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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Why does March rain surprise us?

IMG_20150427_172305014[1]Facebook, that nosy cousin you never asked to butt into your life, keeps popping up with memories of past posts I might want to share again. Sometimes they’re too embarrassing to share, but the practice got me curious about what I was writing here at Unleashed on other last Mondays in March. Turns out this month’s rainy weather is not unusual at all. Here is a quick trip through those past posts and a few updates. Enjoy.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2010/03/   “Simple gifts” Yep, it rains here in March. In 2017. we have had a horrid winter, with several episodes of snow and ice, but so far the wind has not been as bad as usual. My gutters are gunked up again. Rain is predicted for the next 10 days. But miracle of miracles, the blue hydrangea bushes that I was sure were dead are covered with new leaves. The robins are back, the skunk cabbage is blooming in Thiel Creek, and I saw my first trillium flowers yesterday.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2011/03/ “Thank You, I Think.” Oh, the yin and the yang of this one. I have two amaryllis plants now. Each has leaves about two feet tall. They rarely bloom, but when they do, the bright red flowers are spectacular. What really grabs me reading this is my ingratitude. Jill Baker, who gave me the plant in question, passed away last year. [link to that post]. I miss her music and her no-BS attitude. I also need to show more gratitude to the friends who threw me that surprise birthday party only three weeks before my husband died.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2012/03/ “I Missed the Big Oregon Coast Storm” Why is it that every March we can’t believe winter weather is still happening? Re-reading this post, I’m feeling less put-upon by the continuing rain, but I am tired of soggy shoes, and I’m itching for another trip to San Jose to see my dad. [Turns out I’m getting that trip sooner than I thought. See below.]

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2013/03/  “Hugging the Open Mic in Yachats” Dare I say that old singers don’t retire; they just take their guitars to song circles, jams and open mics in Yachats? Four years later, I am still doing song circles and open mics as well as my church music job. As for paid gigs, not so much. I no longer have the desire to play over loud crowds for a few dollars in tips.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2014/03/ “Lost an Earring, Found a New Beach Hangout” Gosh, I’m in a rut. I’m still playing music at church on Sunday mornings, going to Georgie’s with friends for lunch afterward, and shopping at the J.C. Market. I still have those earrings, and I still do not have pierced ears. I still park at Jumpoff Joe’s occasionally.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2015/03/ “The Dead Husband Thing.” Well, that hasn’t changed much. The other day at lunch, I overheard a woman about my age say “when my husband died . . . .” I wanted to run over and hug her. My people! The dead husband club. I know it sounds crass, but these days I feel like I need to tattoo it on my forehead: “Hey, my husband died and I still miss him. If you still have one, you have no idea how different my life is without a husband.” Okay, I need a bigger forehead for all that. It will be six years next month. Hard to believe. I sound so content in this 2015 post. I have not been feeling that way lately. Grief is like the tides. It ebbs and flows, but it doesn’t ever go away.

https://unleashedinoregon.com/2016/03/ “Tucson Festival a Writer’s Dream” I loved last year’s trip to the Tucson Festival of Books and the nonfiction workshop that followed. I loved visiting Fred’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John. I loved the sunshine, the desert, and the new friends I made. I thought about that trip a lot as I was slogging through the rain while this year’s festival came and went without me. Tucson in 2018!

So we’re up to 2017. It’s still raining. The news is still full of President Donald Trump and his crew. Annie’s still sprawled on the love seat in front of the pellet stove. And I’m still in my bathrobe at 10:00 although I’ve been up for hours.

People ask if I’m still writing. If I’m still breathing, I’m still writing.

BREAKING NEWS: My father fell Saturday and broke his leg. I am heading to California to help him. No Wi-Fi at Dad’s house, so I’m not sure when I’ll be able to post here. Annie will be staying home with dog/house sitter Auntie Jo. Stay tuned. Follow me on Facebook.