Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ya Gotta Have Friends

Is it just me, or do you hear Bette Midler singing her rousing rendition of "Friends" in the background?

Music is part of my dna. My mother was fond of telling me the story of how, before birth, I would kick in rhythm to the organ as it played in church. I think my love of music came from her. Mom had a beautiful voice and an impressive collection of 78 albums of classical music as well as movie soundtracks. (My personal favorite was the Captain from Castille soundtrack by Max Steiner.)

My parents did not have the extra funds to pay for the piano lessons I would have liked to have had, so I set out on my own course through a succession of plastic and cardboard toy guitars until I received a real one for my 16th birthday. I applied the basic knowledge of music theory I had received in elementary school and the ear for melody I had inherited from Mom to teach myself guitar chording. I even wrote a song or two.

My first attempt at songwriting at the age of 11 produced what I thought to be a decent lyric--

There's a place for us, so near yet far
A place where dreams come true, with the aid of a star.

only to be shocked a year or two later in hearing a song on tv that had stolen my idea (well, sort of, the opening words and music are suspiciously similar in "Somewhere" from West Side Story.) I must have been channeling Bernstein's creative muse.

I was introduced to string instruments (the ukelele) in Girl Scouts. You just can't sing around a campfire without proper accompaniment. Or good songs. Remember this one?

If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops
Oh, what a rain it would be.
I'd sit outside with my mouth open wide
Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah
If all of the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops
Oh, what a rain it would be.

You don't? What about this teenage angst ridden song,

The Seine, the Seine,
when will I again
meet him there
greet him there
on the moonlit banks of the Seine

Sigh. Many a chilly night around the Girl Scout campfire was spent singing these songs. And being left a mile from our lodge without clothing. I always insisted on showering and there were some pranksters in the group that took advantage of that. Do you have any idea what it's like to make your way back to a lodge alone in the dark, with only a towel(my modesty welcomed that gift!) and a flashlight?

My faithful musical friend for the last 30something years has been a Yamaha classical guitar, a gift from a dear friend who thought I would get more use out of it than she would. Throughout my 5 year "career" as a musician, I had the privilege of playing a few really great guitars provided by other friends--a Gibson dreadnought, a Glen Campbell model Ovation, and a 12 string Martin. But I always found myself returning to my faithful Yamaha. (I learned early on that classical strings were not as hard on the fingertips as steel strings.)


The Yamaha has clocked many a mile. It's been all over the US, to Germany with the US Army (a tour arranged through an Army Chaplain), Switzerland, France, and Israel.

Travel tip #1--the 70s(and probably even more so today!) were not a good time to be traveling to Israel with a guitar case and on a different flight from the rest of your tour. I received many a suspicious look from many a suspicious airport security guard. It made me regret not taking up the harmonica!

My guitar case is patched up with duct tape. Travel tip #2--there is nothing a little duct tape can't fix. (Including taping alligator's mouths shut while transporting them in Australia.) But I think it has a few more good years in it.


And so does the guitar. Not long ago, on the rare occasion of all three of our grown children being back home together, I sat down with the Yamaha and sang some songs with and for the kids. It was a memorable event.


In some ways, almost as memorable as that dark, lonely, towel clad trip back to the lodge.

(play us off, keyboard cat.)