Can I Get a Witness?

Musically, I’m all over the place. There aren’t many limits to what I like, though once upon a time, I couldn’t handle loud music at all. As the years passed and heavy metal came into being, I realized that I really didn’t mind ACDC, or Metallica. It’s the volume that’s an issue. My older sister feels the same. Once when I was playing my Led Zeppelin II album, she came screeching into our room. “Have we died and gone to hell?” (When stressed, we all tend to quote my mother.) For some reason, Led Zeppelin gets a pass from me. I think it’s because Robert Plant’s voice is so agile and almost feminine at times. 

Linda and I are not alone in our response to loudness. Some years back I went to a movie with my five sisters. The moment the music swelled and the violins/whatever the hells/ were screaming, I looked around. Every single one of us had our fingers stuffed in our ears. We’re all a bit like Dustin Hoffman in the Rain Man movie. If the sound gets too loud, we have a tendency to slap ourselves about the head. Or slap those responsible. So in spite of all the talented screamers out there, this disability prevents me from appreciating them.

I like rap music, but during the rapping part, I’m always secretly wondering if the artist can sing. It feels like cheating if they can’t. The notion that rhythmically chanting poetry is an easy thing to do is obviously wrong. I can recite a poem or two…maybe even write one. But I truly don’t know how these artists squeeze all the words together, convey a message and still make me want to dance. And yet in spite of my growing appreciation, I feel comforted when the rapping stops and the crooning starts. “Ah, okay. They deserve to be famous, because they have a really nice voice.” Silly, I know. And probably an age thing.

I’ve always loved gospel, which is different from the usual ‘hymn sing’ type music you hear in your average mainstream protestant church. Because we’re not allowed to sing during Covid, my minister has been playing taped music. This last Sunday, he took a real chance and played a gospel version of a hymn we’ve sung many times. It got off to a good start and then quickly went off the rails. It was fine until one of the singers started screeching, ‘Can I get a witness!’ about thirty times in a row. First, let me set the stage. No. In the United Church of Canada, you cannot get a witness. Not the kind that will jump to their feet and shout, Amen, sisters and brothers! Preach it!’ We do say Amen, though. After someone has prayed, or maybe after a hymn we really enjoyed, you can hear some muttered Amens. To give Steve credit, he’s really trying to mix it up and have some fun, because we’re all just sitting there, not able to pray out loud or sing, or even stand. I myself plan on trying out a gospel song when I do a service in a few weeks. However, thanks to Steve, lesson learned. I will not ask for any witnesses. Especially ones with loud, high voices. 

I grew up listening to two kinds of jazz. The stinky kind (Stan Kenton, Miles Davis) which had my mother repeating the phrase about dying and going to hell. Then there was the other kind… a light, loungy jazz like my sisters sing. Dad played big band music, with guys like Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington. I also love any kind of World War II era songs, like White Cliffs of Dover or I’ll Be Seeing You. (Billie Holiday!) It’s good they don’t play these in grocery stores anymore. I’d be found in the produce section weeping into the bananas. It gets me, that music. 

Everyone loves pop. I know there are many of you out there climbing up on your high horses and saying, ‘No way! I’m too good for that crap!’ No you’re not. We know you secretly listen to Lady Gaga or Shawn Mendes. But don’t worry. It can be our secret. I remember lying to a friend about liking Donny Osmond, because it wasn’t cool to admit it back then. But I loved his voice, and wished only that he had better material. 

I learned to like classical music in university when I shared our dormitory bathroom with a music major, Shari. She scoffed at my small Strauss collection, who I considered the pop star equivalent of his day, and introduced me to Prokofiev and Debussy and some others that I can’t remember. When I joined our community choir, I fell in love with Mozart and Beethoven and all the guys who wrote really great requiems or symphonic pieces. 

And then there’s Country Music, which wasn’t allowed in our house when I was growing up. I think this was the greatest barrier between Clarence’s parents and mine when they first met. My mother liked Julie Andrews and Harry Belafonte. His mom loved Loretta Lynn and Hank Snow. I remember the first time we all gathered in his parent’s rec room and had a drink while listening to Vic’s favourites, ‘The Moms and Dads.’ My parents looked shell shocked when we got home, muttering to themselves and asking me if I was really sure about this guy. 

I learned to enjoy some country music, even Tammy Wynette, famous for the D.I.V.O.R.C.E song. Although, who did those parents think they were fooling? You can spell things out all you want, but you can be sure little J.O.E knew about it already. Country music is like a Hallmark movie that’s been twisted a bit. It seems pleasant and melodic, but the siding keeps falling off all the houses in town. That’s Country. 

My all time favourite music, besides the gold standards like the Beatles or Simon and Garfunkel, is emo. Give a whiny guy or girl a guitar and set them loose. There is not a sad, slow song that I won’t listen to on repeat, unless I’m with one of my sisters. ‘Shut it!’ is their usual response. Anyway. 

My least favourite music is really about the performer. I should not throw anyone under the bus, because God knows, my voice would not soothe anyone’s soul. But there is something about the artist, Daniel O’Donnell. Every song he sings sounds the same. Irish lullaby’s, hymns, dramatic songs like ‘The Impossible Dream.’ They’re all very…pleasant. If you’ve ever watched one of his concerts on PBS, you’ll notice that his audience is white haired and elderly. (And now it seems like I’m throwing seniors under the bus. I’m not! I know that many of you are at home right now listening to your Black Sabbath albums!) Daniel O’Donnell fans definitely offer a different kind of witness. “Wasn’t that lovely, dear?” 

Thank goodness there’s something out there for everybody. If only politics was so easy to navigate. Come November, we’ll finally know the results of the US election.  We all get to be witnesses for that momentous event, and even if we can take the tension of the next six weeks, we’ll all feel the fall out, whoever we’re cheering for. If things continue on the way they have for the last four years, I’ll probably find myself in the mood for something like this. 

Published by Judith Pettersen

Judith Pettersen is an author living in Canada. She blogs about her life in the north and the ups and downs of being a writer.

3 thoughts on “Can I Get a Witness?

  1. Ha! I can’t handle loud music anymore either. Unless I pick it myself, and am doing dishes or some other mindless chore. But then I can’t think straight when there’s any kind of noise, unless it’s birds. Love them “boids.” I’ve also tried to listen to rap and hiphop, because it’s so popular there must be something I’m missing, but no … I don’t hear any actual singing, usually, and the “music” is usually only a drum beat, and it’s never long before I curse and switch the radio off. Diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks, and that’s okay. I too love big band music and jazz crooners, and the older I get, the more I know what I like and what I don’t. Like you, I can handle most of it — usually that means someone else’s choice of music — if it isn’t too loud. -Kate

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Judith, how are you? I’m a blogger too. Got to read a bit more of your stuff. I read this witness piece. Knowing your sisters are active singers and even rock stars, it’s interesting to know what you think of music.


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