It’s never too late to find your inner star!
Growing up, I dabbled with a table-top electric organ and tried out for school musicals (I could carry a tune) but never got a lead part. It didn’t occur to me that I might have anything more than a very basic musical ability. And I was completely unaware that musical talent was abundant on both sides of my family.
In my late 30’s, I had a friend who had performed as a singer across Canada and often played her grand piano and sang with me and other friends. One day, I started harmonizing with her. I had no idea what I was doing; it just came naturally. She said I had an uncommon talent.
Around the same time, we arranged piano lessons at her place for my kids and her son. Once a week, we would go there, bring in pizza, and the kids would do their lessons while we chatted over drinks. One day, I mentioned that I’d like to learn to play piano someday, and she suggested I get lessons from the teacher along with the boys: no time like the present! So I did, starting with the typical classical method (reading notes) and working on simple music like Fur Elise and Claire du Lune. That was fine for a while, but soon I realized that I’d get much more enjoyment from just playing the chords and singing the melody. So my friend taught me chord basics, which I picked up very quickly, and off I went!
For my 40th birthday, my husband asked what I’d like: a trip / a piece of jewelry / …? After some careful thought, I realized that what I really wanted was to fulfill a fantasy – to be a back-up chick in a rock band. So we hired a cover band led by someone I had become friends with through a co-worker – Kenny MacLean, formerly of Platinum Blonde (may he rest in peace) – and invited 150 of our “nearest and dearest” friends. It was the party to end all parties! I sang a few songs with Kenny and everyone had a blast.
Not long after that (to be honest, the timing is a blur) we started something of a “garage band” where my friend was the lead singer and I sang back-up, with a collection of amateur musicians, including her husband and a few guys that regularly jammed together … literally in the garage. But that was short-lived; she and her husband parted ways, and we were now without a lead. Months later, at an annual Christmas party (a.k.a. a good excuse for a big jam session) we discovered that I could indeed sing lead vocals quite well. That was the beginning of the band I’ve played with now, along with my very good friend who shares lead vocals, since 2003.
At first, performing in front of a crowd took a little “liquid courage”, but as time went on, I got comfortable just being myself, and realized that my best performances were when I had completely lost my inhibitions. I stopped caring about what people thought of me and started “being” the song. If you watch The Voice, American Idol or any similar show, you will have heard something along those lines. It makes for a very subtle difference between a good performance and a great one. I don’t think my voice is particularly special, but audience members regularly compliment me, and I’m convinced it’s because I get so into the songs I sing – I put myself in the shoes of the singer and really feel the lyrics.
Fast-forward to 2018/2019. Still going strong with my band but now single and living in the city, I happened on a cover band at a downtown bar, got up and sang a few songs with them, and connected with the band leader / bass player. I was looking for more opportunities to perform – maybe another band that needed a singer. He didn’t know of any immediate opportunities but suggested I come out to an open jam he ran. It was quite a trek to get there, but once I experienced it, I was hooked. Every Sunday night, top-notch musicians played a short set to get things started, then brought up amateur singers, guitar-players, drummers, etc. – even entire bands – to perform a few songs each. It’s something I continue to do as often as possible, wherever I can, to this day (COVID permitting). At these jams, I’ve been able to perform songs from the genres that I really love, but that my own band doesn’t do much of – (hard-ish) rock and funk.
Why those genres? Well first of all, to each his own; they may not be your cup of tea but they’re mine. Like most people, I enjoy many different songs and styles – including ballads, classical, blues, etc. But at this point in my life, I’m finding that singing rock is not only fun but somewhat therapeutic. Sure, I can sing some softer songs quite well, but I now know that my voice is best suited to somewhat forceful tunes – like “You Oughta Know” (Alanis Morissette) and “Piece of My Heart” (Janis Joplin) – and that it feels SO good to belt it out! Funk, on the other hand, is not at all about aggression; for me it’s mostly about the groove – the strong bass lines that give you the undeniable urge to move. Think “Let It Whip” (Dazz Band) or “This is How We Do It” (Montell Jordan). When I say funk, I’m using the term loosely; there’s a wide variety of genres that are related to or similar to funk – including soul, R&B and Motown – and I love ‘em all!
In my teens, the bands I was naturally drawn to included:
The Bee Gees (pre-disco)*
Sly and the Family Stone*
* These were a little before my time, but my sister, who is 8 years older, played them (and others) so much that they left an indelible mark on me.
Music of all kinds has been a constant throughout my life. It’s playing all the time at home and in the car; I wonder if I could live without it. Among my friends, I’m the resident DJ – one of the only ones with a collection of playlists for any occasion. At girls’ weekends, for example, I’ve been called the “music goddess” – the one in charge of musical entertainment. This perplexes me – why am I the only one? First-world problem.
Through the lock-down phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, music was a lifesaver for me. Of all the things I did to cope with the isolation, the most satisfying and uplifting thing I did was MUSIC – playing it, singing, dancing like nobody’s watching (cuz they’re not), etc. Even if you’re not a musician, give it a try.
To quote Plato, "music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
I love bar bands, concerts, festivals – live music of all kinds!
Before I met my (late, ex) husband, I saw several awesome concerts – KISS and Cheap Trick (at 13 years old!), Trooper, Foreigner, David Wilcox, AC/DC. But my husband didn’t see the point and I – mistakenly, in hindsight – let him take the lead. So there were several years of very little live music.
Then one day I “woke up”. The Rolling Stones were playing in town and I was going – with or without him! He liked the Stones too, so I invited him to join me, on the condition that I was going to stand up, dance and sing along even if he sat there like a lump. He accepted, we went, and it was all good – he was right there with me from the start. I like to think I showed him he was wrong about concerts ☺ From then on, we started going to more concerts and, whenever he wasn’t interested, I went with a friend instead.
Now that I’m single, the sky’s the limit. In the first year or so, I saw 17 bands/artists. All in all, these are the bands/artists I’ve seen in concert (that I can recall):
The (formerly Dixie) Chicks
Black Eyed Peas
I Mother Earth
Lee Aaron & Heaven’s Fire
Hootie & the Blowfish
Bare Naked Ladies
Death from Above 1979
Crosby Stills Nash & Young
Electric Light Orchestra
The Black Crowes
Kool & The Gang
Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald
Dave Matthews Band