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Songs in Their Hearts

July 22, 2014

Some of the best things in life come to those who wait. Just look at Van and Jennifer Manuel, a local couple who perform together as a popular musical duo.

“That man did not know I could sing until I was 38-years-old, even though I was singing all the time, when I was vacuuming and cleaning or cooking,” laughed Jennifer as she talked about her and her husband’s journey into music.

Music had always interested Jennifer, even as a young child. She begged her mother to let her take piano lessons, but as the youngest of five children, that ship sailed. Her mother figured the lessons would just be wasted after having watched four others try and then abandon similar interests.

“My entire life I wanted to play an instrument and I begged my mother to play piano,” recalled Jennifer.

The family did have an old chord organ, though, and whenever she had a chance, Jennifer would play using old songbooks; however, she only played when no one else was home. When her mother got rid of the organ, Jennifer protested.

“I asked her what happened to the chord organ and she said she got rid of it because no one ever played it. I told her I played it all the time,” said Jennifer.

When Jennifer’s daughter began playing the harp, she decided to pick up an instrument again, to be able to play along. This time, she chose the fiddle. When Van expressed his interest in music, Jennifer bought him a guitar and he began taking lessons. He even started playing in public.

“Van started playing at church in the praise band and I would sing a song,” said Jennifer, with the emphasis on “a” song. Just one, no more than that.

Then, the couple began playing together and one thing led to another. They were asked to perform at a sweetheart banquet at the church and when Jennifer was practicing with the praise band, she realized that getting through more than one song required speaking in between each.

“I was nervous, thinking, what am I going to say in between songs,” admitted Jennifer.

Jennifer ended up creating a character she called “Camille.” Van was “Dwayne” and the two began performing at other churches as “Dwayne and Camille.”

“That got us out further from just our church, and over the years we’ve made friends who play music,” said Jennifer. “We started playing more and more.”

Jennifer also built her song list. She said just the other day she decided to make a duplicate of her songbook, one for the couple’s home in Kernersville and another for their vacation house in Beaufort.

“There are 89 songs in there,” laughed Jennifer.

Seven years ago, Jennifer gave up the fiddle because she said she wasn’t good at it. At the urging of friends, she picked up the guitar, learning to play rhythm to Van’s lead.

“Van bought me a guitar, and with him teaching me to play I would sit on the front porch for hours,” remembered Jennifer. It also got her through what she called a dark time in her life.

“Feeling the music, singing the songs, mostly sad, I guess I was cathartically singing away the sadness,” said Jennifer. “Then my music got happy, with songs like ‘I Can See Clearly Now.’”

Jennifer said she loves playing music with her husband, and they will play just about anywhere. Van also has a combo band called Dogs Like This that also features friends Craig Burris and Mike Burris.

Today, Jennifer and Van perform throughout Kernersville. Just last weekend they provided entertainment at the downtown Cruise-In. They’ve also performed in their home away from home in Beaufort.

Jennifer related a funny story about performing at the farmers market there.

“Someone suggested we open our guitar cases for donations. We got organic chicken, apples, harvest bread and crafts. It was the best haul we’ve ever gotten,” laughed Jennifer.

For Jennifer and Van, it is about the love of music more than anything else.

“We just like playing and we have fun together,” she said.

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