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Dueling Spouses: A Passionate Couple
Dueling spouses, John and Debbie Annen.› View larger image
John and Debbie Annen give an impromptu performance in the Building 8 lobby. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth
John Annen (JA): My parents were musicians, so I’ve been playing music all my life. After our kids moved out, my wife developed empty nest syndrome for about 10 minutes. She told me that we needed to find out what we will be doing instead of raising children. We wanted to find something to do together. Music was natural for us.

Debbie Annen (DA): John was so taken by the one banjo player and his music that we decided that he should take lessons.

JA: My banjo playing was so lousy that I asked Debbie to come with me to play the melody on her recorder.

DA: We were invited to a jam, which is when musical friends get together and play all at the same time.

JA: It’s a musical party!

DA: I brought my crocheting. I played and sang while John played. I never did finish that crochet project. John plays almost anything with strings, but he fell in love with the fiddle.

JA: I know I’ll never run out of things to learn about the fiddle which is part of the attraction.

DA: I mostly play the baritone ukulele and the recorder. I’m learning the bass. I write lyrics based on whatever tune is running through my head.

JA: My favorite is Debbie’s “Mauna Kea Acres,” which has lyrics about the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and is set to the old “Green Acres” song.

DA: It shows his world in Hawaii while working on a NASA telescope verses my world in Hawaii as a tourist – perfect for Green Acres.

JA: The magic is in the performance, not the music or notes. You learn the notes, then you learn how to play your feelings, and then the lucky ones learn to play the audience’s feelings.

DA: If you connect with the audience, everything gets bigger and brighter. The size of the audience does not matter; it is having an audience that listens that counts. Having the right person to sing with makes a huge difference. After 31 years of marriage and two grown children, you’ve got to have something!

DA: The first time I said “I have a headache” in our “No, Not Now” song in front of the audience, I was hooked and so was the audience.

JA: We love to argue in front of an audience because it makes the audience connect with us. One time a minister stopped us in the middle of our act offering counseling. He did not realize it was an act.

DA: We did not let on either and let him counsel us. He told us to say “Yes, dear” more often, so I put the phrase in the song. I really like jamming. You never know what’s going to happen.

JA: We don’t spend a lot of time practicing.

DA: We get it kind of rounded out, then take it to a jam. That’s where we polish the song.

JA: You need tremendous confidence to jam in a big group especially if you are leading a song. You don’t know how good you are until someone tries to dominate the tune!

JA and DA: We’re out almost every night playing somewhere. Tonight we’re going to jam, including Goddard’s Drake Deming [click on link for Drake's profile]. Monday night is housekeeping night.

JA: We love playing at assisted living centers because they really appreciate our music. Debbie and I call ourselves “DeJohn.” She gets the first billing. She’s the star; I’m just the fiddle player.

DA: He’s the best guitar playing roadie I ever had!

JA: Part of our magic is that we both share a passion which happens to be music. It makes all the other things in life not so urgent, including conflicts.

DA: We are out having fun together. We are not so worried about getting house stuff done.

JA: Having a passion makes life easy.

DA: It helps you focus on what’s important.

JA: Your decisions are always in support of your mutual passion.

DA: For many people, their passion is their work. Work is their definition and identity.

JA: I used to be like that.

DA: We are lucky to share this musical passion.

JA: Our message is this: Life is easy when you find your passion. What’s great is that we share our passion and have found a balance so each of us participates and enjoys what we are doing.

DA: We’re lucky we’ve got each other and that, through our mutual passion, we have grown together. Life is fun!
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.