My mother had so many natural talents, among them was an incredible ear for music. She had no idea what the notes on a sheet meant but she was able to clearly hear the nuances of melodies and harmonies. When she taught a group of fifth graders she became well known for the beautiful sounds of singing that wafted from her classroom. Other teachers would ask her to provide them with the music for her creations but she had no idea how to do so. She was untrained in the intricacies of composing but she had the ability to note even the tiniest change in the sounds that comprised the lovely arrangements of the musicians that she admired. Thus her choral direction lead her students to perform as beautifully as the Vienna Boys Choir.
Mama had a lovely alto voice and she knew the words to hundreds of songs. She and my father shared a love of music but he tended to favor only classical pieces whereas she was up to speed with all of the latest pop tunes as well. She rocked to the sounds of The Rolling Stones with as much enthusiasm as to the symphonies of Beethoven. She almost seemed to feel the music in some extraordinary way that traveled all the way through her body down to her feet. In addition to having a sixth sense about how to put voices together in perfect harmony she was an exceptional dancer who seemed to literally float above the floor when she performed her routines. When people complimented her grace and style and wondered where she had learned such skills she admitted that she was self trained. She carefully watched the best dancers of her era and imitated their moves.
My brothers and I liked to entertain ourselves and our neighborhood friends by putting on shows in the summertime. Our mother was our choreographer, teaching us how to tap dance in unison with our singing. As a vocal coach she designed intricate harmonies for us so that our performances seemed almost professional. While we loved the limelight when the audience of friends whooped and hollered in appreciation for our efforts what was most fun were the rehearsals with our mom. We were in awe of her ability to create such lovely renditions of the songs that we so loved. She made our little efforts seem so important and all of us recall those times with her with such joy.
Eventually we grew up and began families of our own. All of us had a definite love of music that felt as natural as the traits caused by our DNA. One brother tended toward my father’s way of thinking and preferred mostly classical pieces but he has a particular passion for popular female singers as well. The other brother went all the way with country songs, even developing a wonderful talent for two stepping in time with the tunes. My own interests in music run the gamut and I find myself discovering and enjoying new genres and artists even to this day.
When my children were young I encouraged them to appreciate music and dance as much as my mother did but I also went out of my way to provide them with formal lessons to help them along. I didn’t seem to have the talents that my mother did so I was of little use in providing them with guidance at home with one exception. Each Christmas I showed them how to sing White Christmas in four part harmony with me and my husband Mike. It worked out well because each of us had a different singing range. Mike took the baritone part, our eldest daughter was the alto, I did a low soprano and the youngest had a knack for hitting the high notes. We would sing our way to all of the Christmas Eve and Christmas day events with Bing Crosby crooning in the background. It became a tradition and for a time we were certain that if a talent scout were to hear our enchanting sounds we would immediately become super stars. Mostly though it was a fun time that bonded us with laughter and glee. It became as much a part of our holiday routine as finding oranges and nuts in our stockings. Somehow our rendition was especially spectacular in those years when the weather was rather frightful. It had the power to warm our hearts.
My grandchildren have all learned to play instruments and read music. They are quite good and appear to have a bit of the innate talent that my mother displayed. Jack has mastered the piano, guitar and French horn in addition to singing in musicals. Ian plays the cello like an angel. Eli took up the oboe like his mother did when she was his age and emits a sweet and haunting tone. Andrew did quite well with tenor saxophone but set it aside to study engineering. Abigail has an angelic voice but most enjoys creating lovely sounds with the clarinet. Ben plays the tuba with gusto and William makes the violin sing. They all have enjoyed the advantage of having well trained teachers to develop their talents and take them to ever more complex levels for learning the intricacies of music.
There is still something quite charming about the simple ditties that my brothers and I sang with the help of our mom. It was homespun fun of the kind that our ancestors probably enjoyed long ago when entertainment was beholden to imagination. After long days of work families were lucky to have anything more than the creativity that lived inside their heads to pass away the hours. The folk songs and handmade instruments that kept time with the tunes were all that they had and yet somehow in all cultures there were those who seemed to naturally understand how to use what they had to make music. Song and dance are part of our make up as human beings. It is something that we are drawn to do and enjoy.
These days my family choir has been reduced to just me and Mike. We still like to sing along with Bing and recall those times with our girls. It’s funny how we can’t remember all of the gifts that we have received for Christmas over the years but we do enjoy the fondest memories of our family choir. My brothers and I feel the same way about those show tunes and dances that we learned from our mother. They are bright spots in our minds that are more precious than possessions. There is something quite heartwarming about the simplicity of shared experiences that make us laugh and love together. Somehow they always seem to matter the most.