Sunday, December 20, 2015

Why I Sing

Back at the beginning of the Unisinger year, our choir director asked us to think about why we sing, with an eye towards maybe using some of our thoughts in some future music service.  We do one annually that is called "Music For The Soul."  Not only have I not forgotten about this, it’s actually weighed a little heavily on my mind from time to time.  Not in a bad way, more like a sound in the background that you can’t identify that periodically weaves its way in and out of your consciousness.

Recently I was reading Stephen King’s latest book of short stories, “Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” and he mentions that he is often asked why he writes stories.  His answer is pretty much why I sing in church.  He says that he was born with a gene to entertain people, and he sure as hell can’t tap dance, so…writing.

It sounds a little flip, but it fairly accurately sums up why I sing.  I do love to entertain people.  I also sure as hell can’t tap dance.  Or tango, or lambada.  Before my poor health took it away from me, I had hoped to be a professional entertainer.  Specifically,I wanted to be an actor.  I got rid of most of my New Jersey accent.  I learned to sing, and to sorta, kinda read music.  And I acted and sang and sometimes even danced a little (poorly!) for about 11 years.  When I had to give it up (and I really HAD to give it up) it just about broke me.  I got through it by searching around for something else that I loved, that I could do, that wouldn’t hurt the world or others, and what I came up with was books.  I have always loved to read, and I have always loved turning others on to a good read or a favorite author.  (I often tell people who are about to read a book by someone I love, but someone they have never read before, that I am a little jealous because they still get to discover this for the first time.)  So I became a librarian and worked with children and youth, and got them to maybe discover their new favorite author for the first time.  I did this by not just reading books aloud to them, but by performing them.  I’d learn the book, create the characters, and give voice to them, and it would scratch that entertainer gene and maybe do a little good.  Certainly no harm was done, I think.

But my health continued to decline and pretty soon I had to give up working 9 to 5 altogether.  So when I happened to be standing next to my friend Donna at a Clover Lane “Deck Our Halls” one year (1997, not that I’m keeping track or anything) and she suggested I might want to try out for the Unisingers (our choir) a little light bulb went off as I realized that I might have found a way to scratch that itch once again.

For some reason, I have so far managed to hang on to a good speaking voice, which I am very pleased to use at church from time to time when they let me, and I love to sing with the people I have come to love so deeply in the choir.  And Brian too.

All kidding aside, I can’t do much physically around the church.  I can’t build or repair things.  I can’t serve at the CafĂ©.  I can usually throw a little money at some of the good work we do, but not nearly as much as I would like to, or as much as the church deserves.  But I can give my voice, and what talent I have hung onto, and if it makes a church service a little more memorable or meaningful for someone, or helps to bring a little beauty into someone’s life, then I am profoundly grateful for the ability to do so.

In an article in “Time,” Stacy Horn says it better than I can, much though I wish the words were mine: 

“Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.  Singing is like an infusion of the perfect tranquilizer, the kind that both soothes your nerves and elevates your spirits.  Singing lessens feelings of depression and loneliness. It turns out you don’t even have to be a good singer to reap the rewards.  Group singing ‘can produce satisfying and therapeutic sensations even when the sound produced by the vocal instrument is of mediocre quality.’  Singing in a choir at Christmas [was] an experience so euphoric I never forgot it.”

So, I sing to make church a little better, to make me a little better, and to make the “us” that is my church community a little better.  I sure as hell can’t tap dance, but I sure as hell can sing in the choir.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Movie Ratings

When I was in college, my good friend Ralph Cohen and I would watch a LOT of movies.  We became friends because of this, in fact, because we kept running into each other at midnight screenings of films like "The Maltese Falcon" which we of course had both seen dozens of times.  But not that often on a big screen, so if a film class or the local theater was showing it, there we would be.  We ultimately wound up living in the same building, so it was just a short walk down the hall to whatever was playing on TV at 1:00 AM on the local Richmond, VA, station.

We came up with our own rating system for the stuff we watched.  Initially it was quite simple:  in descending order of perceived quality, it went --

• Film
• Movie
• Flick

But then for some reason we progressively hit a string of movies that were so awful that it seemed wrong to dignify them with the designation of "Flick."  So Ralph and I kept coming up with lower and lower qualifications for our system.  Ultimately, it went like this:

• Film
• Movie
• Flick
• Talkie
• Mere Use of Celluloid
• Complete Waste of Celluloid
• Kaiju Crapfest
• "El Topo" Special
• Ed Wood Must Have Been Behind This Somehow

I have no idea why this came to mind today.  I never forgot it, though.  Miss you, Ralph!

Friday, December 4, 2015


Completely missed November, folks!  Sorry about that!

• Still no budget in Pennsylvania, but both sides are talking.  Maybe by Christmas, maybe not.

• So, still no full-time job offer for my daughter, who works for the Commonwealth as a permanent temp.  Maybe by Christmas, maybe not.

• People, it's the so-called Holiday Season.  Try to keep your assholery to a minimum on the highways and in the parking lots, OK?  (Yeah, I'm looking at you, guy who cut me off for no bloody reason.  There was open sailing behind me; what made your errand so important, you selfish git?)

Other than that, nothing to report.