Thursday, 24 October 2013
By Lyn Burnstine
Some well-known singer once became the butt of jokes because she kept having yet another “farewell tour” over and over, year after year. I suspect it was Marian Anderson, whom I loved, respected and was privileged to hear and to shake her hand.
I think I’m beginning to understand. For about eight years now, I’ve been pronouncing that I’ve sung for the last time publicly. I really do mean it when I say, “That’s it! No more!”
But then something comes up: daughter Lisa asks me to sing with her and her husband, Fran; somebody else asks me to sing in a round-robin; or I get the bright idea to enhance and liven up my book readings with a few songs.
Then the regrets start as I agonize through unsatisfying attempts to find and practice songs that fit into my limited range. It doesn’t feel good to sing, I hate how I sound, I don’t enjoy or look forward to it, I can’t remember the words. I wish I’d never said yes.
Then on stage the adrenaline kicks in, the old trouper comes through and I am once more moved by the joy of being back home again – in communion with an audience of people singing along with me.
It happened again. I was asked to fill the honored spot – closing the concert at a library fundraiser. It’s become a tradition at Friends of Fiddler’s Green’s yearly fundraiser open mic for me to have that job and bring the community of performers and audience together for a final song. It felt good to re-claim my title of “the voice of folk music in the Hudson Valley,” as I was introduced.
I have always maintained and taught that folk music is community, living-room music and meant to be shared – not performed. There is a deplorable lack of that these days at open mics and other musical gatherings.
Whenever I do sing, other performers say, “Oh, that was fun, Maybe I should do more of that!” But few do which is another reason I think I’m still hanging in there: my work is not done yet.
Six years ago at my 70th birthday party, my adult grandson said to me, “Grandma, why do you keep saying you can’t sing anymore? You were the loudest one there!”
I guess it is one way of letting go gradually – the only way I can bear to do it. It’s probably also my fear of being forgotten that keeps me coming back for the second, third, fourth and fifth Lyn Burnstine Farewell Tour.
Four years later it happened again - ust last night, in fact. I had finally given up singing alone – joining Lisa and Fran for a few songs once or twice a year.
I had been getting increasingly hoarse over a year’s run of bad health issues. Those issues had caused breathlessness, so that I am on night-time oxygen, severe back and leg pain that cause me to be bent over and unable to stand for more than a few minutes, and general weakness.
Yet every time I would come home from an open stage, I would say, “Lyn, you could contribute SOMEthing musical – okay, next time.” Then the week or a day ahead of the next one I’d try, and - nope! no voice!
So, last night I took my kalimba (thumb piano, the only instrument that I can still play) - just in case - and chose a short essay fragment having to do with developing as a performer. When the hour came to start, I checked my voice. Two last-minute cough drops seemed to have partly eased the hoarseness, so I held my nose and jumped in the water.
The adrenaline kicked in, I sang loudly and clearly, receiving a gratifying response from the audience as well as more than the usual number of hugs.
Thank you, dear Pete (Seeger, for those two readers who might not know who Pete is) for setting such a wonderful example of songs as community builders and deep communication among people, no matter how old and gravelly your voice gets.
I announced my performance by saying, “If Pete can do it at ninety-three, I should be able to do it at eighty!”
In the words of Betsy Rose, fine songwriter:
“This is just my work, I’m just doin’ what I was given to do, hope I can do it my whole life through, for the love of the singin’ and the love of you, the singin’ and the love of you.”
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