The End on an Era?


It was 2005 when I answered a Craigslist ad calling for a bass player. I was the successful (and probably the only) applicant. Claudia, the rhythm guitarist and leader of the band, had a reasonable voice and could bang out the chords, but didn’t really stand out much. She also wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about the local music scene to make inroads for us. Renée was a very talented keyboard player, who unfortunately rarely came front and center. Stefan, the lead guitarist, had an excellent voice for lead but didn’t sing harmonies and was, at best, a marginal lead player. We went through drummers like Trump went through cabinet members, and eventually Stefan decided to switch to drums, which he’d played years before. We found a replacement bass player in fairly short order as I switched to lead. Lisa was more of a social fit than an experienced bass player.


This is hardly a unique story. I’d been in enough Craigslist bands to know. Too many bands, and not enough gigs. But like Paul Harvey used to say, now you’re going to hear the rest of the story.


The three other mainstays of the band were not mere Craigslist Band acquaintances. They were all high-level folks in the Oakland Unitarian Church. Renée, our keyboard player, was also the church pianist. Claudia at the time was at the time the head of the Board of Trustees. Stefan spent most of his real job hours as the church facilities manager, and the rest managing a number of its musical projects.


Although our band had broken up, these three would occasionally invite me to join them in some musical project either for a service or something else related to the church. I was both flattered that they’d think of me and was generally available. I began to spend more time at the church and learned about their radical, left-wing agenda (of which I thoroughly approved) and I also heard a band that Stefan led that would play prior to services for about ten minutes, the Joyful Noise Band.


I asked Stefan about possibly joining JNB, and he welcomed me with open arms. I could start after the summer recess, when I’d had a chance to learn the music. I was not a member of the church at that point, nor was I as the next season of music began. It didn’t matter, I was deemed a “friend of the church” and thus became a JNB member. But there was a catch. Slots for guitar were given on a first come, first served basis. The other lead player invariably beat me in responding to the weekly call for musicians. How did he do that? Quite literally, he had his email set to auto-response.


I think I played two, maybe three times that first year, but I felt I had no standing to complain, since I wasn’t a church member and my rival was. So it was that I became a bona fide Unitarian. While I had other, more traditional reasons for joining the church, this was a critical factor. I strongly suggested that the following year we have a system where the players would sign up for the dates they wanted to play and Stefan would balance it all; Claudia actually stepped in to do this administrative chore. As it turned out, that year the other lead player had to cut back anyway. And as the years progressed, I found myself playing more and more. And that’s the way it was until the pandemic hit and JNB took a couple of years off.

Shin the Musician

Last update: September 2, 2022

The John Shinnick Web Site

Left to right, Chuck, Claudia, and the ever-serious me,

three familiar faces from the Joyful Noise Band.

As we picked up again last year, conspicuous in her absence was Claudia, both as an administrator and as the rhythm guitarist. She had always played rhythm and, due to her help with coordination, had been given the rhythm guitar slot in previous years as often as she wanted to play, which was generally most every week. We found Stefan playing rhythm far more often than before, and there were more and more emails flying around sent by the other guitarists when something “came up” and they needed a sub. 


My intent last year was to cut back from previous years. After all the times I stepped up to fill in for others who had to back out of their commitments for some reason, I was playing nearly every week. This year a sign-up sheet went out with 19 open dates on it. I signed up for eight of them, expecting to add maybe three or four more as things firmed up.


Still, Joyful Noise has for years been, well a joyful experience for me. All I need to bring is my guitar, as the amp is already set up in the sanctuary. The songs haven’t changed substantially since I joined, so I don’t have to learn anything from scratch. The songs are generally fun to play, and since leaving my old band Void, it’s been my one chance to play regularly with other musicians. The only drawback has been the lack of new material. Musically it got to be same old same old.


But this year will be different. Stefan turns 72 and will retire. I kinda thought he might retire from the facilities job and keep doing the music job (he also is co-director of the choir) but no, he wants to move on. I can think of a couple of people who might take over Joyful Noise. Renée could do it, for instance. Or it might simply be the end of the band which was Stefan’s baby from its inception. I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads myself as to my continuing in the band anyway.


But since COVID, so many things have been up in the air. I’ve gotten used to it. I’ll just try to enjoy it all this time around and worry about later, well, later.


As Rachel Maddow would say, watch this space.

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.