The Story of Billy

By Richard Huggins
From AccompaList, a Resource for Church Accompanists
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This is the story of Billy. I refer to it to remember that "seed moment" when it was that I first knew what the definition of my role as an accompanist-minister was to be.

I was the accompanist in the 70's for a winter youth event at Ridgecrest Baptist Conference Center in North Carolina. I had been asked also to help out with a class on using music creatively. One of the activities of the class was for those there to form themselves into groups of 6 or so and to write--as a group--a song dealing with a pre-assigned theme. As the group in which I would take part began to get to know each other and to share ideas, soon it was obvious--and I don't mean that in a negative way---that a group member named Billy was mentally underdeveloped. But he was a precious soul with an enthusiastic spirit and shared his own thoughts and ideas, including some ideas for a song. Frankly, it was hard to resist his enthusiasm for his song, and when all was said and done, we went mostly with ideas first expressed through his song. As he shared his song with the rest of the group a little later, I improvised an accompaniment for it.

In an unrelated event, there also was to be a talent show at this conference, and--sure enough--Billy tried out. And though he couldn't sing very well, he was accepted. Can you figure out the rest? Yep, he chose to sing his song. He also asked if I would play for him in the talent show, which I was glad to do.

On the night for the talent show I was backstage biding my time when a rather frantic woman came back and asked me if I knew someone in charge. I said that I sort of fit that bill-- how could I help her? She said, "Well, it's about Billy. I think you need to know that he is spastic, and sometimes--without warning--he starts sputtering and hitting his forehead with his fist."

(Oh brother, I thought. Wouldn't that be something.....)

I thanked the lady, and she left, but there really wasn't much that could be done. I did pass this on to one of the other leaders, but we decided it was best just to let him go on and sing.

The show commenced and went well. Eventually it was Billy's turn. (Now I'm not going to try and tell you that I didn't wonder just what we might be getting ready to witness. But, the lights came down and I launched into my introduction.) A spotlight was trained on Billy, and he began to sing. With a broad smile and erect posture, head held high, he sang his song with all his heart. His heart was clearly wrapped around his words.

It has been my blessing and my privilege in my life to play for many wonderful soloists and to be the accompanist for some big events. But right then and there, that night in North Carolina, as Billy wrapped up his song, the Lord impressed upon me as clearly as anything I've ever experienced since then this word: "Richard, THIS is how you are to define your ministry. Not by the great soloists you may get to accompany, or the events for which you will play, but by Billy, and by all the Billy's to come. He is the reason I gave you the gift of your talent."

Billy finished and the room erupted into thunderous, standing applause. He hadn't sputtered; he only had--in his simple, cheerful way--reminded all of us that the Christian life is not to be defined by exotic rituals of worship, by excessive posturing over theological positions or by ever-upward spirals of pageantry (worthy as pageantry otherwise is), or even by the sonorous tones of well-trained vocalists, but by our own versions of Billy's broad grin of joy and plain offering of song to the Lord.

And for me as an accompanist, if ever I start to think too highly of myself or my time, or if ever I lose my perspective on Whose talent this really is, well....I just remember a magical evening in North Carolina, a broad-grinned fellow named Billy and the Lord making sure I knew just WHAT is WHAT.

Richard