Saturday, July 10, 2010

Yes, we met as singing waiters

Lady Gaga's performance on the Today Show Friday morning made me cry. I'd like to say I was surprised by my reaction. (I mean, Lady Gaga sings and I start to cry?) But now, in my middle years, I'm pretty good at recognizing what is really happening not long after my eyes begin to tear: Lady Gaga's deep joy at performing in New York resonated with me. She was being exactly who she is, in exactly the place she was meant to be. Lady Gaga wasn't working. She was taking people on a joy-filled ride where all was right with the world. And she was thanking them - thanking God, too, I believe - for the blessing that is her life.

I remember that feeling. Not on that scale of course. And I miss that feeling. Probably more often than I care to admit. It's a sensation that makes you wonder if kismet is more destination than destiny (if kismet is even real). And in that moment - a fleeting moment - you believe in kismet and recognize that you may have arrived at a place you didn't even know you were going. And, of course you want to stay in that place ... forever.

The first time I experienced such a moment was performing the leading role in a musical with The Country Road Players. I was 18. But then during my junior year of college, I lived kismet every Friday and Saturday night as a singing waiter at Carver's Restaurant in Waverly, Iowa.

That job is still the best job I have ever had - and not just because it is how I met Mark, my soul mate. (Yes, that young woman in the top photo with really short hair is me, thrilled to be singing next to the tall handsome man with the beautiful smile who could lift the rafters with his voice when he wanted to. I already admitted in Involuntary Joy that I fell in love with his voice first.)

While I loved singing next to Mark the most, I also loved singing with every other member of that wonderful ensemble known as the Carver's Singers. During my time in the group I sang with Jennifer (Jen) Bahlmann, Pamela (Pam) Cross, Elizabeth (Liz) Phillips, Lynette Reynolds, Dan Philippe, Mike McVey, Craig (George) Koeckeritz, Paul Johnson, and Mark Newcom (of course). When we weren't singing together, you might even find us just having fun together, as on the night shown in the photo of the Mardi Gras BASH 1985. That is Paul, Craig, me and Mark. And, what an incredible night that was. It wasn't just fun. It was magical, for that was the night of Mark's and my first kiss.

A photo that shows four members of the group actually shows 50 percent of the Carver's Singers at any given time, for there were only ever eight members in the group - two singing each vocal part. If someone had to leave because of schedule conflicts or life circumstances, they were replaced with another who earned his or her way in by audition. And once you earned your way in, you became a member of this special fraternity forever - even when your performing days were over.

Musical camaraderie, musical excellence, musical memories to fill our lifetimes.

Carver's Restaurant isn't there anymore. It and the accompanying Friar Tuck's Lounge were turned into a Country Kitchen for a while. Then the building was razed to make way for the Waverly Public Library.

I'm not exactly sure how many years there were five-course dinner shows that featured Carver's Singers. One veteran once said they think there were probably only about 20 musicians who have been part of this unique group. Broadway show tunes, modern jazz standards, medleys of patriotic music or music from the 20s, pop staples - you name it, we could sing it; and in between musical sets, we'd serve delicious gourmet-prepared meals. During my time with the group, we even produced two summer musicals with dinner shows. That summer I took the stage as Agnes in "I Do, I Do" and then directed "The Fantastiks" while performing the role of the mute. (Yes, those of you who know me well: That was one of my most challenging roles.)

After Mark and I married and moved to Texas, we stayed in touch with a few members of the group. Paul was in our wedding, and we hosted he and Kris (then girlfriend, now wife) when they came to Fort Worth the following year. We'd see members of the group at Wartburg College homecomings, and then when we moved to Des Moines in 1989, Kris and Paul had an apartment near ours. So did Craig. So we got to see them off and on then, too. But when Paul and Kris moved to Texas (how ironic), our correspondence waned to things like greeting cards and birth announcements. Until last week.

Last week we reconnected with them during their trip home to Iowa to see family. We got to meet their two sons and to spend time talking while dining. We didn't do any singing, but we sure reconnected with what those days were like and recorded some of it in the vlog. I hope you enjoy listening to we middle-aged (former) singing waiters (and one #1 fan), as we remember some of our glory days. Glory evenings, really, when everything felt right with the world for five-hour stretches that carried us - and those who came as our audience - to places where only music can go.

I wish we could fully carry you back there with us; I wish you could hear what I do when I close my eyes and take myself back to the Chalet Room with its curved brick walkway and stone fireplace. But you probably have your own Camelot, your own time of kismet. And if you don't, I pray you will one day. I know I haven't given up hope of finding my corner of the sky once again.

One day, sometime soon I hope, I'll be somewhere and start to feel tears fill my eyes because I'll be there - in that place - doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing because of who I am called to be. It likely won't involve music again. Not in a Carver's Singers way. But it will be right - kismet. And I will be blessed to be part of blessing others.

Amen. May it indeed be so.

P.S. - A big thank you to restaurant owner and musical director Larry Kussatz for allowing us to be part of your dream that became a reality.


Anonymous said...

Yes, wonderful times- great musical moments
Larry & Sue had super business skills and knew what people
wanted for an evening dinner show.
I remember soo many fond memories and fun crazy too!
I appreciate being surrounded by student singers with a passion... See More
I think back to My Corner of the Sky, Summertime, New York New York, State Fair or Grand Night for Singing and The Fantastiks and
I Do I Do.
Facebook has reignited these things in my mind/soul
Wonderful smiles are drawn across my face after viewing the blog
God Bless
Elizabeth (Liz) Phillips
ps Paul ask Kris about "the rotters"
I didn't know you 2 got married-great!!!!

Elizabeth A. Philips

Craig A Bennett said...

OMG!! So jealous, vicarious living through the Carver's Singing Waitstaff!
I always wanted to be a Carver's singer, but was always a bridesmaid never THE Bride. However, I so enjoyed the friendships of so many of these wonderful people! Thanks for, once again, bringing these fantastic memories back to me, Joy!
Love ya, Craig A Bennett

Joy said...

Love you back, Mr. Bennett. And I loved singing with you in the Wartburg Choir. Those times are cherished as well. Music - such a gift.

Paul Johnson said...

I am slow.... just jumped to the comments section today. Hi Liz! I will ask Kris about "the rotters."

Hi Craig! Glad to see you on the other post about Carvers!

I loved my Carvers days and the great people from those days.

This was fun to do and great to see Mark and Joy and their boys.

Paul Johnson said...

And a small personal point. That white coat with the grey on the shoulders holds great meaning for me. (From the picture from the mid-80's of Kris, Joy, and I visited Texas.) I also worked as a regular waiter during the summer at Carver's. One night I had the greatest waiting night of my life. Every table was perfect, I was getting complimented by many of my customers. One couple told me I made their anniversary a perfect night. Along with that, came the greatest night of tips of my life. I could not believe how much I had made. So, (much as it still does today) the windfall of cash inspired me to go splurge on something nice for my self. I went to the men's clothing store downtown Waverly, decided that coat was the coat of my dreams and spent all of my tip money on it. It was a huge spend for me. I loved that coat... sadly I finally got rid of it a couple of years ago. I am very nostalgic and hold on to too many things. Anyway.... that coat always represented what was possible if I gave my best.... the reaction from others, the sense of satisfaction, pride and accomplishment.... and the money! Just thought I would share.

Joy said...

I LOVE the story about your coat. Very, very cool. I'm so nostalgic, I'd have tried to turn it into a pillow or something. In fact, I still have the "God is Love" pillow from "I Do, I Do." That was a great summer as well ... except for the fact Mark had a different summer job. ;-)