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.