author: Pam Patchet / illustrator: Trish York
MY HUSBAND OF THIRTY-ONE YEARS has joined a band. Many people are surprised when they first hear him play keyboard and sing. Wait, he’s a dentist and a gifted crooner? His singing voice is warm and melodic, his pitch spot on, and he knows how to give and take direction (at least as far as the band is concerned.) And if you crack a tooth on a mic, he can fix that too. The group formed in a roundabout way at the cottage. Years ago, the current lead guitarist and vocalist decided to learn the guitar. She took lessons, started slowly with basic chords, then began singing ballads in soft tones. Her husband encouraged her to perform in front of close friends after dinner parties. He didn’t play an instrument at that time and would just sit and watch her, completely enraptured. If this were a movie, the house lights would dim, the spotlight would be on her, the edges of light revealing her husband’s face bathed in love and the rest of us would be lost in the shadows. It was a wonderful thing to witness in a long married couple. He enjoyed her playing so much he decided to learn an instrument so he could join her. He chose drums. Coincidentally their children flew the nest around this time.
He stuck with it, took lessons, and now has some mad drumming skills. Their basement has been transformed into a studio with padded walls, microphones, amps, several drum sets and most importantly, plastic cup holders duct-taped to the mic stands to hold Swedish vodka. Turns out this vodka is a magic beverage – the more you drink, the better you sound. The bass player shows up when he’s not sailing around the Caribbean. The electric guitar player/sanitary pad engineer is a regular, as is a retired Phys Ed teacher who plays accordion, and there are several backup singers/spouses. I was the only holdout in a band made up of couples. I haven’t played an instrument since piano lessons in Grade two, although there was also my brief fling with a clarinet in high school. I don’t sing. I’m an introvert, happiest curled up with a book. However the band wanted my husband, and the drummer knew the key to my husband’s heart was to invite me, and the key to my heart is food. So I was seduced with homemade raspberry sorbet and a shot of the aforementioned Swedish firewater. Next thing I knew, I was in a band.
The music is eclectic. Once a year we vote on song choices. The bass guitarist is a purist, i.e., turns up his nose at anything besides heavy metal. I can play him like a fiddle when I say “hey let’s try some Beach Boys” because he’ll roll his eyes, or in the case of ABBA, pound his fists on the table and yell “NO, I WON’T DO IT.” It’s a challenge to find pieces that include accordion. The accordion player, an expert at polkas, takes a lot of good-natured teasing, but we found some east coast and Edith Piaf songs to throw in the mix. Somehow it all works.
They put me where I could do the least harm – in the percussion section with a quinto, conga, and tumbadora. I also have a tambourine, maracas, cowbell and a clay avocado filled with beans. I play enthusiastically, particularly when Santana’s Evil Ways is up. My thumbs look like Italian plums afterwards and are numb for a week but it’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make. And every song ever written sounds better with a little avocado sprinkled throughout. Visiting cottage guests are conscripted to join in. One fellow played guitar quite well, but it was his German that saved our performance of the Andrews Sister’s Bei Mir Bist Du Schön.
A few weeks ago, after a few shots of Swedish liquid courage, I channeled my inner Sinatra, leaned into the mic between sets and started singing Fly me to the Moon as a lark. The drummer began a jazzy accompaniment, my husband joined on keyboard then the guitarist, and backup singers began harmonizing. Was I pitch perfect? Probably not. It didn’t matter. For a brief moment, I was lost in the music, we were lost in the music, and I understood what it felt like to be in the spotlight. We ended with applause and smiles and “who knew you had it in you?” There really is magic in music.
I was reminded of a lecture I attended, given by a famous choral director and retired music professor. He stated, very emphatically, that you should never be critical of someone’s singing, or worse, tell them they are tone deaf. If you do, you rob them of one of life’s truly joyous experiences. So play on, sing, belt it out without reservation. The world is waiting to hear your song.