Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rehearsing the Past, Singing the Present

Women, Women & Song got together for a rehearsal today.
This simple declarative sentence may not mean much to you, so I’ll fill you in on the background.
Women, Women & Song was a trio consisting of Libbie Anthony, Velvet Neifert, and yours truly. We played and sang our way through the 1980s, disbanding in 1991. We were described as “tender, corny, and hilarious,” among other things. We had a lot of fun, and when the fun ran out, we disbanded. That was in 1991.
We’ve had a few reunion appearances, and recently were asked to come together, one more time, to play a set at the Strawberry Festival this year. After thinking about it a few days, we all said yes.
We had to think about it because, darn it, we aren’t as young as we used to be. We don’t remember all those songs anymore, although we seem to remember the ones we sang most often, like “Island Life,” and “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” and “What’s for Dinner.”
We have doubts about our voices now. We can feel and hear a difference, even if other people can’t. My voice, for example, sometimes cracks like a teenage boy’s. I don’t have as much air as I used to. In a trade-off, I can sing lower notes than I used to.
There are other changes: we all wear glasses now. Velvet’s hair is an elegant white, and mine is “more salt than pepper.” Libbie is a blonde, though a few months ago she had black hair with white highlights.
Velvet is the center of her large extended family, and has kept singing, in groups and as a solo, over the years.
Libbie is a legendary director of island musicals, using her gift for bringing people together to work for a common goal, and giving a generation of island children their first taste of “the theatah, the dahnse.”*
Me, I write this column for the local alternative newspaper, have the joy of my own extended family, and occasionally pick up my guitar and sing.
One of the first things we did when we sat down together was compare the arthritis lumps on our fingers. Whoopee.
Then we worked out a rehearsal schedule. Velvet lives off-island now, although not far off-island, but plans must be coordinated.
Then we talked about which songs we wanted to sing.
Then, the moment of truth: we sang a song. We started with “I Won’t Wait to Be Happy,” probably because we always started with that, and after a couple of false starts and a little throat-clearing we made it through pretty well.
Then we sang about ten more songs, and most of them came together well, especially as we warmed up. It was sweet to hear the old harmonies again, once we remembered them. Remembering all the words was harder. Fortunately, I have many of my originals in hard copy.
The hardest thing for me was figuring out the chords to use for “The Key of ‘R.’” This is one of Libbie’s songs which has been picked up and passed around the folk music world. Libbie does not play guitar anymore, so she and I sat and sounded out chords that would fit into the “key of R-flat-minor-seventh-diminished, with a dominant ninth” progression. We think we got it, but now my thumb hurts. Stay tuned for further thoughts on this. (Further thoughts: after a second rehearsal, my thumb really hurt. Libbie has suggested we do it a cappella. Or perhaps I'll dig out my mother's mandolin, which is what I used to play when we sang it. This is still in process.)
We have a few more rehearsals, and then, on Saturday, July 12, at 1:45 in the afternoon, we’ll get up on the Ober Park stage and we’ll do it again, like we used to, only older, and wiser. We invite our old friends to come out and join us, and we’ll all sing together about “Island Life,” and “The Way of Sex,” and a few other things. You won’t want to miss that.
*”The theatah, the dahnse,” is a Betty MacDonald phrase, but I forget from which book.

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