The discussion in my last post about Susan Boyle’s performance caused an old Harry Chapin song to pop into my head. As a lyricist, Chapin was a superlative storyteller, and his song Mr. Tanner is one that stirred my heart and emotions many years ago. The song concerns an amateur singer from Dayton, Ohio, a cleaner by trade, who sang simply for the joy of singing. However, after extensive urging from friends, he agreed to try to launch a professional career by performing in a concert hall debut in New York. I’ll let Mr. Chapin tell you the rest of the story. In the studio recording and live performances, the chorus of O Holy Night is sung in a beautiful baritone as a background to each chorus of Mr. Tanner.

Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
And of all the cleaning shops around he’d made his the best.
But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.
His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.
They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

His friends kept working on him to try music out full time.
A big debut and rave reviews, a great career to climb.
Finally they got to him, he would take the fling.
A concert agent in New York agreed to have him sing.
And there were plane tickets, phone calls, money spent to rent the hall.
It took most of his savings but he gladly used them all.

But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.
And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.
But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.
He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.
But the critics were concise, it only took four lines.
And no one could accuse them of being over kind.

(spoken) Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his Town Hall debut last night.
He came well prepared,
But unfortunately his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it consistently interesting.
(sung) Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.

He came home to Dayton and was questioned by his friends.
Then he smiled and just said nothing and he never sang again.
Excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.

Music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang;
It just made him whole.

Click the link below for a great performance of this song by Harry Chapin less than a year before his death in July of 1981.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79fkir9alzA&feature=PlayList&p=D354A5EED8D541CF&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=28

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