You are purposefully and wonderfully made. When I have the opportunity to speak in schools, churches, and communities across the globe, this is the message that I bring. Our “MemmelNation Declaration” encompasses these truths and words of encouragement.
The MemmelNation Declaration:
You are purposefully and wonderfully made.
ALWAYS be the BEST that you can be.
Look up, and reach for the stars.
Let your light shine.
If you ever feel small, remember: tall trees start as seeds.
Be bold, brave, confident, and kind, faithful, forgiving, and wise.
Here we go! Nashville Airport, bound for New Orleans, then on to Houston, TX, where I’ll be leading music and worship at a Christian Summer camp for kids with differences and disabilities (one of the only ones of its kind around the country).
This is the last big trip of this spring/early summer season. Though I am a little tired and missing my family, I know that this opportunity to serve is going to be so important and meaningful… For me it helps to look not inward, but to look upward. Stamina and the ability to encourage come from being filled-up then sent out… from being the messenger, not the message.
Can’t wait to make music with all of these wonderful people, in the heart of Texas!
This month, I had the joy of being a guest at Muscular Dystrophy Association Camp in Burlington, WI. During our time together, the campers and I worked on writing a song about our time at MDA Camp. I recorded the students’ voices (heard here), then brought those tracks to my studio in TN, where I recorded the rest of the arrangement.
I wrote this song for my son, Theo, before he was born. Lesleigh and I decided not to find out our baby’s gender – we wanted to be surprised! It was a season of excitement, mystery, and eager anticipation of meeting our little one. We didn’t know much about our baby, but we did know these things…
– our baby would “dance”/kick every time we played music (rock, old country, Irish… the list goes on!)… and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning!
– We had a boy name and a girl name picked out
– We had one photograph: our ultrasound photo
The day after we got our first ultrasound, we closed on the sale of our very first house! The first piece of artwork to go up in our new home was the black and white ultrasound photo. We taped it on the wall of the empty bedroom that would soon be our baby’s nursery. Every day, we’d find ourselves in that room, just staring at the photo, imagining what this little one would be like. And that’s all we had to go on until our due date in Fall of 2018…
This song is for our beautiful boy, Theo. We love you so!
I’m writing from my hotel room in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. It’s beautiful here. As I look around the city, I can see snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance, two boys running down the street with a goat on a leash, birds darting through the air, thousands of butterflies (I don’t know for certain, but there must be a monarch butterfly migration happening), the air smells like firewood and fresh-baked bread, and I can hear kids laughing and playing in the distance.
Our last day in Kazakhstan was bittersweet. We were all sad to conclude our time there, as we felt we’d made good new friends, and really enjoyed every aspect of our tour.
The day started with a school visit which turned into an all out, festival-esque concert on an outdoor permanent stage with hundreds of kids in the courtyard. They were so sweet as they crowded the stage, practiced their english, and their voices were SO strong when we led singalongs, I didn’t even need a microphone.
After an extended, especially-enthusiastic autograph session where we were completely surrounded by kids shouting “Tony, please! Joey, please! Alex, please,” pushing as close as they could to try and have their card be the next one picked for a signature, we learned that the school had prepared a special, homemade lunch for us that we’d eat in a tent called a yurt. Resembling a teepee in some regards, the yurt had feast-ready tables set up inside with local dumplings called manti steaming hot and ripe for the plucking (yes dumplings can be ripe, and can also be plucked… from a plate).
We had fun at our next two stops as well: visiting with English Access Students and youth with different abilities (the conversation/Q&A was so extensive, it had to be cutoff for time), and we concluded our day at a pedestrian mall jamming with local guitarists, ukulele players, singers, and percussionists. To lead the event, I just asked each new person who showed up if they knew a song we could all learn. Every time someone came, we jammed on a new tune. Before we knew it, almost two hours had passed. We played everything from Celine Dion to Sting to Daft Punk, and even a couple Tony Memmel tunes. It was a blast.
The band and I relaxed at a local Georgian restaurant later that night, and recapped our amazing tour-to-date over khachapuri and drinks.
Our luggage was all waiting for us when we passed through passport control in Dushanbe. We were met at the airport by our new friend Mahmud who has been an AMAZING host.
He took us to a place known for its grilled kebab where we feasted on fresh bread, smoky, juicy chicken, flame-kissed lamb chops, steak, tandoori-baked meat pies, fresh cucumbers and the best tomatoes we’ve ever had. To give you an idea of the special quality, Joey says, “I’m not usually a tomato-guy, but these are incredible.” So there you have it.
Towering, snow-capped mountains peaked through the clouds as we descended toward the runway. This was our first introduction to Almaty, and a sharp contrast to the regions of Kazakhstan we’d previously toured. I took about 150 pictures of the majestic range in two minutes… just a little excited.
After baggage claim we met our new friend, Banu, from the U.S. consulate who brought us to our hotel to drop our bags before we headed to our first event: a presentation to teachers from around Kazakhstan about my own adaptive teaching work, and ways I’m working to encourage a new generation of people of all abilities to shine with their own unique talents.
Teachers are such a special group. Worldwide. As we engaged, you could literally feel the interest, the passion, and strong desire to learn from one another. When the music started, it got even more exciting: clapping, singing, and dancing ensued… These teachers really know how to boogie! In all seriousness, it was a powerful beginning to our work here.
Today, our visit was to Taldykorgan: an outer region, three hours one way by car, and a spot where U.S. programming has not been frequent, so I was eager to hopefully have a unique opportunity for impact and bonding between our two nations.
As we passed through rolling, green-and-grey rocky hills, and past lakes, fields and trees, I listened to music for a while, looked out the window, and did an interview with the documentary crew that is following our journey here.
The day was very full! Six hours in the van, a big public concert at a local theater (which rocked), a flash-mob-style concert in a local pedestrian mall (which also rocked), a visit to a local home where young people with various physical and cognitive differences work in community and are taught gardening and artistic craftsmanship skills to foster independence, a mini-concert at that home, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a local business (I got to cut the ribbon… which is not as easy as it looks), and interviews with media.
At our flash-mob style concert, a woman who uses a wheelchair sat front and center, and was in tears watching the band play and hearing me sing. I needed help interpreting what she said afterward because she was speaking in Russian, but I’m told she said it was so important for her to see me there, and also for the people of the town to see me to hopefully continue to change minds about disability and what is possible.
When we got back to the hotel it was almost 11pm; we were all tired and returned to our rooms, so I ordered some exotic food: a Cheeseburger and fries. It was a salty, juicy, delicious way to cap the big day.
Up-and-at-em! The sun was shining and the early morning air was still and warm as we climbed in the van to make our way to the local TV station for a morning show interview. The local Aktobe network hosts were gracious and sweet, and we performed a song on the air, which is always fun.
In the interview, they asked us to share a couple of things that we’ve learned about Kazakhstan during our time here, and I thought you might find this interesting, too:
-By area, Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world.
-During the Space Race era, cosmonauts took off and landed in Kazakhstan, and I’m told it’s still a significant hub for the current program. The design and engineering is ALSO unique to the U.S. space program because the U.S. design used an ocean splashdown and recovery method, and the former Soviet Union had an on-land retrieval system. I just learned a few basics, but my curiosity is PEAKED I’ll definitely be researching more on this.
When we arrived for our concert, we knew we were in the right place because there was an enormous banner (35 feet tall) with our photos on it to promote the event. Of course, we had to get a picture in front of the huge picture.
The concert itself was a great culmination of our time in Aktobe. The beautiful theater was packed with people: students from the music school, friends from the American Corner, and people with MANY different abilities all came to sing AND dance with us.
As a perfect backdrop, the symbol of friendship between our two nations was lit up behind us on stage on a bright LED screen.
I told the audience, “Our time in Aktobe will be two days we will always remember.”
After the concert we took photos with what seemed like the entire audience, signed autographs, and just had a lot of fun.
When we finally exited the theater, we heard people candidly singing songs we’d played amidst their small groups of friends. One that especially touched me was a group of youth singing part of a song I recently wrote about baby Theo. We heard them clapping and singing, “My Baby, My Baby, My Baby!”
As gifts to a few special friends who joined us to jam on stage, I gave my CD with a special message written to each person. As we loaded our van, the sax and piano player pulled up next to our car, windows down, and our song “We’ll Be On The Radio” bumping from their car stereo. For a songwriter, are there any greater candid moments possible?