Friday, November 11, 2011

The Art of the Sing-Along

I receive a newsletter from a ukulele guy named Ralph Shaw. He write newsletters that are often thought provoking. I thought I would share this months offering:

The Art of the Singalong


The last great group of singers was the World War II generation. They kept the rickety pub pianos vibrating with song and laughter well into the 1980s. But since the pubs were renovated and those cranky pianos cast out along with the battered cigarette machines and charred lampshades we turn our heads only to discover that those old songsters are mostly gone. Some survive, but the ones that do are now into their nineties and unlikely to gather for a singsong at happy hour. As each one passes away so do more memories of that generation's great moments. It was an age when every event was marked with music.

Sure, there are still a few places where one can stand around the piano with like-minded veterans of song - perhaps to croon hits by the likes of Vera Lynn, Bing Crosby or Al Jolson - but they are rare now. One example is Vancouver's Billy Bishop Legion. Their regulars still drink pints and sing songs every Friday until midnight when they all link arms for the final medley. Their pianist, Bea Blackwell, has played an almost unbroken line of weekly singalongs and annual Remembrance Days for many decades.

One obstacle to the modern singalong is that even amongst those who can or would like to sing there is no common repertoire. Let's say we had an opportunity to get together and sing - what then? How would we choose the songs? I can imagine much vying over whether to sing Rock and Roll, Rhythm and Blues, Ragtime, Rockabilly, Reggae, Religious or Rap.

The demise of the family piano is also partly to blame for the decline in singalongs. Once it was the family's entertainment system but now the piano's place has been taken over by the large, black, rectangular void known as the big-screen TV.

Thoughts of all this came very strongly to me recently when I was booked to visit the family home of a prospective client. Her brother had mentioned me to her. She told me,

"My father is going to be ninety years old and he loves to sing and I can't think of a better birthday gift than a family singalong. I hear that you lead singalongs and even do house calls."

This was a misunderstanding and I could see how she had come to this conclusion. Yes, I have been known to entertain in people's homes and yes, I do lead a monthly ukulele get-together, essentially a singalong for strummers. However, a family singalong with people I'd never met was a new idea for me. But I liked the concept and went with it.

Right away I realized that with an age difference of eighty years between oldest and youngest, deciding what to sing would be the first puzzle to solve. My solution was to suggest to my client that she create a songbook especially for the occasion. I emailed to her a number of song suggestions from my own repertoire. Armed with these songs, plus additions of her own, she came up with a selection of ditties. Hopefully they'd cover the tastes of everyone at the party. The book she made was spiral bound and had a picture of her dad on the front. She sent a copy for me to work with.

Before too long I found myself, in the hour before dinner, standing on a fireplace rug leading a boisterous family singalong. It struck me what a rare privilege this was. The ukulele had taken the place of a piano but the unique feeling that comes from a group of voices singing happily together was still there. In unison we crooned, amongst others: Blue Moon, For Me and My Gal, With a Little Help from my Friends, Rubber Duckie and a song with particular meaning for me: Edelweiss.

As we sang of the alpine flower that greets us every morning and whose snow-white petals we urge to blossom and grow forever, I found myself thinking back to past singalongs in my life. Many of the participants are no longer around but I suddenly remembered them clearly. Along with an almost painful ache of nostalgia came a barely remembered sense of tender belonging; a nearly forgotten feeling of warm togetherness that I'm sure used to be more commonplace. My memory suddenly felt sharper and richer thanks to the words and melodies of the songsmiths whose strange powers have the ability to conjure up long neglected senses and recollections.

Every November 11 we are reminded of the phrase: "Lest we forget." As we remember the lost, the brave, and the good let us also spare a thought for the humble singalong whose very presence in our lives gives us something to live for.

© Ralph Shaw 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Reflections on Halloween

Halloween on the Plaza 2011- Taos, New Mexico

I typically do not celebrate Halloween. It has never really interested me, even as a child. All of the hoopla of dressing up and going door to door talking to strangers and lugging around a bag of candy (which I would not be eating) seemed pointless and others' interest in it was truly perplexing to me. Everyone I knew ate candy pretty much when they wanted all the rest of the year and with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up, they would all be getting their fill of treats everyday anyway.

As I got older, the general public interest in Halloween seemed to wain quite a bit and I didn't really give it too much thought. Then suddenly, seemingly overnight, it was an extravaganza. Seasonal stores cropped up and everywhere you looked there was much ado about the preparation for, and participation in, Halloween.

Since there was so much excitement surrounding this event, I made an attempt to join in the festivities. I am not anything, if not a true believer in celebration and frivolity. In the beginning, friends would have costume parties and for me, that was pretty fun. But everyone I knew lost interest in the work of party planning when it was so much easier to just go out and party. I tried this, but I just couldn't get into the crowd scene.

Well, over the years since I have gained a few appreciations for the historical origins of the 2 holidays that reside back to back, but I still have no interest in dressing up or eating candy. :-)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Vacation 2011

I have been in Santa Fe for exactly one week.

This is a close up of a giant bronze moose sculpture entitled, "Shoshoni Monarch" by Rebecca Tobey. I love her work. She shows at Vantana Gallery on Canyon Road.

It has been the most beautiful weather. Right away, I connected with a local Early Music soloist, quite by accident, at the seafood counter at the downtown Whole Foods. We were both eyeing the extra large shrimp and I made the obligatory "oxymoron" comment. Andre', a tenor soloist who has sung with The Santa Fe Desert Chorale (as well as many others), studied in Austria and his mother tutors people in German. He totally delightful.

I have been taking it easy and doing my best to simply relax.

I only just realised last night that I could have been blogging about my adventure: the lovely blue skies, the surprise snow and freezing temperatures on Thursday, the fantastic art. So I decided to get cracking!

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Chill Is In The Air

It's true. It's actually cold.

Not cold like Winter, but still...

My heat has kicked on everyday this year; and I literally mean, every day.

Oh, sure, we have had exactly 4 days of actual heat (over 90 degrees) since our year began. One of them occurred the first week of May. The other 3 have been separated by weeks. We have also had 4 days of truly warm (78 to 85 degrees); one in March and one in April. The other 2 each placed beside a hot day.

We have had a few days of mild (60 to 69 degrees).

Otherwise, it has been chilly to cold. And until about the second week of July, there has been virtually no sun.

I waited for the weather to change before I planted my garden. But it never really happened.

This makes 3 years in a row that there has been tons of rain, clouds, gray days and no real Summer.

Don't you just love global "warming"?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Is Here?

It's hard to tell.

It's still cold and, for the third year in a row, we are having an immense amount of rain. It is dark, gloomy, and very wet.

This makes feeling the passage of time considerably harder and makes deadlines rush up on you in a startling way.

April 5th begins the rehearsals for Purcell's "Indian Queen". I am the alto soloist and I have quite a bit of music to learn. Actually, I am almost there with the learning aspect; that's never really an issue. The real issue here is memorisation. I have to memorise all of this!

I can't remember the last time I actually had to memorise my music. I know that I often do memorise, just from working intensely on a piece, but I always have the comfort of holding the music in my hands during the performance; even if I never look down at it.

My music, although incredibly familiar and becoming more and more polished, is not yet memorised.

But there is still a couple of weeks before the first rehearsal. :-)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back to Work

Christmas has, overall, been fairly relaxing and like most people, I have not wanted to return to the impact of the daily routine. So even though I love to sing more than life itself, I wasn't necessarily thrilled that it was again time to return to having my time rigorously scheduled.

Rehearsals began for me on Monday. Fortunately, the group was pretty chill and the rehearsal went well without any stressful or tense moments. We read through several pieces, tried a few different keys and voice assignments, and have found 4 pieces that we know we would like on our next concert. I was asked to solo a Ciconia piece and I am hoping to solo (duet or trio) a couple more pieces (as yet undetermined) from the Cyprus Codex (compiled ca.1413 - 1422). I'm sure people will make proposals of pieces they'd like to do via email throughout the week and we'll read through those next Monday.

Tuesday evening, I go through the process again with another ensemble.

There is also daily voice work and practising other instruments. So much to do while the Christmas holiday continues.