Chuck a choo choos, shooby doo wop dee wops and wah wah oohs echoed in Merrily Fenner’s basement at a band rehearsal for Serendipity, the Island’s new mostly-female doo wop group. The band features Ms. Fenner on bass or guitar, Christine McLean on rhythm guitar, Chris Seidel on drums, Janis Syslo on tambourine, Mark Mazer on guitar, and the occasional Penny Huff on bass.
“We are all older now, in our 60s,” Ms. Fenner said between songs. “We’ve got no place to go that we care about. We’re happy as clams playing music for hours in the basement.”
During their songs, the melodies bounced like a hot potato from one female voice to the next. Ms. Syslo’s delicate phrasing gave way to Ms. McLean’s soulful tone and then over to Ms. Fenner’s crisp voice.
“There’s something safe about being in your 60s,” Ms. Syslo said. “You think, what the hell, I’m just gonna have fun.”
At the end of the classic song Fever, the ladies turned to Mr. Mazer, pointed their fingers, and made a sizzle sound. He shrugged and gave a sheepish smile.
“Mark is the best person in the world to play with,” said Ms. Fenner.
“Not too many guys can do what he does,” added Ms. McLean. “Have four women telling him what to do.”
The musicians have played in a combination of bands on the Island, performing reggae to rock and working separately and together for decades. Earlier this year, when Ms. McLean and Ms. Seidel recently found themselves without a bassist and Merrily and Janice without drums, the two groups clicked.
“Serendipity is a perfect name for us because we feel so lucky to have each other,” Ms. Fenner said. “We all like each other which sometimes isn’t the case. I mean, we actually like each other.”
The group has learned more than 70 songs in the past six months, from Mr. Postman to Mama Said to Little GTO, a song they learned specifically for the Antique Car Show in June.
“We come sort of bleary-eyed to a rehearsal,” Ms. Fenner said. “Then get exhilarated and realize we have gone through three hours of rehearsal without a break!”
The band zips from one song to the next, vocals clean and distinct even when three different phrases are being harmonized at once. But that’s how doo wop goes.
“We are doing the doo wop because of the complicated harmonies,” Ms. Fenner said. “We have to work diligently to accomplish that end result.”
But the practices are in no way a chore. The bandmates say that rehearsals are just as fun as performing, and in many ways uplifting.
“It’s a priority,” Ms. Syslo said. “It’s what’s given me the lift that I need, the joy in my life that I need.”
In January Ms. Syslo’s husband Mike died suddenly from a heart attack. Mike Syslo was the director of the lobster hatchery and a well-known Islander, and her companion for more than 30 years.
“When something big happens, a big loss, you go into survival mode and throw yourself into something that will save you,” she said. “It’s like a life line.”
Eyes closed Ms. Syslo snaps, sways, and smiles when she sings.
“This whole thing just tickles me,” she said. “I hope it inspires other people. That they say ‘wow, these older women are up there singing? Maybe it isn’t too late for me.’”
Serendipity will be playing concerts the summer at the Portuguese American Club and at Polly Hill on August 6. And this Sunday, July 28, a performance by the band will be auctioned off at the Possible Dreams auction to support Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
For booking of the band call Ms. Fenner at 508-645-3814.