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40 T/D/Y #7: Early Musical Influences

My parents are not particularly musical. My mom can sing well enough, but my dad cannot carry a tune, though he is fond of humming tunelessly. However, they are both fond of music, and it was a regular part of our lives. In the morning and in the car we listened to WBZ AM radio, which at the time played a mix of current pop music along with news reporting. They regularly watched Evening At Pops, a weekly broadcast of concerts by the Boston Pops Orchestra, and would also watch other musical variety shows such as The Lawrence Welk Show, Sonny & Cher, the Donny & Marie show, and Solid Gold. My siblings and I watched all these shows with our parents, and also picked up music from kids’ shows such as Looney Tunes cartoons and The Muppet Show.

My parents had combined their record collections, but I don’t recall ever hearing any of my dad’s records. Occasionally my mom would listen to records instead of watching TV; in particular this became regular practice during thunderstorms, after our house was struck by lightning—as I recall, the reasoning was that running the TV was something that would attract lightning, but there was definitely a factor of avoiding damage to the TV as well, which is why we also unplugged it. Favorite records included a collection of Scott Joplin tunes; Peter, Paul & Mary in Concert; a couple John Denver albums; Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris; and the original Australian cast recording of Godspell (I have no idea why my mom got this particular version). My mom also had a few other musicals such as Carousel, some Judy Collins, and some classical music. Later, my dad got the first two Hooked on Classics albums, and I believe we had Hooked on Jazz as well.

We also got our own records. The earliest ones I recall are miscellaneous 45s of the sort of music we were hearing on the radio: Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Billy Joel, Sean Cassidy, and other artists in the vein of adult contemporary, folk, and country. My older sister had Glass Houses by Billy Joel, the Grease soundtrack, and Foreigner IV. My younger sister had Abba: The Album, and the first two Muppet Show albums. I had a K-Tel collection called Disco ’77, which as I recall had only one song that was really disco (“Car Wash” by Rose Royce) and a mix of other hits such as “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney; a later K-Tel collection I had included “Smoking in the Boy’s Room” (the original version, years before Mötley Crüe covered it) and “Disco Duck”. After Star Wars came out, I had an album of some orchestra performing the themes to Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of us had other records as well, these are just some of the ones that immediately come to mind.

Besides watching music programs on TV and listening to records, we also saw live music. I’ve already mentioned the folk-music Mass that we attended weekly. My parents would take us to free concerts in the park by the Nashua Symphony or other musical groups, and to kids’ performers such as Rosenshontz. We also went to see some musical theater, such as a production of 1776. And they liked to take us to parades, where we’d see marching bands. It always surprises me when I hear that other people did not grow up with this sort of exposure to music, that their parents never took them to see a pops orchestra playing a free concert or some other such event.

And yet, despite music having such a strong presence in our lives, I'm still somewhat surprised that we turned into a musical family. My older sister learned piano; my younger sister started on flute and has now centered her life around music, currently finishing up her doctoral thesis for music composition; by the time my younger brother came around, it was a foregone conclusion that he'd learn an instrument, which ended up being clarinet, and he also began his college studies as a music education major before deciding that wasn't the path he wanted after all. As for myself, I learned the violin... but that's my next topic.


( 2 have written — Write )
Oct. 27th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
I guess your memories and mine aren't in sync...no pun intended. Occasionally we watched a Lawrence Welk show,maybe the Christmas show, but he was not a favorite of mine. Solid Gold????? perhaps you and Liz watched it. Anyway, I'm surprised that you didn't mention Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall or one of my several Barbra Streisand albums as favorite recordings of mine. Your father has a story about why you didn't see or rather hear many of his albums when you were growing up. Ask him about it sometime.Do you remember going to Quincy Market in 1976 to see the Boston Pops give a free concert as a celebration of both the bicentennial and the re-opening of the Quincy Market? You and Andrea made quite an impression on the people standing next to us with your knowledge of the selections the orchestra was playing.
Oct. 28th, 2010 12:09 am (UTC)
Re: recordings
Well, I didn't say Welk was a favorite of yours, just that you guys did watch it sometimes—we kids certainly weren't choosing to turn that on! With Solid Gold, I doubt you paid much attention but you'd usually be in the room when we watched, after all it was the family room, where else would you be?

The "favorite albums" was meant to be what I remembered being played a lot and what I enjoyed, which is why I didn't mention Streisand—I'm sure you played her records a lot too but I don't really recall them—but Belafonte was an omission, that's for sure.

Hmm, I know we went to the re-opening but I don't remember any particular details. I do remember people being impressed that Andrea and I knew classical music so well, but as I recall that happened more than once, at outdoor Nashua Symphony concerts as well.
( 2 have written — Write )

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