06 December, 2010

Singin' On The Brain

A few days ago I wandered unnoticed into a nearby office and overheard a colleague singing. I was noticed after only a few bars, but the voice was pleasant and every note on key. My immediate thought was this person can sing.

Since then we have had a couple of conversations about being in choirs or in casts of musicals, and we discussed my own performing many decades ago when I could still play the guitar. Since then, all I have done is think about singing - with or without the fellow who was my first partner.

(I have discussed previously the importance of music in my life. Click to go to: A Wish Called Woodstock or Guitar, Interrupted.)

My first guitar came from a discount store around 1961. I still have it, and it looks better now than it did new. That would be because my father did a beautiful job of refinishing the wood. It still sounds like it came from discount store though, but it was great for high school trips since its value was minimal.

I took a few guitar lessons, and as I improved and it became clear I was serious, my parents gave me a wonderful Goya, a classical model even though I played mostly folk music. Later I added a Gibson 12-string to my collection - the better to scare you with.

I even taught a few others how to play as a way to earn a little extra income. One of those found me on Facebook a few months ago - after about 45 years. Thank you, Facebook. The only sadness in reconnecting with old friends - and there have been many - has been because one of the first questions is always whether I still play and sing. I don't. On the plus side, it's nice because they invariably remember me as better than I probably was.

Aside from playing and singing informally for friends or family, there were two distinct public performance periods.

The first was as a duet with a young Canadian who was one of my best friends for a few years before his family moved back to Canada. We sang at a number of parties and special events in high school and played mostly humorous or fast-paced Kingston Trio songs.

My memory is dim, as is his, but he loved to sing Three Jolly Coachman, Zombie Jamboree, Greenback Dollar, and M.T.A. I'm pretty sure we also performed Tom Dooley and Where Have All the Flowers Gone. Of course, we occasionally included Woodie Guthrie's great This Land Is Your Land or Peter, Paul, and Mary's Puff, the Magic Dragon. We were probably more fearless than good, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. We did.

The second phase began after Mike moved, and I went solo - and with a much slower rhythm. I needed the help of harmony for the brighter pieces, and my voice was better suited to soft and soulful. I often put a decidedly slower interpretation on lively songs (including some of the duet playlist), and the audience seemed to appreciate it.

In formal performance at coffeehouses, my most frequent songs included Scotch and Soda, The Seine, Summertime (Porgy and Bess), Willie Jean, It Was a Very Good Year, Try To Remember (The Fantasticks), Motherless Child, Four Strong Winds, and They Call the Wind Maria (Paint Your Wagon). As they came on the scene, I found plenty to like in Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver, James Taylor, and Kris Kristofferson. Even some from the Beatles, the Eagles, or Crosby, Stills, and Nash - and one from Jefferson Airplane.

Someone - either my guitar teacher or a vocal coach - did try to pair me with a young lady who had a wonderful voice, but the chemistry just wasn't there. Alas.

I have so many fond memories that period in my life, and I learned last year that my singing partner - whom I haven't seen in over 46 years - lives near Ottawa, only 200 miles from here. It might as well be thousands of miles, however, since he is in the advanced stages of Parkinson's disease. I can only wish that on his better days he might sometimes remember the joy we once shared as we sang in sweet harmony. We had fun, Mike.