Thursday, September 29, 2011

Grampa Music

When you tell most people you have a CD you have recorded with karaoke music, the reaction usually involves horror, ridicule, or both.  That is unless the "people" are children.  I had been told prior to deep brain stimulation (DBS) surgery that my voice might be affected.  Since singing has been a passion in my life for many years, I was concerned.  Not enough to pass on the surgery since the goal was to minimize tremor in my hands and head that had plagued me for 20 years.  Instead, I bought a used karaoke on Craigs List and selected karaoke backup music for songs that appealed to me, found the lyrics online and began recording.  The music included 50's & 60's oldies, movie theme songs, love songs (favorites of my wife) and even a little country/western.  All of it had some special meaning to me.

I had selected a karaoke machine that allowed me to change key, which opened up a wider range of possiblilites for recording.  Since my hands were shaky, I put the mike in a pencil holder at the appropriate level and began to experiment.  My voice was already weaker and somewhat scratchy due to the effects of PD.  I did my best to work around that by adjusting the volume and drinking water.  If this was going to be my last shot, I wanted it to sound as good as possible.

I had enjoyed singing when I was in high school and was a member of the school choir and ensemble.  My junior year I auditioned for the county "select choir" and was chosen.  I think I was still a first tenor at that time.  My senior year we moved and my new school did not have a strong music program, so I didn't sing that year.  In fact, I was 33 years old when I felt the urge to sing again.  We had moved to a small town in Oakland, NJ and I wanted to find a church that had a choir.  We found a wonderful church with a small choir and I enjoyed that for twelve years until we moved to Colorado.  There we found another small church in Monument, CO that had a choir.  I was encouraged by the folks in the music program to try singing solos.  I wasn't too keen on the idea as I didn't think I would do well under pressure.  After the first few times, I realized I wasn't going to die of fright and actually sounded pretty good most of the time.  With a lot of encouragement from my friends at church and my family, I expanded my horizons.

During the 90's, I sang with the Colorado Springs Symphony chorus for a holocaust memorial program and, later, three performances (including one at Vail attended by Gerry & Betty Ford) of Carmina Burana.  In 1998 I was honored and surprised when my son and future daughter-in-law asked me to sing at their wedding.  Later that year, a new musical organization formed in the Monument area by my friend and neighbor, Bob Manning, called the Tri-Lakes Music Association (TLMA).  I was asked to audition for a solo part in an arrangement of O Holy Night and was chosen.  This meant singing with a full orchestra in front of about 500 people.  Once again, I found out that I could do this (as long I had a mike stand-I couldn't hold a mike due to my shakiness under any circumstances let alone in front of that many people!).  Once again, I was honored to sing at my younger son's wedding in 2000.  I also sang at funerals and a wedding or two when asked by members of my church.

We changed churches while still in Monument around 2003.  Many of the choir members were friends from the TLMA Christmas concerts (where I sang solos  until we moved to the Denver area).  Once again, I had many opportunites to do solo work at this church.  One of our choir members had a fabulous bass/tenor voice (way out of my league) and had sung with the Metropolitan Opera.  He was very complementary regarding my singing and one day surprised me by saying that my voice reminded him of Jerry Vale (you would have to be closer to my age to remember him).  We have joined a new church in the Denver area where I still sing in the choir.  They have a fabulous music program there due to the credentials of their leader who has a Ph.D. in music from the University of Colorado and was formerly leader of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.  My voice is no longer strong enough for solo work.

Meanwhile, back at the karoke, I recorded about 20 songs and had bought music for about another 10 or so (which I never got around to).  I did sing my favorite Christmas solo (O Holy Night) for our community program last December and am glad to say I did a pretty good job.  I did not sing in the months leading up to my DBS surgery in March/April of this year.  I have rejoined the church and community choirs and am working to keep my voice respectable with no great expectations.

These days we often have one or more of our six grandchildren in the car with us transporting them to sports activities or taking them home with us for an overnight.  They almost always ask to hear what is now known as "Grampa music"-my karoke CD.  They have no idea how happy this makes me.

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