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November 27, 2021

Funny Papers Again Column | Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down a Musical Stream

At the present moment I am, to put it poetically, “far from the madding crowd,” I don’t even know who is headed to the World Series as “seeking the sounds of silence”; practically speaking, I am a ways up the Arroyo Seco Canyon sans all media except my word processor. No internet, no TV, no radio — so subsequently no news either good or bad. I’ve had a wee bit of paradise for a few days when it was most needed as this past week, as week’s go, has not been a good one.

Here are few things more rejuvenating than reading, and here the evening backdrop of sounds, the scurrying of small critters seeking food to take back to hungry smaller critters and the chirruping of crickets, adds an ambiance not found in town. The rain falling is not torrential, its falling adds a softness to the world; ideal for losing oneself in a book. Presently William Faulkner’s “The Reivers” is my main intake. And then there is my music.

You note I say “my” music, as it is what passes for singing only to my ears; to the ears of those musically inclined what emanates from me isn’t considered music at all. But I persevere. So, when alone, I sing. Not necessarily just when in the shower, the traditional recording studio for amateurs due to inherent acoustics, which make any off-key warbler sound like Enrico Caruso, but in the kitchen, dining area and bed and living rooms.

I sing unheard because of what can only be described a “musical trauma” suffered as a child. From an early age I was both mystified and terrified of musical instruments, it was beyond me how anyone could coax music out of a piano, guitar or wind instrument by placing their fingers in positions designated by scribbles on a sheet of lined paper. Fascinating and unattainable for the likes of me.

My lifelong love-hate relationship with music started way back in elementary school when I was totally unable to learn how to read music, and so was unable to play a song flute (the actual name of the small wind instruments is recorder, but in Greenfield in the early 1960s we called them song flutes). I remember the whole class joined together to play songs and I had to watch the fingers of the person next to me in order to look like what I was doing; I never blew a note, but puffed my cheeks and faked it.

A couple of years later my homeroom teacher auditioned the class for the Sixth Grade Choir; alphabetically each student would come up to the piano, the teacher would play Middle C and the student would then match the note with their voice. I was the last student, the curse of the W, and when the note was hit and I let out my rendition of Middle C the teacher immediately cried out, “Well, you’re tone deaf; you’ll never be a singer!” Thanks a lot, lady. For the next three years during all Christmas musicals, I stood next to the music teacher at the piano and turned pages in the score so she wouldn’t miss a note when using her own hand. 

Because I was drawn to the stage, I was in two elementary school musicals, one I played six different roles, and never sang a note. Even casting directors knew about me. In my senior year at KCHS, I was in a large ensemble variety show and during one big musical number, with 20-plus singers on stage, the diva of our class (I’m not being sarcastic, she could sing beautifully) leaned in close to me and, sotto voce, said “Steve, you’re singing off-key!”; again, thanks a lot; real confidence builder there.

In the intervening years I have done two musicals, the first in the summer of 2015 when I had an opening scene that we actors did more of a cadenced talking, speak singing, if you will, and that was my addition to the music. Summer of 2019, after weeks of intensive work with some real pros, I did a passable job in a musical up in Salinas.

The dark cloud of being a tin-ear did not dampen the enjoyment I got out of what early music was available in my house when growing up. Television brought a wealth of talent into the house via a multitude of music-based programs. Songs done by the original artists could be accessed on various channels: opera, Broadway musicals, rock ‘n’ roll, Western, and the top 10 of the current Hit Parade, were all available.

In my house the one singer we did not hear was Frank Sinatra. Apparently there was a time in American music history when one was either a Bing Crosby fan or a Frank Sinatra fan and my father was a big Bing booster and was no fan of Ol’ Blue Eyes, as either singer or man, so I grew up without that influence. Now, some 50-plus years later I rather like hearing, and mimicking, the Hobo from Hoboken.

So, to wrap this up, let me encourage everyone, young and old, to get as much music in your lives as possible. If young, ask your parents to let you learn to play an instrument; if you are old, ask your kids to let you learn to play an instrument (never too late). And I would encourage attending as many musical programs as possible.

In fact, there are two in our imminent future. In November, a grand evening with the Rat Pack is promised by Sol Treasures (if you don’t know who the Rat Pack is, then this is the time to find out), and in December, the indomitable ladies of dance will perform “The Nutcracker Ballet,” a much-anticipated return of the predominant musical of our town.

It’s shower time, better warm up the old vocal chords. “When I was 17, it was a very good year…”

Take care. Peace.

Steve Wilson
King City and Greenfield Columnist
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