christmas carolAt rehearsal just one day before Christmas Eve, the members of my Eighth grade Lutheran church choir were more rambunctious than usual. Giggling was rampant, and the eruptions of exploding hormones pervaded the room.

Casey Jones, our good-natured and beloved choir leader, rarely showed impatience, but this night was unusually chaotic. Casey pleaded for cooperation. He asked nicely four or five times for us to pay attention before he finally, said, “Okay, you win. We’re done for tonight. Just hope you don’t embarrass yourselves tomorrow night in front of the entire congregation.” And he walked out of the room.

For a few seconds, no one moved. None of us had ever witnessed Casey in anything but a loving, fun mood. He had certainly never walked out on us!

The next night, there was a complete complement of our choir members with our choir robes adjusted properly and waiting in our places quietly ten minutes before the appointed time. The choir loft was behind the altar and a scrim (a translucent curtain) helped darken the space. Casey walked in a few minutes later and took his seat down front. He was not smiling.

The Christmas Eve service began. The minister made the opening remarks, and the congregation sang a hymn. Then followed the reading of the Gospel. That was our cue. Casey stood up, turned around to face us. The only visible light, a tiny spotlight on Casey’s podium to light up his music, also illuminated his face.

He raised his hands in the motion we knew meant for us to stand. We stood, quietly and all at the same time—a first! He blew a note on his pitch pipe, looked up, gave the hand signal, and we began to sing, all at the same time (another first).

Come, they told me, pa rum pum pum pum.

A newborn king to see, pa rum pum pum pum.

All of a sudden while singing that night, all the things Casey had taught us clicked. Listen to each other. Don’t all breathe at the same time. Never take your eyes off me. We understood what he meant, and we used his words to govern our performance, unified and harmonious for our spell bound audience. The blend of our voices joined and echoed throughout the still and peaceful sanctuary.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum

Pa rum pum pum pum

Pa rum pum pum pum

None of us dared breathe, except in exactly the right moments. Miraculously, the exquisite a cappella unity maintained throughout the song. As the song was ending, I can remember a tremor of excited anticipation spreading throughout my being.

Then He Smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me and my drum.

As we held the last sustained note, we watched Casey’s fingers come slowly together, the sound of our voice diminished into the final “mmm” just as his fingers closed. There wasn’t a sound anywhere among the 3,000 people in the sanctuary. With all of our eyes glued to his lighted face, a tear appeared, glistened, then slowly trickled down Casey’s face, and plopped onto his music. Then, we were all crying, macho eighth-grade boys, silly eighth-grade girls, sharing in a triumphant moment together that none of us would ever forget. We had just experienced the unbelievable power of well-executed teamwork. It was both life changing and transformational.


Here is another example of teamwork with only two people singing and dancing on piano keys:

Two or twenty-two, the numbers don’t really matter. What matters is that the mission be addressed with total selflessness and full commitment that will permit all to shine. I think it’s called engagement.

I learned that Casey died last year. Even after all of these years, there is a huge hole in my heart at the news. At the same time, there is also an abundance of gratitude for the gift he gave me with that Christmas Eve performance so many years ago. His lessons on teamwork made me a better person, a better wife and mother, and a much better leader. Thank you, Casey.