Recently, the former TLC show “Trading Spaces” was rebooted with the broadcasting of brand new episodes.
In the show, neighbors rehab one room of the other’s house in just a couple of days, on a strict budget. The original run began about the year 2000 and continued in one incarnation or another until 2008. Though hosts and designers changed through the years, one thing mostly remained basically the same…
The music. And I wrote it.
Sure, they tinkered with it a bit after the first couple of years when another production company bought out the show. But my distinctive trumpet flourish was incorporated in the newer techno-sounding versions. You know….
“Da da da DAAAAAAAH, dup!”
And no one ever forgets that fast-forward music when they are resetting all the furniture in the rooms. That’s part of my original theme. You can hear it all here.
So I know you’re wondering, “How in the world did a Baptist pastor end up writing the music for a hit TV show?”
And almost 18 years later, I’m still trying to figure it out.
Way back at the end of the last century, I was a worship music pastor at a church in Knoxville, TN. That area just happens to be home to the company that produced many of the shows on HGTV, The History Channel, and others. One of my church members, Eddie, was a producer for a local company that was bringing a hit British show “Changing Rooms” over to the US. He approached me one day after our morning services to ask a question.
“So Dave, I know you write music. Have you ever written any theme music for TV shows?”
“No, I haven’t.” I wrote Christian songs and music for productions we did at church, but nothing for TV. I was a full-time minister—that was my calling.
“Well, my go-to-guy for theme music is out of pocket for the next month. And I’ve got to get something in the can for this new show.”
He explained the show’s premise to me, and honestly I was not particularly impressed. Sounded like something my wife might like to watch. I’m not really into home design, and I avoid tools like hammers and saws with the same caution I’d approach the Ebola virus.
After a few more minutes of conversation, I agreed to give it a try. However, I made him promise not to pay me if he didn’t like what I did. I’d never done anything remotely like this before, and I was a little nervous about putting a church member in an awkward position of telling the pastor his music stunk.
So…I sat down with my trusty Kurzweil keyboard and tried a few things. After a few hours of fiddling and then sequencing the whole thing, I had a demo I could send him.
“Hmmm…it’s not bad, really. But it sounds a little bit too much like something you’d hear on Regis and Kathy Lee. Try and make it more distinctive sounding, less generic. Also, if there’s a place you could make it get more uptempo, that would be great, too. We need a section for when people are moving stuff around in fast motion”.
So…I sat down again. What style should this thing be? I thought about listening to other shows, but decided I didn’t want that to muddy the water.
One style that I’ve always liked is what I’d call “urban gospel piano,” which given my profession should be of no surprise. And in the jazz world, the great Dave Grusin is one of my favorite pianists. He did all that bouncy fun music for the movie Tootsie with Dustin Hoffman. After seeing that film, his style was forever stuck in my brain—in a good way.
So what I ended up with that second try was a one minute long piece that suddenly shifts into high gear toward the end (that’s the furniture-moving music on the show). By the way, every instrument you’re hearing played on the original track above is my keyboard: the piano, the drums, the slapping bass, the horns—everything.
The next day I handed off my demo to my friend Eddie. He gave it a listen and said, “I think we can do something with that.”
Soon I was dragging my huge keyboard into his studio, and we multitrack recorded the whole thing. And then a few months later, they had a premier party for the first episode. To be honest, I went by the studio complex, didn’t see anyone I knew, and walked out just a few minutes later. I wasn’t much of a social animal in those days so I split.
For the next year, I completely forgot about the show. Plus, I’d soon moved away to a new church in South Florida and wasn’t really paying attention. But evidently quite a few people were watching the show and noticing the music.
Somewhere along the way, I remember overhearing someone at church talking about the show. I interjected, “Oh, ya know, I’m pretty sure I wrote the music for that.”
Mouths dropped open. People looked at me much the way you would a minor league celebrity. They asked me endless questions about the show’s designers and host. When I mentioned I’d never met them, the conversation quickly died.
So much for my 15 minutes of fame!
But the years in my new south Florida church were hard ones. The congregation was a powder keg of cranky, demanding people. The pastor was unsure and struggling. I was trying to move a church with a pipe organ and traditional music into contemporary music styles.
It did not go well at all.
Within two years I was abruptly fired—simply for being inconvenient. My musical style had irritated the congregation, and the pastor had decided to leave the church. So before he moved on, he gave the folks what they wanted and terminated me, putting the former music minister’s staff back in place.
My wife and I were devastated…to put it mildly. You see, when a minister gets fired, it’s not just like losing any old job—it’s a big deal. Many churches only fire a minister because of some sexual sin or indiscretion, which means his career in the ministry is over, kaput, toast. Although my termination had nothing to do with those things, it put a huge question mark over my head.
It was reasonable now to believe I was done for in the ministry.
We packed up our family and limped back to East Tennessee and into an apartment.
Above my father-in-law’s garage. Yep, good times.
This was my “dark night of the soul.” I had done nothing wrong, yet God had allowed my ministry and career to be utterly destroyed. I had no prospects. I even heard word of some other ministers discussing the “sad news” about me, and how I’d probably never work at another church again.
Their schadenfreude regarding me was a little tough for them to conceal.
During the three months after my termination, I struggled thinking God had abandoned me. It’s said that men too often find their self respect in their jobs. That was most certainly true of me. I considered my job as a minister as a true life calling, not just employment.
My self-esteem was now in tatters, and I was angry, hurt, and deeply depressed. It was so bad I really don’t know how my wife could stand to be around me. I was daily sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of despair.
But I never stopped asking God to prove himself faithful. In spite of my anger at him for allowing it, I hoped against all hope he’d eventually deliver me out of my dungeon.
And then one day, a check came in the mail.
It was from BMI, one of the unions that represents recording artists. With mild curiosity, I opened it up. But when I looked at the amount on the royalty check, I could feel all the blood drain out of my face.
I got on the phone quickly with my old friend Eddie who’d produced the show. He confirmed the show was a huge hit, and said the check was probably real. But even after talking to him, I was afraid to put it in the bank for several days.
Well, the checks were real and every three months, they kept showing up. In the meantime, I found a local church that wanted me to lead their worship. So within the next 12 months, between the BMI checks and the new church, I ended up making twice the income I had made in that church that fired me.
Yes, you read that right. Twice the income. As the old preacher said, “One day, God is gonna give you double for your trouble!” I guess God took that preacher literally where I was concerned.
So fast forward with me to 2005, a couple of years later. I’m sitting at a table at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. You know, the fancy hotel in Beverly Hills. Around me are musicians from TV, film, every major recording medium.
They were getting awards for the most successful compositions that year. And I was one of the award recipients.
As my wife and I looked on, the others at our table started asking what shows they all worked on. I remember one did the music for “The Sweet Life of Zack and Cody” on the Disney Channel, and another was with WWE, the Wrestling company. The conversation kept moving around the table toward us.
When they finally came around to me, I spoke with a humble sense of amazement at what God had done in my life.
“Guys, I just want you to know I have absolutely no right to be here. I’m not a professional musician. I’m just a pastor from East Tennessee who stumbled into writing the theme music for a hit show on a fluke. You are all way out of my league. But I want you to know I’m so honored to be here just sitting at the same table with you!”
My wife beamed later on when I hopped up to get my award and had my picture taken on the stage. A few minutes later, I got to shake entertainer Paul Anka’s hand as he mounted the stage for his lifetime achievement award. After the show was over, I spoke in the lobby with one of my heroes, Richard M. Sherman. He had composed the music to Mary Poppins and so many other Disney films from my childhood. The whole evening was nothing short of magical.
And God let me know then and there that the dark days happened to specifically lead me to this place. Without the pain I’d endured, I’d never be in the position to receive this blessing tonight.
I tell you this in hopes that you’ll understand something about your own life. Every painful thing in you’ve experienced is for a reason, I truly believe that. If nothing else, they worked to lead you to a place where God wants to bless you.
No, that blessing may not be a check and a fancy dinner in Beverly Hills. But every path to God’s blessings is paved with painful experiences. Count on it. That is part of the journey.
These experiences not only lead to that place of blessing, some of them actually serve as training we need when we arrive at that place. That’s because we may never appreciate the true scope of God’s blessings unless we had been through that path of pain first.
It’s just like Joseph in the Old Testament. In order to become Pharaoh’s right hand man, he first had to be thrown into a well by his brothers. Then sold into slavery. Then taken to Potiphar’s house. Then wrongly accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife. Then thrown in jail with the man whose influence would eventually bring him into Pharaoh’s court. And finally, he uses his position there to save the very brothers who threw him into that well in the first place. And one of those brothers he saved became the ancestor of Jesus Himself.
Do you realize that if he’d missed any of those painful steps along the way, he would have been in the wrong place when Pharaoh was troubled by dreams he couldn’t understand? Those were the dreams that made him call Joseph out of that jail cell to interpret it for him.
If you’d ask Joseph today, I think he’d be thanking God for every moment of that pain, for every day in slavery or jail. Because without them, he would have never been in the right place when his destiny came calling.
Now on this side of things, I can see my pain was for a purpose. God was leading me toward a tremendous place of blessing, only to get there I first had to go through a path of pain.
That’s perhaps the same path you’re walking right now. So I encourage you: Keep walking, keep trusting, keep watching.
Because one day, God’s going to help you trade spaces from that path of pain to a place of blessing. He’s designing something special just for you right now, I promise.
And just like on the show, I’d love to see you face when he finally does the big reveal…