Wading in the Water

So, I got baptized 8/30/15.

Yep. Washed in the Blood of the Lamb. Dead to the flesh and risen again in the spirit. Something like that. I’m neither a poet or a wordsmith. Definitely not a theologian or religious studies scholar. (My Masters degree is in Music Theory. Not exactly Divinity. Wait… Does Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” count?)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read the Bible. Piecemeal, admittedly, and don’t ask me to quote chapters and verses. (For real… I’m doing good to remember song lyrics.) I can confidently say I’ve seen everything in there at least once. Hey… At 38 years old, I like to think I’m BEGINNING to make progress. This recent “go through”, I started at Revelations and have been going backwards, book by book.( I’m at First Thessalonians, now. Yeah, I’m slow like that.) I’ve been using the St. Joseph Edition, because while I’m reading it, I can jump down and read the footnotes. (I’m somewhat disappointed the NIV Bible App I have on my tablet doesn’t have footnotes. What can I say? Some things you read take on a different life when you get a little more background on it.) Sometimes, I really look at it and say “Okay… I gotcha…” Then, there have been times I said “REALLY, Paul?”

For anyone curious, one of my bookmarks is one of the “bad” letters from the church that says “We consider you part of our church family. So when we haven’t seen you at our weekend celebrations for the last few weeks…” (Hey… I was there most of the time! I just refuse to sign the attendance packet. Quit scowling at me.)

Okay… I’ve digressed.

SO… Why did I get baptized?

No, I didn’t get baptized as a child. My siblings did. I didn’t. Don’t ask. It’s like my first name; I’m not discussing it on the internet.

I could say “Jesus is doing such wonderful things in my life that I felt I owed it to Him.” Nope. Not true. That isn’t to say he isn’t doing wonderful things in my life. I just don’t believe that’s why you go to Jesus. Okay… Yes, you owe Jesus, but that’s not some debt you can repay. Ever. That’s the point. It doesn’t matter if he tells you next week’s Powerball numbers in a dream. Getting washed in his blood doesn’t make things even. Don’t get me wrong; next week’s Powerball numbers would be nice…

I could also say “I’ve decided it was PAST time to make a commitment to Jesus.” It wouldn’t be accurate, though. I served on and off in churches for years. There are accompaniment editions of hymnals on my shelves. The filing cabinet has evidence from past music ministry positions and pieces I’ve arranged for choir that have never seen the light of day. I’ve got MORE ideas in my head and on scraps that have percolated for years. Yes, I know that none of this is the same as “committing to Jesus.” I see it as indications that I’ve been guided and led for much longer than I’ve known. My past experience – much of it which borders on unbelievable – has been such that I never really questioned that I was a Child of God.

By getting baptized, I was just making it official.” I mean… my sins have already been forgiven, so this was just an outward gesture. At least that was what I told myself. And yet… I still hemmed and hawed for years…

I saw it as one of those things – like marriage – that I just did not want to do until I was absolutely ready. You know how some women have the “Perfect Fairy Tale Wedding” fantasy? I had this “Kareem’s Perfect Baptism” all set up in my mind. (Don’t judge me.) My family would be there. Alison Krauss would be leading a choir singing “Down to the River to Pray” accompanied by a group of Irish Dancers. I’d get baptized in the name of The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost. There’d be this ray of sunlight as I came up. Aretha Franklin and company would be singing me out of the water on “Oh Happy Day” while the angels circled overhead.  Jesus would be waiting for me on the shore with his thumb up, a wink, and say “Yeah… Nice job, Buddy!”

Yeah… I never said that fantasy was reasonable. That’s just how I imagined it. Don’t judge me.

You’re totally judging me; Stop it.

Okay… Yeah… I asked for it… ANYWAY

I came up with all these excuses. My life’s a mess. I can’t get my family there. The church is having it in the river. There could be anything in that river. Snakes. Brain-eating amoeba. Ch’thulu. It’s not wheelchair accessible. The church is using a pool during the service. I’m playing electric piano; I can’t do it during service. I’d get electrocuted. The music director would strangle me with a patch cord if I asked. Well, I can’t schedule it during another time; I have to think about everyone else’s schedules. Too many people go to THAT service. Nah… He wouldn’t use a patch cord, but a bass guitar string. CH’THULU… IN… THE… WATER!!!

A little background on my church: It has three campuses with individual flavors. The small one is located in the Black suburb. The medium-sized one is about three miles away in the city. The galactic-sized one with five services alone is way out in one of the White suburbs north of the city. I often play keyboards at all three on different weekends, depending on whatever their needs are. I live south of all of them, so it takes me about 30-35 minutes to get to any of them if traffic is clear. When I go sit in the pews, I go out to the galactic-sized one. (5:00 PM on Saturday is when I’m the most awake.)

SO… It was Baptism weekend at all three campuses. As it turned out, I was on keyboard at the galactic-sized campus for all five of their service celebrations. (Two on Saturday; three on Sunday.) Since I was “on duty”, that automatically ruled that one out. Okay, I probably could have asked, but crowds in general tend to unnerve me. (Yes. I know. I’m a musician. I can play in front of 4400 people and be just fine. Ask me to sit among them and I need to be as close to the door as possible.) As rowdy as they get, I’d have ducked back under the water and probably drowned myself.

The small and medium campuses had joined up to do river baptisms that evening. Of course, my same “river excuses” came back. Ch’thulu. After setting all that aside, the only reason I almost didn’t go was because I knew I couldn’t bring my mother. (The wheelchair wouldn’t make it.) On the way home from serving at the Galactic Star Cruiser, I thought, “Maybe I should ask Bro #7. He could take pictures.” (See… Now, I was making excuses TO do it.) I came home after church, slept on it, decided enough was enough, and dug out the swimming trunks. Bro #7 said “Hold up… You’ve never been baptized?!” and off we went.

Nope… Didn’t tell anyone at any of the campuses I was going to do it. Just went there.

Like many people headed to the river baptism service, instead of getting directions, I just Googled the address. (I know “Google” isn’t a verb, but I’m using it anyway.) We arrived at the edge of the hosts’ property, but had no clue whatsoever because everyone was near the house! (We couldn’t see the house.) Fortunately, we had plenty of company. We eventually got around to where everyone else was. Yeah… There was still a bit of a crowd, but not TOO bad. Once I gave Bro #7 my car keys, I knew I wasn’t escaping. Jive turkey!

Actually, the service was enjoyable. We prayed and sang to get us warmed up. The Pastoral Trio of RE, JM, and RP waded into the river and got things moving. I think there were about 20 or so people. I waited until last… admittedly, because I was still thinking “There could be ANYTHING in that water.” Mind you, I probably should have been worried about cutting my bare feet. Yet, I was still thinking that Ch’thulu was going to rise up and eat me. (If you haven’t figured out how my imagination works by now…) By the time it was my turn, I was pretty sure Bro #7 was ready to knock me into the water if I didn’t get in there.

First, there was DJ, one of the worship pastors at the small church. Gotta love DJ. She had the good camera out already.

DJ: KAREEM… You’re getting baptized?! Do you mind if I put it on Facebook?

TKP: Sure…  Go ahead. My brother was going to t…

DJ: Yeah, I was going to do it regardless of what you said. I’m so HAPPY I’m here for this!

Bro#7: (He flashed an evil grin. It was his way of letting me know I was getting in that river one way or the other. He’s a 5th Degree Blackbelt. I wouldn’t win that one. He also had my car keys and my shoes. By the time I could climb out, he’d have already driven off and left me stranded, soaked, and barefoot.)

By this time, the Pastoral Trio have now figured out I’m the last one.

“Kareem, you’re getting baptized?”

“Yup.”

“Is this a reaffirmation or…”

“First time.”

“REALLY?!” They laugh and decide they’re all going to join in on it. Yeah, I almost climbed right back out. Then, I remembered the steps were slippery, my brother was waiting to shove me in, and DJ was waiting with a camera and would probably take pictures if he did shove me in. She was going to get pictures one way or another!

Okay… I might be exaggerating. Might be.

“You have to bring me back up. You promised.”

Now I’ve got these visions of being dunked in the river, them letting me go, me flailing around, stumbling to my feet, and being sucked down by the tentacle of Ch’thulu, as the three of them laugh sinisterly. Yes… That’s right. I’m thinking this of three clergymen trying to bring me to Christ. If you’ve read this far and haven’t figured out I have issues, then there’s no hope for you.

So, I hand ZW my glasses, which now means I’m wading into water with these three laughing pastor-type people and blind. My first thoughts?

TKP: Oh God… The water is cold. Oh God… I just said the Lord’s name in vain.

RE:  Yes… Twice, now.

TKP: Oh God… I said that aloud. Oh God… STOP THAT! Wait… No… God, don’t YOU stop it. Stop ME from stopping that. No… Don’t stop ME from stopping that… Get ME to stop that… Wait? Did I just presume to command the Lord Almighty to do something for me? GAAAAH!!! That’s NOT what I meant. Oh God, am I saying all of this aloud?! Okay… WHEW… my mouth is closed. I think. ****!!! I DID IT AGAIN!!!

(No wonder I thought Ch’thulu was waiting to eat me. Here I was about to be baptized and I was sinning along the way.)

By then, we’re out there. I believe RE was on my right, JM was on my left, and RP was behind me. So, if they let me go, I was sure I could grab at least two of them to take with me to my watery doom. Then I remembered, I have to use one hand to pinch my nose shut while the other arm was crossed over my chest. If they did let me go, that probably meant I would at best only be able to grab one of them.

Yes, I know. I’m a bad person for even thinking any of this.

Well, I’m glad to say the immersion went extremely well. Ch’thulu decided not to eat me and I did indeed make it back above the surface of the water. Aretha wasn’t singing “Oh Happy Day” like in my perfect baptism fantasy, but I can say there were probably at least 40 Jesuses cheering on the bank. I’ll take it!

So… after making it back to the bank, we hung around for a bit, ate pizza… I barely introduced anyone to Bro #7, which meant that – Yes – I’m still a horrible person. I was asked how I felt and I said “Okay.” Yep. I was relieved and glad I finally did it… Then, Bro #7 looked at my phone and said “Yep… You’ve just been tagged in a picture on Facebook.”

Sure enough… DJ posted a picture and tagged me. There were Likes and the first response was from my cousin CL. Of course, that significantly increased the likelihood that Mom would find out about the baptism by checking Facebook! (Yes, that’s right; I told neither of my parents that I was getting baptized. I’m a really horrible person.) Bro #7 looked at me and said – in his own charming way – “Hehehehehe… You’re dead.” After my no doubt being an anti-social post-baptized crazy-thinking crazy-guy, we decided to make our way home. I’m still thinking “Yeah… I’m feeling okay…”

Then, 20 minutes into the drive, I’m thinking “What the **** did I just do?!

Amazing photo taken by Ellen Stephenson.
Oh, that’s right! I got baptized. 8/30/15. Photo by Ellen Stephenson.

Yes, I know the obvious answer, but I think the question beyond that is “What does it mean?”

If you were to ask me why I got baptized, I couldn’t give you an answer. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain it to you. If Jesus walked in the door and asked me, I couldn’t tell him why, either. Yes, I’ve thought over it through and through. For years. I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out logical explanations. There isn’t one. Not for me. Maybe I’ve just concluded that faith cannot be reasoned. If it did, would it be faith? I don’t know.

Yes, I know. It’s not an answer. Well, I’m still searching for it. Baptism was an important step along the way.

Oh…  And as for how Mom reacted when I got home?

“Worst secret ever. Congratulations!”

TKP

8/31/2015

JO Magazine interviews Kareem Powell

A Word with Kareem Powell

Back in October 2012, I had the pleasure of talking with Joleen Knowling-Norman, Publisher and CEO of JO Magazine. The main focus is on entertainment, fashion, and the arts. What has me particularly excited for her and the magazine is that it is focused on uplifting the community, which is all too often marginalized. I would much rather be profiled along the likes of actor Omar Gooding or Earvin Magic Johnson than whatever professional athlete acted like and idiot this week. In any case, here is our interview as published in Issue 10 of JO Magazine. I encourage you to check it out.

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A Word with Kareem Powell

By Joleen Knowling-Norman 

Reflections in Black and White 

JO: I love the title of the CD. How did you come up with it? 

Kareem: While I was practicing the piano, I happened to look down and see the reflection of my hands on the keys.

JO: How did this project come about?

Kareem: My concept of being a professional musician has always been centered around recording, touring, and performance. While I had been playing with different bands and working as an accompanist and choir director, I knew that none of those alone would pave a road for my working and touring with major artists. To reach that level, I needed to shop around something that showed a taste of my musical abilities. I needed my own product!

It’s nice to have the idea, but the actual execution was more than I counted on. Recording costs money and with my chief sources of income being from part-time and contract work, that meant a shoe-string budget. I even took a loan out against my car! It was well worth it. I learned so much.

Time, money, and lack of experience were all factors, so I made it a priority to keep everything as simple as I could. The entire album is strictly solo piano with every track either an original compositions or an arrangement of a public domain songs. Where genre is concerned, I decided against either jazz or classical. The competition for either is overwhelming, cut-throat, and not the direction I was headed. With my personal stake in this so high, I wanted to maximize the opportunity and set myself apart in an extremely crowded field.

As reluctant as I was to embrace the New Age title, I knew that was my best opening. It provided a clearer route to my goal of breaking into recording and session work. I knew I could create an individual “sound” that others could possibly hear and imagine being on their projects.

Using an acoustic piano was extremely important to me, not only in terms of artistic sound quality, but legitimacy to myself. Just to make it clear, I understand why others prefer electronic pianos. They’re mobile. They don’t have to be tuned. They can be plugged directly into the sound system. They can imitate a range of other instruments. They can loop, sequence, and a bunch of stuff I don’t know. A particularly lazy pianist can get around playing in other keys by pressing a button.

My background and training is as a pianist, not a keyboard player. Once it involves buttons, switches, a programming book, or more than three pedals, you’re getting away from my core as a musician. There is also the visual aspect. I have noticed a tremendous difference in how people respond to me after I’ve played an acoustic versus an electronic piano.

I better stop. I’ll talk about this all day!

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Cover of 2011 Album.

JO: Now that the recording is released, how does it feel to have fans creating playlists with your music all over the world? I hear that your music is even being played in Austria…

Kareem: The Digital Age is something else, isn’t it? It’s both amazing and humbling that it is easier than ever to distribute your music all over the world. Where the challenge before was distribution, the new challenge is in finding ways to cut through a highly-saturated market. More musicians than ever are pushing their music out there and the danger is in becoming yet another one jumping up and down screaming “HERE! HERE! LOOK AT ME!!!”

At the same time, you have to find places where the fans are. Right now, I’m being carried on Pandora, Woodroot Radio in Austria, SoloPiano.com, and Sky.Fm Solo Piano Radio. Distributing through CD Baby has been particularly useful in getting my music out to other digital platforms such as iTunes and Spotify. It’s out there and available. The challenge is getting people to remember your name! As you can see, I focused primarily on internet stations. Perhaps I’ll figure out terrestrial radio next…

JO: How did you get into music?

Kareem: I was about five when I started. My older sister was taking piano lessons and I got extremely jealous… and probably very whiny. At the time, there were five other children in the house and my parents likely wanted a reprieve. I took piano lessons for a few months before my teacher moved and then didn’t have another one until I went to college! Obviously, I hadn’t stopped playing the piano.

JO: So your sister inspired you?

Kareem: That won’t see print, will it? I don’t want it to go to her head…

JO: Have there been any significant mentors or role models along the way?

Kareem: Absolutely! A lot of them. There is Paul Murachanian, from whom I took both clarinet and saxophone for nine years and was constantly pulling together instrumental ensembles. My high school choir director Malana Turner went out of her way to provide opportunities to grow.

One of my greatest influences was Dr. Maria Thompson Corley, my piano instructor at Florida A&M University. That woman put me through my paces both at the piano and away from it. Literally. I had to walk a mile off-campus to the Florida State University music library to do research for her legendary take-home exams. She did a lot to inform me and other students about what it takes to be a professional musician and perform at that level.

Getting away from just people I know, I also looked at the career of Jim Brickman. In terms of mainstream music, he’s an excellent model in maintaining his identity as a pianist and songwriter even while collaborating with the likes of Dave Koz, Martina McBride, Lady Antebellum, and all these other artists. One of my goals is to be one of those pianists so iconic that a listener will be able to pick me out just from the sound.

JO: How do you feel about “Reflections in Black and White” right now? Is it doing pretty well?

Kareem: It has exceeded my expectations! I had made the decision at the beginning that this was going to be a starting point, regardless of how it sold. The project served as a foundation to field further opportunities and build my career. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been rewarding.

JO: How so?

Kareem: It’s an entirely new learning curve that comes with it many opportunities to mess up. It sounds cliché, but mistakes teach you more than getting it right. In the process, I’ve learned a lot about the recording process, promotion, and marketing. (I still consider myself to know only slightly more than nothing, however.) It has shown me which directions I can grow and invest my time as an artist and businessman. The feedback has been tremendous and getting an endorsement from writer/director/producer Reginald Hudlin didn’t hurt either!

JO: Academy Award nominee Reginald Hudlin?

Kareem: Boomerang, Bebe’s Kids, Black Panther, The Boondocks, Django Unchained… Yep. That guy. He even mentioned it on his website! He said it passed the “play in the car” test. I’ll take it! It sounds much better than if he hurled it out of the window, ran it over, and then backed back over it again to make sure it was completely pulverized, along with the rest of my hopes and dreams…

JO: You’re melodramatic, aren’t you?

Kareem: How so?

JO: SO… What have you been up to lately?

Kareem: My big story is that I got to play the Grand Ole Opry House on September 18th.

JO: The Grand Ole Opry? Nashville?

Kareem: Technically, it was the Tuesday Night Opry, but yes… Same venue!

JO: How did you get to the Grand Ole Opry House?

Kareem: Twitter! It was a fluke and an awesome example of serendipity or God’s grace.

A little over year ago, I was looking into Nashville. Twitter suggested a country singer/songwriter by the name of Jimmy Wayne. I knew nothing about him or his music, but I clicked “Follow” anyway. Glad I did!

The man has a powerful and inspiring story. Here is the Cliff Notes version: His mother was in and out of jail. Jimmy and his sister were in and out of foster care. When he was a teenager, his stepfather dragged Jimmy and his mother all over the country trying to escape from the law. Jimmy was dumped at the bus station at gunpoint and left on his own. While he was homeless an older couple took him in and housed/parented him enough so he could finish high school and go to college. He’s dedicated his life and music to advocating for kids who have been in his position.

Anyway, Jimmy and I started tweeting back and forth at some point. He announced this “Spotlight Artist of the Week” feature on his website, so I sent in a link to a YouTube video I’d done of “Take It Away” from my album. It was selected and he said to me in his Appalachian drawl “You know, we should do the Opry together.” I figured that was the last time I’d hear anything. That was the beginning of August.

On September 13th, he called me up and asked me to accompany him on the Tuesday Night Opry on a not-yet-released song he wrote with Pat Alger called “How Jesus Felt.” (Pat Alger also co-wrote “The Thunder Rolls” aka the biggest country song ever.) It was only going to be me on the piano and him. I think I said yes before he even finished asking…

The entire situation was definitely intimidating. I was on one of the world’s most famous stages with a national artist in front of 4400 people and being broadcast by WSM Radio to countless more people all over the country. Also performing the same program was Lorrie Morgan, a freshly-shaven Kellie Pickler, and Dierks Bentley. Jimmy was a pro and the performance came together exceptionally well. The coup de grace was when the Opry House raised its lights to show the audience applauding on their feet. I was all done after that.

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Grand Ole Opry. September 18, 2012. Stolen shamelessly from Jimmy Wayne’s Instagram.

JO: Wow! So what happens next?

Kareem: As far as a definitive follow-up, I cannot say. I’m pretty sure Jimmy and I will be working together again at some point. (We played The Ryman Auditorium on December 11.)

In the meantime, I’ve been working on tightening up my music-writing and piano. Nashville is a highly-addictive place for a musician and I’ve been making every excuse I can to get there as much as possible and meet people! My goal remains to break into the major recording and touring circuit, which means I need to make some new friends and become a part of the community. The most intimidating part is the sheer amount of stuff I don’t know. Well… and bills don’t pay themselves.
Regardless, another album is certainly in the works. 2013 is set to be an exciting year!

JO: I agree! JO Magazine congratulates you on your start and wishes you much success in this new direction. Thank you for speaking to me!

Kareem: Thank you! This looks like it is going to be a year of growth for both of us! I wish JO Magazine nothing but the best. Let’s go places!

TKP
1/31/13

Kathy Parson’s Review of “Reflections in Black and White” (2011)

Reprinted from MainlyPiano.com. You can find the original review here.

Reflections in Black & White
Kareem Powell
2011 / Sunstrike Entertainment LLC
44.5 minutes

Reflections in Black & White is the debut CD by Ohio pianist/composer/arranger Kareem Powell. The thirteen tracks are an eclectic selection of original jazz-infused compositions and his arrangements of three traditional folk songs and spirituals. Powell has a very impressive background that dates back to his starting piano lessons at the age of five, and continuing through to a BS in Music Education from Florida A&M University (1998) and a Masters of Music in Music Theory from Indiana University (2001). Since then, his musical activities have shown tremendous versatility – Music Minister, director of musical theater, chorus rehearsal accompanist, adjunct faculty, to name only a few of the items listed on his website. While Powell’s playing is masterful and elegant, he has a strong sense of when to keep it simple. The music is sometimes flowing and sometimes a bit edgy, but it is never difficult to listen to. The multitude of musical genres that Powell has become fluent in have shaped his musical voice into one that is strong and distinctive. I’m impressed!

Reflections in Black & White begins with “Let’s Remember,” an upbeat piece with complex rhythmic changes and a conversational style that suggests that maybe this song has lyrics – an intriguing and inviting opening piece! “Louisa” also has a very strong melody, but the mood of this one is more reflective and somewhat nostalgic. “Walk With Me” is the first of the arrangements. Its gospel/jazz feeling is infectious and demonstrates Powell’s very impressive chops. “Londonderry Air” is a very pleasant surprise. Powell’s arrangement is fairly straight-forward, but played with such heart that it sounds brand new. “Take It Away” is a beautiful ballad and one of my favorite tracks. Flowing and poignant, the melancholy melody and Powell’s emotionally charged playing make this a standout that I could listen to over and over. (sheet music???) Powell’s arrangement of “Deep River” is elegant and heartfelt. “Piano Keys” picks up the tempo and playfully dances all over the piano keyboard. “Demons In My Head” is perhaps the most improvisational and experimental piece on the album. The closing track, “The Sun will Rise Again Someday” is another favorite. I love the haunting melody and dark minor chords, played simply and with abundant grace.

Reflections in Black & White is an exceptional debut, and I look forward to hearing more from Kareem Powell in the future! The album is available from www.kareempowell.com, Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby. Recommended!

Kathy Parsons

MainlyPiano.com

1/9/12