Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Singing on the Porch

I know the title sounds funny, a little like Singing in the Rain without all the special effects and dancing, but it totally encapsulates what was one of the most blissful days in memory. As you may know I just got back from spending a week in the woods in the mountains of North Carolina with about two hundred plus incredible performing and visual Southern artists.

So bear with me for a minute and I promise I will tell you how me, the one who loves to sing way out loud, often forgets the words and have been convinced I have no voice, ended up in the middle of a fabulous jam session with some serious singers! Yes, this is a New South story.

It was Saturday morning and I slept in late after hanging out until 2:30 in the morning listening to music, dancing, and hearing these young spoken word artists from all over the South, whose words and imagery all but took my breath away. It was hard hard hard, I tell you, to pull myself away and do the responsible thing. Yes, I lost my mind and thought I was a fully grown adult or something.

Sleeping in meant that I missed breakfast but praying to St. Mattress was more important than food at that point. So sleep won out. Once I finally crawled up from the abyss, I began to smile. I had an appointment for a massage!! This was the first pebble in the bliss filled pond.

If you ever come to Atlanta for any reason, build in thirty minutes or so for a massage. I will happily put you in touch with one of the best masseurs I have ever met, bar none. Just Mercy, incredible body work, I practically melted off the table. Patrick is gifted, believe me. Then I had a little lunch with more music and wonderful conversation. This was the second pebble in the bliss filled pond.

Leaving lunch I was trying to figure out how to bump somebody off, well not seriously but you get my drift, so that I could take their place on Patrick's already filled dance card and squeeze in another massage before we had to leave the next day.

The cafeteria has two huge porches off a dining hall that could seat four or five hundred. I think we could as easily have eaten on the porches as inside. (But of course, you run the risk of being eaten alive before you could wolf down half your meal.) Our retreat in the mountains is a really nice camp about ten minutes from Ashville, NC. What a lovely beautiful setting. One of things that I most appreciated is that there must have been literally hundreds of big comfy rocking chairs on the porches in the main areas, scattered around all the patios near the pool, in front of the resident buildings, and in front of each room in the buildings where porches lined the walkways to your room. But I digress.

(We took every opportunity available when in small group meetings to head outdoors to the rocking chairs, look at the mountains as we talked, surrounded by trees and quiet. It was such a relaxing way to have a meeting. LOL)

Walking out of the dining hall that day, someone said, "Come on, let's get together and sing." Well, sure, I thought, I'll sit for a minute and hear them before heading out to a workshop or something. There were maybe six of us, we grabbed some rocking chairs, made a circle and they began to sing. Operative word, they. Now I knew two of these women can sing, I've heard their music, seen them perform, they can blow. Then there was my girl Linda from Carpetbag Theater in Knoxville, TN, a fellow New Yorker transplanted to the south about forty years ago. I know she's an actor, writer, and director, but I'd never heard her sing.

She started things off with this huge voice that just blew me away. And they began to rock literally and figuratively, and I began to join in, I couldn't help myself. I hear music and my voice just runs away from me. Nobody gave me dirty looks or anything. So I really joined in. Then three more women came to join us. Then two more, then one more, then three more, before we knew it we had over fifteen women singing our hearts out and having an absolute ball.

People were coming from all over the camp to hear us because in the mountains sound travels. We had four and five part intricate harmonies going. Our chairs were just rocking in rhythm, and we had a tambourine, and our feet for percussion, and hands clapping in syncopation. Linda's feet finally ran away with her and danced her up out of her chair! That's when we really took off. I was practically levitating out of my chair.

It was an hour or more of sheer unadulterated joy as we raised our voices making music. It was unscripted, totally off the cuff, and such an incredible moment of sharing, teaching each other the notes, or the melodies, passing off the lead as you were so moved. And crawling around in bliss at our feet was little Ziah, maybe eight months old, such a gorgeous sweet tempered little girl, who was passed from one to the other as we sang, and her mother took the lead. She sang the lead in Spanish, and then English, she was magnificent with a soaring poignant voice that just dug deep inside you.

I looked around me at this fabulous array of Southern women singing on the porch and recognized that we represented the New South; we were black, white, Latinas, older, middle age, young, gay and straight, tatoos and locks, straight hair and curly do's, from rural communities in Alabama and Kentucky, and cities like Charlotte, or Atlanta. It took all of us to raise the roof, we each brought our own special, unique gifts to the party. And what a party it was. I would do it over again in a heartbeat.

That was third pebble in the bliss filled pool, I may not be able to sing lead but I can sing background like a pro!


  1. I have read recently that singing in a choir adds years to your life. Your experience illustrates why--all those pebbles added to the bliss-filled pond! Always knew you could 'rock'.

  2. No one ever said you couldn't sing sister just do it in your own jazzy, off the cuff, this is how I hear it in my head and this is how it's gonna come out of my mouth there's nothing wrong with it... nothing at all...Singing has always been a comfort for me and you probably just gave me the actual word that describes how I feel when the notes all come out right and the music is moving all through me, around me and it sounds we know I'm my own worst critic...It's bliss I feel when the last note fades away...yeah, yeah...that's the for once again finding just the right words...You're getting really good at this blog thing!! Writing...Sanging...just showing out! And I love it!!