Journal entry: September 28, 2006 (age 37)
Some professional performers are called “triple threats,” because they are accomplished actors, singers and dancers. I’m more like a non-threatening bunt, because I can do an impression of King Friday from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. With singing auditions coming up at the Endicott Performing Arts Center and the Cider Mill Playhouse, I decided to “seek professional help,” albeit of a different sort than is usually suggested to me.
Luckily, our area offers experts in almost every conceivable field. If I were seeking training in the martial arts, I would contact Hidy Ochiai. If I were training to become an anthropomorphic sports marketer, I would contact the Binghamton Mets’ mascot, Ballwinkle (although I fear Ballwinkle and I would get bogged down discussing the medical ethics of cross-breeding a moose with a baseball). In the world of singing, we have the world-class Tri-Cities Opera, and many talented singers in every genre.
My musical tastes run toward pop and folk, so I looked up our area’s nationally recognized recording act, the Burns Sisters Band. I own a few of their CDs, and have seen them in concert. I love their intricate harmonies and their socially conscious lyrics. In short, I’m a fan. I visited the band’s Web site and saw that one of the sisters, Annie Burns, offers singing lessons. I immediately sent Annie an e-mail and set up my first lesson.
Annie teaches in a small studio at Hickey’s Music Store in Ithaca. She’s been helping me work on songs from one of my favorite musicals, Pippin. I bought a recording with the vocals removed, so when I warble my way through “War is a Science,” Annie can picture herself on the eighth plane of Hades, which is reserved for bad karaoke performers. Actually, I don’t do too badly on that song, but I definitely push the limits of listenability when I hit the Bee Gee-wannabe notes of the ballad “With You.”
But at today’s lesson, I decided to try something new. Abandoning all pretense of being there to actually learn, I gave myself over to unabashed fandom. I handed Annie a copy of her solo CD, Days in Italy, and stammered, “Can I, um, sing something with you?” I told her that Days in Italy is one of my favorite CDs, and that I consider it to be one of the best albums by any artist in the past decade. Annie was a bit taken aback by the gushing praise. She cocked her head and squinted her eyes at me, but then smiled and put the CD in the player.
The 4 minutes and 53 seconds that followed will shine in my memory for a very long time. We sang my favorite song from the album, a gorgeous elegy called “John of Dreams.” I felt like I was singing “Summer Wind” with Sinatra, or “Here Comes the Sun” with George Harrison. For Annie, I imagine it was more like being joined by Roseanne Barr on the national anthem. But I was completely jazzed. On the drive back to Binghamton, I kept tapping the steering wheel and muttering, “That was really, really cool.”
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