Music and Spontaneity

I am at an open mic run by the Boston Association of Cabaret Artists (BACA) in an elegant UU church in Watertown, MA.

Steve Heck, a wonderful local pro, is playing the grand piano, and I am singing “Over the Rainbow.”

It is one of the songs in a new show about Harold Arlen I have recently begun performing with pianist Joe Reid.

After Steve takes a piano solo, I re-enter at the bridge of the song (“some day I’ll wish upon a star…”) and then I hear elevator doors opening behind me.

Three women — friends of Steve Heck, I later learn — appear on stage. They did not realize that the elevator would deposit them there.

I turn and, still singing, welcome them in order to escort them across the stage and down into the audience. But as I do this, I realize that they probably love music and very likely know all the words to “Over the Rainbow;” so I encourage them to stay with me onstage and sing — which they happily do.

One woman in particular catches my attention because she is singing a beautiful harmony line in a great, big, functional belting voice. We make eye contact as the song builds to a dramatic and completely spontaneous harmonic climax of “Why oh why can’t I?” — each of us singing at the top of our vocal range, my microphone completely unnecessary.

The entire series of events has lasted less than a minute, and the entire room is happily caught up in the moment.

Afterwards, during a break period, I am asked how I managed to time their arrival so perfectly. I explain that I had never met them before and that the entire experience was utterly spontaneous — unfolding moment by moment with no guidance other than the lyrics of the song and our shared love of music.

Ahh, music!

Ahh, spontaneity…

I have been experiencing a lot of spontaneous musical moments in the past few months.

Joe Reid and I put together our Harold Arlen show in one rehearsal that lasted about two hours. He is a jazz pianist who is very comfortable in the here and now.

I brought a bunch of sheet music to his house plus a rough idea of a run order. We double checked the keys for all the songs, played each one through once or twice, and Joe was ready to take it public.

So far we have performed at two retirement communities to very enthusiastic audiences (and we did get together for another hour-long rehearsal before our second performance…)

Of course, I spent many additional hours apart from Joe — making sure I know exactly how the song was originally written, reading several books about Arlen I ordered from my local library, memorizing lyrics, and writing the “patter” to lead from one song to the next.

All of which helps me to surrender to the moment when we are performing them.

I have also begun leading Music Together (MT) classes in Arlington and Belmont.

MT is a very-well-researched and very-well-planned program to introduce small children — along with their care-givers — to the joy and fun of music-making.

Although one is expected to learn 30+ new songs (carefully arranged to include a wide variety of keys and rhythms) each semester, one is also encouraged to be spontaneous and improvisatory during each class.

I am sure my training during the past six months to become a MT teacher helped me to go with the flow at the BACA open mic when those three women appeared onstage.

And I have experienced many moments of musical connection with children and parents during my first two weeks of MT classes that have given me a similar jolt of delight.

I think this might be what I am supposed to be doing here on planet earth!

I will end with a version of the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic, “Accentuate the Positive” that I recorded with pianist Doug Hammer during a rehearsal for the “Mostly Mercer” show that he and Bobbi Carrey and I created last year.

Thanks for reading — and listening!

10 thoughts on “Music and Spontaneity

  1. Loved the anecdote and the  snippet of  “accentuate”. Thanks for sharing your joy. Hope to catch your new show. Warmest regards, Jon-Daniel


  2. Dear Will, Thanks for sharing your upcoming concert. Sadly, I am too far removed to come and listen. Living currently in Nicaragua on the border with Honduras, volunteering in a rural community. I have often shared with others, but never with you, a spontaneous moment 18 months ago in Mendoza, Argentina. I was learning Spanish, struggling to get my aging head around a foreign language in a complete immersion program. I had decided to connect only with people who spoke Spanish, since I was on a mission to get as close to fluent as I could. A somewhat misguided mission, as it turned out. I didn´t speak enough Spanish to connect and became incredibly lonely. So much so, that I seriously considered throwing myself off a 5th floor balcony one Saturday morning. I thought better of it (I liked the doorman too much to put him through that!) and I went for a walk. I popped on my headphones and listened to a CD of yours I had bought at one of your concerts some 7 or 8 years ago. Up came the song “Forgiveness´ Embrace” while I was walking in Mendoza´s central park. All of a sudden I was sobbing like a child. Looking back, that song and listening to you sing it, saved me that day. Spontaneous? Perhaps not in the sense you meant it, but the forgiveness that embraced me sure felt like it! Thank you, Richard.

    • Hi, Richard. How dear to hear from you and read about your personal experience with the power of music! Were you by any chance listening to the CD I burned for you of the “Will Loves Steve” show I did in Harvard Square? I am honored that you brought a recording of me singing on your global travels. Hurrah for daring to immerse yourself in another language and other cultures!

  3. Nice, Will. And you are right, it was a bit magical for us in the audience. There was certainly a moment in there during which I thought “is this part of the act?” It was joyous.

  4. What a beautiful moment.

    I’m addicted to a singers night at a local pub in Cornwall, where I live. It’s both organized and not organized at all. People jump in when there’s an opening, and songs with choruses that people can join in on are the ones that go over best. It brings music back to its core, which is the absolute magic that comes when people sing together.

    • Hurrah for singing with other people! Is this Cornwall in England, which I once visited as a teenager? I agree about songs with choruses which everyone can sing if the spirit moves them. They have become my favorite to perform/share with others. I used to want people just to listen to me when I sang at an open mic or a performance. More and more, however, I prefer when people sing-along — so that everyone’s vibrations become part of the musical mix in the room. THANK YOU for finding time to read — and listen to, and maybe sing-along with! — one of my blog posts.

    • Hurrah for singers’ night at your local pub. I totally agree songs with opportunities for everyone to join in. They have become my favorite to perform in hopes that everyone will join in…

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