Saturday, July 11, 2015

A tractor tenor's Top 10

April 1996

Tenors are handmade by God. Basses and baritones you get in twelve-packs at SAM'S. This profound truth is acknowledged by me and all my tenor friends. For musically challenged people, a tenor is defined as a man in love with the sound of his voice - and for good reason. Tenors are always the good guys in opera, and despite my personal experiences, should always get the beautiful girl in the end.

One of the best things about being both a farmer and a tenor (almost too much good fortune for one man) is being able to practice my art while on the job. Not only is this a pleasant pastime, but since hitting the really high notes is marginally easier if done loudly to very loudly, it seems to be a popular place with my family for me to sing.   

Oddly, singing in the shower, that old cliché, has fallen out of favor in my house. One evening not long past I was vigorously attacking "Una Furtiva Lagrima", an emotional tenor aria, using my own personal version of Italian, whilst pursuing my nightly purification. After several near misses at the dramatic high note, I called to my beloved bride in the adjacent bedroom, "Dearest, did that sound like "C" to you?"  "No, honey, it sounded like "L" to me," she replied. I did not have the heart to tell her that the scale rarely goes past "J", except during heavy metal concerts. 

So for many of us, our finest musical moments are lost to our fellow human beings because we are out in a cab somewhere, accompanied by the radio.   To enhance these lyric occasions I would like to offer the following list of Tractor Tenor Top Ten Hits. If you have a tape deck, you could create a collection such as this to bring hours of singing pleasure to yourself and your greatest fan (also yourself). 

  1. "Crying" by Roy Orbison.  Almost any song by Roy is great tenor stuff, but you can't match this one for cool background accompaniment.
  2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" - Simon and Garfunkel.  This is not only groovy to sing, it will probably bring back memories of girls you always wanted to date, but never had the nerve to ask.
  3. "Cool Water" - Sons of the Pioneers. Drift back to those golden Saturday mornings of yesteryear, watching horse operas on a black and white TV. If you can manage the lilting "water" echoes of this song without sounding like a vulture dying of thirst, you're a real man, my son.
  4. "The Eagle and the Hawk" - John Denver. This mercifully short, but vocally brutal ballad can sprain all but the toughest of larynxes.
  5. Anything by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap (i.e. "Woman, Woman"). After years of study, I have discovered that Puckett really only had one song in his brief career, and just kept singing it over and over - the same melody with the same words about the same thing.
  6. Anything by Ann Murray. On a good day a first-class tenor can sing most of her songs as written, although I was shocked to find she could hit low notes beyond me. 
  7. "Hallelujah" from the Mount of Olives  - L. Beethoven. When sung in a four part men's arrangement, this vocal obstacle course opens with a savagely high and loud series of hallelujahs, making it one of the most fiendishly difficult tenor pieces to do at an Easter Service. Don't even think about trying this at a sunrise service.
  8. "Along the Way" - The Association. This short poignant ballad sung quietly with just piano was a rapidly forgotten cut from a rapidly forgotten group, but if you can sing this with sensitivity and feeling without hurting yourself, you are a major tenor.
  9. "How Can There Be Any Sin in Sincere" - Buffalo Bills (From the Music Man) - just a short barbershop song with an aeronautic tenor part made famous by the Broadway musical. As a plus you will probably continue on through the soundtrack to chant the "Trouble in River City" monologue. 
  10. "Nessun Dorma"  - from Turandot by Puccini - This is the aria which has been dang near sung to death by the world famous "Three Tenors" (Luciano, Placido, and Harpo) that you will see approximately 8-10 times during your local PBS station Money Grubbing Week. Despite that, it may be the three best minutes in a tenor's life. Every time I come close to getting this right, I cry. When I don't everybody else cries. Music like this is what vocal cords are for. It is thought that this aria was almost the last thing old Puccini wrote. That would be like cashing in your chips right after harvesting 500 acres of 350 bushel corn.
  11. (Special Bonus Selection) - "The Star Spangled Banner" - F.S. Key.    This tune was originally an old British drinking song, which would explain the melody. Be that as it may, it is still a challenge for any tenor to sing well. Judging by what I've heard lately before championship games, we'd better all start singing it before nobody remembers how it really goes.

Many may notice that I include no Country and Western music here.  Despite years of listening to C&W in order to hear the markets, its manifest charms elude me. But if you enjoy listening to music sung through the nose by ear, and many do, I would commend to your attention works by Larry Gatlin or Jimmy Rogers. 

One last note: The greatest possible experience in an agritenor's life is the opportunity to sing in an empty Harvestore. Grain bins are OK, wells have a certain ambiance, and steel water tanks are not without their charm, but the Big Blues can do things for you voice that will make your family have to drag you out of the thing. I recommend "Santa Lucia". 

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