As I was sitting outside eating dinner at the Bigwood Grill, I experienced one of those moments of pure contentment: The sunset was reflected on the mountains, the food was superb and I smiled at my good fortune. Usually this time of year I write a paean to the joys of summer and early fall. I certainly count my blessings for the beautiful days, the closeness of the wild landscape, the vibrancy of sharing a meal outdoors and the quick access to great music, theatre and renowned authors. I've got at least two columns about the speakers I heard just in the last month alone. My only regret is that summer seems so short and is so packed with activities that I can't take advantage of everything offered.
While I am not going to sing the praises of all that our valley has to offer, I feel I must praise the singing opportunities we have here. A couple of years ago, I joined the choir at St. Thomas Episcopal Church. I was selfish in my reasons, as I needed to get beyond some personal aches and tragedies and knew instinctively that this would help. It certainly has, and I am grateful to Dick Brown, the director, and other choir members for allowing me to add my shaky (now tenor) voice to theirs. Then, this past summer, I thought I would try being in the Caritas Chorale for their annual fundraiser, which promised a selection of songs called "Starry, Starry Night" with such classics as "Night and Day," "Moon River," "Moonglow" and "Some Enchanted Evening," along with several other songs. The evening ended with "Aquarius" from "Hair," and the audience signaled its delight when many joined in the spirited refrain of "let the sunshine in." Obviously, I was thrilled to be part of the evening. If I had been in the audience instead of the chorus, I would have wanted to join in on all the songs.
I learned something about myself that I had never really considered before: I love singing along with others, cherishing those moments when all of our voices combine in pure harmony. Like performing on stage, one gets a sense of real community with one's fellow entertainers. I realized how much I have missed that connection in my adult life. For a long time I avoided church attendance because I would cry when certain hymns reminded me of my early life and the roar of my father's beautiful baritone when, as a congregation, we joined together in song. Luckily, a church pastor told me that of all places to cry, a church is the safest.
So I have been recalling the times I so loved singing. We always had a piano in our house, and, in addition to my piano practice, it was commandeered almost every night. Usually my father or Uncle Doc would strike up some chords and we would stand around the piano and joyously add our voices to songs like "Mississippi Mud," "You Are My Sweetheart," (my parents' "song") or "Shine On, Harvest Moon." Our occasional road trips would again provide an opportunity to sing together. Years later when I drove my daughters to Cal Camp in the Sierras or to a dude ranch in Arizona, we duplicated the in-car melodies, though those were enhanced with renditions from Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elton John. Now I sing my childhood ditties to my grandson whenever I have a chance to take him for a walk in his stroller. Such songs as "Tea for Two," "Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah," "For Me and My Gal," "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" and "Down at the Station" just seem to pop up under those circumstances. Give me wheels and I'll sing.
My daughters tell me that they remember my singing or humming around the house, something I still do, even living alone. I cannot vacuum without a blaring CD of "Madame Butterfly" (as a matter of fact, that is the only thing that will get me to take the vacuum out and start that hated task). I even miss the days in movies where we would sing along to the bouncing ball. Last night, I joined Patty Parsons' Sun Valley Hallelujah Chorus, adding yet another experience to my growing chances to sing along with others. What fun: Hallelujah!