SHAPE MUSIC


While I really don't have a formalized Bucket List, I had always dreamed of singing at my daughter’s wedding! No I don’t sing professionally, though I have wanted to, you know, sing and get paid for it! I almost did once. Practiced folk and bluegrass and country with a fellow named Rick who ended up in the Bull Creek Band playing a couple songs I wrote. We had a bar gig lined up in ’72 that never happened. We were going to do songs like “Brother Love,”and others by Arlo and Woody, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young;” throw in a lot of Willie Nelson, like “Blue Eyes,” “Country Road,” “Whisky River” – our kinda songs. Perhaps toss in a strained refrain or two from Johnny Cash!


Why not? Why not sing at my daughter’s wedding? Hell, I forked over enough dough to buy the place! No problem… Just let the proud Papa sing.


Besides, I certainly got the genes for it from Uncle Frank and my mom (on the Floersh side of the family). I learned songs strumming on the old family banjo ukulele, a fine old antique and lots of fun to play. I used to sit for hours out on the front porch at 1226 Howard in Inglewood (East Nashville) mastering it around age six. I will play to my dying day. Now my grandchildren like to join in and sing and dance and holler. My daughter’s four year old daughter dances and sings with me now. What a joy! I think she’s part me.


And for singing credentials, don't forget, I sang Alto in Sr. James Marie’s Holy Name grade school choir. And in ’61 toured with the Bellarmine College Glee Club which involved a couple of solo parts. I'm no lightweight. I can carry a tune, but I can’t read a note! I play and sing by ear. Learned that from my momma.


Professionally? No, but I do entertain myself with songs from daddy’s old yellow-weathered song book he typed on our old upright Underwood typewriter and hand wrote in the banjo notes.


And! And, I have entertained a few folks along the way with renditions of a seldom-heard-before mountain song, “PoorWilly” and “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover,” songs my mom, “Litz,” taught me. She would sing them to me as a child and I would scoop ‘em up into memory and harmonize. Look me up sometime, I’ll plink-ka-plink ‘em out fer ya! A few of them can be found in my album “Tom Strums.” Scroll down to my album on the HOME page https://www.tenbrunsel.com/


Returning to the wedding and my life’s dream – to sing at Erin’s wedding. My oldest grandson, Will, asked me the morning of the wedding, “So, Papa, if Erin is going to be a Secretarski, will she still be in the family?” I put my arm around the seven-year-old, comforting him, a bit teary eyed myself, “Yeah!” Yes, yes she will, Will, always - Always a Tenbrunsel, and more!


Wedding Day. It was “game day”and the secret to pulling this off was my oldest son, Kevin, a successful businessman, engineer/administrator at Motorola, Chicago at the time. He also carries the Floersh genes for being able to carry a tune. And thank God, for he met his beautiful wife, Kerri, through song. He has since passed his singing talent and love for music to the next generation. His daughter Kaitlyn has the voice (from her mom and dad). Kevin still sings in a rock band in Chicago in his spare time. “He will carry the day for me at Erin’s wedding,” I thought!


So after practicing in two separate cities, Chicago and Huntsville Alabama (via the magic of technology), Kevin and I were going to pull this off. The next step was to practice together for the first time. The morning of the wedding, in my ‘94 maroon Honda Accord with the tape player blaring, we harmonized our hearts out. There we were singing, singing aloud, singing our hearts out in the middle of the Four Seasons Atlanta parking lot, windows up, air conditioning on. Kevin was carrying a strong a-cappella melody with me improvising my unique self-designed harmony all over the place.


I just love the delicacy and simplicity of “The Wedding Song!” We were ready to take it to church.


Surprises come in all shapes and sizes!

We got to the church early along with the bridal party. Time was needed for them to primp and dress prior to the “I do’s.” The smell of flowers filled the air. Kevin and I were dapperly decked out in our spanking tuxedos. With enthusiasm we headed up to the choir loft, me a bit nervous. Performing in public was old hat for my eldest son, Kevin - no sweat! However I am another matter. This is a bucket item and I don't have a lot of public performance experience.


Surprise! So we arrived at this huge rising choir loft high in the back of the church, framed by massive organ pipes. The organ (and organist) both large. The Cathedral was very large and impressive. SURPRISE! What??? “You got to be kidding,” was my thought, “I’m sweating bullets here on a bucket list and you’re telling me I’ve got to audition before you let me sing? Oh my God.” The butterflies hit the fan. I was in panic mode. What the heck was I doing here? Audition? You’ve got to be kidding!


So there we sat, Kevin and I, while his wife, Kerri, proceeded effortlessly to crack crystal on a practice run of “ Ave Maria.” I began to look for the exit!!! No way were they going to let me sing, not even with my Floersh genes after Kerri’s stellar performance. I might as well head on down into the church. Kick the bucket list!


I was nervous, shaky, my throat tightening. It was our turn to audition. Kevin and I had our backs to the altar, struggling to get me in tune. We started and restarted several times with an impatient, unsympathetic, unwavering organist/executioner peering at me over his glasses. I looked skyward asking for divine intervention.


Salvation!

“He” saw my distress and came to my rescue. The “he” I’m talking about here, had won the Delta Airlines American Idol contest and Erin (IBM’s Project Manager for Delta) had asked him to sing Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up “at her wedding. I saw Jeff out of the corner of my eye. He was seated about three rows back in the rising choir loft, waiting his turn to audition. He started down toward me from where he had been watching me struggle. Perhaps it was empathy, perhaps sympathy. In an instant he knew me and all I was about.


Without a word, Jeff, a handsome young man in his thirties, grabbed a piece of paper from off the organ and a pin from his tux. “Here,” he offered. And he proceeded to draw out my dilemma in “Shape Music.” Jeff drew it out and I instantly got it. I auditioned. I passed. I sang perfect improvised harmony (the jazz of the mountains). My Appalachian heritage burst forth in song. I was complete. It was done! Count it!


I raced downstairs wild with excitement, burst into the Bride’s room and grabbed her by her gorgeous soft wedding showing-shoulders gown. She was beautiful. There was a radience, an aura, amongst busy muffled chatter. I kissed her, telling her for the first time that I was going to sing at her wedding. I don't think she even heard it. She had stars in her eyes. I had stars in my soul.


I sang at Erin’s wedding. I sang “The Wedding Song.” Check it off my list. Shape Music etched itself into my daughter’s wedding, my favorite dream had come true. I sang flawlessly that day in my Floersh voice. I sang at my daughter’s wedding and it was wonderful! Shape Music to this day, resides in Appalachia and this old hillbilly’s soul.


Author’s Note (9/21/2021, 1:43am): Seventy-two hours of wedding celebration, was like a glorious eternity. In a good way, I remember every detail of those three days to this day. The practice, the audition, standing with my daughter in the back of that huge Church. God how beautiful she was in her wedding gown and that long laced trailing veil. “Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue in D Major” rang out the wedding party, handsome/beautiful young people, couples, family and friends. The gigantic double wooden doors closed. There was silence. There stood a proud Papa and his radiantly gorgeous daughter, alone. In that brief moment, we exchanged “I love you’s.” Then suddenly, the huge doors flung open. The organ bellowed throughout the sanctuary announcing the bride, and we processed.


Erin Tenbrunsel and I waltzed down the aisle, arm in arm, for the last time. Me gazing back and forth, heart-filled that so many friends and family had come to share this special day and to bear witness. The closer we got to the alter, I felt Erin tugging more at my arm as if she was about to bolt toward her Jimmy Secretarski. As we arrived, I intentionally placed myself between the two albeit ever so briefly, as I leaned in and said most profoundly to the awaiting groom, a quite handsome dude, “Jimmy, today I give you the most precious gift I have to give.” The rest is history and now three beautiful children.


Returning to the pew with my own Beautiful Bride of forty short years, I reminded myself, that it was just the two of us again, and how lucky I was. We had come full circle with our three kids. It was an occasion to remember, and I remember it all as if it were yesterday. I remember feeling how blessed I was, and how now, how blessed I am.


Erin and Jimmy, my wish for you is to “love, live, laugh and celebrate” what you have together.


*photo of me welcoming people to the reception. “Shape Music“ excerpt is taken from “My Wrinkle in Time: My Memoirs.”

Shape Music



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