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An incredibly rare opportunity for a life-long musician

Mission Co-Worker Eric Moe performs on stage with Leslie Odom, Jr.

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Trumpeter and Mission Co-Worker Eric Moe performs with Leslie Odom, Jr. and the Spokane Symphony. (Photo by Betsey Moe)

LOUISVILLE — While Guatemala has been struggling with the global pandemic, mission co-workers Eric and Betsey Moe have been working remotely from Spokane, Washington.

“It’s feels like we have been standing at the top of a high dive with one foot extended, waiting to jump,” Eric said. However, infection numbers in Guatemala are improving and they hope to move to Guatemala in January.

A longtime professional musician, performer and teacher of trumpet, staying in Washington state did give him the opportunity to keep practicing with the Spokane Symphony and the chance to solo on stage on Oct. 15 with Leslie Odom, Jr., the actor, author, musician and vocalist best known for his Tony award-winning performance as Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.”

“It was a perfect storm because it was an amazing chance to solo with a great musician. His whole group is just phenomenal,” Moe said. “It was an easy little solo, 16 bars of a jazz standard, not too tricky, but at that level it’s really exciting. Everyone is nailing their part and it’s this dance of making room for one another, listening to what people are doing and interacting. It was an incredibly rare opportunity.”

Odom’s performance was sponsored by Whitworth University in Spokane, an institution with historic ties to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Both Eric and Betsey Moe are Whitworth graduates. A few select alums were asked to participate in the program.

‘I haven’t had a reaction like that, maybe ever.’

“When I finished, I felt good about my performance, but the crowd just went wild,” Eric said. “I haven’t had a reaction like that, maybe ever. People loving Whitworth, loving the Symphony and loving Leslie Odom. That’s my crowd.”

Zoey Moe proudly displays the “Hamilton” poster Leslie Odom, Jr. signed for her. (Photo by Betsey Moe)

Also in the crowd was the Moes’ 11-year-old daughter, Zoey, and their 19-year-old son, Henry, who came home from college to see his father perform. Eric said Zoey is a huge Leslie Odom, Jr. and “Hamilton” fan. At the reception afterward she got her “Hamilton” poster signed by Odom, the only one who got an autograph. Henry’s special moment came during the third encore.

According to Eric, Odom “came out with just his guitar player and played ‘You’ve Got a Friend,’” a song written by Carole King and recorded by King, her friend James Taylor and many others. “That was the first song Henry learned to play on the guitar. There’s a spot in the opening where Taylor has changed the note from an ‘A’ to a ‘C.’ He never leaves his songs untouched,” Eric said. “Henry was listening intently to this phenomenal guitar player, and he heard the ‘C,’ so he knows this guy really knows the song. He’s away at his first year of college, so the lyrics were special as well. All those little details, the song, that moment and Leslie Odom just being such an amazing musician. It was memorable.”

In preparation, Eric Moe did a deep dive into Odom’s music.

“He did a song he wrote called ‘Foggy,’ about lying in bed wanting to have a lazy morning with his family when work is still calling. It’s a beautiful ballad. That one really touched me. He has an amazing voice.”

At the age of 17, Odom made his debut on Broadway, playing Paul in the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, “Rent.” His role beginning in 2015 in “Hamilton” rocketed him to stardom, garnering him a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical.

His self-titled debut album was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign and released in 2014. In 2016, the album was re-released with additional material and made it to the top of the Billboard Jazz chart. In 2017, he re-released “Simply Christmas” as a deluxe edition with new arrangements. It hit #1 on iTunes and the Billboard Jazz charts. Moe said his family fell in love with the album and plan to play it often during the holidays.

Most recently, Odom has received great reviews for his portrayal of the 1960s singer Sam Cooke in the 2020 film, “One Night in Miami.”

The Moes will continue their work with the PC(USA)’s long-time global partner, the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA). CEDEPCA provides North American church groups, theological seminarians, and college and university students the opportunity to discover the beauty and diversity of Guatemala and to experience the everyday life of Guatemalans through immersion programs. Betsey is part of the team that will receive visiting groups and plans and facilitates their educational program and itinerary and lead reflection discussions.

Betsey tells the story about the semester she spent in Central America with 25 other students from Whitworth College. On that trip, she heard stories that would change the way she understood herself as a Christian, and she saw that the actions of her own government had a significant impact on the people in Central America. Having served churches in the United States for 16 years and leading people on short-term learning and service trips, she feels ready to do similar work alongside Guatemalans to help people grow through intercultural encounters.

Watch a video of Eric Moe greeting sunrise with his trumpet on Easter morning:

Eric hopes to find ways to use his music to connect with the people of Guatemala, a role that won’t fully develop until the move.

The Moes are looking forward to experiencing life in Guatemala: the landscape, the colors and the warm hospitality of the people. They hope to further strengthen the partnership with CEDEPCA, a partner that is doing significant work in education and justice.

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