Singing for an Audience

My father's father was William Thomas O'Doherty. He was born in Donegal near Malin Head, the northernmost point in all of Ireland. Grandfather William died when my father was nine years old. As a young man, my father was very active in the various Irish societies of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Although he had never been to Ireland himself until later, when he was nearly 40 years old, he took great pride in the in the place where his father was born. In this context, he instructed me to respond with the words, “I'm from Malin Head, Donegal,” whenever anyone would ask where I was from.

One day in September of 1955, soon after I had started the first grade at Blessed Virgin Mary School in Darby, Pennsylvania, I asked permission to go to the lavatory. On my way back to the classroom, I took my time, looking around at the posters in the corridor. All of a sudden the towering form of the eighth grade nun appeared in front of me. With hands on her hips she looked down at me and demanded, “Where are you from, young man?” The correct answer would have been: “The first grade,” but instead, I responded as I had been trained. I looked up at her and said, “I'm from Malin Head, Donegal.” Sister tried to stifle a smile and said to me, “Can you sing an Irish song?” I said, “Yes, I can.” “Then come with me," she said.

She led me into the eighth grade boys classroom. She said to the boys, “this is Liam O’Doherty from the first grade and he's going to sing us an Irish song.” So I launched into, “If You're Irish Come into the Parlor." At the end of the song, the eighth-grade boys went nuts with applause. It felt kinda nice. Then the sister said, “Can you sing another one?” I responded, “I can sing ‘Hello Patsy Fagan.’” So she had me sing that too. Again, there was rousing applause from the eighth grade boys.

From that day to this I have always enjoyed singing for an audience. I don't claim to have a great voice. Whenever I join a new chorus, I always tell the director that I have a “utilitarian” voice: I hit most of the notes most of the time. Whether singing with a chorus or singing solo accompanied by guitar or ukulele, I practiced hard to be able to sing to the best of my of ability, however limited that may be.

onstage at the NYC ukulele meetup open mike,
basement of Maui Taco, 5th Avenue, NYC
Since the beginning of January, one Friday evening each month I have been attending the New York City Ukulele Meetup Group’s open mike. I've been playing the ukulele for a little over two years, but not much in public before the January open mike. Having a place to go to sing and play in front of other amateur musicians has been a good stimulus for me to practice more and to try more challenging material. One of the things that I love about this gathering is that they are so accepting and appreciative of people who don't have a lot of experience. The range of performers runs the gamut from beginners to very talented and accomplished amateur musicians.

Last Friday evening was my fourth appearance at the open mike. I chose two songs about 10 days before the performance and tried to practice them a little bit each day. My first song was "Oh! Darling" by Lennon and McCartney. After the break when my turn came around again, I sang “The House Where Nobody Lives” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Both times I was nervous when I stood up in front of them all.  And both times something clicked. I could tell that my hours of practice had paid off and that I was connecting with the audience. Both times the applause was more enthusiastic than it had been my previous three appearances. And yes, both times I thought back to that scene in the front of Sister Andrea's eighth grade boys classroom. Also received very encouraging compliments afterwards about my interpretation of the two pieces.  And that felt good too. 

Perhaps a mild form of something like adrenaline addiction?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My wife and I both agree you have a very good voice, you play the uke well and you did sing from the heart Friday night. I look forward to our next open mike.