Last night was our church’s Volunteer Appreciation event — a no-holds-barred, all-stops-pulled, over-the-top event for the people we love — our volunteers!!!
This year’s theme was “Ambassador for Christ,” an international journey of celebration through activities, video, and even a Disney musical! We had this event at Saddleback Irvine South for our campus’s volunteers, including volunteers that are helping out at Great Park, one of our venues.
The concept for the theme developed a year ago, so I have had a long time to percolate and develop ideas. But the bulk of it really didn’t happen until the last two months or so (after Easter in April).
Since there were a lot of elements involved, this will be a two-part post. This part is looking at the fun musical program that we did.
The program began with an opener.
- The inspiration came from flight safety announcements. I rewrote the script to parody a standard script.
- Megan did the voiceover and we recorded it in Garageband.
- I found a stock photo of an airplane cabin. There was a person standing on the end so I Photoshopped him out. This was the photo on the screen at the beginning of the video.
- I found an After Effects template that fit the theme. Really loved the feel and look of it! Megan helped put in the passport cover and I added in video footage I had shot at services.
- I got the music from Digital Juice and then edited it to match the length of the video.
- I also searched for lots of sound effects. There were 42 different clips! It’s amazing how much a difference sound effects make. Without them, the video just felt flat. Effects included mouth popping noises, popping bubble wrap, dropping cans, cars whizzing by, and explosions.
- Brooke (with the help of Jeri) and John came up with motions. Brooke did miming and John acted like a robot.
The highlight of the evening was a musical tour de force, complete with singers, dancers, actors, costumes, props, graphics, and lighting.
It is very interesting how our staff team is quite diverse and also very talented. We have 5 people who used to lead worship, 3 drummers, 1 former competitive dancer, 1 professional recording artist, among other talents. And most of the people are incredible hams. If you come to our staff meetings, you can see what an over-the-top rambunctious group we are… lead fearlessly by our pioneering pastor, Kevin Nguyen, who leads the charge in funny antics sometimes!
With a team like this, there was tons of potential to do something really fun. Last year we surprised everyone with a flash mob song and dance. People loved it, and this year I wanted to do something even bigger and better.
One of my dream professions was to produce musicals, so this was a dream come true! Take a look:
Because of the international theme, I selected some musicals to represent locations around the world. I chose Disney because everyone knows Disney musicals, and their movies are located all around the world.
Then I wrote lyrics. This was so much fun that I did this while we were on vacation in Hawaii. I carried around my little Moleskine notebook and jotted down lyrics whenever a new line would pop into my head. It was soooooooo fun!
Next was charting out vocal parts. I did buy some choir music but most of it didn’t have the parts I was looking for. Fortunately, for Circle of Life, there is an airline recording of the choir singing in the plane without the solo! Usually it gets drowned out, so that video was really helpful in figuring out what the parts were. Louie is a tenor so we had to transpose the music to Eb from D. The original video is in the key of D, as transcribed below.
Then it was time to make the soundtracks. I got some pre-made tracks and edited them down for length in Garage Band. Probably the most crazy was Circle of Life. There is a really cool site called JamKazam where for only $2 you can get a soundtrack that is split out by parts. Because the song was immensely shortened, I had to cut out the middle and splice the beginning and end together. The instrumentation was just too much of a jump so they needed to be layered on, so I output different versions with different instrumentation.
There was a problem. The song faded out and we needed a dramatic “boom” ending. So I dropped the levels, spliced in one hit on a bass, cymbal and kick drum, and voila! Not bad for a manufactured ending!
Megan and I recorded vocal rehearsal tracks. The song was a terrible range for both of us but gave an idea what to sing.
Louie recruited some of the worship singers to sing and they did an amazing job! Isaac added the back-up choir to the tracks. Then Chad added a click to the track so that Brandon (on drums) and I (on the djembe) could play to the beat. We are sure blessed with such amazing people… they volunteered their time to help out with this large task!
Autumn Mortenson, our wonderful volunteer choreographer, is a mastermind. She has the challenge of creating dance moves for non-professional dancers, most of us not really having any dance experience. She came up with the moves and even made practice videos for us — with front and back view versions! In all we had four rehearsals, including dress rehearsal the day of. I’m really impressed at my team’s ability to remember choreography. I did a few moves with the fans and even messed that up! #notadancer
I love the variety that Autumn came up with, and choreographing the styles incorporating the ethnic flavors! My favorite was the guys’ parts in Moana, as it reminded me of our recent trip to Hawaii!
Next was the lighting. We have a Martin M1 board and I programmed in cues… in all about 15 cues for the whole piece. The lighting sets matched the slide backgrounds, such as the one below that I purchased from a stock photography place for the background to “Mulan.” Daniel operated lights that evening and added enhancements. Rob loaded the lyrics into ProPresenter, which is what we used to run the show.
We also had props. The leftover inflatable fish from our summer kids’ camp last year were great for “Under the Sea,” I got fans on Amazon for super cheap, and leis and grass skirts added flair to the Moana piece. “Circle of Life” was missing something though, so I got some fabric for 50% off and made cheap scarves. It was also the first time I taught Megan how to sew! She is now making her own cosplay costume for an outreach trip at an anime expo!
Blocking and coordinating was fun too. People had to remember when and where to move microphones, chairs, props, when to get on and off stage. In all it was a 10-minute performance and I am so proud of everyone for remembering everything and doing it so well! Especially doing all of this in the midst of all of their regular jobs, which did not slow down while everything was being prepared! (Sunday through Tuesday was our offsite strategic planning retreat, Wednesday was staff appreciation, and this Saturday and Sunday we have a Father’s Day event!)
The Performance Behind the Scenes
I love how the team works together to make things even better!
Louie came up with the idea of doing a funny announcement before the intro video. He got up and said in a radio voice something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, please keep your arms and legs inside until the ride comes to a complete stop,” (and more) and then said it in Spanish. It was hilarious!
Brooke, Jeri, and John came up with the motions of the flight announcement on their own. It was so fun!
One part of the video that got cut off was John Shin did a monologue like in Beauty and the Beast at the beginning of the musical: “Ma chere messieurs et madames, it is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now we invite you to relax, pull up your chair, as the Irvine South Staff and families proudly present an international tour… while you eat your dinner!” He did such a great job saying it all in a French accent, and I wish we had been able to catch it all on video!
Bethany is Brandon’s wife and one of the worship singers that started singing “Belle.” She has an amazing voice and was not able to make any of the rehearsals until the last one the day of. She did beautifully and added so much! We all adjusted our moves the day of because we had never had someone standing there before, but no one crashed into each other and it worked out great.
Johnny made his singing debut with “Under the Sea.” He has sung Disney songs since he was a kid and it was a challenge for him to remember all the words because he is used to the original lyrics. But he was a champ and did it with panache. I loved all the dancing fish, and Megan, Sally and I sang backup vocals, the only one standing out being “Yeah!”
Megan was super nervous during “Honor to Us All” because she doesn’t sing up front any more, but she did great! I had bought white fans and was appalled a few days before the event because I remembered that white is the symbol of death in Chinese culture, so I quickly ordered some blue fans!
“Circle of Life” was the funniest song of all. Brandon had to run from what he was doing to getting set up on the drums, and once he got his in-ear monitors in, he noticed that the track computer was locked! He didn’t know the password and Louie wondered what was going on. When he looked back, Brandon told him he didn’t know the password, which is why Louie said, “Chad, password,” because Chad had set the computer up. Rob came running and got it unlocked and then they were off to the races.
The choir had originally started out with a larger group, but by the end of our rehearsals, only four were left standing — Sally, Young, John and Kevin. They really worked hard on their parts and did sing. But the hour before the doors opened at our last rehearsal, they realized the choir parts were in the recording and they didn’t have to focus so much on singing. Suddenly they deviated from the plan of being a proper choir and started hamming it up, upstaging Louie’s amazing singing. The funniest part was when Young went up and pushed John out of the way. Young oversees our operations and does finances and building things and organizes stuff. I loved how we had a chance to see her hilarious personality. I was laughing so hard I was crying!
The grand finale with everyone on stage was the Moana song “We Know the Way.” I was so glad Rob sang. He’s our tech director but used to lead worship and doesn’t get the chance to sing very much. He is also the husband of our choreographer. What an awesome couple!! The Polynesian flair was so great, and it was the only time we all got our bows to work together.
Why did we do all this? Because we love our volunteers!!! We are so blessed to have such amazing people at our church who serve wholeheartedly and do it because they love Jesus. Putting this program was the least that we could do to honor them for all that they do year-round. God has really blessed us with amazing people and it was a joy to appreciate them!
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