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Mack Williams: Singing with Ray

Mack Williams

It’s been ages since Ray Hayes and I sang a duet at church, 30 years or so, not due to any enmity, but his moving to the beach for several decades.

“90-something” Ray still has his bass singing voice and “Radio voice” from announcing for years at a local Danville station. Ray doesn’t have that thin, washed out “old man” sound of Pat Boone’s pain reliever radio commercials.

Ray preferred to stay home in Danville and make his radio career at home, sort of like Salisbury’s Russ Mcintyre. One of my voice teachers, a Mrs. Dorothy Putman, said that each of us who sing can have our own local careers, not on the world stage, but still being readily called upon to perform in regular church services, community musical productions, baseball game singing of the National Anthem, weddings, funerals, etc., e.g., having a reliable set of vocal chords to be called upon for service “In sunshine and in shadow.”

The singer’s “instrument within” is approximately as vertical as a clarinet. In the voice’s case, the diaphragm is connected to the lungs, the lungs connected to the windpipe, the windpipe connected to the larynx, the larynx connected to tongue, teeth, lips, and sinuses (sounding like the famous “bone” song). And as far as the skull goes, Toscanini said, “Tenors, they gotta’ resonance in the same a’ place where most a’ people they gotta’ brains.” (I won’t tell you of Toscanini’s remarks about the size of a certain soprano’s brain in relation to the size of her breasts).

Ray is like Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young,” his remarks often seeming youthful (sometimes “surprisingly” so). While rehearsing, Ray admonished me to sing “Piano” on one section, then told me of when he first learned what that musical term meant. It was when he was in the Army, stationed in France in the early 1950s. During a night of “revelry” (not “reveille”) with his French girlfriend in her boudoir (appropriately “dropped”French word), Ray got rather “rambunctious” in his affections, and the lady advised “piano, piano,” meaning “softly, softly” (I just now remember the Pointer Sisters’ “Slow Hand” and Conway Twitty’s sung response to it).

At one church supper, the choir provided Broadway entertainment. Someone was laid out as the deceased character Jud Fry from “Oklahoma,” while Ray (as Gordon MacRae’s chacter, Curly) sang: “It looks like he’s asleep, it’s a pity he won’t keep, but it’s Summer and we’re runnin’ out of ice.” Some years later Jud’s portrayer passed away, and I think the choir performed at his funeral; but sang a different song. That same night, I sang “Porgy and Bess’” “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (fine for church supper entertainment, but a definite musical faux pas at the 11 a.m. sanctuary service).

This past Sunday, since our organist was practicing in the sanctuary, and our duet was a capella anyway, we ducked into a bathroom for the final rehearsal. That’s an old choir secret about the bathroom’s acoustics making it an even better place for practice than the choir room; but it must be a big multi-stall bathroom (although, in this case the stalls weren’t the object). Our practice went well; our pipes were clear! (The other pipes were working well too, as there was no unfolded janitorial sign with the words “Caution,” “Ciudado,” “Achtung,” “Wet Floor” and “Piso Mojado!”

At the last minute, Ray invited our interim, Rev. John MacDonald, to join us, it being his last Sunday with us, and our song, “Be Thou My Spirit” being his favorite (also a favorite of my late wife Diane).

Our church duet-turned-trio went exceptionally well, even to the point of applause (really something, since our church is Presbyterian).
Our voices matched so well, that I sometimes confused theirs with mine, and mine with theirs!

In our perfect vocal blend, no one outdid anyone else, becoming a musical version of the Golden Rule: musically doing unto the other, as one would have the other musically do unto him.

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