By Patrick Winderl
Teri Jacobson and her daughter Liz Handy are just moments away from performing in front of an audience - a rather large audience.
It is Tuesday night, and hundreds of people have packed the Havre High School auditorium to watch the Canadian Pints midget basketball team take on local high school and college talent.
In just a few short seconds, the mother-daughter duo will be introduced to the crowd and sing both the Canadian and U.S. national anthems before of a crowd of strangers.
Performing before such a large audience does not seem to bother Liz and Teri in the slightest.
"It's kind of strange," Teri said, "but the more people there are, the better I sing. For whatever reason, it's easier to sing to an audience like this than to, say, like 50 people."
Terry may be confidant, but Liz seems downright bored - she yawns.
Seconds later they take the floor.
Singing is more than a hobby for the two - it is a way of life. They perform whenever and wherever they can - rodeos, fairs, sporting events, weddings - even recording studios.
In May, the duo released their first CD, a 20-track album titled "Family Reflections." The CD includes a number of well-known gospel and country songs the two selected earlier this year.
"We just had all this music lying around," Teri said, "and we decided to turn it into an album."
They approached Lynn Cummings, a musician and producer who owns Hi-Line Country Recording in Malta. After selecting the songs, Teri and Liz spent weeks of practice and a month of recording producing the CD under Cummings' experienced direction.
"I was real pleased with the album," said Cummings, whose brother tours with the band Kenney Chesney. "There's no question they're talented singers. It comes so easy to them. They have so much natural ability."
Teri said recording the CD was much harder than she anticipated.
"It took us a solid month," she said. "Going back and forth, back and forth, we put a lot of miles on the car. It's more work than I thought it'd be, but it's worth it."
"The whole month of April," Liz added.
Teri and Liz come from a long line of musicians, Teri said. Both of her parents traveled the country playing jazz venues, and her brother has pursued a career as a pianist, she said.
"My brother plays professionally in downtown Cody and he's never had a lesson in his entire life," she said. "It comes natural to us. In my family it just comes natural to have good pitch."
Natural ability is helpful, but practice is essential, Teri said.
"The key to singing well is to practice," she said. "You have to do it over and over. I'm a perfectionist, so I want everything to be just right."
Although Teri credits her family and upbringing with fostering her musical talent, she also stresses the importance of discipline and hard work.
"The hardest thing about singing is breathing right," Teri said. "If you don't breath right, you won't be able to hold out the notes. Breathing right and staying in shape, running, just basically taking care of your body."
Teri said she enjoys staying in shape by running. Running long distances.
"Right now I'm training for a marathon," she said. "It's a little crazy, but it's something that I always wanted to do - 26.2 miles."
Teri said a professional career in music is no longer likely for her, but that the opportunity for her daughter is still out there.
"(Making the CD) was one of the most awesome experiences I've ever had," she said. "I can't imagine what it would be like to have concerts and do live performaces, but that's not really possible with four kids."
Liz, an aspiring country singer, performs in Havre High's honors choir. Two years ago she was one of four Havre students selected to perform at a concert in Tacoma, Wash. After receiving an acceptance letter, the foursome was sent a list of eight songs they had to learn.
"It was pretty hard," Liz said. "We had one song in English."
Despite being just 15, she said she is determined to pursue a singing career.
"I just have a lot of fun with it," she said. "It's fun watching people's reactions."
Having her own CD is exciting, she said, but it's just a start. Ultimately she'd like to become a recognized country artist.
"I want to find some way," she said. "I just have to start writing my own songs."
Teri said she is working on some songwriting of her own.
"I wrote my first two songs right after we did the CD," she said. "I was inspired. All these words came to me - and the melody - and I sat down at the piano and it all fell into place."
The two songs will appear on her next album, though Teri said she is not sure when it will be released.
Bringing down the house
Flanked by flag bearers on either side, Liz and Teri take the floor of the Havre High School gymnasium. They stand side by side, two generations of talented singers united by a common dream - to sing well and have fun. They perform flawlessly. Singing both anthems with angelic perfection, they are rewarded by thunderous applause. And that, they say, is the best part of all.
"I don't do this to sell CDs," Teri said. "I just did it because it was fun. Singing is kind of like dancing; it just sort of expresses your soul. It is just expression that you can release. It's awesome."