We never needed a song leader…we had Al Tannler. He’d play. We’d all sing.
Al was a charter member of Portland Industrial Rotary and played the piano at almost every meeting from 1976 until about 2009. When we moved to the Ecotrust Building (2004), there was no piano or space for one. Al brought in a keyboard. He would play the song and we would sing without a designated song leader. Later, just before the start of the meeting the president would ask someone (often Dave Scott or me) to help Al pick the song and to take the vocal lead. The repertoire was limited to the few dozen songs that Al knew. As a result, we did the same old songs over and over and over–“God Bless America,” “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.” “This Land is Your Land” and the less used (and loved) “Good Night, Irene.” I’m still reluctant to use most of these well-worn tunes.
In the pre-Pearl days, Al, Harold Uren (banjo) and I (12 string) formed a trio to play a multi-song set for special events. In the summer, we’d jam at the club’s annual barbecue at member Bob Wilhelm’s house overlooking Lake Oswego. In December, we’d do a Christmas set as the program before it was replaced by the wine exchange. I’m pretty sure we managed to entertain or annoy everyone.
When Al’s business (selling big rig trucks) moved from NW Portland to Wilsonville, he sold his Portland home and moved out there. He still managed to drive himself to our meetings each week, knowing that we relied on his music. His eyesight and hearing began to fail him and his family decided that he was no longer safe behind the wheel. He was really unhappy about this but too proud to accept rides from Pearl Rotarians. He continued to drive himself to the meetings for a while without benefit of a valid driver’s license. He passed away in early 2011 at age 86.
Dave Scott became the designated song leader during Myron Fehr’s presidency (2006-07). When Dave moved to Hong Kong, Anne Oneill and Katja Gluhr stepped in to lead the songs. Incoming President Lou Radja asked me if I would take the song-leading duties during his reign. Lou was unaware at the time that I could play guitar and had had experience in college performing (badly) and leading sing-alongs for tips and beer in a Pullman tavern. The tradition continues except without the tips and beer.
I asked Anne and Katja if they would help and they agreed. Matthew Lillard joined the club; with show-choir experience on his resume, we roped him in immediately. Dave returned from Asia and rejoined. Last year Katja returned from her sojourn in Germany and we finally shamed the vocally-talented (and good-looking) President Pat Mahoney into joining us. It makes it a lot more fun with more voices…and it goes better when some of us actually know the song. The Pacemakers are a little like “Hotel California”: you can quit anytime you like, but you can never leave.
The group started its song duties a few weeks before the end of Phil Rothrock’s term (’10-11). The first song we did was a Boy Scout camp-style rendition of “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” to accompany a program about renovating Portland’s oldest commercial building. I introduced the song as being about urban renewal, 19th Century style.
The club rocked it; in that single meeting (some seven years ago), Pearl Rotary’s culture had changed.