Thursday, October 20, 2011
Classic SGM Radio Feature: The Mark Trammell Trio,
Straight from the Heart - Mark Trammell (first published May 2006)
Mark Trammell’s name is synonymous with traditional quartet music and his face is recognizable by even the greenest of Southern Gospel fan. He has sung with many of the quartet legends like George Younce, Glen Payne, Tim Riley, and Jim Hammill. Being respected as a man of God has also allowed Mark to take his personal ministry to another level with his group, the Mark Trammell Trio.
Mark began this group almost four years ago, with Eric Phillips and Joseph Smith. When Joseph came off the road at the end of last year, Steve Hurst filled in on vocals and keyboards. In March, Dustin Sweatman joined the group as their new lead singer, and Steve has remained as keyboardist and vocal coach. Sgmradio spoke with Mark about MTT, their ministry and their message for the Church.
“Can you believe that? Four years in July!” Mark comments on the growth of the Mark Trammell Trio. “I’m amazed that we’ve grown this fast, even though there’s still days of frustration, and wonder…When I sit down long enough to think about it, I’m absolutely amazed at what God has done and the way He has blessed, and the places He has allowed us to go already…it’s wild. It’s wild to watch it actually.”
Singing with Tim Riley and the Gold City Quartet, Mark had no real plans of leaving this well-established group and forging a new path. God’s leading was not quite that clear. “I knew that I needed to be more actively involved in ministry for quite some time. To be real honest with you I knew that I was supposed to do that for probably a year and a half before it took place. I just got to the place where, once again, I was totally miserable where I was…. I knew that that was not me; it was not my nature to be that way. I knew it was God telling me it was time for a change. I knew it was time to do this.”
Then came the point where Mark had to approach his boss with the news. “So I went and told Tim what was going on…and he said, “I’ll help you”. When he said, “I’ll help you”, I knew that God had started preparing his heart, and it was obviously of God…”. Mark says that while this was a confirmation to him, it was also rather unnerving. “I had not prepared because…technically I didn’t think it was right for me to be preparing for a move of God…[because] If it is God, when the door opens, you go through it…”
Mark comments that there are a lot of people who talk about God leading them in a certain direction, when they’ve actually been preparing for it themselves for long time. When God really tells you to move, you go right then. “And, it may be ignorance, it may be total yielding to God’s control. I firmly believe it’s the latter.”
Part of being more actively involved in personal ministry for Mark meant obeying the call to preach. In addition to their regular schedule, the Trio does four, four-day weekends a year, which include a Sunday service of preaching, either morning or night. A Sunday evening service in which Mark takes the pulpit, usually has an evangelistic focus. The group is witnessing a response to their dedication. “We’ve seen over a hundred people saved in three and a half years, and that just thrills me to death…thrills me to death!”
Just as Mark has seen many changes in his life and in MTT, he sees changes happening in the Southern Gospel world and in the Church as well. “I think our industry’s going through a time of pruning, cleansing. I think God’s taking us through that. And I’m convinced in my heart this is [because] it’s a new day, this is the 21st century…and the world [is prompting] us in the area of changing what we are and who we’ve been.”
Mark Trammell Trio is not about to change their message to fit with the world. “We are dedicating ourselves to continuing to carry the message that we have. Because there is a whole lot of people in the world, and sadly enough, a whole lot of people in the church world, that want to sing songs that have three words in them, and no depth. Nothing prepares the soul like music does. Nothing prepares the heart for the message like music does. We, the music community, the Christian Community…I think we’ve dropped the ball. I’m sorry but that’s what I think. By allowing the anonymity of the world’s music to be sown into Christian music.”
“A lot of these new songs that we’re hearing today say nothing…there’s nothing in these songs to help you through anything. There’s nothing that will portray hope in the life of the believer…I think our music still does that.” The Trio’s message is unmistakable and can be heard in the solid lyrics of their songs.
“Since our beginning, we’ve had one central focus, to rekindle the fires of the believers… All of our ministry leans in that direction. To believe God in reality…to believe that He can still work miracles, to believe that Jesus Christ did do more than just die for our sins. He did die, and shed His blood that we might have abundant life while we are here [not just in the future]. That doesn’t mean we are all going to be filthy rich, own Rolls Royces, live in big houses …Abundant life means…being able to have peace with ourselves and our world…being able to have what we need for today…being grateful for everything in life…to me, that’s abundant life.”
“The biggest thing for us to focus on, the biggest challenge we have as a ministry, has been to speak to not only the hearts who believe that God is who He says He is, and He will provide for needs…But [also] that He is still actively involved in our life, He does care where we are and about what is going on in our lives. Not only all of that, but He does want us to continue to dream in our lives.”
Mark is passionate about the message the Lord has given him for the Church. “Our focus, to be real honest with you, has been on that, but equally divided between that and preaching to the husbands and fathers. Our message is for everyone, [but] what we’ve been focusing on…is that if we can get dads and husbands praying…get our focus turned around, headed back in the right direction…we can be better husbands and fathers. Challenging men to be that person that God has called them to be, undertaking that, not shirking responsibility. And I don’t mean just by becoming more involved in the church.”
Referring to the Scripture that exhorts husbands to “love your wives, even as Christ loves the Church” (Ephesians 5:25), Mark explains this responsibility. “It has given them the spiritual responsibility, and I mean spiritual…it has not made them boss. It’s just made them responsible. It takes them from being the boss to being guided by the Word…and the family allowing him to operate in his office as being the person responsible. There’s a world of difference.”
Mark comments that the hardest person to preach to is a man, 40years of age or older. They need to hear the message of taking responsibility, because the family needs that leadership. “We live in a “More Me” world…We live in a world and a society [where] professors and colleges all across our land are teaching young people how to ‘take care of yourself’ [and] “This world we live in now, you need to take care of yourself first, because everybody is out to get you”.
“We are inundated by it. Buy a television for every bedroom in the home all because everybody wants to watch what they want…I’m afraid in our advancement, in technology, in our home lives, in society, all those things…those who have three cars at home, five televisions…all those things are great in their place…But they can separate and divide the family …we have less time [for each other].”
“One statistic that I heard recently was…one out of twenty families sit down every evening to eat together…and that number is going down. Family values and the traditional family are going to be a thing of the past. And that leaves children right in the middle of people who aren’t involved in the family life.”
As a man who has been diligent about being true to his family even with the grueling schedule of a Southern Gospel singer, Mark is sad to see this trend creeping into the SGM industry. “It’s because we don’t have the level of commitment. And I say this with a heart of love. The two young men that travel with me, though, they are exceptions and not rules…Overall, and the world is again blind to it…The world says, ‘You can have anything you want, and you can have it now…if you are willing to pay the price for it’.”
“Our young people, this day and time…well, first of all, most of our young people, thirty years of age and under, have no idea who V.O. Stamps is, nor do they care. I had the privilege, as you know, of traveling with a man that sang with Frank Stamps. I know that those men who are now in Glory themselves, I know how they revered and had respect for the fact that they had been part of the lives of some of the pioneers of our music.
But my point is, those men spent lots of years wearing Timex watches. Most of them died not having more than 100 dollars in the bank.”
“It didn’t bother them to do that. They didn’t have to have all the things that the world had. And if you’ll look, you’ll find out that those people, who are still willing to live that kind of life, are the ones who are writing the songs that touch people today. The old songs that we are still singing were written about someone’s life, [people] who were suffering persecution for taking a stand.”
Mark learned early on about living a committed life, through the examples of some of the men he traveled with. People like George Younce and Glen Payne, who lived their faith in front of the men who shared their bus. Mark talks about their influence. “I grew up in well rounded home, that’s the key. [My parents] taught me the basics of a Christian life. But it’s like George and Glen stepped up where they left off. They underwrote those things…I was at a time in my life where I was realizing, “ Oh, Dad wasn’t so stupid after all…”.
Watching the commitment these men had to their families had its affect on Mark. “There is something to that, there is. There is something to heading home to your wife every week…to have honour for the family. God honours a righteous man…They taught us…all the young guys… by their daily conversation, by the way they lived their life, …they taught us that it is worthwhile.”
Many of those that Mark has sung with have referred to this humble baritone as the “Ultimate Quartet Man.” Although he jokes about it, Mark understands the reasoning behind the label. “They were not talking about me being an awesome singer, because I wasn’t. Still not, to be quite frank. I’m comfortable with that, I know that…I can’t be Ivan Parker; I’m not going to try. Can’t be Michael English, not going to try. God made these people to be who they are. He made me who I am.”
“George turned to me one day and said, “Mark, we have a George Amon Webster. He is no longer here.” Mark got the point. “He saw what was going on, I was trying to be all things to all men. Because…that was the only way that I knew how to be.” George was telling him to be who he was, and to be the best he could be, not to aspire to be like someone else.
Mark says that as long as God provides the places to sing and the means to get there, he will continue to do what he’s doing. His pride in his fellow singers is obvious onstage, and he speaks of Eric almost as a son, since he’s known him from birth. Dustin is fitting in well, and the addition of Steve Hurst has helped MTT to branch out into another area of ministry to the local church, by setting up regional Schools of Music.
Steve Hurst has long been known for his School of Music held in Tennessee each summer. Now, together with MTT, he is presenting weekends of training for vocalists who take an active part in their church’s music ministry. Training is given in everything from vocal techniques, to the physical and spiritual value of music in a service, with emphasis on the importance of strong lyrics. Worship music, Mark says, should be preparing hearts for the sermon. With ten schools planned, he is hoping many participants will be able to take this training back to their home churches and make a difference in their worship services.
Mark is excited about the future, and is even now learning the lesson in trust again, as God is pointing him towards the need of more reliable transportation for the group. He comments again that the outlook for the SGM industry is a positive one, at the same time reminding us that, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.
Unity within the Church, the Southern Gospel world, and the family unit, is a huge part of the message burning within Mark Trammell today. And life, in the Trammell household, is abundant. This quiet man with a heart for God and a dry sense of humour, sums up his journey this far…with a smile: “I’ve laughed…and I’ve cried. A lot.”
Note: The Mark Trammell Trio is now the Mark Trammell Quartet.
Be sure to visit the home of the Mark Trammell Quartet at http://www.marktrammellministries.com
This SGM Radio Feature was written by Lorraine Walker and published on www.sgmradio.com in May 2006. For current features, log on to http://www.sgmradio.com/ every month.