Karao-kay!

So, here’s the thing—you don’t have to be a good singer!  You don’t even have to be a mediocre singer!  All you need is that you like to sing.

For some time now, as some of you know, I’ve blended my bass voice with mates on the risers of a large men’s chorus, the mighty Harbourtown Sound.  And it’s been a comfort to me to know that no one listening would actually be able to pick my voice out of the throng.  I mean, I do contribute to the wondrous wall of sound we produce collectively, but my solo voice is anonymous, much to my liking.

However, on my last birthday, which took me past my mid-mid-seventies, my wife and two daughters gifted me with a karaoke machine.  Never in my wildest imaginings would I have thought to ask for such a thing—although, in my younger years, I did take part in more than one karaoke session, usually after a few beers in the company of good friends whose critical faculties were undoubtedly somewhat impaired.  In fact, I think I remember stepping up in one or two open-mic sessions, as well.

As I recall, I was never asked back to the same venue twice.

Still, I’ve discovered I love my new machine.  The internet is chock-full of karaoke versions of popular songs, arranged exactly as the original artists sang them, with the correct lyrics scrolling on the screen.  Copyright restrictions apply only if one intends to use them for commercial purposes, which I most assuredly do not.  After all, if it were my intent to sell any of the songs I record, I’d need a buyer, right? 

‘Nuff said.

Ballads are my preferred genre, some of them even older than I.  A partial list of artists whose songs I have attempted includes Pat Boone, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Mathis, Willie Nelson, Jim Reeves, and Frank Sinatra.

Still to come, I hope:  Perry Como, Tennessee Ernie Ford, John Gary, perhaps even Pavarotti!  After all, I’m singing for an audience of one!

I’ve also essayed solo versions of songs by several different groups, including Abba, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Irish Rovers, and The Platters.  Still on the horizon: The Everly Brothers, The Lettermen, The Seekers, and probably others I haven’t yet contemplated.

If you have assumed by now that my wife and daughters have inadvertently created a monster, I could hardly gainsay you.  But I’m benign, I assure you.

My process is to sit with the machine, which is connected by Bluetooth to a song dialled up on my laptop.  I sing it through a couple of times, adjusting the volume of the instrumentals as needed, boosting the mic volume up or down accordingly.  There is a reverb feature, too, which enhances my voice on most of the songs.

If I manage at some point to sound okay to my own ears, I record the song and add it to my little library.  Some of the songs, as you might imagine, are never recorded!

I quickly discover which of the songs will take me beyond my somewhat limited vocal range, and discard them.  Even with my bass singing voice, I can manage a falsetto if not too high, so that helps a little.  Breath control is the biggest single problem I encounter—running out of air before a phrase ends is never good, resulting in a cracked whimper that brings no joy to anyone ever.

Pitch problems are a concern, too, and I sometimes hear myself landing just short of the intended note—what a layperson might call singing flat.  That’s also associated with running short of breath, and can be corrected with proper breathing intervals.  I have yet to record even one song, however, without at least one pitchy problem.

But who cares!

I mentioned earlier that I sing for an audience of one.  That’s not entirely true, though, because I do send along those songs I’ve recorded to my wife and daughters—it’s they, after all, who unleashed the monster.  I also forward the recordings to my three long-suffering sisters, together with a plea that they resist the urge to tell me to stop.  I suggest to them they have three choices—

  1. enjoy the song,
  2. endure the song, or
  3. DELETE.

I implore them not to laugh as they listen (though I’ll never know if they do), nor compare me to the original artist.  Rather, I ask that they think of this as one, perhaps forlorn, attempt to make music with only a modicum of talent, for no other reason than the sheer joy of making music. 

And you, dear reader, might even try it yourself—in the shower, in your car—or, if you’re lucky, on your very own karaoke machine.

Karao-kay!

Odes of Joy

I would wager the family farm (if I owned one) that not one in ten of you, dear readers, will know the meaning of this acronym:  SPEBSQSA.

It stands for the original, and still official, name of the Barbershop Harmony Society (BHS), founded eighty-one years ago, in 1938.  Since that time, loads of odes of joy have rung out across the world as men and women of all persuasions have come together in harmony.

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The acronym translates as: Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America.  Quartets still flourish, but barbershop singing has since expanded to include large choruses.

I mention this because a few years ago, a friend introduced me to the joys of singing in a men’s chorus—Harbourtown Sound, of Hamilton, Ontario.  Eighty-five men strong, HTS is a competition chorus that was ranked twenty-fourth in the world in 2018, out of more than a thousand barbershop choruses worldwide.

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The jubilant music the chorus produces can make the listener shiver with delight.

Just this past winter, that same friend invited me to join a second chorus—the Suncoast Statesmen, of Punta Gorda, Florida.  This great group, comprised almost equally of American stalwarts and Canadian snowbirds, is a performance chorus, eschewing the competitive experience in favour of a more relaxed approach.

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Nevertheless, the music the chorus creates is both joyous and memorable.

I’ve written before in these pages about Harbourtown Sound, and one of those posts may be found at this safe link—

If you missed it, or even if you’d like to enjoy a reprise, check it out.  You’ll hear some wonderful music selections within the post.

The chorus, which this year is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary, will present its annual spring show, Making Great Music and Great Friends, on 12 May at the Burlington Performing Arts Centre.

The Suncoast Statesmen recently performed their annual spring show, Harmony Showcase, held in a large church in the area, before a sell-out crowd.  The chorus sang nine songs altogether, five in the first act, four in the second.  Between sets, a number of quartets and local high school student ensembles performed.

If you’re in the mood to hear some brilliant harmony, have a listen to these five songs, which may be found at this safe link—

Much has been written about the joys and benefits of singing, either alone or in an ensemble.  For me, it’s a little bit like rainfall—once it starts, it’s hard to stop.

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