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Thursday Night Rehearsal, Honorable Mention Essay in Music, 2019 Art Writing Challenge!

Dear readers, as we publish the cash prize and honorable mention winners in the 2019 Art Writing Challenge, we'd like to thank everyone who took the time to share their writing with us and congratulate all the winners! This year’s turnout was truly encouraging and we can’t wait to share the “Best of the New Art Writing Contest Anthology” book with you in 2020. Thanks also to Mari Shaw, whose generosity and support of local art writing allowed us to offer our biggest prizes to date.

L+M Caterer, 1970, photo courtesy Terri Lyons
L+M Caterer, 1970, photo courtesy Terri Lyons

Thursday Night Rehearsal
by Terri Lyons

Dad was the band leader and Thursdays were rehearsal nights in the lower level of our home. He was in high demand and had to prepare for the big affairs that occurred almost every Saturday night throughout Philadelphia. He bought the 45rpms of popular and standard tunes and wrote his own arrangement for each. He practiced and listened and practiced more. I watched him write every note for his entire twelve-piece band.

The musicians filed in the front door and went downstairs full of lively talk and laughter. The drummer came in through the back door with loads of duffle bags and drums. As the drummer was setting up, the sax man, Mister Joe, put his horn together. Mister James doodled on his trumpet. Dad plugged in the amps and the bass man, Mister Ray, almost shook the house tuning up. The piano man, Mister Stan, was the last one to arrive and took his seat at the piano playing for his pleasure.
Excitement was brewing. Mom served ice cold Ballentine beer for each of the guys. The neighbors sat outside quietly on the patio and listened.

Dad talked about the agenda for the night and the upcoming affair on Saturday. It was a big one. The Kappas; Rho Chapter, Harvest Moon Ball at the Sheraton on Kennedy Boulevard.

Dad had his custom made Leslie ready to go. It was big black box capable of making his guitar sound like anything he wanted; an echo, an organ, a harp, anything. It was great. I watched him fiddle with the controls and create beautiful and sometimes strange, dissonant chords. His wawa pedal, Cry Baby was by his right foot and the band was ready to get to work on Shaft.

They started by breaking the tune apart.

The drummer began, expressing the unique percussive beat heard at the beginning of the piece. He kept it up for some time and then dad put his guitar to work featuring his wawa pedal. Piano man Stan and bass man Ray brought the base chords in together. I felt the heat as timing and soul converged. Then they sat out.

With no rhythm, the reed section, first and second alto and trumpet played their part interlaced with the precious flute. They tapped their foot to keep time. The silence in between the notes embodied their discipline and concentration.

They hit it from the top once more and carried it all the way through.
The reed worked their staccato drive as Dad worked the wawa. Call and response kinda groove caught the patio crowd with an irresistible punch and drive. The band had it and was gone. The final riff of sax, trumpet and guitar enhanced with the wawa brought it home and everyone was charged.

Next, they went over Bill Doggett’s Honky Tonk. Dad started off playing the first eight bars. I know because I counted them. Then all of the sax men came in. Finally, the last man, Mister Joe did his solo.
He ground out a cabaret style funk while the Mister Ray hit the bottom on his bass and walked it to the top. The patio crew broke out dancing the Philly Slop. They heard the crew and it seemed to make rehearsal more like the actual affair. When they finally brought it home, the patio crew gave applause. Beer cans were popping, and heads were nodding. They were ready for the Harvest Moon Ball.

Dad provided the rhythm for first and second alto;
one, two;
one, two, three, four…

I not only remembered each chord they played, I understood it. I saw the image in my mind of how dad molded my hands to the keys on piano to make that sound. I understood the discipline and cooperation necessary to make that sound perfect. Alto sax played the bridge two more times and the third time my mother sang the lyric;

My breaking heart and I agree,
That you and I could never be

She sang as delicate inflections from the reed moved my spirit right along with them. It was smooth and mellow. Just as I was getting into it, Dad stopped the music. He wanted the drummer with brushes, and baritone to come in.
Starting from the bridge once more, the full sound was vibrant and clear. Each musician enriched the sound of the other. It was as if the band picked her up and carried her on a melodic journey with them.

“So with my best, my very best,
I’ll set you free…”

She closed her eyes as she exaggerated some lyric with gentle inflections of soul enriching every note. Mister Joe stood up to do his thing and blew his head off. Fine beads of sweat made his forehead glow. His eyes were closed tightly, almost painfully when he hit the ‘D’ note; it may have been what made the patio crowd shout. Mom came back in without missing a beat and took it home.

I wish you shelter from the storm,
A cozy fire to keep you warm,
But most of all
When snowflakes fall,
I wish you love

It was an incredible night of live music. Watching the musicians build, work, fuss, and try again until they got it right. Saturday night was an awesome affair filled with the upper crust of Philadelphia’s black society. It would not have been as big a success without the Thursday night rehearsal.


Terri Lyons is a local writer, storyteller and speaker.
Instagram: @terriniteowl or on facebook