Red Jackets

I joined the Kanawha Kordsmen a year ago. It was as much a surprise to them as it was to me. I would never have imagined it a few years ago.

I became acquainted with them through my column. It was possibly the best thing I did during Year Two, though stand up comedy was pretty good, too.

I stayed partly for the opportunity to do something musical and also for the company. They’re a great bunch of guys who never fail to make me feel welcome.

One of the things I like about the Kordsmen is we’re pretty diverse –very different careers, education levels and personal histories. The group has church pastors, telecom executives, college professors and laborers. We have Jews, Atheists and Christians. We have gay men, an African-American from New England who loves hockey and a former Marine who will tell you he’s crazy.

I like that I say “We.” I’m part of it.

Singing with them does me more good than I would have thought.

I think part of that has to do with deliberately making something in common with other people. I think a lot of us stick with just the people we already have some connection with. The people we work with become our friends in the same way we made friends in school. We become friends with people who share an interest –like fishing or gardening or writing. We meet in a place we think is the middle.

With the Kordsmen, I met them somewhere else.

I’m not much of a singer.

For years, I didn’t do much more than sing in the car with the radio. It was a big deal for me to step beyond that, and I read music like a kid in kindergarten reads Shakespeare, which is to say badly, if at all. Most of the time I can figure out if I’m supposed to be high or low or somewhere in the middle, but the specific locations of what’s in the high, the low or the middle eludes me.

With quite a bit of practice I’m getting modestly better, but for a while, I wasn’t really attending rehearsals consistently. I’d come every other week or every third week. The job was eating up a lot of time. With the bankruptcy and sale, I felt drained and just didn’t have much left at the end of the day.

I came into (briefly) a small sum of money (not a fortune), but it helped pay off a couple of minor, though nagging credit cards. I paid my taxes, took care of my son’s boy scout camp fees, restocked my refrigerator and covered my yearly membership to the Kordsmen.

Those red jackets cost money.

But I didn’t go to the annual convention. I did that last year. I had the best time. I got to share a moment on stage with a bunch of very supportive guys and we sang our hearts out.

It was sort of magical when we won our division and were named “most improved.” I got to be part of that. My being there didn’t hurt them. I might have even helped a little.

This year, I knew I wasn’t going right after Mom died.

I missed most of the rehearsals leading up to the convention and I was only barely listening to the learning material. So, I opted out of the convention. It was the right thing to do, though we won. We won in a new, improved division, the division I helped get them to last year.

I am so proud of that.

So, this week was my first real night back after everything. They welcomed me back in the circle to stretch and sing. They told me it was good to see me again and cheered when Ron announced that I’d signed up for another year.

Rehearsal was awkward. I bumbled my way through “Lazy Day,” a song written by some full-on, pipe smoking hippie back in the 1960s. I like the arrangement. I actually like the barbershop arrangement more than I like the original radio hit.

The original was part of the Papa’s Pizza soundtrack, one of the songs played every third Saturday night on the oldie’s station we listened to at the restaurant where I worked.

I’m pretty sure the radio station recorded half a dozen of a syndicated show called “Solid Gold Saturday Night,” which featured the over saturated soft rock songs of the 60s and 70s.

It wasn’t a bad show, mostly innocuous. They just played the same shows over and over, thinking nobody would notice.

At some point during the two and a half years of working Sundays at the pizza parlor, the radio station must have lost a couple of those tapes.

I still can’t listen to “Sugar Shack” without wanting to light myself on fire.

Anyway, I sang and got a couple of looks from people. I was out of tune and didn’t know the material. I have a long way to go, but I made it back. It was good to be back and nice to be among people who said they missed me.