Festivals, music

THE MAGIC OF MUSIC

The Las Cruces Ukes Performing Group. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

May 19 to 21, 2017, the Las Cruces Ukes sponsored our first Ukulele Festival. It was a stunning success. Over 100 ukulele fans, mostly from the Southwest came to learn from guest instructors,

By the time we dispersed on Sunday afternoon, the crowd was feeling mellow, eager to go home and start practicing the new tunes and techniques we had learned. What created an added a sense of community was a workshop led by one of our members, Gorton Smith, a retired Methodist minister. We played and sang songs in a session labeled “The Gospel According to Uke.” Jim Beloff, one of our instructors, followed leading us in the playing and singing of Beatles tunes These melodies have now become classics and in their own way made us seem blessed as we departed for home.

Music has always played an important role in my life. Growing up, we had an upright piano that my mother played. Later, she insisted that I take piano lessons. I was just a so-so player and did not enjoy it, but I found it beneficial in grammar school in the 1940s. I played in the orchestra and because we had a surplus of pianists, I learned how to play the marimba, bells, and triangle. I also joined the chorus and harmonica band, and the totality of these musical experiences uplifted and enriched me. I never forgot how that music made me feel. Consequently, I insisted that my own children have music lessons. Of course they all started out on the piano, but then they branched out to other instruments.

During the late 1950s the guitar captured my interest, and a neighbor loaned me one of her guitars for a weekend. I was hooked! Not much later, (August, 1958) I was pregnant with my 3rd child and my husband and I drove to Las Vegas for the weekend. We roasted in the heat outside, but a new well-chilled Stardust Casino had recently opened, and it was rumored that their slot-machines paid off more frequently than at other casinos. My husband wandered off to lose money in other parts of the gambling club, while I stayed at the nickel slot machines. Suddenly, I hit a $25 jackpot. Bells clanged and I began to feel faint, but I refused to give in to that sinking feeling until the cashier brought me my winnings. Then I succumbed to the collapsing.

Mysteriously, a gentleman appeared, identified himself as a doctor and tourist from St. Louis, MO. He laid me down on a couch, had someone bring me water and explained that the disparity between the scorching outdoor temperatures and air-conditioned cold of the Stardust plus my pregnancy caused me to feel ill.

Suddenly, Harold materialized. When I told him about my jackpot and he inquired, “Are you going to share it with me?”

Adamantly, I answered, “No.” Instead, I used it to buy a guitar from a Sear’s & Roeback Catalog. A Silvertone guitar cost $19.95 and its cardboard case was an additional $5.95.

That purchase changed my life. I met others with the same folk music passion; I learned quickly and began teaching guitar in my home and later at the YWCA; With another guitarist we played duos for different organizations; I became a music teacher at a Catholic girls school and gave guitar lessons to three nuns; My friendship with the Sister Superior persists until this moment; On the night before my son’s bar mitzvah along with my older daughter (age 11) who sang the lyrics, I played guitar, and my 13-year-old son accompanied us on bass. We recorded, “The Day After Christmas,” written by my supermarket checker and financed by a secret backer — the supermarket manager. Can you beat that for fun?

Music still enhances my life. Although I have switched to the ukulele because it’s lighter in weight, I still perform with others, and that too, has brought me great pleasure and lots of laughs.

 

The Las Cruces Chicks: (left to right) Marie Hughey, Roxana Gillett, Norine Dresser, Joy Goldbaum. Showing off our chicken leg stockings and wearing fowl hats, at the Las Cruces Ukes Festival we performed a parody of The House of the Rising Sun. Photo by Alfred Hughey. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

In a forthcoming weekend, the Las Cruces Ukes will be performing for Cancer Survivors and the following weekend, we will be playing for military veterans. Hopefully, these performances will bring pleasure to these audiences. For certain, the Las Cruces Ukes will feel enriched through sharing our music magic with them.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has passed the love of music on to her children. This makes her happy.

 

Advertisements
aging, creativity, music

What Am I Going to Be When I Grow Up?

Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Here I am in my new incarnation. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

When I first arrived in Las Cruces at the age of 80, I considered it a major transformation and probably the last big change I would make. Up to then, my life had been full. Professionally, I taught at California State University Los Angeles for 20 years; I wrote books, articles, and an award-winning column for the Los Angeles Times. On the personal side I had been a wife, mom, grandmother, widow, great-grandmother. I thought I had completed both cycles, but life had some surprises for me.

Instead of settling into the New Mexico lifestyle and relaxing, I felt restless and began exploring new avenues. Today, at 85, I am more community-involved than I ever was in Los Angeles.

I joined the Las Cruces Women’s Press Club; I volunteer weekly at the Institute of Historical Research Foundation; I am producing a program for the brand new Las Cruces Community Radio Station (KTAL), that I will write about in a future blog. I perform with the Las Cruces Ukes.

Best of all, I have found a new dear friend and playmate, Roxana Gillett. Together, we have been writing song parodies and presenting them to our ukulele group and elsewhere. We are having so much fun with this new venture, plotting and combining mutual interests and talents.

Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in cognito (sort-of) as reindeer. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Here’s a partial sample of one of our parodies, sung to the tune of “All I Want For Christmas.”

All I want for Christmas is my young body back,

Memory intact, my belly flat.

And if I could only find my new false teeth,

Then I could wish you Merry Christmas.

It seems so long since I could walk

Without a pain in my tuchas

Gosh, oh gee, how happy I would be

If I didn’t have toe fungus.

 

Roxana Gillett and I in our beards to perform a parody of "Hallelujah." Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I as the Bearded Ladies.” Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Another one of our hit songs was set to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Our version is the irreverent topic of what to do about having cooties.

Did-ja know our beards are filled with dirt

Within these hairs cooties lurk?

But hygiene sucks, it doesn’t work, so sue us.

They sink their teeth into our scalps

Eat our flesh until we yelp

Give us some relief, some shampoo-yah.

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah

Some shampoo-yah, Some shampoo-yah.

Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween hats to sing a seasonal parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I in our Halloween regalia for an appropriate song parody.  Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

We couldn’t overlook Halloween, so we wrote a parody to the tune of the Addams Family theme song.

La Cruces Ukes are kooky. On Halloween, we’re spooky

We’re altogether ooky, ukulele family.

We play at business lunches, and walrus fishy brunches

Bring smiles to gloomy Gus-es, ukulele family.

Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I are ready for St. Patrick’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

This is a parody of  “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” as part of a St. Patrick’s Day medley.

Ukulele you’re the divil, you’re leading me astray, taking up my social life and even my        birthday.

The music from our strumming is spunkier than the tay, ukulele you’re the divil drunk or sober.

Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine's Day. Photo by Mariah Chase, 2017.
Roxana Gillett and I took a cynical stab at Valentine’s Day. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

For Valentine’s Day, we parodied Dean Martin’s song “That’s Amore” changing it to “That’s Divorcé.

When the love leaves your heart and you’re a-falling apart

That’s divorcé.

When you’ve run out of Prozac switched over to cognac

That’s divorcé.

Cell phone rings, ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a ling

It’s you ex’s fiancée.

Heart skips a beat tippi-tippi-tay, tippy-tippy-tay

She’s sending a selfie.

She is flashing a ring that has way too much bling

He’s replaced you.

She’s a gold-digging ghoul, you have been such a fool

You hate her.

You throw down the phone, you feel so alone,

You start crying.

‘Scusa-me, but you see back in our home town,

That’s divorcé.

Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017
Roxana Gillett and I preparing for the upcoming Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017

Now we’re aiming for the Third Annual Las Cruces Ukulele Festival in May. This parody is sung to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun.” Here is the first verse:

There is a coop in Las Cruces, they call the Rockin’ Roost,

It’s been a place where chickens can hide, to keep from being fried.

Our mother was a frying hen, in sizzling oil she died.

Our father was a uke-strumming cock, it saved him from the pot.

 

So what am I going to be when I grow up?

WEIRD AL YANKOVICH… MOVE OVER!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is astonished that even at 85, more exciting times are possible (If only her body cooperates).

aging, friendship, holidays, music, parties

Confessions of a Bearded Lady

I love pulling pranks, but it’s so much more fun when you have a playmate. And I have one — my fabulous friend and neighbor, Roxana Gillette.

Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.
Bearded Ladies, Norine Dresser and Roxana Gillett at the Las Cruces Ukes. Photo by Bob Hull. © Norine Dresser Photo Collection, 2016.

After discovering the above pictured wonderful bearded masks on an obscure website, Roxanna ordered two.Then while waiting for delivery, and as a surprise for us to perform for the Las Cruces Ukes, she wrote a parody, set to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Based on the assumption that the beards and wool head coverings were filled with cooties, she changed the chorus from “Hallelujah” to “We’ll Shampoo Ya,” creating an absurd juxtaposition.

We rehearsed numerous times and arranged that both ukulele classes would be present when we emerged in our hirsute conditions. I assured Roxana that even if the audience didn’t laugh at the song, they’d laugh at our appearances. And so they did. We were a hit. Mission accomplished.

Pulling pranks has no statute of limitations.The only requirement is being willing to take a risk that might make one’s self look foolish (over and over again).

Sisters Saggitarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016
Sisters Sagittarius, Norine Dresser and Janice Garey, 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

During the 1960s, I had a different playmate, Janice Garey. My niece, Madge Dresser had consulted with me in planning her November Sweet Sixteen birthday party. She selected an astrology theme concentrating on her unique choices of food, activities, flower arrangements.

Janice collaborated with me in making a surprise entrance at Madge’s party as the Sisters Sagittarius.We dyed sheets black for our cover-ups, wore very tall black cardboard hats, slathered our faces with zinc oxide and exaggerated our features with black eye liner. For an added touch, Janice dried out a cooked chicken leg to use as a witch’s wand.

We stashed our four daughters into my car and parked it half a block away from the party. After pounding on the door, my startled sister-in-law answered as the two of us burst in and in witch-like voices and with Janice wielding the chicken leg, we menaced the teenagers, threatening acne or cramps if they didn’t obey us. I don’t remember much else except we ad-libbed drawing upon our inner witchiness. After about five minutes, we tore out of there, ran down the street and got back into the car laughing all the way.

Why do I and others commit such silly acts? Because making others laugh is a great motivator. Even at 84, I get a kick out of the scheming and wondering if the prank will work and will I get some laughs? But sometimes the prank falls flat.

 

Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian's front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.
Black wreath, example of style of wreath I hung on Lillian’s front door. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

In the 1950s, I met Lillian, a lovely woman whose children attended the same nursery school as my children. She invited my husband and me to a Halloween party. I volunteered to help with the decorating and while at her home asked, “How about a black wreath to hang on your front door?”

She thought that was a wonderful touch, so I offered to make it for her. I bent a wire clothes hanger into a circle and threaded a ribbon of twisted black crepe paper on it. Hanging in my car, the wreath actually cast a pall over me as I drove to Lillian’s house to deliver it before the festivities began.

Several hours later, when my husband and I arrived at the party, the black wreath was missing from the front door. Surprised, I asked, “Lillian, where’s the wreath?”

Before she could answer, a distraught relative of hers pulled me aside and demanded. “How could you do such a thing?”

I was dumbfounded as she explained, “When we pulled up to the door and saw the wreath, we thought the worst. So we drove to a public phone booth and began calling relatives to ask who had died.”

I couldn’t believe what she was saying. It was Halloween. It was a Halloween party. If she did take it seriously, why not enter the house and find out?

I did not act defensively. I couldn’t. She was so genuinely upset, and I found it so irrational that I just stood there mute.

And that was the last time I ever made a Halloween funeral wreath.

But it was not the last time I have played a prank, and I hope there will be more opportunities to do so in the future.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that we need to create fun and to keep on laughing as long as we can.

able/disabled, aging, disabilities, independence, mobility, music

“My Dog Has Fleas”**

Novice playing the ukelele.  Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Novice playing the ukelele. Photo by Mariah Chase. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Last weekend I had an “Aha!” moment while attending a ukulele concert given by the Las Cruces Ukes. While listening to the music, I realized a ukelele could solve my need for music involvement, so after the concert, I purchased one.

During the Folk Music Revival in the 1950s and 1960s, I played and taught folk guitar. I consider that era as the most satisfying time of my life. Musicians trooped in and out of our Los Angeles home; students came to take classes from me; guest guitar teachers gave lessons to me and my guitar-playing friends. We verbally contracted for them to come for six consecutive Monday nights to teach us different styles: Hawaiian, Mexican, Swedish, Jazz, Blues, and American folk music. But one teacher, Marlen Rabiroff, was so outstanding that instead of being our instructor for six weeks, he stayed for three years until he and his family moved to Palo Alto.

But that was then and this is now when lifting the guitar out of its case is cumbersome and hurts my arthritic shoulders. Transporting the instrument becomes problematic. Carrying it while walking with a cane in addition to my inherent clumsiness puts me at risk for falls. Because the ukulele is so much smaller and lighter than a guitar, it seemed like a possible solution for playing music again.

With osteoarthritis and age (83), I have had to make other adjustments. I used to feed the cat on the kitchen floor. That is too tough to do anymore, especially putting down fresh water without spilling it. Now, I feed Sweetie Beattie on the back counter of the kitchen away from human food. She easily jumps up to eat and to drink from an automatic water dispenser.

Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Sweetie Beattie dining. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Currently, I keep my dishes on racks outside the cupboard. If I keep the plates and bowls inside the cabinet, I must stretch my damaged shoulders and torque my body – not good for artificial hips.

Dishes stacked on the counter.  ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Dishes stacked on the counter. ©Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I avoid using the bottom drawer in my fridge because doing so requires that I drag a chair over to reach its contents. And safety bars in the bathroom and inside the shower are a must.

Back to the ukulele. I don’t know if regular practice for weekly lessons will fit into my already crowded schedule. Nonetheless, I am going to try and will let you know how I fare. Meanwhile, stay tuned!

**”My Dog Has Fleas” refers to the melody used to tune a ukelele.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who feels bereft without music.