By Eileen Moon
FAIR HAVEN – Next Monday, with the bustle of holiday chores behind them, George and Kathy Dorn Severini will be doing what they’ve done together on many Christmas Eves.
The longtime Fair Haven residents will be leading a Christmas sing-along at the piano in the lounge at Nauvoo Grille.
Snow might not be falling. The weather may be warm. But Christmas will be coming anyway, as it has always done, through good times and hard years, bringing with it a few brief hours to celebrate, to count our blessings, and to remember the ghosts of many Christmases past.
In his half-century of music-making, George has played many concerts and parties, and made many friends. It’s always a nice surprise when they turn up at his piano during the holidays.
“I’ve known George for over 40 years,” said one of those friends, Aimee Humphreys. “He played at my wedding. He’s a dear friend as well as a talented musician and artist. My husband and I held many Christmas parties in Fair Haven around our piano and George was there for all of them, playing carols as we all sang along. Happy times and happy memories.”
The Severinis have a long history with Nauvoo Grille. George has played piano there and at its sister restaurant, the Raven and the Peach, for many years. He’s also the artist owner Richard Bahadurian commissioned to create the restaurant’s 15 southwestern-themed paintings to complement the mission-style décor.
But long before the restaurant opened its doors, the corner it sits on was a familiar one to the Severinis. George’s band, Good Ship, performed regularly here in the early ’70s, when an earlier restaurant known as Lock, Stock and Barrel occupied this corner of Fair Haven.
Reflecting on those years a few decades down the road, George names his fellow band members: Mark Murphy, Maureen McCrink, his brother Robert Severini, and, for a brief period, drummer Ray Rodriguez.
The band eventually broke up, but the friendships – and the music – continued. Both George and Kathy are part of a close-knit music community that became a tribe in the days when the Beatles changed music forever.
As a kid in the 1950s, Severini first mastered the accordion.
But when the Beatles came to town, all the accordion students at Sy Lowy’s music school in Red Bank, where Severini was a pupil and later a teacher, were suddenly playing guitars.
Instead of the guitar, George decided to concentrate on the piano, a decision that has served him well over a half-century as a composer and performer.
He has also written two musicals, “Christmas When,” and “Spirit,” that feature performances by many of the Jersey Shore musicians who have been their friends for a lifetime, among them Mark Murphy, Maureen McCrink, Scott Paden and Pam McCoy.
Although “Christmas When” was compelling enough to be optioned by a name Hollywood director, it never went into full production. George is now adapting the story for a children’s book.
During the Good Ship years, George wrote most of their repertoire as well. Kathy remembers going to hear the band and thinking they were playing covers of songs she’d somehow missed hearing on the radio. “I had no idea George had written them.”
Like the guitar players down at Lowy’s, Kathy was heavily influenced by the arrival of the Beatles as well. She remembers her frustration trying to teach two of her friends to sing three-part Beatles harmony with her. “She had a talent she didn’t realize other people didn’t have,” George said.
“As long as I can remember, I loved to sing,” Kathy said. ”Nobody in my family knew. I hid it from them.” That came to an end when she was forced to sing “Hey, Look Me Over,” as a solo in sixth grade. “I belted it out. They were flabbergasted,” she said. By high school, she was starring in the school musicals.
After college, she came back to work at the family photography business on Wallace Street in Red Bank, but she continued to sing. She was looking for an accompanist when Good Ship’s Mark Murphy, who was working at Dorn’s, introduced her to George. Next June, they’ll be married 40 years.
By the time Christmas Eve day melts into evening, Kathy will have sung dozens of Christmas songs with Holiday Express, a group of musicians and other volunteers who spend the holidays bringing a little music, food, fun and laughter to people in need.
Nevertheless, she and George are looking forward to singing several more when they sit down at the piano at Nauvoo Grille Monday evening.
“I love Christmas. I love the music of Christmas,” Kathy said. “It’s magical to me.”
It’s something that unites people, no matter how different they seem, said George, noting that many of the most popular Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers. There’s something in the music that’s universal.
“No matter where you are in the U.S. or around the world, people are going to know the songs,” George said. “They’re going to have an attachment based on what they heard at home, on TV, in church, in the movies. It’s amazing when you think about it.”
This article was first published in the Feb. 28-March. 6, 2019 print edition of The Two River Times.
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