Ode to the Musician

by Jordan Spencer Cunningham on

No, this is not a post about Eric Whitacre (most of my posts about music seem to be), but rather this is about a friend in need.

I have a memory of Kelly DeHaan, my high school choir teacher, telling a choir room full of immature boys the effects that music can have on one’s mind– how it can heal the soul, open up vistas that could never be imagined previously, and explore the dark, secret, beautiful parts of a human soul that could not be accessed otherwise.

Now, being able to sing or play the piano, especially in the oft shallow high school culture, will usually win a person all sorts of admiration and attention. I’m not sure what all the other fellows in that room thought of what he was saying then and in many other deep conversations Kelly D had with his choirs throughout the years, but I wasn’t there for the glory, at least in a worldly, high-school-esque sense.

There’s a lot of glory involved in the various groups and clubs and teams found in the typical high school, but none of them have the potential to open up a person’s soul as those involving music. That’s not all, however. Some people say that, in the end, what kind of teacher a person has doesn’t really matter because the student can make of it whatever he likes. While I believe that the student is responsible for making the best of his or her education, I need to point out that this statement is utterly false. I have been blessed with several truly incredible father-figures in the absence of my own father; most of them came in the form of school teachers, and Kelly D is among these few incredible individuals. These are men who loved what they did, did it exceptionally well, instilled a love of what they did into others, and, most importantly, loved those they were entrusted with. Kelly D is not the least of these.

The only way to rid the world of its darkness is to shine our own lights into it. Music has such potential to disperse the darkness in the lives of people, to heal the hell-stricken soul. I saw it happen in the faces of people we performed for. I saw it happen in the lives of my peers. I saw it happen in my own life. After I graduated, I was able to carry the talent and love I learned from him to other sick souls in dark corners of our universe, and I saw their lives also change. Suffice it to say that some of us owe Kelly DeHaan our lives, and he likely doesn’t know the stories of the darkness he had a hand in defeating in the lives of so many. I daresay Kelly DeHaan’s voice, hands, talent, and love are extensions of the voice, the hands, the talent, and the very love of God.

It’s too soon for the world to lose these things– even just his voice. It’s still too dark out there.

I include his own writing now:

My dear friends,

For more than three years I have been battling a condition called gastro esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). It’s an ugly word for an ugly condition. Due to a combination of hiatal hernia and over-zealous acid and pepsin production in my stomach, there is an almost constant presence of acid on my vocal chords and in my esophagus. This acid eats away at the tissue and leaves my voice raw and vulnerable. The continual erosion and healing in my larynx and esophagus is a cause of concern for doctors as this is an ideal environment for the development of cancer. There is no sign of cancer at this point. For three years I have been taking the highest dosage of anti-reflux medication available. I have changed my diet and eating habits. I have tried vocal rest, voice therapy, allergy shots, chiropractic assistance, and I have had endless scopes that have showed no progress, only progressive damage. I have consulted with 5 different doctors about this issue: an ENT, a gastroentrologist, a general surgeon, and two gastric surgeons. They all agree that the only permanent solution to my particular reflux problem is a surgical process called Roux-en-Y gastric bypass. This surgical process reroutes the acid and pepsin to the large intestine and creates a small pouch from the stomach for initial digestion. This surgery is common for severe weight loss treatment. It will also stop the acid and pepsin from attacking my esophagus and vocal folds forever. Finally.

After two failed appeals to our medical insurance for coverage, Shellie and I have decided to pay for the procedure ourselves. With two missionaries in the field this is truly a leap of faith, but we feel the time is right. I have scheduled a date for the surgery later this month. I know this is the right path.

In thinking of how to pay for this surgery it came to mind that many of my friends and members of my choirs have often asked me to record some of the songs they have heard me sing at various firesides and church services over the last few years. The Lord blessed me with a small window of time where my voice felt healthy enough to go into the studio and record a few songs. They are all songs of faith and testimony. These are songs that have changed my life over the past few years. My dear friend Merrilee Webb accompanied me and together we recorded the songs at her amazing sound studio. I am reaching out to my friends, hoping that they might be interested in supporting me with this project. If I can sell about 1000 CDs the bulk of the surgical costs will be covered. Maybe you know of someone who could benefit from this type of music. I feel really great about how the songs turned out. You’ll recognize most of the tunes: Consider the Lilies, How Great Thou Art, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, There is a Savior, and many others.

I feel like this project will help me continue serving the Lord with my voice and my music. I’m so thankful for the way He has blessed my life with singing and with friends. Below is a link that will take you where you need to go if you’d like to place an order. Thank you so much for your time and friendship.

Kelly DeHaan

You can order his music to help here.

Here he is playing and singing a song he wrote for us 2008-2009 Madrigals before we graduated.