The Messiah Sing Along 2012

This week's local Messiah sing along sounded like a Norman Rockwell painting looks: real people, a strong sense of community, beauty, and a sprinkling of unmatched, droopy socks. My daughter and I had a great time, as always, in the alto section. We sat just in front of the basses and tenors, and guess what? Breaking news: Men do sing! The bass directly behind me knew every wiggly chorus part. Before we started I heard him softly singing a famous soprano melody way up in his falsetto range. Zoe and I chuckled and turned around to see his young son sitting beside him. We smiled and nodded. There were lots of sopranos so the Hallelujah chorus was thrilling. Some tenors don't try to show off but they can't help it because their vocal range and timbre somehow trump our sensible alto parts. Sometimes my goosebumps stopped me from singing, and I had to turn my head to the left and just watch the tenors, snapshots of physical diversity singing their hearts out. Speaking of diversity, the conductor was Japanese. Zoe and I occasionally write messages on each other's scores. On "For Unto Us A Child Is Born" I wrote in the margin, “I heard this in the soundtrack of my dream the night before you were born.” After shooshing me for singing too loudly last year (she was right), she had written on my book’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” “You can sing as loudly as you want on this one.” And so what if the organ and string quartet were off by one beat in the coda of one piece, and so what if some of the hundreds of community singers completely lost their parts from time to time, at the end we were all smiling and applauding ourselves and looking forward to next year. ~ Velma

A Valentine

That VW bus was never a good car. Full of everything I owned, the car’s top speed was 43 miles per hour as I drove up Georgia backroads to start a summer job in the mountains of North Carolina. There was one family living in an old trailer near the place where it threw a rod. They invited me to stay with them while the car was fixed, so I unloaded the electric piano into the front yard and put on a little concert for their young boy, who grinned and said, “This is like an episode of ‘The Waltons!’” (Maybe one of his friends had a television.) I slept on an old car seat. Returning from house-painting all day, the mother and father shared their simple dinner (all fried) with me.

When the job ended five months later, I drove that route to thank them again and give them some money, but all I found were the charred remains of an old trailer and a burned “God Bless Our Home” sign.

Today is Valentine’s Day and I send my love to that kind and generous family who rescued me and let me be part of their family. I wish I knew their names. I hope life has been as kind and generous to them as they were to me.

I Will Always Remember Frances

At the wedding rehearsal dinner party, she was the 80-year-old grandmother who held tightly onto her cane as she slowly approached the piano where I was playing love songs.  Once she arrived, everything changed.  "Do you know some boogie woogie?" she asked, and then started singing a boogie woogie bass line while shaking her, uh, body, the bottom part.  "Sure, I do!"  And the Friday night entertainment really began.  That woman could dance!  And soon other people of all ages were dancing, too.  "Let's sing something," she suggested, her blue eyes holding mine and not letting go.  Big smile, standing very close.  She, my Ella Fitzgerald, and I, her Duke Ellington. "Sentimental Journey" segued into "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" and somehow we ended up in "My Blue Heaven" and on and on.  Then she starting getting warmed up.  "Can you play 'I Feel Good' by James Brown?"  By this time, on my third glass of chardonnay, not only could I play it but I could play it really, really loudly and growl as I sang and she and everyone sang and danced.  That had to be the climax, I thought.  Then she said, "Do you know any Marvin Gaye?  I really like 'Sexual Healing' but I don't know if we ought to do that one here."  Sadly, I did not know it well enough and we picked something more typical for such an event.

I will learn that song, and I pray that I will see Frances again one day, and we will sing Marvin Gaye songs and she will dance and she will smile and she will teach the younger ones how to really live it up.

Role Playing And Singing My Way Toward Emotional Acceptance

I want to say one more thing about my recent performance in the "Songs of Bob Dylan Concert." The lyric of one of the songs I chose, "It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," alternates between a parent asking questions and the son, now a young adult, answering the questions in profound, poetic detail. (Google it, if you don't know the song. I recommend reflecting on every single sentence.)

Keep in mind that I knew I would be performing this song on the night that my son left for college. So I practiced this (with a lump in my throat) every day for weeks. At the beginning of the five verses I sang questions from the point of view of the parent:
~ Where have you been, my blue-eyed son? Where have you been, my darling young one?
~ What did you see, my blue-eyed son? What did you see, my darling young one?
~ What did you hear, my blue-eyed son? What did you hear, my darling young one?
~ Who did you meet, my blue-eyed son? Who did you meet, my darling young one?
~ What'll you do now, my blue-eyed son? What'll you do now, my darling young one?

Two phrases into each verse, I sang from the point of view of the son to answer the questions. For example:
~ I've walked and I've crawled on six crooked highways.
~ I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it.
~ I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warning.
~ I met a white man who walked a black dog.
~ I'm a goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin'.

The rehearsals turned into music therapy for me. Eventually I got around my sadness to feel what it might be like for my son right now, going out into the big world on his own for the first time. When I sang from his voice, I felt strong, infused with a young man's energy and intensity and curiosity. When I sang from the parent's voice, I still felt sad, missing him, but not abandoned. The young adult in the song answers the parent's questions at great length and with great awareness about his travels. The relationship has changed, but still goes on.

I've heard that in some therapeutic techniques a person is asked to role play from another person's perspective. I'd have to say that
singing that perspective may be even more powerful!

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand.
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.
Your old road is rapidly aging.
Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
For the times, they are a-changin'."
Bob Dylan

When as a young adult I first heard this song, I was the misunderstood daughter. I wanted no judgment or criticism from my parents, whose social code was old-fashioned, in my view. I felt solidarity with my peers and with a movement to transform society with justice and freedom for all. Most older people were part of the problem, not the solution.

Now I am middle-aged. Last night while I was singing this song in concert, my youngest child, now 18 years old, was moving out of our house and into his own apartment. Even though we have a positive, loving relationship, there have been moments when I tried to tell him what to do and he would (respectfully) have none of it! Oh, I get it; he was beyond my command. Maybe when I was trying to shape his behavior, I wasn't understanding him. I do respect his strong sense of self. He stood his ground, while remaining polite, and that will serve him well out in the big world.

So it's time-travelling. I'm singing this as the daughter
and as the mother. And if I want to be part of the "new" road, then I must examine my thinking, and keep my eyes wide, and then lend my hand.