don’t ever remember having trouble deciding which came first…the chicken or the egg. It was obvious to me. The peeps came first. 

My mother and I would drive the very curvy and hilly Pennsylvania back roads to a little poultry farm near us and pick up boxes of peeps. They’d “peep” all the way home. The sound was comforting to me. Then we’d unload the boxes of the little yellow fuzzy balls into our chicken house. My mother, along with our apricot poodle, Angie, and I would sit in the chicken house and watch them for hours.  It’s one of my favorite memories from childhood.

What do chickens and eggs have to do with Portraits of White, you ask? 

It’s what popped into my mind when I read this week’s fan question. It’s really one of those “chicken or egg” questions.

“Do you pick the musicians and then select the songs and arrangements around those musicians? Or do you select the music arrangements and then find the musicians to fit your needs? 

Thanks to Doug Cook, Eastman School of Music alumni [Performer’s Certificate]—one of the star players of Portraits of White, I can select just about any arrangement I want, because we have such great musicians to draw from. Doug was the first person I approached about playing in my “orchestra” and his musical network consisted of pro musicians throughout South Central Pennsylvania. Since he knew that I wanted to put together an orchestra, he made a very special offer. 

“Would you like me to be the music contractor for your Christmas show?” 

At the time, I didn’t know what a gift Doug was giving me when he offered to do this. I knew anyone he chose would be amazing, so I immediately said, “yes!”

I first met Doug when I was asked to serve as Director of Worship at a local church on a temporary basis. I wanted to continue my path of songwriting and concert ministry, so I said that I’d help as much as I could for a few months. In the end, I ended up taking the permanent position because it was such a joy to serve.  Over that same time, Doug Cook was invited to be the choir director at the same church. 

After years of working with him, I learned that he was a jazz musician. I had heard that he was a very talented musician, but he never mentioned it and I never got to really see what he was capable of when he was directing the choir. Then I heard him play with the Buzz Jones Big Band. I could see (and hear) that he was in his sweet spot when he played his saxophone.

His wife, Amy Cook, is also a professional musician. She is a fabulous cellist and from the very first moment I played piano with her, it felt like we were musical sisters. It was such a delight to work with this husband and wife team in church ministry. Doug and Amy were extremely talented and dependable. 

Amy Cook – Portraits of White 2017 (Photo credit: Brian Gayman)

When I decided to pursue my idea of the Christmas show with an orchestra, Doug and Amy were the first people I asked to be part of the show. And this is when Doug offered to contract the needed musicians. 

Doug “blew everyone away” the very first year of Portraits of White with his saxophone solo. Most of us didn’t really know how talented he was until he picked up his horn on stage! He’s been a crowd favorite ever since. 

Doug Cook – Portraits of White 2017 (Photo credit: Brian Gayman)

Once I learned the ropes of hiring musicians and began building my own relationships with the professional musicians, I began doing the contracting myself, along with the help of Ed Kee, the previous conductor of the show. Being from Nashville, Ed had a solid music business history and mentored me. Between Doug and Ed, I had wonderful mentors.

Ed Kee (Conductor) Portraits of White 2017 (Photo credit: Brian Gayman)

So on to the audience question for this week…

“Do you pick the musicians and then select the songs and arrangements around those musicians? Or do you select the music arrangements and then find the musicians to fit your needs?”

Like I said earlier, that sort of feels like a “which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” question. But it’s an easy answer. The first year, we knew we wanted to produce the music from my Portraits of White album, live, on stage. So we figured out what we’d need instrumentally and then hired the needed musicians—all within a budget, of course. We started small the first year and then kept adding more players over the next several years.

Once we began assembling a quality group of professional musicians from South Central Pennsylvania, I could choose any music I wanted, knowing I had a group of players who could play anything with short notice. Many of them play in local symphonies or have traveled as pro musicians. 

There are really only two things that are limiting about the show….the budget and time. Fortunately, when it comes to selecting music, I can be very creative because of the top-notch musicians we have in Portraits of White.

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