A pleasant reminder that I might be the worst singer ever

By Jayson Jacoby May 14, 2010 12:04 pm

I rated myself as a pretty fair singer right up to the indelible instant when I heard my naked voice, the protective filter of accompaniment by actual musicians stripped away.

For some years previous I had often amused myself, as I suspect most people do, by crooning along with the stereo while I was driving alone.

Which is about as realistic as playing Tiger Woods golf on a Wii.

Harmonizing with Lennon and McCartney, suffice it to say, ranks on the difficulty scale right beside bisecting the fairway with a 300-yard drive.

(Although Tiger isn’t staying on the short grass all that often these days, either.)

One day, for some reason I’ve forgotten (although a reason no doubt spawned by the same hormone that leads high school students to use Bunson burners for unorthodox purposes), I decided to try what you might call an experiment in a cappella.

What resulted was a sort of auditory shock treatment that cured my naivete, as regards my lyrical ability, instantly and irrevocably.

While I was belting out the chorus to some ’80s anthem — I think it was Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian,” although possibly it was “The Final Countdown” by Europe — I punched the radio’s “off” button.

I thought at first that the fan belt had partially slipped off its pully.

Either that or I had struck some sort of large bird and inflicted on it a grievous, but not immediately fatal, injury.

I would describe my voice as off-key, except that implies I was on some key, just the wrong one.

The word “tuneless” comes closer to the truth, as it melds the flavor of “hopeless” with a hint of the kind of atonal wail the government uses to alert citizens when tornadoes or flash floods are nearby.

I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw that my cheeks had gone red, as though I had just been summoned to the chalkboard in algebra class to solve an equation which I couldn’t have deciphered even with the mathematical equivalent of the Rosetta stone.

Anyway, that’s one way to realize that you’re a lousy singer.

I was reminded recently of another method that’s equally effective but considerably more pleasant to the ear.

(And less embarrassing.)

Go listen to singers who actually have control of their larynxes.

I attended opening night of the Musical Memories Revue, a performance put on by Eastern Oregon Regional Theatre.

I listened to a group of talented local residents sing a couple dozen popular tunes spanning the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

The cast: Kelly Brickman, Lynne Burroughs, John Fast, Julie Fuzi, Mike Braymen, Mary Collard, Don Everson, Roberta Fink, Ida Scott, LaVonne Yeoumans, Gary Yeoumans, Keith Taylor, Jake Fuzi, Mark Hardwick, George Winchester.

The repertoire covered even more ground in a musical sense than in a chronological one.

The audience at the Iron Gate Theatre in the Basche-Sage Place heard torchy ballads such as “Twilight Time” (my favorite version: The Platters’); teen toe-tappers including Danny and the Juniors’ “At The Hop”; the finest pop from both sides of the Atlantic — a medley pitting The Beatles versus the Beach Boys; even campfire sing-a-longs like “This Land is Your Land” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

(I did not, naturally, contribute so much as a decibel to the latter two, which made for a rousing conclusion to the show. And for my restraint, to everyone in the Iron Gate the evening of May 7 I say this: You’re welcome.)

I enjoyed the evening immensely.

I was impressed as much by the obvious dedication of the performers as I was by the purity of their voices and their dexterity with the guitar, piano, bass and drums.

Fame and fortune, the twin rewards which typically compel people to put in the thousands of hours of practice required to hone their talents to a marketable level, do not apply, it seems to me, in this case.

There are no recording contracts being negotiated, no TV reality show producers slipping business cards into palms still sweaty from the stage lights.

Yet these volunteers sacrificed anyway.

They studied lyrics and memorized chords and rehearsed until they had it down pat, just so they could put on a show for double-digit audiences in cramped quarters.

And they’ll do so nine times this month.

I don’t mean to suggest, though, that their toil is either anonymous or thankless.

The audience at the May 7 revue was enthusiastic and sustained in its applause.

And well that it was.

That we don’t significantly enrich our abundance of local artists in a monetary sense in no way diminishes their accomplishments.

Not so long as we can detect the wealth of their work with our eyes and our ears and indeed with our hearts, all of which can sense greatness even in the humble, and richness in a modest setting.

.        .        .

The proliferation of motion sensors has finally infiltrated the home aroma industry.

This is an event as predictable as it is dismaying.

You can now buy, for a modest sum, a device which will, whenever you walk past it, emit a puff of chemically scented air.

This is, I’ll concede, a valuable advance in technology for those dunderheads who can’t ever get the hang of pressing a button.

I presume the purpose of this product is sensuous rather than protective, although the latter is typical of floodlights and other products that detect movement.

The television advertisement did not, at any rate, imply that this air-freshener can be programmed, when something more than a brief whiff is desired, to incapacitate an intruder with a sustained blast of jungle rain or mountain meadow.

I won’t buy one, anyway, on account of there’s a little girl who lives in my house and who is almost constantly in motion.

If I plugged in one of those contraptions we’d have to grope our way through a perpetual, albeit aromatic, fog, rather like San Franciscans.

Imagine the barked shins and stubbed toes.

Besides which, I can’t abide the cloying scent of an ocean breeze concocted by technicians in the sterility of a lab.

The seashore, and I mean the genuine article, is a rich stew of scents both fresh and foul, equal parts astringent salt and decaying crab.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.