Music has always been an important part of my life. Growing up, I remember my family’s first Hi-Fi Console Stereo, on which was played the Soundtrack Albums from West Side Story and Camelot, many, many times over. I learned all of the songs from those two movies by heart, and would often re-create the scenes depicted in them with friends, when we’d get tired of playing army or sports. We didn’t have video games or computers back then, and spent hours and hours of time outside – you learned to be creative with how you spent that time. We never seemed to lack for ideas of new things to play. If their parents hadn’t forbidden them to continue acting out the scenes I “re-created” from those movies, who knows, maybe I would have gone into theater instead of sports.
But, music dominated my house. Dad sang with the Tom Fallon Singers all over Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. Dad was a tremendous singer, with a deep, booming voice. That was one trait he’d inherited from his father. They both sang in church choirs for most of their lives, Dad for 61 years before he quit the Catholic Church over their lack of moral courage in standing up and speaking out for Gay rights (this was in the late 80’s – Dad was a man ahead of his time!) His father had been one of the original live radio singers, singing for the very first radio stations ever to broadcast on the airwaves, in Pittsburgh.
My brother Ken and sister Juli were talented singers and guitarists, part of a folk-singing trio during the 1960’s, along with their friend Leo. They played at clubs and coffeehouses all over Pittsburgh. They led a number of Viet Nam War protest rallies, and ran their own Coffeehouse, the Shady Grove, for awhile in a local abandoned Convent building of St. Pius X Church in the Brookline area of Pittsburgh. I would later reprise this effort in Windsor, Connecticut, when I started up and ran the “Shady Grove Revisited”, more of a folk-rock forum coffeehouse that brought life to that sleepy, little village for a season.
I was a huge fan of Juli and Ken’s music, and could sit and listen to them play and sing for hours. I didn’t think Peter, Paul and Mary had anything on Leo, Ken and Juli! They created a very powerful, compelling, passionate sound, with beautiful, sweet harmonies.
As soon as I had my own newspaper route, at age 8, I began to build my own music collection. I started with 45’s (45 RPM vinyl record discs), but soon graduated to record albums. I would quickly learn the words to all the new songs, through repeated playing, and could sing them all. I eventually accumulated close to 650 albums in my collection. Of course, that was long before IPods and MP3 players. When we moved from New Jersey to Virginia in 1996, I got rid of my entire album collection, donated it all. That’s when I began accumulating a daunting CD collection. There were hundreds of cassette tapes in between the album and CD collections, a few of which I still have.
I’ve just always loved music, and my life has always included a musical soundtrack. There are some songs I just never tire of hearing, or singing, no matter how many times I hear them. Free Bird by Lynnrd Skynnrd, Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones, ‘Round Here by Counting Crows, Little Wing and Bell Bottom Blues by Derek and the Dominoes, Like a Rolling Stone and Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again by Bob Dylan, Hurt by Johnny Cash, I Was Watching You by Rosanne Cash, Mercedes Benz by Janis Joplin (I actually woke Kathy up, singing that one in my sleep a couple of weeks ago) - just to name a few.
Sadly, I didn’t inherit my father’s and siblings’ gift of singing. I love to sing, but I was never good enough to do anything with singing. I suppose that if I had really wanted to, I might have, but I’ve always preferred free-form singing, in the shower or driving down the highway with the windows open, wind blowing through my hair and the radio blasting, singing for all I’m worth. Being an inveterate Ham, I’m always up for some karaoke when the opportunity arises, which isn’t too often, but always memorable. I have had people hold up cigarette lighters for encores after bringing down the house with my timeless rendition of “Free Bird”, complete with wind milling, falling down air guitar. I just completely lose myself doing that number, along with Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and “For You” (his tribute to Janis Joplin).
I always sing the National Anthem, loud and proud, at any sporting event I attend. That is one song I apparently have become pretty good at singing, as I have had comments from ushers and people sitting around us that I should get the team to have me sing it in front of God and everyone. I guess if you work at something long enough and often enough, you can get good at just about anything.
Well, my singing moment in the sun has come. I have been asked to sing the National Anthem at a Washington Nationals baseball game next month, in front of about 35,000 fans! Of course, I accepted the offer! Don’t worry, though, I won’t be singing it Solo – I’ll be part of the Singing Capital Chorus. A guy who used to play softball for me, knowing how much I love baseball and singing, is a member of the choir and said they could use an extra voice or two for this event. Oh, man, I am so ready to do this!
I have to attend three of the choir’s rehearsals before we sing at the game, for the next three Mondays. I’ve never been part of a singing choir before, so I have no idea what this is going to be like. Of course, I have this fantasy of suddenly becoming discovered, at age 58, as this great voice that comes out of nowhere and takes the world by storm. However, the reality of singing in front of God and 35,000 will suffice as enough excitement and thrill for now, while I wait to be discovered by the rest of the world.
Oh, say….can you see? Or, at least, hear?