Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Womanly skills: Music

My mother believed that every child should have two years of music lessons, no matter how tone-deaf, arythmical, or fumble-fingered they were. If such was found to be the case, at least the child would be able to read music and be able to recognize popular tunes of the great masters. Of course, my mother was trained in opera-singing at Juilliard School of Music, so she never once thought her own children would be among that group. None of us inherited her depth of giftedness, but the four of us are all musical in our own ways. How many children were woken up in the morning to "The sun is a-shining to welcome the day: Heigh-ho! Come to the fair"? One song I taught my children when they were little tots was Purcell's "Nymphs and Shepherds", a great hit of the year 1692. My youngest, Laura, was convinced that "Flora's holiday" was actually "Laura's holiday" and would call out, "Let's sing my holiday!". 

It was so fun when the two girls began singing lessons in school, using the old standby, Schirmer's Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the 17th and 18th Centuries. What beautiful songs! My first recital song was 'Già il sole dal Gange' by Scarlatti, a common early singing-lesson number. I combed YouTube for a performance that actually sounded like me. Although the sound is poor on my link, this one was a good match. 

There's not a generation of young people who haven't heard their parents complain about "modern music" and reminisce fondly of the music of their day, which their own parents complained about. My grandmother was said to shake her head over my uncle who was a jazz musician in the bebop style. But then, she'd laugh about her father griping, "What's all this "everybody's doin' it, doin' the Turkey Trot"? It was the big hit of 1912!

Being able to play an instrument or sing was far more important in the past than it is today, as there were no mechanical entertainment devices. Evenings were far more pleasant with a musical instrument in the home, and every party depended on a group of musicians to provide dance tunes. In the 1800's "parlour music" was a popular trend. It was music for light entertainment in intimate gatherings, as the name implies, often wistful romantic songs, or jolly, humorous numbers. Thomas Moore, an Irish poet,songwriter, and author, had a great following and is today considered to Ireland what Robert Burns is to Scotland. His songs The Minstrel Boy, The Last Rose of Summer, Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms, and Oft In the Stilly Night, are still well-known. 

I have to add Robert Burns' words to the lovely song My Luve's Like A Red, Red Rose, here sung by Kenneth McKellar. I remember my mother listening to this on the radio, with tears flowing down her cheeks, saying, 'Oh, it's a wonderful thing to be Scottish!'.

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