Local Lifestyle

Thursday, Nov 01 2012 02:31 PM

HERB BENHAM: Every singer needs a break, and I got mine

By The Bakersfield Californian

Every aspiring singer or musician needs a break. A boost. Recently, I received mine.

Two years ago, I started taking voice lessons from veteran voice teacher Sandy Venturino. My father had performed in musicals when I was young. I listened to him sing songs from "Carousel," "Damn Yankees," "Guys and Dolls," "My Fair Lady" and "For the Love of Maggie."

I was in awe. If I could only do that. Be that brave and sing that well.

Sandy and I have practiced scales and collaborated on melancholy songs from old England, songs written back when people lived to age 30 and not one day longer. No wonder the songs are sad. People were going to die soon and they knew it.

We also learned lively Italian songs, a serious German song called "Für Musik" and "Shenandoah," a song that I always liked but this version makes me want to drown myself in the mighty old Missouri.

At the end of every lesson, as an ode to my father, we do 15 minutes of show tunes. "My Funny Valentine," "The Lady is a Tramp," There's a Small Hotel," and "Send in the Clowns."

These songs are like candy. Even if I don't sound that good, I convince myself that I am "Frank Sinatra, Yul Brynner and Hugh Jackman in one dynamic package.

"You know you ought to sing for somebody," Sandy said.

Why? Maybe I just want to sing for myself. Maybe I don't want to be in front of the public and either thrill them, horrify them or prove myself slight of voice.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Michelle Phipps.

"I am one of Sandy Venturino's students and I had the pleasure of meeting you briefly outside Sandy's one afternoon.

"I am the worship leader for the Rosewood Community Church at Rosewood Senior Living Community and I wondered if you would be available to sing for my congregation Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012.

"We are making a contribution to the Wounded Hero's fund and honoring the veterans in our congregation. Sandy has mentioned what a fine voice you have and I wondered if you would like to sing "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables." I'm sure you're familiar with it; it is a moving piece and very high but we have an amazing accompanist who would be able to transpose it for you.

"Thank you for your attention and consideration."

My first break. Rosewood Senior Living Community. A retirement home. "Bring Him Home," one of the great songs of all time for aspiring tenors and basses with dreams.

I told my cousin Bea about my big break and she emailed me that we had something in common.

"When Becky was in first grade and a Brownie (it was her first and only year being a Brownie) the little girls were scheduled to sing Xmas carols in a senior living place. I went along as a chaperone. Well, they wheeled the residents in for the show and the Brownies went mute. All they did was stare, with gaping mouths at the slack-faced, slouched audience. As a result, I too made my public singing debut in a rest home, as the girls didn't sing, leaving me and the other mom to sing all the carols. We didn't get a standing ovation, but I'm sure they would have if they had been able."

People have gone broke underestimating the crowd at Rosewood. Residents can match culture with anybody and sing you under the table if they choose to. Should this date stay intact, I will do my best to bring it home.

If not, feel free to join in and we can bring it home together.

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