"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away."
- Henry David Thoreau
We were very different, Aron, Lou and I, yet we had much in common.
We were all born the same year, all three of us beginning life in humble surroundings where unassuming parents raised us in cramped, low-rent homes. But we also share a positive: We were all exposed early to music - specifically and coincidentally again, to church music.
Lou's father and my parents either directed or sang in the choir, while Aron's family heard the music from the pew and sang along at all-night "gospel sings" in town. Before long we children were choir members, too, each taking our first step toward a life-long musical career.
By now I'm sure you've guessed I'm talking about the late rock 'n' roll "king," Elvis Aron Presley, and the exquisite Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti - affectionately called "King of the High C's" - who joined Elvis in death a short time ago.
I've always known we were born the same year; I just didn't know about the other "in common" part. Of course, the similarities go only so far, and there's no way I would ever consider myself equal to my "royal" peers. Their stage appearances set world records, while mine barely reached beyond the school auditorium, the church choir loft or an occasional community concert hall. But whether singing or playing accompaniment, we all loved - make that present tense for me - making music.
Although Pavarotti and I marched more closely to that same musical-drummer, Elvis and I once traveled the same geographical route, and even performed on the same stage. (Well, maybe not at the same time!)
As you may know, about the time Elvis' career was taking off in the '50s he was drafted into the Army. To his credit he made no effort to skirt his responsibility, but insisted on being treated the same as any other recruit. To the Army's credit, when Elvis arrived at Ray Barracks in Friedberg, Germany in 1958, his superiors made good use of his talents and allowed him ample opportunity to entertain the troops. They even supplied a decent piano for those who might accompany the celebrity in their midst.
Fast forward 10 years and my soldier-husband received orders to Germany, too. We weren't quite in Friedberg, but we lived close enough so that when another vocalist needed an accompanist, I was invited to come to Ray Barracks and play on Elvis' piano. (It would always be Elvis' piano, but I can always say I played it, too.)
I never crossed paths with Pavarotti, nor did we ever use the same instrument, but I've accompanied opera-singing tenors every since my father trusted his far-from-accomplished daughter to play an aria or two for him. Having sung with a small opera company as a young man, he kept his stage dreams alive by gathering around our less-than-Elvis-quality piano, while I attempted instrumentally to be his equal. Daddy devoured books about opera, but he had never seen a "Grand Opera" performance, until I took him to "The Met" to see Wagner's Die Meistersinger when my family and I lived in New York City. I'll never forget his comment as we left the theater: "You know, they did a pretty good job."
You know, I felt like a "pretty good" daughter - his equal at last - after that.
Today at - well, I've already told you how old I am - I can't imagine the energy it would take to accomplish such a public career. When I was younger I had stage dreams, too, but when I followed the advice of the Apostle Paul to "think soberly (and) not more highly of yourself than you ought to think" (Romans 12:3), I saw how happy and well suited I am to that original, church-music milieu.
Elvis and Pavarotti may have modulated to other keys but, in one final note of similarity and for as long as I am able, I'm as content as they were to play on "the stage" I'm on.
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara at aol.com.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.