*originally published in Sound Waves Magazine March 2018
Lenten fish dinner specials are my fav. This time of year here on Long Island Sound, everything imaginable is plucked from the sea by dedicated busy fishermen and women in a frenzied free-for-all. Restaurants and grocery stores cook it all up fresh to order, and it’s all on sale. Fridays are super popular but some places push the crustaceans every day for a month, and I love every second of it. Of course the church is to blame for all of this, it being Lent and all, but that’s OK. I’m OK with churches. I grew up singing in church and it’s basically where it all began; until somebody ruined it for me that is. Now I’m pretty much a basket case full of fish sticks every time I’m asked to sing in a church. My nerves rattle the rafters, golden chalices shake and shutter and bells start ringing on their own.
I can narrow it down to one person who ruined it. This person left me with this not-so-good taste in my mouth, you know, not nearly as good as a heaping roll of buttered lobster meat.
Here’s what went down:
I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” for a friend’s wedding and needed to rehearse with the church organist. I arrived on a cold and wintry night and made my way up the secret stairs to the blessed balcony area. I exchanged pleasantries with the typical-looking church organist lady and I began. I decided on a nice and easy Karen Carpenter alto pop version, which is what my friends were looking for. I got to about the eighth measure and she stopped me and said, “Um, have you done much singing?”
I assured her that yes indeed I had.
“You didn’t warm up before our rehearsal then?” she asked.
I assured her that yes indeed I had.
“Well let’s take it again from the top.”
I got to about the fourth measure, she banged the organ a bit and uttered between clenched teeth, “I really have to be honest here. I don’t think you are capable of singing this. I simply can’t allow it. Not in MY church.”
“Well, they really really want this song. It’s either this or the ‘Irish Wedding Song’,” I said.
“Let’s try the ‘Irish Wedding Song’ then,” she said.
So by this time, I was indeed warmed up, and the song went off without a hitch:
“Here they stand, hand in hand
they’ve exchanged wedding bands
today is the day of their dreams and their plans
and all we who love them just wanted to say
May God bless this couple who married today.”
“That will work. ‘Ave Maria’ will not,” church lady said.
“Well maybe we could try it again,” I pleaded. My friends were going to be pissed!
And that was that. Church organists think they rule the world! They probably do. So for the rest of eternity, every church organist I encounter is that same scary church organist and I tremble with fear in their midst and my confidence goes out the stained glass window. Just stepping into houses of worship it’s difficult for me to form a syllable. It may sound rather silly but whenever I have to sing in a church, to calm my nerves, I picture an audience of naked church organist ladies to calm down. Somehow, it works. It is what it is.
Years after the ill-fated not in my church night I was asked to sing “Ave Maria” at a funeral, accompanied by guitar, in the funeral home. I was given $180 for two minutes and thirty six seconds of singing – on key and everything.
Conclusion: Some people get me and some people don’t.
As I’ve aged, I often get “When are you going to give up already?” Or like my mother says, “When are you going to grow up?” Or like my father says, “Still trying to be a rock star huh?”
And to them all I say, “I’ll stop when I’m dead.” And whoever sings at my funeral, I’m sure they’ll do just fine. Stick with acoustic guitar accompaniment though, please.