I'm an advanced intermediate guitar player. By that I mean I have enough musical sense to recognize my failings and just enough apathy to ensure I don't rise above that comfortable level of mediocrity. I'll forever be relegated to hiding in the shadows of any lead guitar player worth his pickups. In my case, the guitar slinger in question is a dude named Ryan, who is markedly more gifted in his axe prowess, and carries much of the load at our weekly meetings in the jam room. I'm good at rhythm, and that’s what I do. I strum and keep the beat, and Ryan fills in the solos, riffs and noodly bits that make the songs come to life.
We have a pretty good working relationship, he and I. I know when he is about to really dig into a solo and I give him enough line to fling himself out into the nether regions of space where the higher order of musicians go when they’re doing what they do. But I’m the anchor, so I don’t let him float away. I just wait until he opens his eyes – the signal he is again aware of his surroundings- then I start reeling him back in and we move on.
We also sing. A least hurtful way to describe it would be mostly competently. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say that you wouldn’t cringe if you heard us, but neither would you be moved to call American Idol and demand we be given an audition. Since the beginning of our rehearsals, we had agreed that our sound was lacking a certain something. Guitars were good, singing was okay, and yet there was an element missing that was needed to push it over the top. Something to sweeten it up a little. Something….girlie. Yep…that’s the right term.
I texted Ryan one day - with some trepidation- and told him that I had just found out that a woman I had known for years was a singer, and should I invite her out to sing some harmonies? I was not entirely sure this was wise because, you see...the jam room (or rock and roll sanctum, as I like to call it) has traditionally been a place where a bunch of guys make a racket until my neighbour comes wandering over and tells us he has to work early in the morning. Then he sits down and drinks beer with us before we send him wobbling home hours later, only slightly worse for wear. In between songs, the talk turns to man stuff, like hockey, women and... I don't know...big block Chevy engines. That’s a thing right?
Suffice it to say, we have never been graced with the presence of a female musician. That may be partly because I have never invited any except once many years ago, but that was one time rehearsal for a one time thing, so it doesn't count. This was different. This was a possible permanent addition to the duo, instantly making it a three-o. My mind was flooded with questions. Was I going to have to get scented candles to cover the stale beer smell? Was I going to have to stock the fridge with a bunch of sissy coolers? Was I about to create some massive rift in the space time continuum?
Enter Meredith. She arrived first, and as we set up, I peered in fridge at the various assortment of obscure beers that populated it. Ryan and I had often referred to jam night as the “Gentlemen’s Beer Tasting Club” where it became a bit of a competition to see who could bring the most exotic brew to the table.
“Um…you want a beer Meredith?”
“I’m not a big beer drinker.” She says. “Have you got anything light?”
Uh oh. I sized her up at roughly 95 pounds soaking wet and ruled out the black 8% Scottish Ale, brewed in a whiskey cask. That might do her in.
“Weeell. I have Belgian Wheat Beer. It’s pretty cloudy, but it’s mild. It has coriander in it.”
Wrong answer. I cursed myself for not preparing with the coolers.
“Oh wait.” I said. “I’ve got red wine upstairs. How about that?”
Meredith consented to a small glass of red wine.
So there we were, the three of us, staring at each other expectantly, waiting for something to happen. I don’t remember what we played first, but she hung back from the microphone, not wanting to intrude on our already practiced routine. She sang quietly at first, too quietly. Eventually, Ryan and I both encouraged her to lean into it so we could hear her voice. That’s when it happened. Our normal raggedy harmonies were suddenly tied together with a sweet overtone that actually sounded the way it was supposed to. It was like pouring syrup all over the pancakes, smoothing out all the inconsistencies and turning something meh, into something good. By the end of the night Meredith had established herself as the harmony coach, assigning us our parts and helping us through the difficult spots using techniques from her church choir. Ryan and I were both grinning like fools whenever we nailed a three part harmony that before that night would have been unthinkable.
To date Meredith has not been put off by the endless guitar tuning and assorted technical problems that always seem to pop up each night. Nor is she horrified at our lack of singing ability, and in fact occasionally comments that we actually sound good. She still won’t drink robust Czechoslovakian ale, but one week she did have half a French beer, which is good progress on her part. That and we’ve grown kind of fond of her.