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“When I find myself in times of trouble ...”
I’d felt the tears starting to build as I practised the guitar solo for the Beatles’ Let It Be alone in my study, going at it again and again with the CD, getting closer to a workable variation.
And now my darkest and heaviest emotions were rising again, onstage, as our band moved further into the song as part of a musical tribute to a departing church minister.
“Concentrate,” I said to myself as I chorded along with the familiar melody.
“And in my hour of darkness ...”
I looked over at singer Darrell, pulling the audience along as they dealt with their emotions about a respected leader leaving them, and as they remembered their own attachments to this song.
With his opera training, Darrell was really knocking it out of the park. I had to move to the mike as Dory and I got ready to do the harmony. I stepped up, watched Dory and we hit it together. She got it just right; it was soothing to feel it go this well.
How did I get to this place, with these bandmates? I’m past 60. Tracy on the bass is older than me, Brad on piano is looking at retirement in a few years, Keith on drums is the baby at 48 and Darrell and Dory are around 50. And yet there are times when we rip into a jazz, country or rock song like we’re 20.
I had never been in a band before. I’d performed solo with voice and guitar in the 1970s in Victoria. I moved to Toronto, and the guitar was barely touched for 20 years, then back here in Lethbridge the minister asked me to play in the contemporary service. Then he asked me again. Then he asked me again.
I stumbled along, learning eight songs a week. The others began to form a tighter unit with me, and a year ago Darrell was asked to put together a band for a food bank benefit. After all the practising for that gig, we decided to keep going.
Sometimes a wondrous, special feeling would come out of a song; partly because we listened to each other, partly because our complementary talents allowed the music to grow and shine.
Five of the six of us sing, so we went for good melody lines and put our interpretations into the songs. We made mistakes, we practised on our own, rehearsed as a group, we got better. We could feel momentum growing.
The solo was coming up. The keyboard led the descending riff, repeated it ... and it was my turn, pushing the guitar melody up and down, keeping it simple with some flange and echo, one note at a time, up, up ... and then, with my head nodding in time, striking hard on the last three notes.
I nailed it. I nailed it loud and pure in front of 200 people, and the band was right with me. I held in the tears as I slid into the A minor of the chorus.
I saw Tracy wrapped up in his bass lines, a veteran of the machine shop and country music bands. I saw Brad at the keyboard, pacing the tempo, a man who can mix formal music training with honky tonk improv. I heard Keith on the drums hitting them perfectly. Darrell’s voice filled up the melody.
Dory did her first public singing with us; she’s a TV personality with a Governor-General’s Award for community service. She does dead-on versions of Patsy Cline and Carole King, and now her clear, clean sound was fitting easily on top of the lyrics.
There are times when the six of us feel so deep inside the engine of a great song that our individuality is lost.
“And when the night is cloudy...”
Before we thought up this band, called Moon Dancer, there were cloudy times for all of us.
One of us had a heart attack. Three have diabetes problems, and three have had a divorce. One was almost murdered, and another was pursued by criminals.
And I am from the cloudiest, darkest night.
My only child, my son Josh, died from cancer in January, 2000.
The title of my play about his last six months, Walking Upright Through Fire, describes what it was like. And for the 10 years after he died, I felt like my heart was 100 years old. But:
“There is still a light that shines on me ... ”
And that light is music. It makes us practise, spend money on equipment, bring in songs to try out, put up with each other.
The last chorus rolled by, time for the final riff: piano, bass, guitar and drums hitting it simply and tightly, note by note, slowing down, slowing down, to one carefully timed final chord.
It worked. The audience snapped into loud and long applause.
I repressed my tears and shuffled my music for the next song.
I never thought I’d feel this good again.
Let it be.
Allan Wilson lives in Lethbridge.