Metaphysically

During this pandemic lockdown in which we all are bound, it is all too easy to surrender to despair.  But, always, there are pathways to freedom we can find if we look hard enough.  Here are a few of mine, in haiku form—

physically bound,

but metaphysically

I wander freely

metaphysical 1

on wings of sweet song,

I rise above the earthbound

shackles of my life

singing 2b

my literary

scribblings whisk me to a world

that I alone know

writing 2

phantasmical dreams—

delights from which I awake

most reluctantly

dreams 2

omnipresent, too,

the love, which for sixty years

has sustained my soul

love 1

physically bound,

yes; metaphysically,

I am ever free

waiting-and-watching-a-sunset

 

 

Top 24!

The men’s barbershop chorus I sing with, Harbourtown Sound, competed recently in Orlando FL, at the 2018 International Convention of the Barbershop Harmony Society.  The BHS boasts more than a thousand active men’s choruses, most of them in North America.

on stage

Member choruses also hail from such faraway places as Australia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.  Barbershop quartets are included in the society, as well, bringing the total number of active singers to more than 80,000 worldwide.

The BHS was formally established in 1938 as the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA).  The current name was adopted in 2004.

quartet

Membership in the society is open to everyone—people of every age, background, gender-identity, race, sexual orientation, political opinion, or spiritual belief. Every person who loves to harmonize has a place in the society.  The BHS vision is to bring people together in fellowship to enrich lives through singing.

It has certainly enriched mine.  Raised in a family that loved to gather ‘round the old upright piano for sing-songs at every gathering, I learned the words to so many songs from the 40’s, the ‘30’s, and even earlier before I was ten years old.  For a long time, my favourite singer was Al Jolson, for goodness sake!

For reasons that escape me, however, I never pursued a music education.  Not until I was cajoled a couple of years ago to audition for Harbourtown Sound, did I even sing in a choir.  But I was always a singer, mostly in the shower, sometimes in karaoke, and frequently while alone in my car.  And I always the loved the good old harmonies.

Now I get to sing many of them, and more, with a group of brothers on a weekly basis—and in performance in front of live audiences on frequent occasions throughout the year.  What’s not to like!

final rehearsal

Our chorus—almost a hundred men strong, most of us at or beyond the venerable threescore-and-ten—is not of the calibre of the top choruses in the world.  But of all such groups worldwide, we do rank in the top 24, based on the results of our recent competition.  We’re proud of that.

The 2018 champion is a chorus of more than 150 men from Dallas TX, Vocal Majority, a group that has won the title thirteen times dating back to 1975.  Listening to them is an emotional happening.

But so, too, is listening to us.  And you don’t have to just take my word for it.  Many of our songs—including Bridge Over Troubled Water, Five Foot Two, Hallelujah, That’s Life, Your Cheatin’ Heart, You Belong With Me, and You’ll Never Walk Alone—are available on YouTube.  A performance of one of them may be found right here—

I’m sure you’ll agree with my assessment after giving us a listen.  After all, in the whole wide world of barbershop singing, Harbourtown Sound is near the top.

Top 24, in fact!

 

 

Music in Muskoka

It never crossed my mind on that rainy, August Saturday in 1967—our wedding day, as we stood on the threshold of our future together—that our golden anniversary would eventually arrive.  And now, fifty years on, it has.

Symbolic occasions have never resonated loudly with me, for whatever reason.  My wife and I have always celebrated family birthdays, of course, especially those of our children and grandchildren.  Wedding anniversaries, however, have come and gone with very little fanfare—although not without a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

But it occurred to us a while back that, when two strong, independent people are able to spend fifty years with each other, weathering the storms and cherishing the good times, it is no small feat.  It is, in our case, a triumph of symbiosis over autonomy.  And so, we resolved to celebrate this one.

Our wedding coincided with Canada’s 100th year as a nation; indeed, we joked that getting married was our centennial project.  Now, as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, we marvel that we have been married for fully a third of its existence.

For some time, we cast about for ideas as to how we might mark the momentous occasion.  We consulted with friends who have already achieved the milestone, we spoke with our children, and we talked with each other, long into the night many times, searching for the perfect way to celebrate.

You’ll never guess what has come to be.

On the very anniversary date of our nuptials, my wife will be a member of the audience in a darkened theatre, while I, a lifelong singer of songs (but never publicly), will be sharing the stage with my comrades in a barbershop harmony chorus, sixty-five-men strong, for a night of music in Muskoka.

Had you asked me those fifty long years ago if I thought such a situation could ever come to be, I’d have regarded you as mad.  Yet, there I shall be, one voice among many in the mighty Harbourtown Sound, singing my heart out.

International_2015_wide_shot

This being Canada’s 150th birthday year, the programme will contain several songs of Canadiana, two of which you may hear now, should you choose.  The first is Fare Thee Well, written by John Rankin of Nova Scotia—

 

The second, Hallelujah, is from Leonard Cohen, and one of our favourites to perform.  It may be found at the end of this post.

Both songs will be sung in harmony with our hosts for the concert, the Muskoka Music Men, a local barbershop chorus.  Our chorus will be singing several other songs, as well, including selections from Broadway, Motown, and the more traditional barbershop canon.

My wife and I did take an extended trip earlier in the spring, as part of our golden year, and we shall be together with our children and grandchildren for a special celebration later in the summer.  So the concert is not a one-off commemoration of our special year, just one part of it.

Given my love for the music, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to end the journey to fifty years, and begin the voyage to sixty years, our diamond anniversary.  And for that prospect, I offer up, Hallelujah

Music Has Charms

front

As a famous Paul Anka lyric has it, …Regrets, I’ve had a few/But then again, too few to mention…

I do frequently mention one regret, however, an abiding sorrow that I didn’t study music when I was in high school.  Having been raised in a family where music was an ever-present part of our daily lives—to the point where I and my siblings to this day get a sing-song going whenever we’re together—it’s almost incomprehensible to me that I eschewed the opportunity to acquire formal training.

All the more so when I remember that the lead music teacher at our high school would go on to become one of the country’s leading choral directors—Elmer Iseler, conductor of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, founder of the Festival Singers of Canada and the Elmer Iseler Singers.  What a doofus I was!

iseler

With a stunningly callow arrogance, I suppose I dismissed the music students, some of whom were good friends, as too effete for the teenage machismo I was probably trying to cultivate.

I regret that.

As a youngster, I often found myself surreptitiously curled up, late at night, on the landing of the stairs in our home, listening to the singing of my parents and their friends from the parlor where the piano sat.  One of our neighbours was a gifted pianist, and he knew all the oldies—Frivola Sal, After You’ve Gone, What’ll I Do, Rose of Tralee, Sweet Georgia Brown, Rockabye Your Baby, Danny Boy, Sonny Boy, For Me and My Gal—and so many more.  Even fifty-plus years on, I know all the lyrics to dozens of their repertoire (sometimes now with a little prompting), and my favourite singer is still Al Jolson.

My mother loved the torch songs, and she’d vamp a little when she sang, a woman born to be a headliner.  My father favoured the oldies, and was very good with the harmonies (although he occasionally had to be reminded of the decibel level).  He absolutely loved barbershop quartets.

So many times there were that he would find me fast asleep on the landing after the last chorus had been sung.  For a long time, I never knew how I drifted off on the stairs and awakened in my bed.  I only knew that I loved the singing of the songs, and the singers who sang them.

The only singing I have done since those childhood days (other than alone in the shower) is at family gatherings, or occasionally at karaoke parties (with beer).  But the music gene was definitely passed along to my two daughters, both of whom have been singing, together and on their own, since their pre-school days.  They’ve even written songs together, ballads mostly, which I hum along to.

Recently, my wife and I attended a concert mounted by a local men’s chorus, a 108-man, traditional barbershop harmony group, but one that branches out into a cappella jazz, swing, soft rock, pop, traditional, and inspirational music.  The concert was superb, and we were fortunate to be invited to an after-party by one of the members (not-so-coincidentally, a golfing friend).

choir

And guess what!  Some of the choristers at that party gathered ‘round each other to sing some of the oldies, an impromptu concert.  And guess what else!  I sidled over, inched close to their circle, and joined my voice to theirs.  Tentatively at first, not wanting to spoil the beauty of their chorus, but then more confidently when two of them parted to make room for me.  I knew all the words, of course, and we belted out a few classics—When You Wore a Tulip, Daddy’s Little Girl (a personal favourite), Oh! You Beautiful Doll, and That Old Gang of Mine.  I could almost hear my father joining in beside me.

My wife told me later that I fit right in.  In fact, she said, some of the others at the party told her they assumed I was part of the chorus.  I stared at her, sure she was having me on, but she was apparently telling the truth.  And that was music to my ears (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Even better, however, was an invitation from several of the chorus members to try out for the group.  Attendance at three rehearsals, where I would be assessed to find my voice part placement, would be followed by an audition performance with three of the established singers as part of a quartet.  And then I’d either be in, or out.

I’ve never been part of a quartet in the shower, where my best solos have been rendered, so this public audition would be somewhat intimidating.  Plus, I have never been much of a joiner in groups of any sort, so making a commitment to this would be quite a change.

Still, I do regret passing up my first chance those many years ago.  All those yesterdays when I could have been singing joyously with like-minded choristers are gone forever.  But I do have a few tomorrows ahead of me.  And I do like to belt them out.  So, we shall see.

More than three hundred years ago, in his comedy of manners, The Mourning Bride, William Congreve wrote this—Musick has charms to soothe the savage breast…

Well, I am no savage, but it may well be that music could soothe the sadness I have carried with me since high school.

I’ll have to warn them, though, that I cannot hit the high C!