It’s the anniversary of our neighborhood band. Could be our iron or copper anniversary–we can’t exactly recall when we formed. Given our composition, it should be our guitar string anniversary.
We’re all from a roughly six-block radius, and bring a mixed bag of musical backgrounds and abilities. The band varies in size, and has had a few names, including Safety in Numbers, and The Maraca Incident. But a core group of about eight of us have been gathering to play and sing our hearts out, ever since a neighbor invited us to her tree-trimming party about six or seven years ago. She didn’t know what she was starting when she urged us to “bring instruments.”
We did. We started out a bit bashful, but we soon got over it. In fact, we liked it so much, we wanted to keep meeting like that. So, take two ukuleles, three or four acoustic guitars and an electric bass, a banjo, violin, flute, and hammered dulcimer, along with the occasional drum kit, mandolin, harmonica, and autoharp. Mix them together with a crazy selection of sheet music from everywhere. Add a spontaneous potluck. Cram all of it into a small Helderberg Area living room for three or more hours, and you’ve got major neighborly harmonies.
Some of us read music, others are improvising, but the key to how it works is this: we’re all willing to play new tunes, sing out, and make fools of ourselves. Our kids think we’re nuts, but I think we’re setting a great example.
British musician Brian Eno agrees with me. Speaking of a friendly a capella group he formed, he told NPR his view of the benefits of group singing: “I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor.”
I don’t know about the good figure and heightened sexual attractiveness parts, but I do know group singing has helped us weather career changes, health challenges, family issues, and the loss of loved ones, as well as the basic stresses of everyday life in this wild world. The humor part is essential: you can’t help but enjoy yourself in a band where folks are willing to channel Johnny Cash, sing falsetto with the Beach Boys, shout “Wooly Bully,” and get all screamin’ to “Psycho Killer.” All topped off with “Ashokan Farewell.”
I grew up in the seventies, with a rock band in my basement. My big brother and his friends would crank up their amps until the toaster rattled. I envied their laughter and bonding over music. Now, I couldn’t be more thankful to be part of this casual, warm, and ever-so-fun group of neighbors who open their homes for music year round.