Play Something For Us, Dear

Here is a video I put together with some beautiful imagery, featuring the piece “Arise” from my latest CD Prayerful Improvisations. I hope you enjoy listening and watching. Continue reading below to find out how I got started and how you are such an important part of my music…

“Play something for us, dear!” I heard this a lot growing up. At family gatherings, at school, at church, even just hanging out with my friends (although my friends usually dropped the “dear”). It’s funny, as soon as I learned my first song, King of the Road, at age seven, I knew I would continually be put on the spot to play piano for friends and family members wherever I went. Thankfully, this did not deter me from a lifelong love and passion for music. Growing up in a very musical and artistic family, I guess it was inevitable that something would eventually rub off.

Music was always an escape for me. Maybe that’s why I shied away from performing for those close to me. Oddly enough, I had no problem playing in front of 500 strangers! I think because I would lose myself in the music. Especially the piano. It was my haven, my getaway, my sanctuary. Don’t get me wrong, I loved moving people with music. Still do! But I found a special bond, a freedom, when I was alone with my music . . . just a boy and his piano. Little did I know what a profound impact this connection to music would have on me later in life.

My first concert performance experience was at age eight and I continued to perform regularly throughout my childhood. I studied with many piano and composition teachers, each one providing something unique to my musical education. I went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Film Scoring and Music Production & Engineering from Berklee College of Music, a Master’s in Music Education from Boston University, ran my own recording studio, founded a nonprofit music and arts organization, served as Director of Music for six years at a private PK-12 school, and currently serve as Pastor of Music & Administration at Middleton Congregational Church (Massachusetts) where I have ministered for 25 years. During all of this I continued to perform and produce concerts while cultivating my craft. “Play something for us, dear!”

But as Snoopy often writes on his trusty typewriter, “It was a dark and stormy night” one winter in 1986 when I drove my car off the road while driving through the center of Boston. I was suffering from yet another anxiety attack.

This was during my first year in college and a lot had happened since graduating high school just 7 months earlier. The “panic attacks” as people were calling them had increased in occurrence and severity. I was lost in a sea of anxiety and didn’t know what was happening to me. It wasn’t like any one traumatic thing had set this into motion, but I suppose a number of small things added up over time and culminated into these increasing episodes. It was no picnic. I sought counseling, changed a few things in my life, and within six months had it “under control.” I was able to manage it but never fully recovered from it. Until I met God . . . in Florida.

It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s true. It was 1989 and I was at Berklee finishing up my undergrad degree. I had been hired as the choir director and organist at the church where I currently minister, and was looking to develop my skills and knowledge in church music. I really hadn’t been involved with church music before, but the fact that my family grew up in this church and that I could adapt quickly to the tracker pipe organ was a plus in the hiring process. So I attended a church music seminar early that year . . . yes, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I have to admit I was pretty psyched to be going to Florida for a week right in the middle of a New England winter!

It was there that I not only discovered a love for sacred music, but I discovered a greater love that I had never experienced before. I was welcomed into this particular community so warmly by all those who gathered at this conference. It was overwhelming. In that week I experienced the love of God through His people in a very tangible way, like never before. Before I left Fort Lauderdale, I sat alone on my bed in my hotel room and asked Jesus to come into my life. From that moment on, any anxiety I continued to harbor gradually dissipated until it was no more. It wasn’t an overnight phenomenon and still involved a lot of work, but I am confident that I would still be an anxious mess had it not been for encountering God that evening in my hotel room.

“Play something for us, dear.” This now has new meaning for me because when I hear it in my head, I picture hearing it from God. I have devoted my life to glorifying God through music. Sure I have stumbled and hit roadblocks along the way. I have also had some interesting triumphs in my music career: grand prize recipient of the 2001 Turner Classic Movies Young Composer’s Competition, produced over 30 music CDs (many of which include my own music) while arranging or performing on many others, having music featured in the concert setting as well as on television including The Biography Channel, The Discovery Channel, MTV, PBS, and more. But none of it compares to when I sit at the piano and play for Him.

Over the years I have developed the ability to improvise; improvisation for worship in particular. I do this in church during Communion by improvising on a hymn tune or something completely original, during prayer times in church or smaller gatherings, and most often when I’m by myself at the piano having a conversation with God. My prayer time. Just a boy and his piano . . . sharing my thoughts with the Lord Almighty. And He listens! How amazing is that!

So now here I am almost 40 years later from when I played those first notes of King of the Road, and I find myself seeking opportunities to share this experience with others through music. My most recent album project, Prayerful Improvisations, is a realization of this goal. This CD was completely improvised as a means to share my own prayer and worship experiences with you, the listener. Because after all, YOU are ultimately the reason for God’s call in my life.

Perhaps the experiences I have had and strive to capture in my music will touch your heart and bring you hope, strength, wisdom and peace. Perhaps you will feel the love of God and the love I have to share through my music. Perhaps it will simply be a pleasant listening experience. Any of these things would be terrific and I feel blessed to have you come along for the journey. And if nothing else, just know that you have purpose and meaning in this world. God is ready for you and calling out to you: “Play something for us, dear.”

Thanks and God bless!

– Peter Vantine