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Oh Say Can You Sing ...
1/24/2013 12:22:12 PM

One way to recognize how different we are from each other is by noticing the things that bother us but do not bother anyone else. Does anyone really care if Beyonce lip synched the National Anthem at the presidential inauguration ceremonies on Monday? I have to admit, it bothers me. I watched the ceremony on TV and as I watched Beyonce sing, for a fleeting second it flashed through my mind that she was faking it but then I thought, no, she wouldn’t fake the Anthem on such a prominent national occasion.

Faking it at the Super Bowl might be forgiven, (apologies to all you football fans reading this) but not the National Anthem at the presidential inaugural ceremony.  As she continued to “perform” I believed she was singing it live and she was nailing it but, in retrospect, as I looked at the footage and photos of the expressions on the faces of the people near Beyonce as she “sang,” they are priceless. Mostly they look perplexed.

I noticed when she walked back to her husband, Jay-Z, he hugged her and congratulated her. I thought how nice, he’s congratulating her for performing so well under less than perfect conditions. When, in fact, he was congratulating her for getting away with it.

So, where was the superstar? In my opinion the superstar was little Kelly Clarkson who stepped up to the microphone and belted out My Country, Tis of Thee. Kelly Clarkson is a popular singer, she has a voice to be protected, but it’s obvious she possesses a few things Beyonce does not, authenticity and chutzpa.

The Washington weather had been cold for days and everyone knew ahead of time what the weather conditions would be like.  Maybe Beyonce didn’t want to give up the opportunity to say that she sang the National Anthem at a presidential inauguration. Ironically, the best she’ll be able to say is that she stood up to a microphone in front of the President of the United States and the rest of the country and faked it. Maybe, in the end, Beyonce was afraid if she sang live she wouldn’t do as well as Kelly Clarkson.

Shame on Beyonce for being such a bad example for all the little girls and young woman that admire her. If Beyonce wants the title superstar, the least she can do is act like one.

I understand on a scale of 1-10 the importance of this blog is -10, but I feel better now.

1/19/2013 1:09:47 PM

The first music I remember hearing was the sound of my mother’s voice singing the Irish lullaby Tura Lura Lura to me when I was very young and sick in bed.  Mom sang that lullaby to all her babies.

Dad enjoyed singing and had a wonderful singing voice.  When I was no more than four years old I remember sitting near him while he played the Mills Brothers’ albums on our old record player.  I especially remember dad singing their song, “Daddy’s Little Girl.”  Before I was five years old I could sing all the words to the Mills Brother’s song, “Paper Doll” as well as “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and the Notre Dame Fight Song.  Our house was usually filled with the music of Bing Crosby, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Glen Miller.

At school I was taught new songs from McNamara's Band to the national anthem and “God Bless America.” I joined the children’s choir, although “joined” may be misleading since all of us kids were required to be in the choir where we added even more songs to our repertoire, including many we sang in Latin.

In the meantime, my older sister and her friends began buying small 45 records, mostly Elvis Presley recordings, and playing them on small portable record players.  I can still see them sitting around the record player in the parlor in their long, full skirts (yes, some even with poodle appliques), black and white saddle shoes, white ankle socks and blouses with round Peter Pan collars, usually a scarf tied around their necks.  The whole emerging rock and roll music scene was of no interest to me at that time, it was simply a part of the background music of my childhood.

In second grade I began piano lessons.  One dollar paid for a half hour of instruction from Sr. Cecilia.  Since I had no interest in learning how to play the piano I am sure I was the bane of Sr. Cecilia’s existence. Week after week, month after month, year after year the poor woman sat there and told me the same things over and over again.  Speaking of over and over, we did not have a piano in our house, but my mom’s best friend, who lived a few doors away from us, did, and every day after school I’d go to her house and practice for a half hour.  For years I sat there and played the same song over and over and she either never realized it was the same song or she felt it wasn’t her job to make me play something different.

At some point mom and dad bought a piano for our house.  And it was magnificent.  It was an old player piano.  That means the piano had a mechanism that accepted long rolls of paper with raised markings similar to sheets of braille read by the blind with their fingerstips.  Somehow when the roll of “braille paper” turned inside the piano, the piano keys played songs by themselves.  No pianist needed … my kind of piano.  We had many different rolls of music and it was wonderful.

When I was a sophomore in high school Sr. Cecilia suggested I might enjoy singing lessons rather than piano lessons.  After eight years of being tortured by my disinterest, mom finally gave up and allowed me to quit.  Ironically, years later, when I furnished my first home, I bought a piano and began buying sheet music.  On quiet afternoons and evenings I’d sit at the piano and try to remember the instructions Sr. Cecilia gave me.  There’s still a piano in my home and I can play a mean version of “The Impossible Dream.”  Sr. Cecilia would be proud of me … shocked no doubt, but proud of me.

What teenager doesn’t like music?  I was no exception.  Mom always found it frustrating that I could sing every word of most songs on the top 40 list, but couldn’t remember how to spell half the words on my weekly spelling list.  Perhaps if the spelling words were put to music it would have been easier.

Rock and roll music was perfect for us teenagers, it beat to our restless hearts, we were always in motion, always looking for the next best thing, always falling in and out of love and experiencing the angst of first rejections and disappointments.

As a young adult I went to my first Broadway play and discovered show tunes. The elaborate productions were fascinating; the beautiful and powerful voices of the actors blended with the music from the orchestra and reached out and touched me as I sat in the dark theater.  From Westside Story to Jersey Boys, I’ve enjoyed them all. 

Then I saw my first ballet. How could I not fall in love with classical music once I fell in love with the graceful and elegant ballet?  Sometimes I sit in the audience at a ballet performance and close my eyes just to listen to the violins and French horns.

Isn't it interesting that no matter what the genre, music carries our memories. Hearing a certain melody brings us back to people, places and events in our lives whether we want to be reminded or not.  On the other hand, new music engages us, it asks our opinion; it asks, “Do you like me.”  If the answer is yes then it’s a happy meeting and like meeting a new friend we tend to go back again.  If the answer is no, then we walk away better for the experience.

Music is timeless and never-ending.  Timeless because a piece written 500 years ago is brand new the first time we hear it and never-ending because today or tomorrow someone can be inspired to put musical notes together in a brand new way and come up with an engaging brand new sound.

Music distracts me when I'm writing.  Mid-sentence I may hear a tune that reminds me of something from my past and off my mind goes following that thought.  Or, I may catch a few notes of a song I've never heard before and off my mind goes to hear more. Right now my house is completely quiet but usually there's music. 

Here she comes, Miss America
1/13/2013 11:47:22 AM

I remember watching Mary Ann Mobley crowned Miss America in 1959 when I was 12 years old.  Although I suspect I watched the Miss America Pageant more than once, that’s the pageant I remember.  Twelve years old must have been the year when I became aware of the importance of being pretty and “sweet.”  The importance of having a good figure and looking perfect in a bathing suit while remaining asexual.  I became aware that people judged me by how I looked.  And here she was, Miss America, walking down the runway at the end of the program while Bert Parks assured us she was “our ideal.”

Of course, at 12 years old I was anything but Miss America material.  I was in a state of transition though.  I was still playing sports with the boys in the housing project where I lived and saw no reason not to compete and win, but there were certain boys that I’d known most of my young life that were “different” now, there was a “feeling” about them.  That was probably around the time I became aware of how I looked and acted and began searching for clues about how I “should” be looking and acting. My friends and I began walking around with books balanced on our heads so we could walk like Miss America.

In addition to the Miss America Pageant, there were other clues.  Magazine and TV commercials told me what I “should” look like and how to overcome my 12 year old “flaws.”  So for the first time I became aware of the bathroom scale and what I weighed.  Hair and eyelash curlers, mascara, lip gloss and blush became a part of my vocabulary.  I took another look at how I interacted with the boys I knew and tried some of the techniques in Seventeen Magazine.  Of course, mom and dad could tell me I was perfect just the way I was until they were blue in the face but deep down inside I knew they didn’t understand.  And so it began.

I guess I see the Miss America Pageant as I see the Olympics.  Are the women and athletes the best this country has to offer, of course not.  The number one requirement for both competitions is a good financial base.  I suspect for most Olympic sports there’s a young athlete living in America with no financial support that could beat the pants off the guy or gal standing on the Olympic podium.

For the Miss America Pageant there are gowns, hairstylists, personal trainers, competition fees and heaven knows what other expenses to be covered before a young woman walks on the stage in Atlantic City. I suspect there just might be another young woman sitting on her front porch somewhere in the US with a more beautiful face, and a perfect figure that would outshine any primped and pampered “official” Miss America contestant.   

The criteria for selecting Miss America have changed over the years.  The educational scholarships awarded have increased.   While doing a little research for this blog, I came across a video of a Miss America contestant in the late 1950s who was asked this final question:  “How would you get a boy on a first date to begin a conversation?”  Her response:  “Well, most boys play sports so I would ask him what sports he played.  If he didn’t play a sport I would ask him what his hobbies were.  If he didn’t have any hobbies I guess I’d just be quiet for the rest of the night.” 

The new Miss America selected last night, 23 year old Mallory Hagan, was asked if armed guards should be in our schools.  Her response, “We should not fight violence with violence;” a good answer to a question that would have been inconceivable 50 years ago.  Who knew questions asked at Miss America competitions could reveal so much about the evolution of our society and the evolution of women’s role in dealing with the serious issues we are facing.

The new Miss America’s focus is preventing child sexual abuse; if one child is spared that trauma because of her celebrity then that’s a good thing.  Yet, the Miss America Pageant is still a beauty competition where contestants smile their perfect smiles as they walk their well-choreographed walk across the stage in their skimpy little bathing suits showing off their perfectly sculptured little bodies telling all little girls watching that this is how the ideal American woman should look.  That is not a good thing.







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