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katie jeff sing song 2006 acu

Last week, I found out my college friend Jeff was ill with late-stage lung cancer. On Monday, I found out he had died.

I hadn’t seen Jeff for years, maybe since we graduated from college. I don’t know much about his life in recent years, or the events that led up to his death. That story doesn’t belong to me. But what does belong to me – what I am remembering this week – is my friendship with Jeff, and the joy he carried around.

Jeff was one of those small, skinny guys with a big personality – effervescent, exuberant, larger than life. He was restless, energetic, constantly in motion. Maybe that’s how he managed a kind of magic trick: he seemed to be everywhere on campus, for four years. You could hardly walk across campus without running into him. And if there was a big event – Welcome Week for new freshmen, Homecoming, Spring Break service trips, Sing Song (our annual campus variety show), Jeff was there. Usually in a leadership role, and often in a wacky costume.

He had hundreds of friends – from every social group, every class, every academic department. He pledged a popular fraternity and loved those guys fiercely, but he never let his popularity become a barrier: he greeted everyone with the same level of enthusiasm. And it wasn’t fake enthusiasm but genuine joy: I knew he was always glad to see me, and I was always glad to see him.

Jeff dove headfirst into Sing Song as a freshman (he co-directed our class’s winning act), and his Sing Song fever never let up. He participated in seven different acts over four years. (The photo above is of Jeff and me before our senior show, when we and a hundred or so of our classmates dressed up as Jedi knights.) No one loved Sing Song – arranging music, sewing costumes, making up wacky, ACU-themed lyrics to popular songs – like Jeff.

He co-led the Spring Break service trip that ended up being my first visit to Boston. My husband (who was in the group too) and I still laugh about how Jeff made our group walk three miles – uphill, in the snow! – from Harvard Square to Fenway Park, because “it’s not that far on the map, guys.” He could be a flake and he had (obviously) no sense of direction at all, but it was impossible to stay mad at him.

Singing – not just Sing Song but singing a cappella hymns in daily chapel – is a big part of life at ACU. Jeff had a surprisingly deep bass voice, and we sang together in freshman chorale and on many praise teams over the years. He loved music and would burst into song at any opportunity. He sang – as he did everything else – with such joy.

As I said above, there’s a lot I don’t know about Jeff’s story: I know it’s darker and more complicated than what I’ve written here. I know there are others – his sisters, his close friends – whose grief runs deeper than mine. But I also know this: the world is a little less bright without Jeff in it.

My husband, in a tribute to Jeff on Facebook this week, said simply, “I always felt welcome when he was in the room.” I hope that wherever you are, Jeff, you are being made welcome, as you welcomed others. We’ll miss you.

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It’s Sing Song time!

Scattered lyrics from this year’s host & hostess numbers, which, after 14+ hours at Moody this week, WILL NOT leave my head:

Left a good job in the city
Workin’ for the man every night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleepin’
Worried ’bout the way things might have been
Big wheels keep on turnin’
Oh, the proud Mary keep on burnin’
And we’re rollin’ (rollin’), rollin’ (rollin’), rollin’ on the river…
(The girls’ number)

It seems such a waste of time
If that’s what it’s all about
Mama, if that’s movin’ up
Then I’m movin’ out
(Jeremiah’s solo)

Well it goes through St. Louie, Joplin, Missouri
Oklahoma City looks oh-so-pretty
You’ll see Amarillo and Gallup, New Mexico
Flagstaff, Arizona – don’t forget Winona
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino

Would you get hip to this timely tip
When you take that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66
(The guys’ number)

I want Jesus to walk with me
I want Jesus to walk with me
All along life’s pilgrim journey
I want Jesus to walk with me

He said it in His Word and I know that He walks with me
I know that He keeps His promises and He walks with me
Hold it in my heart, I believe Jesus walks with me…
(Everyone, plus SHADES)

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hands
You’ve never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm…
(Luke’s solo)

Baby, let’s cruise away from here…
And if you want it, you got it forever…
You’re gonna fly away
Glad you’re goin’ my way
I love it when we’re cruisin’ together…
(Jeremiah and Shaylee)

This joint is jumpin’ – it’s really jumpin’
Come in cats, and check your hats
I mean, this joint is jumpin’…
(Randy and Luke)

Everything changes
Nothin’ looks the same through the eyes of love
Everything changes
When you love some – love some – love someone
Everything changes…
(Everyone, plus all the clubs & classes – the finale)

When someone you love is totally absorbed in something, it necessarily becomes part of your life, too. This week Sing Song has been my life, in a totally new way. I’ve brought Jeremiah dinner up at Moody, taken tons of pictures, chatted with hosts and hostesses and costume-clad club people, and watched him dance and sing over and over again. And I’ll spend half the weekend doing the same. I am excited for Betsy and Leigh Anne and Jake and Whitney and all my other friends who are in the class and club acts – but this year, it’s all about my J. I have eyes only for him when he’s onstage. And I have never, ever been so excited to see ANYONE in a show.

T minus 7 1/2 hours until tonight’s show. It’s Sing Song time!

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My day in rhyme

(Though not particularly in order or rhythm):

Trouser pinstripes
Professor gripes

A bowl of minestrone
Not wanting to leave home-y

Cracklin’ Oat Bran snack
Repaired camera to unpack

Wind tangling my hair
J dropping by to say he cares

Unexpected afternoon light
Plans to go watch practice tonight

New recipes in a fun French book
A maple banana bread recipe to cook

Visiting Nuria with Cole –
the English department is good for the soul

Tonight: smoothies, music, valentines
And counting down till Sing Song time!

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What a week so far. Monday: staff meeting, getting the week off the ground, turning in my latest article, prepping for Freshman Blessing. Yesterday: Freshman Blessing, all day (well, 9-11 a.m., 1-7 p.m….yeah, pretty much all day). Today: Faculty meeting, tons of leftover lasagne, recovering from Freshman Blessing, and getting about 19 other things thrown at me. (And a much-needed break to visit Cole in the Writing Center.) And a birthday dinner with my darling sister Betsy, who is 22 today! Good times.

I am proud of this year’s Freshman Blessing. Traditionally it’s been a 30-minute pizza lunch in the Bible building rotunda, during which all the faculty try to meet all the freshman they haven’t met/taught yet. It’s been rushed, chaotic, confusing and not very meaningful. This year, we tried something different: a “field trip” out to the Abilene State School, which has a rustic, charming lodge with a fireplace and a nice big kitchen. The weather was so gorgeous that we didn’t need the fireplace, but we did serve snacks and dinner, and we played games and worshipped together, and had the faculty rotate among groups of students so they could spend a little time with everyone. And we all clumped on the porch for a BIG group picture at the end. Loads of fun. And very well-executed, if I do say so myself. 🙂

Sing Song countdowns (there are several)…

  • First performance: 7 days (next Wednesday, in ACU chapel)
  • First full-length show/Bethany’s arrival: 8 days
  • Families’ arrival: 10 days
  • Closing show: 10 days
  • Collapsing/celebrating/mourning the fact that it’s over: 11 days

J is exhausted, stressed out, busier than he’s ever been in his life, and yet quite exhilarated about the whole thing. I am exhausted and stressed out and missing him, yet excited to see him perform, and SO proud. Please pray for us…this week has been the roughest yet.

(Anne, I can’t quite fully explain Sing Song…but see my posts from Jan. and Feb. 2006 for my musings on it – there are several.) 🙂

*title from “Movin’ Out” by Billy Joel

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What time is it?

Four years ago this month, for a period of six solid weeks, there was one answer to nearly every question you could ask me. The questions ranged from “Why isn’t your homework done?” and “Why are you so tired?” to “Where on earth did you learn those strange lyrics to popular songs?,” “Why are you spray-painting bow ties with silver glitter on the Gardner dorm lawn?” and “Can you explain those strange hand motions you’re doing in your sleep?” The answer, of course, was two words: Sing Song.

The season is here again. The answer is the same, though the questions are different, at least for me. They include “Why don’t you ever see Jeremiah?” “Why is Betsy walking around mumbling about ‘being the ocean’?” “Why are there groups of students singing and dancing in random classrooms around campus every night of the week?” “Why is Bethany coming to Abilene on Feb. 16, even if the plane fare depletes her bank account?” And perhaps most importantly, “What will be the occasion of your family meeting Jeremiah’s for the first time?”

Ah, Sing Song. T minus 15 days until performance #1 (the Thursday night show, technically a dress rehearsal but also a performance for faculty and staff). Two more weeks. We can get through two more weeks, right? Two weeks of him coming late to Lifeteam, sleeping just enough to get by, living on granola bars and cheese crackers and smoothies before rehearsals, and trying to fit in classes, choir, working at Highland and in the chapel office, AND rehearsing 4 or more hours every night. My dear friend Frankie at Lifeteam keeps telling both of us, “You can do anything for one more week!” Oh, I hope she’s right. I need to hear it every time she tells us so.

Come Feb. 17, Jeremiah will have his life back, and I will have him back, and we’ll both be grateful. For now, it’s a whirlwind of singing and dancing and memorizing and bonding and hectic fun. I miss him like crazy, but I know it’s an experience he’ll never forget. After all, there’s truly nothing like it. And come Feb. 15-17, I will be the proudest girlfriend in Abilene.

“Life is a highway…I want to ride it all night long…”**
(**from the opener to this year’s show)

(*title from the “get pumped” routine created by the guys in our freshman class act, which involved a large group of them standing in a circle, jumping up and down, and yelling, “What time is it? SING SONG TIME!”)

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Sing Song Countdown: One day more…

I wish I could capture in words the fun and excitement and profusion of color and ultimate adrenaline-filled chaos that is Sing Song. I wish my descriptions of kelly green frogs and pirates with spray-painted swords and sheep with “wool” made of cotton batting would do the real thing justice. But I can’t. You absolutely have to be in Moody and get a visual. Nothing I can say would measure up to the reality of hundreds of stockinged feet beating down a corridor, crowding past metal gates and black-clad production staff members with nametags. Or the transformation that happens when we get up on stage – when suddenly, we ARE Jedis or penguins or Cleopatra or whatever.

I spent over four hours at Moody last night – we left at 12:30 in the morning. (And I got there later than most people.) For most of that time I chilled out in Section M, talking to Charity and knitting (yes, knitting – it was too dark to read), and joining Jeremiah in his critique of every act. (This is what happens when you date a quasi-music major.) Of course, being on stage was fun and scary and crazy and happy all at once. But I really think my favorite part was standing in the hallway beforehand.

Think about it, anyone who’s ever been in a production of any sort. Don’t you have sort of breathless, scattered memories of those moments right before you go onstage? (Maybe it’s a total blur for some – but that in itself is significant.) Seriously, the “hallway moments” from past Sing Songs are engraved indelibly in my mind. Shuffling down the hall with a hundred other freshmen, sequined suspenders and bow ties glittering, trying not to lose our paper hats – a confusion of raspberry and lime and orange sherbet. (Sherbet, not sherBERT – as Taylor Tuerck must have said a hundred times!) Listening to – ahem – one of the downstage managers hiss, “Freshmen! Freshmen!” and glower at us, trying to get us to shut up. Then last year, dressed in white T-shirts and jeans, trying to save a tiny bit of face for the junior class. Every night we would huddle in the stairwell, listening to Ben Jeffrey belt out “Remember When It Rained.” And then we’d go on and try to be, well…funny, if nothing else. (And we were.)

Last night was another thing entirely – pulling at swaths of purple material slung around our shoulders, crossed and belted in front to look like Jedi garb. We couldn’t do any fighting in these, because they never stay put! Helping Jeff McCain (who is, I swear, a nine-year-old boy) fix his costume. Doing an impromptu choreography circle and being shushed by the downstage manager. Sneaking down the line to peek in at the junior act and steal a hug from Jeremiah (and almost get bludgeoned by the 6-foot Han Solo cardboard cutout – Keith Robinson was having way too much fun). And…watching Taylor and Alyssa whisper our freshman act – complete with choreography! – right up until we spilled onto the stage.

For what else, in the whole world, would people spend weeks memorizing crazy choreography, learning goofy lyrics to songs we’ll never sing right again, and spray-painting props that look like mummies, lighthouses and ID cards (among other things)? For what else would people spend basically four straight days in a gym, dressed in the costumes described above, singing and whispering and rushing around like mad, and enjoy it? Surely there’s a little bit of insanity in the ACU atmosphere. But I LOVE IT. There’s nothing in the whole wide world like Sing Song. And I am honored and blessed to be a part of it.

Yoda don’t teach – All you do is preach
Stand your speech I can’t – Syntax get you not!
But one thing is true: Light sabers are cool…

Go Centennial Senior Class!

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bite-size semester

“This semester feels very bite-size,” Bethany said this morning. It’s true. And it’s a strange feeling. Generally, the days all start to blur together after a while. Failing that, one can at least appreciate the sweeping trajectory of the semester. But at least so far this semester, everything seems incremental, even discrete. Although it’s never quite finished.

Maybe that’s due to the enormous amount of reading I have to do – we are speeding through books at the rate of one a week, or one every two or three class sessions, in my lit classes. I feel as though we barely started Homo Faber in World Lit and we finished it up last time. And last night I struggled through 113 pages of Jose Saramago’s Blindness – but I’ve got to turn around and read 125 pages tonight, for Latin American lit tomorrow. (After all, I’ve got to find out what happens to the title character in The Death of Artemio Cruz. Does he really die?) And I’m behind in the class I’m auditing (African American lit)…75 pages behind, in fact. Probably won’t get that read by 1 p.m. today.

Sing Song is another big thing that feels like it’s been chopped into bites. Get through half the music Monday. Finish it on Thursday. Start choreography on Sunday – this past Sunday, I mean. (Try to teach Kasey where an E is on the keyboard in the meantime.) Sing myself hoarse leading the alto section, having already spent an hour in choir trying to hit multiple high F’s. I don’t feel like the show is only 2 1/2 weeks away…all that seems real is the here and now. I think I’m generally having trouble realizing that this is already the third week of my last semester. Shouldn’t that feel bigger than the everyday?

All that to say…this semester does feel like it’s coming in pieces. They’re big pieces, more like 10- or 12-oz ribeyes than nice 6-oz filet mignons. And somehow, I’m supposed to chew them all, and still have room for the next piece that’s coming up as soon as I finish this one. To “clear my palate” between bites, I am clinging fiercely to my pleasure reading (even at a few pages a night) and talks with my roommate before we go to bed. (And time spent with Jeremiah, when we can snatch it.) And yesterday, I had one of those wonderful out-of-time talks with my best friend…standing in my kitchen, warmly lit by afternoon sunshine, trading stories about professors and classses and friends. Some things are meant to be savored, no matter how they come.

I’m off to work on my current “big bite.” Wish me bon appetit!

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A long journey brought us here for the past four years
We’re almost through
We have one final mission – Fight off the Dark Force
Graduate ACU!

Sing the above lines to the Star Wars theme (and imagine large yellow text slowly scrolling upwards along the screen), and welcome to this year’s senior class Sing Song act. My last ever (sniff). And trust me, it’s wickedly clever.

Sing Song is a somewhat unique ACU phenomenon, the 1957 brainchild of Dr. Bob Hunter (whom Jeremiah met yesterday – see his blog for more about that). It has slowly evolved from groups of students standing stock-still on risers, singing songs from popular radio and musicals (a cappella), to a showstopping production complete with lighting effects, musical numbers from hosts and hostesses, outrageous costumes, and the ever-famous “Sing Song face.” This requires raising your eyebrows till they almost fly off your head; opening your eyes as wide as you can; and dropping your jaw in a half-smiling, half-screaming position. Up close, it’s scary as all get-out. But from far away, apparently, it looks enthusiastic and cute.

I had never seen a Sing Song act before I came to ACU. Didn’t know what the show was, in fact. But I’d heard enough about it (and participated in Freshman Follies, its smaller, freshmen-only counterpart) to be interested, so I tried out for the freshman class act. This resulted in (among other things) my spending several nights a week with a hundred other freshmen in the Mabee Business Building, trying to learn lyrics and choreography that showcased our talents as – what else? – ice cream men. We wore sherbet-colored medical scrubs (raspberry, lime and orange) with silver sequined suspenders and black bow ties, spray-painted with silver glitter, and those little paper hats that doughnut makers wear. (Most of us who were in that act, by the way, can STILL sing the whole thing straight through. That’s how often we practiced it. Some people, like my friend Jeff McCain – “Mr. Sing Song” – can still do the choreography.)

I missed Sing Song my sophomore year, due to being in Oxford (actually, I was in Bath that weekend, freezing to death, learning about Jane Austen and eating at Sally Lunn’s Buns). Apparently our class put on a great act as “Men in Tights.” And last year…well, we threw together our act at the LAST minute, with a total of three rehearsals, lyrics but no sheet music (or theme, really), and a dress-rehearsal appearance by Jeff McCain to whip us into shape. (I told you he was Mr. Sing Song.)

This year (obviously), our theme is Star Wars – and we’re raring to go. The intensity isn’t quite the same as freshman year: too many people have night classes, work, and commitments to other acts for us to be quite that diehard. But we really want to have a good show. After all, for most of us, this is our last shot. We’re the Centennial class, and we came in with a bang our freshman year. Most of us, including myself, would like to go out with a bang as well.

Why? Bragging rights, for one thing. (“We started AND ended our college career with wins!”) To prove that we can do it, even after last year’s almost-debacle (hey, it was still funny). To support our campus community (after all, where else do people get crazy enough to do this every February?). And, oh yeah, to have a good time.

Even if it means waving my arms like a maniac while singing original lyrics to songs like Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now,” Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” and John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.” Or making light-saber noises while Darth Vader fights a deadly battle with a purple-clad Luke Skywalker.

Ah, Sing Song…there’s absolutely nothing like it.

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