We’re Never Too Old to Sing and Play

Gus & Trish 91315
Gus Willemin and Trish Morningstar at the South Beach open mic

 

I was sitting at the piano at the Saturday evening Mass when I got a vision of me and my three-woman choir in Newport, Oregon being echoed at churches all over the world, singing and chanting the same songs at the same Mass. It was beautiful.

Behind me that night sat two visiting couples, probably in their 70s. Both of the men sang out, one in a strong voice, the other in a reedy rasp. Both came up to talk afterward. The burly guy from Vancouver thanked me for lowering the key on a couple of the songs, making them easier to sing. The other man, thin, balding, with an earring in his left ear, shared that he is losing his voice to cancer. “Did any of you girls ever smoke?” he asked us. We shook our heads. “Well, good.”

All three of my Saturday singers are over 70. I’m getting closer every day. Our Sunday choir also has its share of septuagenarians. But none of these singers are “geezers.” Nobody is ready to settle in their easy chair to watch TV till they die. In fact, they’re so active it’s difficult to keep up with their schedules, whether they’re singing with Sweet Adelines, hosting charity events, working at the rec center, serving as Master Gardeners, taking classes, visiting grandchildren, or traveling to the Bahamas.

To most of the congregation, I’m a fixture. They only see the back of my head, if they can see me at all. The music automatically happens. Maybe the teenagers think I’m corny with my button earrings and my pixie cut hair playing the moldy old songs like “Holy Holy Holy,” then rocking out to “Sing of the Lord’s Goodness.” But I catch the little kids staring at me as they come up for Communion. When I smile at them, they smile back, star struck. The piano lady smiled at me!

Of course to some of them I’m the guitar lady because I play for the kids in the religious education on Wednesday nights. Some of our big hits are “Alle, Alle, Alleluia” and “The Butterfly Song.” The little kids sing with gusto, but when they become teenagers, they seem to lose their enthusiasm for the music. Why is that? Will they get it back when they’re old like me? It’s hard for me to understand because I never stopped loving music.

I had a very musical weekend. Every Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., the Waldport song circle meets at the community center. We have a blend of “young” guitar guys just starting to turn gray, a steady group in their 70s and 80s, and Doug, 97, who can’t wait to get to the piano. The music is rarely perfect, but it feels good.

Yesterday, we had our monthly South Beach open mic—second Sunday, 5 to7 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. Again, it’s a majority of gray hairs. We get ukuleles, mandolins, guitars, fiddles, flutes, saxophones, cellos, and drums. We sing gospel, folk, rock, pop, Beatles, Dylan, Grateful Dead. Anything goes. We accompany each other and harmonize. This wave of sound builds up. Riding it is better than surfing, I swear.

We share a language of music in common, songs that we all know from school, church, the radio, and American Bandstand: “This Little Light of Mine,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog,” “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” We grew up in an era when teachers made time for music. I remember loving those thick books full of songs that we sang while teachers played clunky old school pianos. “Waltzing Matilda,” “Funiculi Funicula,” “Little Brown Jug.” Do you remember? I wonder if children do that at all now.

Kids whose parents can afford it, still take music lessons, but do they get together and just sing? Are they too busy fiddling with their phones? Do they think listening to Granddad strum and sing is too corny to think about?

We old folks are still learning new songs and new skills. We battle arthritis and hearing aids. We struggle to figure out which pair of glasses will let us actually read the sheet music, but there are too many great songs to ever stop. We may have to lower the key a little these days, but like that man at church who is losing his voice to cancer, we’re going to sing until we can’t sing anymore. Then, like one of my favorite songs says, we’ll whistle, and when we can’t do that, we’ll listen.

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And they poured out their joy in song

She looked a little dowdy in her white Salvation Army shirt and blue skirt. Her guitar was too loud as she strummed it in plain down-strokes, but oh the joy in her face as she closed her eyes, smiled, and sang of her love for God in a clear, high voice that could have been an angel’s. Her name was Corrin. Her husband Nathan, a fuzzy-faced man also in Salvation Army garb, sang along behind me. The Holy Spirit was there, I swear.

Corrin was one of several acts at the Christian music festival and potluck held Saturday at First Presbyterian in Newport as a benefit for Inter-Christian Outreach. I was the opening act because I had to scoot to Sacred Heart to play piano for the 5:00 Mass. Like Corrine, I played alone. Getting our choir together for Mass is challenge enough; with their busy schedules, an extra performance requiring extra practices was not going to happen.

I played guitar and sang “Pescador de Hombres (Lord You have Come)” and “Alleluia! Give the Glory.” My voice was better at the dress rehearsal. My throat felt dry after the long wait for the show to begin. But it was all right. Used to singing from the corner or at the piano, I stood up on that polished wood altar in front of the fancy organ, the grand piano, and all kinds of sound equipment facing an audience of mostly Protestants and represented the Catholics. The words to the refrains for my songs appeared on giant screens behind me, and people sang along. We didn’t have as much of a crowd as I had hoped. The other performers made up most of the audience, but we all sang and shared the joy.

I introduced the next act, the group from Newport Christian Church, some of whom I knew from the monthly South Beach open mic. They had fiddle, bass, and guitar. Two women sang harmony in the middle. A tall barefoot woman sat on a box drum and kept the beat. None of them dressed up, but they led with a prayer and finished their songs with heartfelt amens. They were good. Tight. In tune. Filled with grace.

Even better was the group from First Baptist. Such harmony! They had several guitars, a young man on a box drum and another man on the piano. They sang without sheet music, one of the altos often raising her hand toward heaven. I didn’t know the songs, but I found myself singing along anyway.

Then came Corrin, followed by First Baptist’s Hispanic group, all dressed up in red and black, including a little girl who played a massive white tambourine. They had guitar and piano, too, with one man and five women singing. Their sound was a little shrill, but they too seemed to be filled with joy, the older woman closing her eyes as she sang.

As I left to play at my own church, four girls in flowy white costumes did a liturgical dance. I knew a collection and a sing-along would follow. Then folks would adjourn to the hall where plates of cookies, vegetables and fruit awaited.

It was warm at First Pres. I was sweating under Mom’s teal sweater and shaking a little as I snuck out with my ratty duct-taped guitar case, breathed in the cool air, and drove to Sacred Heart. As I put up the song numbers, Father Palmer sat in the back room hearing confessions. Gregorian chant played through the speakers.

Catholics are different. They are not comfortable showing their faith or talking about it outside of church. We don’t know the same songs the Protestants share. We do chants and our “services” are the same every time. We don’t do Christian rock songs that go on for 10 minutes. They don’t fit into the liturgy, and in Fr. Palmer’s view, they’re not appropriate. There’s comfort in the familiar routine; we always know what to expect, but sometimes I worry that we’re lacking the joy I saw in the others at the concert.

SB open mic 7917CThat joy doesn’t exist just in church. Yesterday we had our monthly open mic and jam session at the South Beach Community Center. A friend  of mine who tried it last month declared it too noisy, but I loved it. This month, we had two mandolins, a ukulele, a cello, two fiddles, three guitars and a saxophone. Renae Richmond, who announced her retirement as our leader, traded among her mandolin, flute and harmonica. We all sang and played on everything we could. Sometimes it came together beautifully. Sometimes it was just a joyful noise, not always in tune or in time but full out. My fingers and my strumming arm are weary. My vocal cords, too, but it doesn’t matter.

We sat in a circle around the green rug in the center of the hardwood dance floor. Spencer, the Beckers’ dachshund, visited everyone then dozed at Randy’s feet. We sang bluegrass, Jackson Browne, Keb Mo, Rod McKuen, a jazzy “Summertime,” old-time fiddle tunes, an original, “Worried Man Blues” and “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It was raucous and wonderful. It didn’t matter if you screwed up. In fact, it was almost required.

Some of us just met while others have known each other since the turn of the 21st century. People have died, babies have been born, and marriages have begun and ended. We just keep playing. It’s never the same two jams in a row, and that’s the glory of it. Like a big soup into which you add whatever you have, whether it’s delicious or so-so, you can’t quite duplicate it ever again.

The South Beach jam takes place on the second Sunday of the month from 2 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center on Ferry Slip Road across from Pirate’s Plunder.

To find out more about Inter-Christian Outreach, click http://interchristianoutreach.org.

 

 

Don’t be afraid to sing. Whatever voice you have, it’s the one God gave you, so to Him, it’s beautiful.

 

Copyright 2018 Sue Fagalde Lick 

 

Nothing a Little Duct Tape Can’t Fix

IMG_20160122_111231634_HDR[1]You might say I need a new guitar case. Look at that poor thing. Even the red duct tape is rotting away. This comes from thirty years of carrying it around, of lifting it in and out of  cars, trucks and SUVS, of setting it on carpets, concrete, gravel, sand and polished stages, of propping it against walls in homes and hotels, of opening, closing, opening, closing all four latches, of carrying it to music camp, church, jams, open mics, street fairs, garden tours, coffee shops, concert halls and nursing homes. Up and down, in and out, open, close.

Some of my musician friends say it’s good to have a beat-up case. People will figure what’s inside isn’t worth stealing. Well, the guitar is as old as the case. I bought them together at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, California. My husband Fred kept me company as I tested one guitar after another, playing the same songs until I came to the Martin Shenandoah. A D-35, for those who care. That was the one. Acoustic guitars are said to sound better with age. This guitar has had its issues. The built-in-pickup died. I dropped the guitar twice when my strap gave way. The second time required a trip to the luthier to put it back together. The surface is nicked and scratched and it usually needs a new set of strings, but it’s a Martin. It sounds good. God willing, that guitar will last as long as I do.

The case not so much, although the inside is fine. Its plush maroon padding is like new because the case is usually closed. When it comes to collecting tips, I favor a jar or an old hat over an open case someone could trip over.

I have started looking for a new case. Our local store doesn’t have any in stock and doesn’t do mail-order. I hesitate to order something so big online without seeing it first. I could be using the new case for the next 30 years. I have already spent most of my Christmas money on other stuff, so this case has a few more miles to go. For $4.99, I bought a new roll of duct tape, zebra striped. I’ll definitely know which guitar is mine.

Musicians meet again in South Beach

This spring, the Rhodies are reborn, and so is our South Beach open mic

When I got the call from Sky that she and her partner Renee were bringing our South Beach open mic back to life on Mother’s Day, I tossed all other plans to be there.

For several years, a bunch of us gathered in the boxy little building known as the South Beach Community Center to sing and play for each other. It was a loving group that quickly bonded through our shared love of music. In 2007, we made a CD of our songs. But eventually people got sick and busy, and the open mics faded away.

Renee Richmond, a local woodworker and fabulous flute player, ran the open mics with her musical partners Scott Paterson and Kate Scanlon. Together they played and recorded as Sea Changes. But Scott was sick. The last time I saw Renee and Sky was at Scott’s funeral, attended by a fascinating blend of musicians, veterans, recovering alcoholics and family. They gave away pictures of us that had been taken at the open mics. I have one of me playing classical guitar stuck on my refrigerator.

Yesterday, instead of formal 15-minute sets on stage, we sat in a circle taking turns singing and playing whatever we felt moved to share. Everyone sang and played along. There were only five of us, but we hope this monthly gathering will grow into something much bigger.

The room was the same. Same striped folding chairs. Same wood floor. Same mirrors on the wall, same old kitchen, same old bulletin board. Same great acoustics. But life has thrashed all of us around a bit over the years. We’re thinner, heavier, balder, more wrinkled. My husband has been gone for three years. I have been directing choirs at church all that time and become more of a keyboard player than a guitar player. Renee has learned how to play flute and guitar as well as ever despite losing the ends of several fingers on her left hand to a woodworking accident. Sky and Renee share a last name and are wearing wedding rings now. They moved from South Beach to Beaver Creek, where they are neighbors with Randy and Debbie. Randy, whose ponytail is gone, had a heart attack a few years ago. Debbie, who has a new tattoo on her leg, has gone from struggling through easy mandolin songs to being able to play just about anything smoothly and beautifully. We all have learned new songs, changed styles, and taken new paths in our lives. And of course, Scott is gone. I could feel his spirit hovering over us, thumping his guitar and smiling with those big crooked teeth.

If you’re on or near the Oregon Coast, consider joining us on the second Sundays of the month from 5 to 7 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center. Bring your instruments and your songs. We’ll welcome you with a hug.