I’m no singer — wait, that’s not true. I like to sing. I sing in the car when Teddy and I are going to the Refuge, or by myself in the car (or even my house!) if a song comes on the radio I like. I sing when I ride the Bike to Nowhere. I even sing with Pavarotti and Zucchero (Miserere). My voice isn’t bad, but I can’t stay on key, or as they say, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”
One of my friends — Michael Dunn — is a musician, band leader, band member from a long time ago. He and my friend Lois are both talented musicians, and, in better days, performed around Colorado Springs with their friends and other amazing musicians. It was always fun to drive up to watch them perform but…
I have sung with Michael, usually in the morning while everyone else was asleep (or faking it for their own survival). We sang Roger Miller songs together. Michael helped me stay on key and/or he didn’t care. I don’t know but one day when I said, “I don’t sing with other people,” Michael objected strenuously. “You sing with me!”
I was in choir in middle school. My teacher had been part of Fred Waring’s choir. Her big thing was the Christmas choir and we practiced for the entire fall for that. Then, in spring, we had to do our solos. My first year (6th grade) I performed (ha ha ha) my favorite song, “I Ride an Old Paint.” She stopped me in the middle and said, “There’s more to life than cowboy music.” Well, yeah, but I love that song. The following year I “performed” something from Mary Poppins I don’t remember what. She was pleased.
In high school l tried out for choir, but when I sang my “thirds,” the director said, “Don’t come back.”
It’s OK. Every performance needs an audience. But I love singing Roger Miller songs with Michael. I completely understand how it is a wonderful thing to sing with other people in harmony. Roger Miller songs don’t demand a high level of harmony so I’m capable of it. The other “people” I loved to sing with were my Siberian Huskies, and, by extension, the coyotes. The feeling we shared after a good howl is beyond words, but I would call it a kind of transcendent love.
Singing is a joyful thing even in moments of mourning. It brings other people closer to us without any annoying talk (Sorry. There are times when talking is off target). There’s a beautiful passage in Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire that sums it up for me. It’s in his chapter titled “Water.” If you don’t know the book, it’s about his time as a ranger in the desert, at Arches National Monument back in the day. He writes about the feeling of joy and relief animals feel after a long drought or after a long winter finally thaws. The geographical feature is vernal pools. The actors are frogs.
“Why do they sing? What do they have to sing about? Somewhat apart from one another, separated by roughly equal distances, facing outward from the water, they clank and croak all through the night with tireless perseverance. To human ears their music has a bleak, dismal, tragic quality, dirge like rather than jubilant. It may nevertheless be the case that these small beings are singing not only to claim their stake in the pond, not only to attract a mate, but also out of spontaneous love and joy, a contrapuntal choral celebration of the coolness and wetness after weeks of desert fire, for love of their own existence, however brief it may be, and for joy in the common life.”
“Has joy any survival value in the operations of evolution? I suspect that it does. I suspect that the morose and fearful are doomed too quick extinction. Where there is no joy there can be no courage; and without courage all other virtues are useless. Therefore, the frogs, the toads, keep on singing even though we know, if they don’t, that the sound of their uproar must surely be luring all the snakes and ringtail cats and kit foxes and coyotes and great horned owls toward the scene of their happiness.” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
I’ll continue singing semi-privately for the peace of my neighbors and the good of humanity. We have to accept our limitations because you can’t roller-skate in a buffalo herd.
P.S. As I played this song, Teddy let me know he LOVES it.
P.P.S. The featured photo is the late, great, Jazz Beau’s Rent Party [my friends Lois Maxwell, vocals, Michael Dunn acoustic guitar (rear right facing), Dan Davidson (bass) and Erik Nelson on guitar 😦 ]