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The Voice as a Musical Instrument

Those who read here often have heard me wax poetic before about Seth Bernard and Daisy May. What a team they are. I love them both… and together, of course they strengthen each other in all the right ways.

But I can go on forever about Daisy May’s voice. It is a wonderful instrument. It’s strong, resonant, convincing, but never contrived. I could listen to her sing forever.

The other night when I could not sleep because I just plain hurt (being sick does that to you), I put their album on my portable player and listened on my headphones as I finally fell asleep. Thank goodness for adult lullabies.

Well, today I sat still at the computer and visited youtube.com. I found a few videos taken of this duo (and two friends backing them up) at the Creole Gallery in Lansing.

Often Daisy May will play guitar or fiddle, and she does an absolute bang-up job on either one. But for Shine On, she puts them down. She stands in front of that microphone with a voice as her only instrument. For much of the song, she closes her eyes. And she gives it everything she’s got. Which is to say a whole lot.

As a performer whose first instrument is voice, I am a bit jealous. I have done some acapella (no instruments) solo work before I met Brian, but only on lucky occasions. When we perform on stage, we’re a duo and we really do need both stringed instruments to make the sound filled out well (we don’t have backup musicians, we never have done that, even on recordings).

When I am really really lucky, I get to sing an introduction to a song without playing the bass at the same time. Brian really prefers the sound when I play the bass, and he does listen with a more detached ear than I do. I am self-centered and I want to siiiiiinnnnggg! I can sing so fully when I can close my eyes, as May does, and give it all I’ve got. It’s a luxury and our act generally does better when I don’t give in to that craving.

Yet, if all the stars align just right, we be playing at Altu’s and someone will request “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” This is a personal favorite. I remember singing it to my Gramma Illa in about 1980, when she was too sick to have a conversation with me anymore. I had to work hard not to cry at the end, but it was sort of the perfect goodbye song and I am very happy I chose it.

(You can always sing to someone, even if they can’t respond… and it does get through most of the time… and you later know you did the one thing you could do. Gramma would ask my mom later in more clear moments if I had been there to see her.)

When I sang it to Gramma Illa, of course I sang “Rainbow” solo and acapella. At Altu’s, Brian will play uke and I can close my eyes and go for it.

Some day we probably will work up the song for our official act. We will sing it more often, but I will be playing bass. At least I got the enjoyment while I could!

Now, do yourself a favor and go hear Daisy May sing Shine On, a video on Youtube.com. It’s really wonderful. I can never play it only once. It’s very hard to let this one end. Once upon a time, I could find the entire song on the Earthwork Music site but I do not see it there right now. I do see it on May’s myspace page, though! Go with the video if you have the connection for it. Wonderful.

Photo: I took this shot at Magdalena’s Teahouse on December 10, at a Seth and Daisy May concert that was totally packed. A good time was had by all!

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