Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vetting an Idea:
"House Call Concerts"

[This is a lengthy, against-basic-blog-rules post. Please give it a couple paragraphs at least. And, if so inclined, kindly comment, re-post, email, link, etc. Much appreciated.]

In mid-2008, a woman emailed a question to me that, to put it mildly, caught me off guard. She essentially asked, "My Husband is a big fan of your music. He has terminal cancer. Would you sing at his funeral?"

I replied to ask, "Is he still with us?", "What's his condition?", etc. To make a long story somewhat shorter, I offered to come over to play a House Concert for him. We worked out a few details, scheduled a date, and I did just that. It turned out splendidly. He was having a pretty good day, lots of friends and family showed up, the snacks were great (you gotta have snacks). And I was able to deliver something that only I could deliver: me singing my songs.

Let me pause to set something straight because I'm a worrier. As Brent Bourgeois once wrote in a song lyric, "I still have an ego the size of Montana and change". (I wish I'd written that line but I'll have to settle for it being true about me. With attribution, I've quoted it for years.) Still, I don't walk around thinking, "Hey, don't you know who I am?" I live my life in anonymity the vast majority of the time. But it's also true over the years, I've been blessed with a modest life in music and many folks who listened to my music made it a part of the soundtrack of their lives. I'm a listener first and foremost, so I absolutely understand how that works. I have my own highly personal list of artists and songs who comprise my own soundtrack.

So even though, in one sense, it was no big deal … it's just me ... it DID mean something to him, his Wife, and his Family and Friends gathered. My apparently-obligatory wrestling with modesty aside, what's not to love about that? The fact is we all won big-time that night.

Scene Two.

A dear friend lost a large-man's-worth of weight on a medically-supervised program. He had his life back, he frolicked with his young Son, he worked out at the gym, life was very good. Until he had a sudden stroke, went into ICU in a coma and, ultimately, did not recover. I was at the hospital with mutual friends and his family the day it happened. Despite the fact that he was in a coma I thoght, "I want to sing for him. Until he's not here, he's still here." (I'm told that there's good reason to believe that a coma we observe externally does not necessarily mean that's all there is to the situation at hand.) At best, he might be able to hear. If not, I can still worship God in the same room with him and trust the Holy Spirit will know how to sort out the value and consequences of the thing. So I sang four songs in his ICU room with his Wife, Son, and a couple Grandparents present. It was a curious mix of somber, solace, and yet surprisingly, joy peeking through the circumstances. Again, so glad I was able to do it. I got as much as I gave.

Scene Three.

A month ago, I played a concert in Atascadero, a couple hundred miles north of where I live in Southern California. At intermission (again with the snacks), one of the event volunteers remarked, "I have a dear friend who wanted to come tonight but he's recovering from a serious stroke and sometimes it's difficult for him to get out at night. He really wanted to come." So, I know you're ahead of me now … the next day I played a private House Concert for him and his Wife. Geesh, you'd have thought Elvis showed up. It was only me, but by virtue of all those albums over the years, we had a history of sorts even though I met him for the first time that afternoon.

And again.

Shortly after Atascadero, a dear woman who is, for all intents and purposes, the sister I never had goes in for serious surgery. Things went about as poorly as they could have gone and now she's facing a much longer and rockier road to recovery. But when I heard about it, it was clear as day ... I called her Husband and when the time was right I was singing at her bedside in the hospital. It's something I know how to do, it took an hour, I wanted to do it, and she appreciated the musical visit.

The Idea.

So, here's where all of this leading to: As I age, so my audience ages. Although I have no way of measuring the numbers of people who have listened (or still listen) over these many years, I'm less concerned about those statistics than I normally would be. The point is, nationwide, among that specifically-defined-group of people some are terminally ill, in poor health with an unknown prognosis, etc.

I want to make it part of my work to visit and sing for people in these circumstances whenever I'm able to do so. The most stupid-but-accurate way to describe this (with apologies to the many organizations that do this for real and do it quite well): A "Make-a-Bob-Bennett-Wish Foundation" is the skeletal idea/model for I'm thinking of. You'll just have to trust me that my intentions are as good as I know how to make them. There is no posturing, no con, no bait-and-switch, etc.

If out-of-town travel is required, I'm not currently situated to pay for that. I can gladly donate my time to perform a House Call Concert, but I don't have the finances yet to say to a Person or Family, "I'll take care of everything, let's just schedule a time and do it."

I'd like to start a foundation or use some other method to fund the travel, lodging, etc. that would be necessary. And I would absolutely hope for paying gigs surrounding a House Call Concert. If I'm in St. Louis to sing for someone on a Saturday morning, I would love to fill in Friday/Saturday evenings and Sunday AM-PM with other bill-paying gigs. But the goal would be to make this as free/no-cost as possible to those who are probably as financially stretched-thin as they'll ever be.

Now it would be easy to do this wrong or unwisely. I need feedback and ideas on how to do it. I need to know whether you think it's a worthwhile idea, and even though I have almost none of this worked out, I need to know if this prompts you to think of someone specific who might appreciate a House Call Concert.

Again, I would sing for anyone. This idea is not meant to be exclusionary. But it would be most helpful and, I hope, most effective if I'm singing for someone who already knows of me and wants to hear a few of the songs only I can sing. Perhaps this is analogous to a food item. If I'm laid up and a diet of hospital food until the doctor finally okays a cheeseburger from the outside, any good burger would probably do. But given that my favorite is specifically an "In-N-Out Double-Double", that specific medicine would be good indeed! Similar thing here.

Eventually, House Call Concerts might become a make-a-musical make-a-wish group to connect other artists with their own fans who are in dire straits. (I've received very positive feedback from a couple artists who are close pals. They've said, "When you get it going, count me in."

Please pardon the weaknesses of this as a "blog post", kindly consider the ideas within, and let me know what you think. And, in an abundance of caution and given my penchant for sometimes making simple things too complicated: I am NOT asking you for money. If something develops where I do seek outside funding, I'll spread that as far and wide as I can and people can opt-in for more information or move on as needed.

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For those who pray, I'd appreciate a sentence or two Heavenward about this.
"House Call Concerts" - I want to make it part of my Job.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful idea, Bob. God gave you a gift; you use it, however possible. Not sure if you remember me but I called to ask you to sing at my funeral "Come and See". Hopefully that won't be for a few years, but one doesn't really know.
May God continue to bless you. Children's hospitals could use you!

Mirtika said...

I think this is a brilliant "out of the box" way of thinking for a musician whose music, ultimately, is intimate and personal. I have always thought of your voice and songs as inhabiting a smaller space--be it coffee shop size, small club size, or church size. Not because you don't have the talent for larger venues, but it's the KIND of music that says, "Sit close, listen up. This is for you."

Back in the 80s, before my health took a dive, had to quit working, even had to stop going to listen to live music in small venues--jazz clubs, churches--cause my body couldn't handle it, I used to think how wonderful it would be to have the money to have someone like, say, Terry Talbot or Honeytree or YOU or 2nd Chapter of Acts or Randy Stonehill, etc, come and perform at a birthday bash or annniversary. You know, the way rich folks can have Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez hit their parties. Only more intimate and with more clothes on. ; )

So, yes, I think this is a lovely ministry to the people who appreciate your artistry. I think if you are organized or have someone in your life who is very organized, coordinating gigs at churches or other places with the private events are doable. Pray like mad. I think this is just such a great idea. Really. And no reason not to add the "Donate to the Private Performances Project" or whatever you call it.

God bless, B.

Debbie Kay said...

Bob, I think this is an awesome idea!! I deal with so many people in my ministry who are dying, or housebound due to illness and I know what a blessing this sort of thing is. It boosts their spirits enormously and for the person (i.e, you in this case)ministering God's love and compassion as only you can, you would be blessed far more than those you are singing to I have no doubt. I will pray for this for you. I still have the desire to have a house concert with you to come and bless a gathering of special needs parents who rarely get a break. Just haven't had a chance to put it all together.

Tom Wilson said...

Isn't that the very idea of music at its crux, Bob? Isn't that, really and truly, "The Heart Of The Matter?"
The rest of my thoughts aren't for blog commenting, other than to say that this surprised me, because I've had similar experiences, and have "heard" the same promptings.

Dive in,

Michael Henderson said...

Bob, I think this is a great idea, and if it is where God is calling you, then by all means go there.

I have a concern that you might get yourself out there and wear yourself out. You are very giving, as well as very talented, and I could see you getting so many House Calls that you physically wear out.

So, take care of yourself in the midst of all this.

Michael Henderson

Clint W said...

Yes, yes, yes, Bob. I myself hope to have you someday for a regular house concert. But if I were in a situation like those you describe, having a house call concert would be an amazing comfort and privilege.

jamesmadisonthomas said...

I can see that the feedback you're getting is positive. I think you're onto something too. Keep us posted.

Jerry King said...

Bob, I think this is a great idea! It remonds me of the early church...Acts 2:44-47 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they [began] selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. - Certainly, God has a plan for His Church, and He is using you in carrying it out with music and ministry. I have listened and shared your music over the years (20 years in Christian Radio) and I have no reservation whatsoever in recommending that you proceed down this path and continue to let God open the doors!

John lindsey said...

What a great idea!
If your church tradition has an annointing the sick element you might look into seeing if the Lord would have that for you, too.
Anointing the sick would fall right in line with the rest of your ministering.

Clay Clarkson said...

Bob, the meditations of your heart ring so true. It all has the undeniable touch of God's Spirit. Your vision for House Call Concerts is not only a wonderful idea, but your shared thoughts are a model for those of us who are no longer young for how to think about investing our second half life in God's kingdom.

You don't need a foundation. You just need to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry. It's not hard to do, and it would give you a legitimate way to raise the funds you need to serve others without having to worry about revenue or added expenses for those you want to serve. We started our family ministry in 1994 and still do it full time. You don't have to put all your musical activity under the ministry, so you could use the 501 just for the House Call Concert Ministry. Of course, you could also use the ministry structure to bring other artists who share your vision into it. That would be cool. It's a beautiful vision. I'll support it. Go for it.

Jack Grimm said...

I am a songwriter/singer who has had this opportunity on a number of occasions. It is warming in so many ways and usually to both the giver and the recipient. I must say that you and Billy Sprague are two of my strongest influences in writing and singing. Your sincerity comes through with every note and every word you so carefully write. I hope God takes this and leads you strongly. Know that I am honored to have read your post and I know your heart to serve will be seen by so many that need it - to God's glory. Jack Grimm

Carol said...

Sounds like the Lord is planting a seed in your heart to serve Him and His people in a new way. I believe that (however trite it sounds) "where God guides, He provides." I think that if this is a calling from Him, that he will provide all that you and those you minister to will need. Keep pressing into the Lord on this and ask Him to direct your steps.

Hmmm....the one person I was hoping would play at my funeral beat me to Heaven. Perhaps this is my chance. :) My funeral is gonna be a blast anyhow.

Love you. From your pizza friend in Chicago,

Nina B. said...

Through tears I say a hearty YES AND AMEN! What a beautiful idea. I concur with the nonprofit org. idea, too. People can donate and get a tax all around.

Cory Trenda said...

Bob, I love it and had actually just been thinking about this for a dear-dear friend who has only weeks... We've sung every song we can think of from "Matters of the Heart" for decades at the top of our lungs. You said it beautifully and perfectly...your music is a big part of the soundtrack of his life. I love this idea and will email you separately.
Grateful for your ministry heart,

Tim Collier said...

From a guy who has enjoyed your music so much over the past 20plus years, thank you for considering this as a part of your ministry! What a great idea. My father will be in hospice as of Monday for lung and bone cancer, with God only knowing when his last day will be. I can't thin of a better "make-a-wish" idea than to hear you sing one of your heart inspired songs of God' love and compassion for His children. Special place in heaven for men like you, thank you and let us all know where to make a contribuation for travel expences. God Bless YOU!

Mollie Van Hofwegen said...

Ah! Bob, so exciting and love, love the idea!! My husband and I had the extreme privilege of being at that first house call concert, in which our friend passed just 60 days later from colon cancer at age 50. ( He loved and praised God with your music for 30+ years. ) Only his closest friends and immediate family were there, which made the whole thing such a special shared memory, but especially for our dear friend. You went above and beyond and I will never forget this act of kindness from one of our musical heros. Cannot wait to see how God uses you in others lives thru this unique ministry!

PammyJ said...

This is the loveliest, God inspired idea I've ever heard. I have a mother who died from ALS several years ago, and in her final days/weeks a group of Big Band singers came over to her house to give her a private concert. This was her "heart music" and she enjoyed it so, so much. So I know how a musical House Call can lift a person out of their dismal circumstances and transport them, if only for an hour or so, and give them pleasure.
I love that you want to use your gift in this way - I look forward to hearing more about how we can help support you. God bless you...

Jen Smith said...

Brother, you were in Atascadero, a mere 20ish miles from me and you didn't call??? Ok, now that I'm over me...I love what you are doing for these people. What a gift. Music expresses the feelings humans cannot give name to easily. If you play a hospital gig in SLO county again, I'd love to have you play a cover-the-expenses gig in my living room.

Ron Herrington said...

I am nobody. Your song you preformed on the day that Jesus saved me, "Limo Ride in the Family Car?" has made me a better father. Let me know where to send money...Ron H.

Anonymous said...

This idea is rich with possibilities. It has a very disciple-ish feel to it and I can guarantee that this is the sort of personal exchange that will bless you as richly as it blesses those you serve. Not to say that you should stop playing big dates...but what a blessing of a personal ministry. Think about the early days when you'd play the small coffee house, like the Solid Rock in Bakersfield--this seems like an opportunity for very sweet, rewarding fellowship. Blessings to you, Bob.