Thursday, March 2, 2017

Can we just quit life and join the band?

The place was hopping when we peeked out from the stage door. The mosh pit was packed with anxious fans waiting for the performers to take the stage. People in the audience were milling around with anticipation. Their necks craned for a quick glimpse of the performers entering the venue. The bartenders were busy. T-shirts on the merch table were selling briskly.

But…this was no rock concert at a sold-out coliseum. It was a Sunday afternoon at the Vista’s Tin Roof for Freeway Music School’s winter student showcase. The mosh pit occupants were elementary school-age siblings of the performers. The audience was parents trying to get a glimpse of their kids who were about to go on stage. The bartenders were serving up more diet cokes than fireballs. The t-shirts were reasonably priced.

Still, the air was electric - the same feeling you’d experience before any long-anticipated rock concert.

Back in my day, we called this kind of event a recital. You take music lessons. You suffer through a recital. It meant dressing in Sunday best, shining up your patent leather shoes, and hoping and praying that the kid who shared your piano duet maybe wouldn’t show up.

Agonizing childhood piano recitals and equally stressful choir practices led me to believe as an adult that looking at music as a hobby, a pastime or a passion probably just wasn’t my thing. I sometimes wonder if I would have developed a love of music as a child if things had been different. What if I had learned “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head” instead just practicing scales? Or what if I hadn’t been shooed to the choir practice back row for the kids who couldn’t sing?

But as I watched these kids performing at the showcase, I realized all is not lost for me - even at middle age. We all get second chances in life, and mine comes in the form of a yellow ukulele. I have been playing (well more like practicing) for over a year with a group of “uke-e-ladies” who gather periodically for a “Sip and Strum” evening put together by folks at Freeway Music. This experience has taught me that talent and skill don’t have to be the driving factor in learning to enjoy playing a musical instrument.

Sure, having a little rhythm or an ear for music may help. But they aren’t critical. It’s really all about fun and passion and friends and connections… and maybe a little wine thrown in.

In February, my uke-e-ladies group got the chance to play at the Freeway showcase. We were assigned to play REM’s “Losing My Religion” sandwiched between two teen-aged rock bands.

I anticipated this second time playing publicly with the uke-e-ladies might be a bit of a letdown because we had such a great experience when we performed “Don’t Stop Believing” at the fall showcase. Surely the second time can’t be as exhilarating.

As we sat through the first two sets, we watched the students who were grouped to play together like real bands. No one had to go it alone. They ranged in age from preschool to college. The music school instructors played back-up on some songs but many of the bands were just the kids. Amazing! What confidence. What poise. But it really just boiled down to … what fun! I figured if they could do it, we could too.

When our turn came, 12 uke-e-ladies, our singer, a couple of token men and our instructors hustled to the stage. Granted we might have been a little rag-tag. Our singer had to read the lyrics off her phone because the breeze kept making her music fly off the stand. There were so many of us that we overflowed the stage onto the floor in front. Our uke teacher had laryngitis.



 
But the magic happened again when the opening riff started. For four and a half minutes, we wanna-be musicians were the band on stage. We sang. We goofed up. We strummed, and we probably goofed up some more. But we were making music. And that’s all we were there to do.

At the end, the rush was the same as before.

I’ve always joked I need to just quit life and join the band when things get hectic at work or I’m just sick of stuff. Now I’ve had a taste of why people join the band, and I like it. It’s not for adulation or compliments or money. It’s for the rush, the buzz, the zone of playing music you love with people who love doing the same.

So for now, I’ll be content to keep sipping and strumming with the uke-e-ladies. But you just never know when the big break might come!

 
 

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