Narrow River Singers return to Orient
Famed pop star Lana Cantrell to perform
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She hasn't stepped on a stage to sing in years, but she'll do it this Saturday, March 27, at Poquatuck Hall in Orient, when she'll perform one song as part of the annual concert of the popular local women's group, the Narrow River Singers.
The Australian-born Cantrell -- whom American audiences first got to know through her appearances on "The Tonight Show," the "Ed Sullivan Show" and the "Red Skelton Show" -- toured the world at the height of her career and recorded for RCA Victor.
"They do it because they love doing it, and nobody's dragging them out there," she said of the group in an interview recently.
Some time back, she asked a friend who sings with the group if she could do a song with them. She was hurt when she got no response, she said.
A mutual friend, realizing there had been a misunderstanding, eventually told Ms. Cowden that Ms. Cantrell's request had been for real. "We're delighted to have her join us," Ms. Cowden said last week. "She has been an incredibly gracious addition."
The good feelings are mutual. "Margaret is phenomenal," Ms. Cantrell said.
What brought her to the United States about 40 years ago was a realization that Australia wasn't the land of opportunity for her budding career. She moved first to Los Angeles, but eventually found New York more to her liking.
Her most recent CD, "Lana Cantrell," came out in 1998, with songs from French and American films including "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg," "A Man and a Woman," "Cinderella" and "Pinocchio." The recent price on Amazon.com, $69.95 for a used copy, makes clear it's a collector's item.
Ms. Cantrell tired of singing professionally so she made a career change, going back to school in the 1980s and earning her law degree.
"Things changed," she said. Working the supper clubs, she said she had found herself "losing my temper. I would get snotty" as audiences talked through the program. "You can't have an adversarial relationship with your audience."
So it was back to school in 1986, first Marymount Manhattan College for an undergraduate degree and then Fordham University Law School.
"What I do influences somebody's life for the rest of their lives," she said about the divorce and custody cases she handles. Every case is different with its twists and turns, she said.
"I've lived my life backwards," Ms. Cantrell commented, having pursued a more traditional job after chasing her show business dream. Now, she has little interest in traveling, having spent years on the concert circuit.
"I'm a really good singer," Ms. Cantrell said with a quiet confidence. "The luckiest thing I have is that I can still sing." She described herself as a "perfectionist" and "workaholic."
Ms. Cantrell and the Narrow River Singers have not announced what song Ms. Cantrell will perform this Saturday.
Members of the singing group devote every winter weekend preparing for the annual spring concert in Orient. "It really is a team effort," director Cowden said.
The group's founder, Carol Taylor, had a vision of forming a chorus similar to one she had known at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, Ms. Cowden said. After seven years, Ms. Taylor turned over the reins to Ms. Cowden. This will be the group's 12th annual concert.
"Part of what makes it work is it's a group of very generous spirits," associate director Jane Smith said. "Nobody comes with their egos."
People are generally recommended for membership, Ms. Cowden said. It might surprise an appreciative audience to know that chorus members actually pay dues to participate. The Friends of the Narrow River Singers conduct an annual fundraising drive and, in recent years, they have sold CDs of the concerts. The revenues go to pay expenses.
The group started out singing Broadway tunes, but has expanded its repertoire and is open to all kinds of music, Ms. Cowden said. The group tried some Motown numbers a few years ago but discovered, "It's not our thing," she said. But members are always interested in suggestions.
Ms. Cowden credited Ms. Smith with being able to create special musical arrangements for the group.
She also praised vocal coach Emily Davidson for being able to work with people who haven't formally studied voice, and accompanist Lea Kendall with being able to play a wide array of music so well.
Besides the music, there's a real camaraderie among the women, who enjoy the rehearsals as much as they do the performances. They have seen one another through a lot of life's passages -- illnesses and deaths -- and there are moments when performing certain songs reminiscent of some of those times, Ms. Cowden said, she has a hard time keeping her own composure.
"What Margaret won't tell you is how really blessed we are to have her," Ms. Smith said.
NARROW RIVER SINGERS
Saturday, March 27 at 4 p.m.
Poquatuck Hall in Orient
Admission is free; contributions are appreciated
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