Music to My Ears
To say I was bred and fed on music would hardly be an exaggeration. Both parents were musical. Mom played the piano very well, even minored in music in collage and played several recitals. Dad studied voice for a time since his mother wanted him to be the next John McCormick—her family name was McCormack—and he also played several brass and wind instruments in dance bands in his youth. Yet, they both turned their backs on music after they came west except for listening although I do recall my dad still sang a bit when I was very small. He had a decent tenor voice, nothing spectacular but pleasant. Mom may have played a little when she went home to
for visits but they were very rare and we never had a piano. Kentucky
They favored classical music and Italian opera—dad did not care for Wagner et al—and also enjoyed the ‘big band’ and jazz styles of popular music of their day—the thirties and forties. I heard all of this on the radio from my earliest memories and later on a reel-to-reel tape recorder they obtained. I still listen to both genres at times although I later chose my own favorites.
There was a radio playing at home a lot of the time during my first decade. I can recall hearing Nat King Cole, Vaughn Monroe, the Sons of the Pioneers and others until soon I was able to sing along: Dance Ballerina, Mona Lisa, Ghost Riders in the Sky and Red Sails in the Sunset to name just a few. I think I inherited a very good ‘ear’ and also was able to memorize melodies and lyrics easily. About the time my first brother was born, I had a few favorite programs. The Bell Telephone Hour and the Firestone Hour both played light classics, operetta and musical comedy music, mostly orchestral but some vocals. Then there was The Railroad Hour on which Gordon McRae and guest sopranos sang the highlights from various operettas and musical shows. This was my early introduction to “romance” and love stories. I was soon hooked for life. It was all hearts, flowers and happy endings. What was not to like?
By the time I hit eighth grade and a new, more urban school experience, “rock ‘n roll” was coming onto the pop scene, shoving aside the ballads of the previous era. I really never cared much for it—Chubby Checker, Bill Haley and even Elvis did not appeal to me. I was by then totally into “cowboys,” cool or not, and began to listen avidly to country and western music. I stayed with that for a decade or more. My parents were not thrilled with the drinking and cheating lyrics but perhaps felt them the lesser evil compared to Elvis’s gyrations and the drug culture references that emerged as rock n roll morphed into rock by the early 1960s.
I also loved guitar music of all types and genres from classical and flamenco to the "new" electrified sounds of Les Paul and other artists that followed him. Still do and my listening must have rubbed off on my brother who has played all kinds of guitars since his teens and is now an accomplished musician--acoustic, electric, six or twelve string and more recently pedal steel.
For several years I tried to catch the Postal Finance Top Twenty C&W ‘hit parade’ every Saturday evening. I soon absorbed quite a repertoire of songs: Buck Owens, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Hank Snow, Eddie Arnold and then Marty Robbins’ gunfighter ballads. They still speak to me decades later though maybe less than they once did. I am not a huge fan of the modern country—which I feel has more in common with late rock n roll than the older folk music and blues but do have some favorites in this mix too.
Anyway, the C&W genre fit well with my crushes on rodeo cowboys and TV western series heroes and then the “young and restless” blue collar guys who began to catch my eye in my middle to late teens. I was not drinking nor the cheater since I was not even going steady in school, but that’s for another story. The fact I was still “jail bait” probably saved me from disaster more than once.
As life unfolded, I went off to college belatedly at age twenty three. I was far out of step with my fellow students, being both older in years and younger in experience than most of them. The returning vets from
not there yet so most were kids starting at around age eighteen. I picked up on
some of the sixties vibe and did enjoy the folk and ‘hootenanny’ songs of the
times. Soon I diverged from American folk into the music of other regions. Soon
ethnic music was near the top of my favorites list. I collected everything from
flamenco to Ravi Shankar and the newly rediscovered Celtic music that was a
growing fad. An amazing world of sounds opened up to me with Creedence
Clearwater and The Ventures on one hand, The Irish Rovers on the other, with a
detour to Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary along the
I had the small record player that I had gotten about high school graduation and before long traded it for a portable stereo and began to build a collection of LPs, an eclectic mix that is echoed by my current CD racks. I took that into adult life, my first real job, my meeting with my future husband and soon acquisition of a ready-made family. All my favored genres came along, expanded by further discoveries such as the bull fight music we played during our courtship and much more Celtic music, especially the British military bands with bagpipes that my Scots ancestry husband favored. I zeroed in on and introduced a few more from the pop scene such as Neil Diamond, Gordon Lightfoot and Jethro Tull.
Growing teenagers brought new sounds as the seventies became the eighties. I took to some and shuddered at others. I liked Stevie Nix and some of Foreigner that my stepson favored. My husband and I added Phil Coulter, the Irish Tenors and even more Celtic artists. I never quite acquired a taste for disco, rap or hip-hop and drifted away from most of the pop music by the mid eighties. I may still by chance hear a tune that catches my ear and track it down–my tastes are still eclectic and very particular--but mostly I’ve gone back to my old favorites.
Today I listen to classical more—from PBS and a few discs out of my own collection. I still play some older rock, C&W and even folk music from the past and enjoy Celtic and Native American songs and artists very much. There is even quite a bit of easy listening or “elevator music” finding favor with me, the likes of Mantovani and some of the gentler New Age artists. My CD collection is a cloak of many colors and will be even more so as I gradually transfer the most precious of those old LPs to the modern media. Yes, I could buy many of them ready-made but some favorites have still not found a way to the new formats so I just rip and burn copies of them all.
I sang in both a church choir and the girls’ chorus during my high school years, and also a lot just as I went about my daily routine, at least at home since the offices where I worked would not have appreciated it. Sadly it seems my voice has now gone away. I never could read music and frustrate heck out of my very musical brother since chords and keys and such are all Greek to me. I just know what I like and can repeat it, to some degree.
There was a time, though, when I warbled away most of the day doing mundane household or outdoor chores. It was so pronounced that a neighbor once accused my husband of feeding me bird seed for breakfast—the old fashioned kind that supposedly made canaries sing because there were marijuana seeds in the mix! But no, I can’t blame The Weed; it was just me.