Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Shake It Up, Baby

As I sit here watching "American Idol," it's hard not to think about what a gift it is to be able to sing well. I'm not saying this in a conceited way. I know that I was lucky to be born with a sense of pitch and a set of vocal chords that vibrate in a way that I've been told is generally pleasant to hear.

I've also been lucky enough to share a broad variety of vocal experiences with some great musicians, from jazz choir and "Hello Dolly" in high school, to the Old Gold Singers and a one-hit (one song, actually) acapella quartet at the University of Iowa, to my church choir and a couple different variations on a gospel vocal group. I've performed on stage at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City and  on the Riley Stage at the Iowa State Fair. I sang the national anthem at an Iowa Cubs game in Principal Park, where I learned that singers and baseball managers have different standards for judging a vocal performance. "Great job," I was told as I walked past the home dugout on my way back to my seat. I was feeling pretty good about myself until he pointed to his watch and said, "One minute, 29 seconds. Perfect."

With the gospel quartet Bound4Him, I was part of three recording projects, but my real recording bragging rights come from singing backup on "Kansas City/Hey Hey Hey" on Paul McCartney's Paul is Live album. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably mention that at the time, I was sitting in the third row from the top in Arrowhead Stadium, and there were 60,000 other people singing along, but that song from that concert is on album, so I'm sticking to my claim that I sang backup on a McCartney album.)

Until today, however, I had never gotten the opportunity to sing and play guitar in a rock band. Let me tell you, if you ever have a chance to get together with a few of your friends, a few instruments, some amps, and an auditorium of screaming kids, I highly recommend it. From the time we kicked off "Twist and Shout" with lead in notes from eighth grade band director Ted Heggen's Hofner bass until we hit the final chord, it was an absolute rush. I know my guitar playing was far from polished, but (and I say this with no small amount of pride), I nailed John Lennon's scream at the end of the instrumental bridge.

It was a great way to spend a couple of hours at school, and I got to see some truly talented Southeast Polk Junior High students as well. All in all, the best way to sum it all up would probably be the last line in the email I sent out to my bandmates at the end of the day: When's the next gig, and what are we playing?

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