Blessing my dying dad and others with music: Jazz pianist Cheryl Ann Spencer
Cheryl Ann Spencer // October 12, 2020, 12:04 pm
In her journey from banker to full-time mum to professional musician, Cheryl Ann Spencer used her gift to bless others, including her father, Teo Chin Huat (pictured), and best friend's aunt when they were leaving this world. All photos courtesy of Cheryl Ann Spencer.
When my dad was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, I would play worship and classical music in his bedroom.
Even when he could no longer speak, he could still listen.
Music became my way of communicating with Dad. It always brought joy to him.
God touched his heart during our worship sessions in his bedroom. Dad dreamt of Jesus two weeks before he died.
I said to him: “Papa your salvation is sealed, you can go to God.”
Before his passing, I played Amazing Grace and our favourite Tchaikovsky piece, June, at his bedside. Though he was unable to move, speak or open his eyes, tears rolled down his cheeks.
Even when he could no longer speak, he could still listen. Music became my way of communicating with Dad.
My father gave me the gift of music and now, I was giving it back to him.
I hugged him for the last time and said my last words to him. After that, he took his last breath and I felt his soul leave his body.
The verse from Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 became so real to me at the moment: “For the fates of both men and beasts are the same: As one dies, so dies the other – they all have the same breath. Man has no advantage over the animals, since everything is false. All go to one place; all come from dust, and all return to dust.”
God was showing me our lives are so temporary on earth. We must live a fruitful and meaningful life on earth.
I composed My Papa in memory of my late father. It was also for Abba Father. My relationship with Abba became closer after my dad passed away.
I rely on and pray to Him for guidance. I had sensed His call on my life several years earlier.
A gift from my two fathers
My father was a professional pianist and loved bringing our family to classical performances in Singapore and overseas. Music was constantly played in our home and car.
He used to play for the Wesley Methodist Church choir in his younger days. He performed regularly at Victoria Concert Hall and on radio, and was formerly president of the Singapore Music Teachers Association.
As a child, I knew that music was God’s gift to me because I could play the correct notes of any song I heard in every key, even though I did not have any formal training. I could not read the notations and didn’t even know the alphabets on the keyboard.
My father gave me the gift of music and now, I was giving it back to him.
Later, when I attended Methodist Girl’s School (MGS), my music teachers would ask me to play the piano for worship at chapel or at Girls’ Brigade concerts. Especially when they could not get hold of music scores (there was no Internet to google or YouTube back then).
MGS laid a solid foundation for my faith, and I would pray and surrender to God when I faced difficulties.
My relationship with God later became deeper after going through healing and deliverance at Restoring The Foundations. There, I learned how to be still, wait upon and listen to God. It was life-changing and liberating.
God walked me through the past seasons of my life and showed me the awesomeness of His love and plans for me. He set me free to pursue my passion in music.
Storm before the rainbow
I moved to London in 2001 for my banking job. Then gave this up when Charles, my firstborn, came along.
My second child, Christina, was born after we moved back to Singapore in 2007.
When the kids were older, I wanted to serve God, honouring the gift He had given me.
God gave me the burning desire in my heart and I started from ground zero.
MGS laid a solid foundation for my faith.
I decided to study jazz music at LaSalle College of the Arts.
But juggling the demands of school and parenthood took a toll on my body.
The learning curve was steep and everyone was stressed. Every week, I had to perform on stage with no scores. Lecturers and peers gave feedback – a wake-up call.
I felt guilty as I had to forgo lots of time with the kids to practice before each performance, because everything is revealed on stage. There is no hiding.
I practiced playing the piano until midnight daily. My kids told me they missed having me around and told me to quit. My heart broke when they said those words.
I prayed to God for direction, asking Him whether the jazz music degree was His plan for me.
But my husband said: “No, Mummy never gives up. Do you really want to see Mummy do things half-way?”
Six months into my studies, I experienced mental and physical fatigue.
One night I broke down in front of my friends and husband.
My supportive husband told me to persevere. His advice was “pain plus reflection equals progress” and God honours hard work.
I prayed to God for direction, asking Him whether the jazz music degree was His plan for me. I prayed for Him to show me a rainbow within the next two weeks if He wanted me to give up.
Two weeks went by and there was no rainbow, so I thought God was clear on me on completing my degree.
Funnily enough, God showed me a full-blown rainbow right outside my house the very next day.
I told Him: “You are one day late.”
Our heavenly father has a great sense of humour!
I composed Rainbow (Arco Iris in Portuguese) for Father God, inspired by incident and Genesis 9:16: “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
Songs to bless
God has used my music to bless others in many ways.
One night, as I was playing my piano, I felt God impress on my heart to visit my best friend’s auntie. It was odd because I had just visited her that afternoon to pray and worship with her.
My best friend and I would do this every week. We yearned for her auntie to accept Christ but her auntie was not ready.
After months of worship and prayer, her auntie’s health went downhill. She was unconsciousness for two weeks. Doctors told the family to prepare for the worst.
I know my strength is limited while God’s strength is limitless.
One hour later, I still could not shake off the idea of visiting her. I called my best friend and to my surprise – she had felt the same prompting.
It was almost 10pm by then, but we went to her house. She was lying in her bed with her eyes closed. Her relatives told us to make it quick as they were tired from receiving visitors all day.
As we prayed for her, she suddenly opened her eyes and held my wrist. She said that she wanted to receive Christ.
I was elated to see her wake up and couldn’t believe that that was happening. God woke her up to receive Christ.
When we prayed the sinner’s prayer with her, her face had a joyous glow, and she started worshipping with us for one more hour.
In the next two weeks before her passing, she told her family and visitors about the goodness of God and shared her testimony.
On the professional front, my band, Evolution Quartet, recently recorded a jazz rendition of Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me (By City Alight). It is one of my favourite songs.
It reminds me of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ that gives me strength.”The verse is very close to my heart.”
I know my strength is limited while God’s strength is limitless. I can do anything with God’s strength. That’s why I always begin my concerts with a hymn to honour God.
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