The last time I was playing with the church band, I mentioned to our new leader Susan, that with the holiday concert coming up, I’d be available to play guitar for any individual or group of singers who might need such backup. This was the first time I’d proactively made such an offer, though I’d been approached a few years earlier to accompany a quartet, and it was lots of fun.
Then COVID hit and we missed a couple of holiday concerts. Last year they resumed, however, but nobody asked. I was a bit disappointed, but and I made the same offer as this year, to a resounding silence. This year I threw my hat in the ring early, like early October.
Without hesitation, Susan said “I know someone!” It was a congregant I didn’t know, but she had approached both Susan and Renee, the church pianist, looking for someone to accompany her for the concert. Leslie was in church that day, so Susan took me to the lobby and made the introductions.
Leslie and I hit it off pretty well. I guessed she was in her forties, though as I get older, “forties” looks younger every year. She seemed to have a bit of an edgy look to her and I wondered what kind of song she was looking to do. There was no question there, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, an old Celtic Christmas ballad, “Winter, Fire and Snow”. We talked a bit and it sounded like it would work. It came up that she had a couple of music degrees, but I didn’t know in what specialty. Could have been in saxophone or musical composition for all I knew. It also turned out that she is legally blind, though it’s not total blindness by a long shot. I couldn’t even tell, but she is precluded from driving.
Since Leslie was in the choir, we decided that we could meet at church on Wednesdays, prior to choir practice. My thought was to meet as soon as possible so we could agree on a key and the basic arrangement. She had a similar ethic. That coming Wednesday wasn’t going to work, but the one after would. In the meantime, I listened to the song. There were several versions on YouTube, but they were all very similar, and with a very simple chord structure. Despite (or perhaps because of) the simplicity, Winter, Fire and Snow would be a fun song to play, with ample opportunity for me to embellish to my tastes.
I called to reserve a room and to be sure the front door would be open, since I’d long ago forgotten the front door access code. I arranged to meet Bill at the door. Bill has done a heroic job for the church in filling in for the vacant administrator position in addition to his usual key volunteer role handling church finances. I made sure that he was happy to let me in, both leaving a check for the remainder of my annual pledge and confirming my participation in a church cleanup project he was heading up.
Leslie and I met at 6:30 and went to work. I brought my small amp, one that was designed for acoustic guitars. I asked if we could try it so she could get a sense of the sound I hoped she’d like. I’d been playing it on my porch and had it dialed in. I told her that if it was too loud, she could just tell me and I’d bring the volume down. Her response to that was that she’d sung opera for 30 years, so I didn’t have to worry about volume. Good attitude! The first key we tried didn’t work very well, but I could still tell in just a couple of notes that THIS WOMAN HAD PIPES! Damn, she was good!
Shin the Musician
Last update: November 7, 2023
The John Shinnick Web Site
This is the version of Winter, Fire, and Snow that I've used to learn the song from. As you might guess from the cover, it has a harp accompaniment. (Fallon also plays harp.) It translates well to my style of guitar.
We seemed to agree on everything – doing it in a lower key than the “original” version, the tempo we wanted, and that one of the chords as written sounded wrong, though neither of us knew exactly what it should be. She also thought that an odd variant of an A minor that I’ve always loved and wanted to use, fit perfectly. We went through the song several times. I kept messing up the chorus, but in a way that was barely noticeable. Good thing. We had an audience. Stefan (who still sings in the choir and plays in the band, but having retired, doesn’t lead them) and Susan (who took over leading both) had been listening from the hall and thought it was great.
We’ve had problems getting together, but still have well over a month to piece the details together. When I went to Susan asking if anyone needed accompaniment, this was exactly what I had in mind, and I’m so looking forward to doing it.
So, mark your calendars, everyone. Saturday, December 16, First Unitarian Church of Oakland. It’s gonna be epic!
The recording, lyrics, and back story to "My Brain Is Too Small", a song I wrote and recorded in 1990.
The video, lyrics, and back story of the song I wrote and performed for my retirement party in 2006.