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Music and The Blairs

By John I. Blair

I come from a musical family. Not always musical in ways that would be readily recognized, but musical nonetheless. So music has always been part of my home life.

From my earliest memories I recall my Mom almost always either singing a song or whistling music around the house as she worked at cooking, cleaning, laundering, ironing, or just caring for us boys. Mom was a surprisingly good whistler – a talent not often associated with women. I never heard where she learned to whistle, and regrettably never asked her. And it was one of the major disappointments of my childhood that I never could learn to whistle myself. To this day I can barely manage a decent wolf whistle, much less whistle actual music.

I did learn that Mom had sung in her church choir when she was a young woman. She and her sisters all were a regular part of that small Methodist church’s choir. I like to think that Mom’s own mother also sang, though with her tuberculosis, her wind power must have been very limited. Perhaps she hummed soft lullabies to Mom and her other babies.

Dad was almost completely deaf; and yet he liked music. Evidently, he could hear enough of the base notes to at least catch the rhythm and a bit of the melody. All I know is that he enjoyed listening to shows like Lawrence Welk, whose band featured an amazingly deep-voiced bass singer. And Dad could occasionally be heard humming nearly tuneless music to himself as he worked or drove a car.

My older brother, though never talking much about it, had a reputation in elementary school as a good singer. And it was him who brought the first record player into our house – one that he cobbled together himself from parts he had scrounged from friends. Our first music on that machine was eclectic to say the least (and, of course, on 78 rpm disks). We had one recording of bits of classical music; one with a couple of weird novelty songs – parodies – that included “I’m Walking Behind You-all On Your Wedding Day”, a country-style takeoff of the then wildly popular hit “I’m Walking Behind You” by Billy Reid, originally recorded by both Eddie Fisher and Frank Sinatra in the very early 1950s.

I don’t remember much music in my Mom’s extended family; but my Dad’s family was very musical. Aunt Florence taught music in public schools in western Oklahoma. It was said she “could get music out of a stump”. Her beautiful upright piano was the first I ever played on, 65 years and more ago. It still exists, in playable condition, stored lovingly in a heated barn at a cousin’s farm.

My Uncle Ralph played a pretty fair country hoedown fiddle; his son Gerald played piano; his other son Pete played guitar. I delight in my memory of them playing for family one evening – no doubt folk classics like “Turkey In The Straw”.

Ralph and his sister Leoti playing music.
(Restored photo version.)

When I was approaching my teen years I campaigned long and hard to get a piano of my own, inspired by playing around on the old pianos in Oklahoma that belonged to my aunts. Much to my amazement, my parents actually sprung for a brand-new Wurlitzer spinet in 1953, paid for lessons for a few years (until I dropped out) and never complained about my loudness or my erratic attention to practicing. I still have that piano; it still sounds good; and I still play it.

And I love listening to music. I was blessed with an excellent music education program in the public schools I attended. Children in elementary school had a visiting music teacher; and several times a year we had opportunity to attend full concerts (designed for childrens’ tastes) by the Wichita, Kansas, Symphony. I have never forgotten that experience. By junior high school I was listening to opera on the radio (for class credit) and going every year to the annual performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by full orchestra, visiting soloists, and a chorus of 500 voices. Today I have a collection of well over a thousand music CDs – mostly classical but including many other kinds as well.

My wife’s love of music was primarily only for listening; but her father, her paternal grandfather, and paternal great-grandfather all were musical. The last two had been members of a German singing society in Brooklyn, 100 years ago and more, and had even gone to a contest in Vienna, just before World War I put a stop to that. I have photos of them and numerous singing society medals and ribbons, kept in a box. My father-in-law once sang and played the ukulele on commercial radio in New York City (in the late 1920s I believe).

And now my son and granddaughters are carrying on the tradition. My son learned to play a violin at a young age, but then shifted his attention to guitars and became a lifelong devotee of both acoustic and electric guitar, keyboards, singing, and composing. His forte is rock music and electronic music. He has a fully equipped home recording studio. My youngest granddaughter sings with her elementary school class at annual performances. And my older granddaughter has been taking piano lessons for a couple of years (having started with me as her teacher). She plays in recitals with such aplomb it amazes me. (When I was a piano student I always went through major meltdowns around recital time.)

Some people would speculate that music is in our genes; some would insist that it’s environment. I think the only thing that matters is that music is still part of our lives – an essential part!

©2016 John I. Blair

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