Monday, November 13, 2006

Almost Famous: The Music Addition

aaah, the simple days of 1 yr. ago.
No car, just legs. -->

Before my intended post...I'll fish for sympathy, or laughs, or both with a brief rundown of the Weavers' last 36 hours. We've, wrecked our new car rendering it undrive-able. Today we (read: I) got a ticket with the other car - illegal left turn. Immediately after, it got a flat tire. In short, the wreck was not our fault and nobody was hurt. Ticket, I deserved it. Tire, 2 plugs could not fix the gaping hole...only removing the darn tire from its frame and patching it from the inside could remedy the problem, for now. And, while I waited for the fix in the freezing cold, I thought again of those blissful days in France when we didn't have to deal with bloody cars. Done.

Now to Music

Some of my favorite family photos include one of my Uncle Henry at a young age hunched with full concentration over his shiny accordion. I don't recall if the moment was captured while the family was still in Germany, or if it was state-side. Regardless, this image was a telling sign of things to come for the Wittgens family. Many a Michigan family reunion has included Uncle Henry leading us through accordion sing-alongs. Seriously. And I love every minute of it.

A few years before my Oma died, we discovered a Mandolin hidden away in the corner of her tiny home, another hint at the music in our veins. My Uncle Jim used to serenade me with that WWI classic about studdering "K-k-k-katie, beautiful Katie."

And one of my greatest Grand Rapids family memories, and I think others would agree, is our trips to "Roaring Twenties", which later became "Good Time Charley's". The whole Wittgens clan would cram around a long table - kids at one end, adults at the other. We'd eat mediocre pizza and wait with bated breath for the main attraction. When that giant pipe organ would ascend from the musty floorboards like it had a thousand nights before, with all the fanfare of a head of state. Smoke, flashing lights and ooh's and aahs became accompanyment to the booming pipes of "Good Time Charley" serenading us during that magical rise from nowhere. As the night progressed we would sing along to old favorites, the adults would make their way to the small dance floor and surprise, or likely embarrass, us kids with their refined dance moves to some Sousa waltz.

I remember returning to Good Time Charley's some years later, and from the settling smoke of Charley's Pipes a karaoke set had arisen. Sad for Charley, but perfect for a few of us cousins who put together a parent-pleasing rendition of "My Boyfriends Back". Dubbed "the Wittgens Chicks" from then on, we cousins became the talk of the family for our musical antics. Now, many years removed from karaoke and those living room jam sessions on Aunt Betty's old Hammond organ, we're still making music.

My cousin Andrea Wittgens may have missed out on that fateful karaoke night, and her career is the better for it: she just opened for Grammy-award winning artist Shawn Colvin a few week's ago! How cool is that. Andrea's a Seattle singer-songwriter who I daresay I look up to. She used to awe me with her acrobatic swan dives and flips from Aunt Betty's diving board, now its her voice and songwriting. Check out Andrea's web site and new EP, Alibi.

The Ming Dynasty is a little musical project that I've been working on with Jeff and some other friends. Now, we haven't opened for any Grammy nominees or anything, but we have ascended to MySpace-dom. I admit to being a rookie at this whole thing but if you want to listen to a few songs and be our "friend", come visit our MySpace page.

We've not played a show as a band in a long time, but Jeff and I did have a pretty cool "solo" gig a few weeks ago. We recently took a trip to Brazil to visit some friends and while there, we did an extremely "unplugged" performance of 2 Ming Dynasty tunes. Our audience was a group of youth, both middle-class and poor, orphaned teens, togther on a friday night in a run-down public school activity area in a Rio de Janeiro suburb. About 35 youth (a few future fans pictured below) listened, and sang along as we played through a couple of our songs. They may not have understood many of the words but they were incredibly appreciative and became quite a Ming Dynasty fanclub. One of the students' moms actually works for a Rio radio station (albeit an easy-listening station) and was a tad over-enthusiastic about the music, assuring us a radio-sponsored concert there should we return. We all had a good laugh about the whole thing.

What made this performance so special and unique was the kids and their enthusiasm for music. Knowing even small pieces of some of their heartbraking stories, we were so glad to bring song to those kids for a few minutes. Many of you have asked to see pics from our Brazil trip. I apologize that life has become quite full since our return and the media still sits on our camera.