Our large extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins often got together at one of our homes to celebrate. Whether for birthdays, holidays, or even "just because" the families congregated. Sumptuous pot-luck dinners would always be followed by entertainment. Maybe it would be my Great Uncle Don playing the spoons while Great Aunt May pounded the piano in ragtime rivaling Scott Joplin, or beautiful cousin Mary treating the family to the latest show tunes with her powerful contralto, accompanied by her brother's guitar and Aunt May's piano.
But the opening act was me—three-year-old Tommy. My mother would sit at the piano and deliver an arpeggio then I would sing Pistol Packin' Mama (several iterations of the chorus) while bouncing up and down on my chubby legs in a typical age-appropriate dance until Mom stopped playing and everyone clapped while I bowed. My act over, I was hustled off to bed.
That was the beginning of my love of singing.
In Catholic elementary school, I sang Irish jigs and ballads in St Patricks Day pageants, hymns and carols at Christmas and I even sang along with my playing during piano practice. In middle and high school I was in the school chorus, adding a barbershop octet in high school.
My first year of college, I became part of a folk singing quartet, covering The Kingston Trio and others. Our only paying gig was at an AAUW mixer one afternoon. However, we did sing, play, and drink beer often after that. Once, busking in Washington Square, we had almost a hundred people dancing the Hora.
I flunked out but had great fun.
When I finally realized, during my second college year (different school), that I had no idea what I wanted to do/be, I dropped out and joined the US Air Force. Not much singing there except sometimes as a chorus — (I don't know though I've been told...) while marching — until I was stationed in Pakistan on a base near Peshawar, where I sat in with a band that played the folk and the light rock music I love. Other than that year, my brief Air Force career left me singing only in the shower.
Once out of service and married with a young child, I hunted for a job nearer our families and landed one with IBM. There I met my soon-to-be best friend Mike when we each transferred from our programming jobs to teaching programming in IBM education. He is an accomplished actor in community theater and, for the starring roll in Butterflies are Free, he learned to play the guitar.
One of the things I learned early on about Mike is that when he got something he was interested in, he plugged away until he mastered it, at which time he generally became bored. He has been my best friend for almost half-a-century and even though he is now an accomplished guitarist, he has yet to become bored with the guitar.
For many years we sang on my front porch but eventually we sought out other venues, nursing homes primarily, where we could perform. We continued to do that until he moved to Texas a few years ago.
After I retired from IBM and opened my own business, I thought some about improving my singing voice. It took my wife Carol to make it happen by giving me voice lessons with Amy Fradon, a local professional who was (and is) my favorite singer. Carol enrolled me in a group session Amy was teaching on February 16, 2007, my birthday. I introduced myself, and she sang happy birthday to me. She has been my voice coach and friend ever since. I sang with Vocal Visionaries, a group she created so her students could get some public exposure, and I continued my individual lessons for more than ten years.
About six years ago — as Amy was feeding my ego by telling me how much I'd improved — one of the topics that came up was, "What's next?" I thought about it and finally said, "I'd like to make a CD." She nodded and smiled. When I added "Will you be my producer?" She agreed. Our VV accompanist, Jim Barbaro, also ran a recording studio so, in Sherlock Holmesian fashion, the game was afoot!
It is now six plus years and many studio sessions later and we are done! Jim on guitar and bass and Cathie Malach on keyboards, Amy and Jim on backup vocals, and me singing lead! The CD has been labeled and packaged. The title is Idle Singer*. It contains ten songs, favorites among so many other favorites.
Life is good!
Until next time, Namaste.
*"Remember me a little then I pray, the idle singer of an empty day," from Prologue of the Earthly Paradise by William Morris.