Karaoke at the senior center is bringing singers out of their showers.
Japanese for "empty orchestra," karaoke lets singers read the lyrics accompanied by recorded background music, complete with a microphone and sound system.
While research agrees that it started in Kobe, Japan, the origins of karaoke are obscure. One claim is that Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue invented the karaoke-styled machine.
One thing everyone agrees on is that karaoke has spread far from Japan. As a result, the word "karaoke" is part of language worldwide.
The Traverse City Senior Center has stepped in to encourage closet singers to come out and display their talent in front of a supportive audience.
"The first time I saw karaoke performed was at the Ohio State Fair back in the late 1970s or early '80s," said Bud Sawyer, facilitator of karaoke at the Senior Center. "It was kind of rare then."
Sawyer, acting as the DJ or master of ceremonies, has a library of about 2,000 songs that he brings to the Senior Center. A list of the songs is available at each table during a karaoke session.
The singer can go through the alphabetical list, find a song, then fill out a song request with the name of the song, the number of the disc it's on and the number the song is on that disc.
This procedure makes it easy for the DJ to pull up the particular disc and know which song on that disc he wants to punch up on the karaoke machine.
Often the singer will fill out three or four slips and inform Sawyer in which order he/she would like to sing the songs. Sawyer will stack up the slips by singer, so that he can rotate between those wanting to sing. The ideal thing in a karaoke session is for everybody to get to sing as often as everyone else. In other words, make sure everyone has a fair chance at the mike.
"Usually people who like to sing in a karaoke session are not top-drawer singers," Sawyer said. "They are people who really need a little help — need to have the words on the screen or need to have some sound behind to back them up while they are singing. That's certainly my experience because I am by no means a very good singer — about average — but I like to sing, so karaoke songs and the words on the screen give me a way of doing it better than I would be able to do it myself."
The discs are generally CD plus G, a compact disc that has graphics on it. The compact disc plays like any other compact disc, but the graphics show up on a monitor or a TV screen. You plug the karaoke machine into the monitor, and the words of the songs scroll on the screen as the CD is played.
There are generally anywhere from 10 to 20 songs on an individual CD, and you must have a karaoke player in order for the graphics to show up.
Like many young girls, I wanted to be an actress and singer when I grew up. The crushing blow came in junior high school, when I tried out for the choir and was told by the director to find a different form of artistic expression.
"You would be an ideal candidate for karaoke, if you enjoy singing," Sawyer told me. "You would be encouraged to sing. There is no need to get embarrassed because we're all in the same boat … we try to be satisfied with what we are able to do and encourage each other to do the best we can."
So, with that in mind, I went up to the mike (never having done it before) and actually sang, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" (Bing Crosby). If I can sing karaoke, so can you.
For 3&½ minutes of "fame," you choose a song that you know and wait for your choice to come up. Microphone in hand, you follow the text on the screen, accompanied by the music in the background. You can sing alone, with someone else or even in a group if you're really that apprehensive. It's certainly something you should try at least once in your life.
Karaoke sessions are Wednesdays at 4 p.m. There is no charge and no need to make a reservation — just stop by and join the group of singers. For more information, call the Senior Center, 922-4911, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more about the Traverse City Senior Center, go to www.tcseniorcenter.com.