Remembering the tour of On A Hill Far Away

When the Orchestra joined me on the first A-flat of the overture, it was like a dream realized and I started to tear up. I had not known what to expect. I had never seen the musical score that my beyond talented friend, Adam Whipple, had created to go with the songs I wrote. I usually am the type of composer that wants to hum out every note in my head for each instrument and have someone write it into musical notation, but for lack of time, I played the songs to Adam and said, “I need orchestration.” It turned out brilliantly, and was a moving experience for the musicians, the cast, and the audience.

This was the last performance of our spring tour, On A Hill Far Away, and was a collaboration between The WordPlayers and First Baptist Church of Tellico Village. I had suggested over Chinese food that they let me work their choir and orchestra into the piece with only a few rehearsals (only two with almost everyone). For some reason they trusted me, and we went for it. Until we actually performed it on Good Friday, the entire group of musicians, choir, and our incredible cast had not experienced it all the way through together. We had bolted through a run-through where we would stop and go and I ran back and forth from orchestra to stage shouting out directions. When we finally did it, something happened.

Blind Bartimaeus, played by Cameron Puckett, has a line at the end of the show that brings back a moment from an earlier scene, and is also where the title comes from. As he stands and looks with new eyes on the crucifixion of the One he was ready to follow forever, he recollects a dream about being able to see for the first time and going to “a hill far away” to look for God. Cameron always gives a convincing performance, but this time the whole room could see the tears streaming down his face. He told me later that one of the choir members complimented him on the powerful delivery, mentioning that it was such a meaningful moment for her. He didn’t know what to say, because the truth was that he was not acting. The Truth of the crucifixion had literally brought him to tears.

Maybe some of it was in the music. Maybe some was in the writing. Perhaps, the powerful performances the cast members gave every time was part of what happened. But just know that when I say, if you did not get a chance to see our most recent tour of On A Hill Far Away, that you really missed out. And it’s not because I wrote it. It’s not because our final performance had an orchestra playing along with a beautiful score by Adam Whipple. It’s not my wife’s skillful directing, and it’s not even because our cast:  Matthew Lloyd, John Cherry, Matt Lyscas, Amanda Murphy, and Cameron Puckett made us feel and believe everything that was happening. Those were important to what we did but in the end, something unexplainable happened in the room whenever we did this piece because God has given us a brilliant and beautiful story to tell; the best there ever was or will be.

According to Seth MacFarlane, there are a million ways to die in the West. According to The WordPlayers, there are endless ways to tell God’s story. He gave us all a part in it if we are willing to be a supporting role to Christ, the Great Protagonist. We played our part on this tour and we will do it again. Special thanks to Charlie, Eugene, and David at First Baptist Tellico for taking a chance and playing such a big part in our final performance. To the orchestra, you folks were amazing, and I want you to follow me around everywhere I go. To the choir, who knew that in two rehearsals you would perform like you had been a part of the cast all along? To the cast, well, I’ll tell you when you come over for tacos; I don’t want to get all weepy right now. And to the churches where we performed, may God bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you. May He give you eyes to see, courage to make bold decisions toward Him, and may His love, mercy, and justice continue to grow in you and reveal Christ in your community. Oh, and Chels, thanks, as usual, for the amazing meal in Rutledge. May that Hill never be far away from any of you.

Talk to me.

Ethan Norman
Artistic Associate, The WordPlayers