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Accidental Tunes

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This one I would not have predicted, this particular line in my ninth life. To be so comfortable singing in front of people.

When we saw that our community had a group calling itself the Ragtimers, we bought me a used baritone horn, recalling my ancient history of expertise on the instrument, hoping for the opportunity to do a little ragtime jazz brass for fun. “That’s not quite the kind of band we are,” said the Ragtimers’ band leader when we approached him about my horn, “We’re mainly a ukulele band.”

Ukulele? I had memories of Tiny Tim updated with images of Steve Martin on the beach in The Jerk. Alright, except my two brief excursions in my distant past with string instruments were sad flops. Oh well. “But Adrien does play harmonica,” Suzi volunteered. Not really – what little I do tooting around on my harmonica has been too influenced by too much Dylan, yet I don’t have even as much basic expertise as some of my friends have, surely not enough to perform. But hmmmm, seems the Ragtimers did once have a harmonica player in their group, and maybe I could join them to let my harmonica give them a train whistle sound for Orange Blossom Special they’d be playing in an upcoming gig. Just a train whistle toot? Oh, I can handle that, yeah sure.

Surprise surprise, a few days later we came home from running an errand to find a loaner ukulele sitting on our porch. And although I hadn’t planned at all on trying to go that far with it, I did learn three basic uke chords in time to add a few strums to my train whistle harmonica at that one gig. And actually enjoyed those three chords enough for us to return that loaner ukulele in favor of purchasing me my own tenor uke. The beginning of a long slide into musical obsessions.

As we’d approached that first gig, the Ragtimers’ co-leader had asked our band to come up with suggested songs for the next gig after. At the time I still hadn’t considered myself a permanent member of the group, just available for the occasional harmonica toot and maybe eventually a few more chords on my uke. But looking through their existing collection of songs, the southern boy in me who had recently loved Leonard Cohen’s version of Tennessee Waltz figured it might be nice to hear someone do that song for our next gig. I didn’t know that suggesting the song for our playlist meant I was volunteering to sing a solo. I’d never sang in public before, and I’d not planned on ever doing so. But hey, I do have to say, drop dead more than eight times, and your ninth life tends to take an odd twist or two.

So there it was: at the Ragtimers next gig, I sang and played an interlude on my harmonica on Tennessee Waltz.

That was scarcely a year ago. Yet if I don’t jot it down now, I’m already losing track of the songs I’ve since sang in public. The audiences have all been casual, comfortable, very forgiving – homes for Alzheimers patients, local groups, karaoke gatherings, community events, the like. And I know I’m a very mediocre singer, if that. But this is the kind of giving and sharing that makes up life, whether it’s a ninth life or a first. So where three years ago I wouldn’t have dared dream of singing in public, now I look forward to each new song.

So anyway, as best I can remember, this is what I’ve sung the past 18 months —

  • Tennessee Waltz — With harmonica melody on the interlude, two separate gigs
  • Bright Lights and Blonde Haired Women — twice, playing the part of Tennessee Ernie Ford
  • We’re Off to See the Wizard — twice, as the Tin Man in a quartet
  • This Land Is Your Land — with harmonica, but not nearly as well as I thought I ought to have been able to sing it
  • MTA — standing in for Bobby, who was slated to sing it at a Ragtimers gig
  • Embraceable You — solo as part of a Gershwin medly, backed by a local orchestra
  • I Got Rhythm — duet with Suzi as part of a Gershwin medley, backed by the local orchestra
  • Side by Side — duet with Suzi, our best harmonization of any of the few duets we’ve done since I started this singing thing
  • High Hopes — duet with Suzi, good coordination and good harmony
  • Cruisin’ Down the River — twice, once as a duet with Jan, then for my first duet with Suzi when Jan had her own close encounter with death
  • Runaround Sue — karaoke, with my own variation on the lyrics, altered to acknowledge how a little bit of neck surgery wasn’t enough to stop Suzi for very long
  • Sixteen Tons — karaoke, but of all the times I’ve practiced it in the shower, I won’t ever do it better than I did for that one karaoke performance
  • Puff the Magic Dragon — karaoke duet with Suzi
  • You Are My Sunshine — first karaoke duet with Suzi
  • Folsom Prison Blues — karaoke, but I need to go back and do it better, since I know I can
  • Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town — karaoke, and lovin’ every note of it
  • New York, New York — Frank I ain’t, but someone had to do it for our karaoke crowd, may as well have been me
  • Sweet Caroline — Neil I ain’t either (no regrets, Sandi), but I always loved reaching down for that low note, so it was one of the first on my list for karaoke
  • To Make You Feel My Love — karaoke, channeling Adele’s cover of the Dylan love song
  • Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door — yes, I did straight Dylan for our karaoke friends
  • Subterranean Homesick Blues — and yes, I even did some hardcore Dylan!
  • American Trilogy — karaoke, less than happy about the karaoke tracking being so different in its timing than any of the Elvis renditions, but I really only sang it for the chance to do All My Sorrows anyway
  • It’s Christmas and I Wonder Where I Am — doing Tom Petty’s remake of Winter Wonderland for our community’s Christmas party
  • Build Me Up, Buttercup — rockin’ fun solo at one of our community concerts
  • Jingle Bell Rock — for a Ragtimers’ Christmas concert
  • Winchester Cathedral — karaoke
  • Love Will Keep Us Together — karaoke duet with Suzi, shortly after Captain and Tenille announced their plans to divorce

I know I’m forgetting some I’ve done (like, that I “sang” Tequila at this month’s karaoke), but even what’s here is more than enough to confirm that what started as quite an accidental tune has turned into music I now enjoy doing regularly. I sing. People actually don’t stick their fingers in their ears when I sing. And I enjoy singing. Helps bring me back to life.

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Written by macheide

19 July 2014 at 4:15 am

Posted in minstrel

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