The music of my generation

Photo by Jens Thekkeveettil

Recently during one of PBS’s pledge drives, they featured one of my very favourite performers: Perry Como. As I sat watching and enjoying the music a feeling of nostalgia came over me. I fell in love with this music in my teens and to this day, I can still remember most of the lyrics to each song.

I was lucky to come from a family who loved music and so my sister, Eva, and I were exposed to everything from classical, to folk, to pop and the emerging rock and roll.

My mother played the piano and my father the violin and so Eva and I were encouraged to learn one or the other. My father had a beautiful voice and when he was at home, he would often sing his favourite Hungarian folks songs.

Some of these were sad and soulful and similar to the county songs that someone like Hank Williams might have written. He also had a great whistle, so when he was not singing, he was whistling. And if none of that was happening, then one of us would put on a record and send musical sound waves throughout the house. 

Anytime we went for a drive in the country or a picnic on the beach, the car would be filled with our voices. Whoever came along for the ride had no choice but to join in. Once my father was exposed to Irish and Scottish music, he began to whistle those melodies as well. This exposure came from the Presbyterian Church we attended in Sydney where many of the members were transplants from Scotland and Ireland.

At our church dad organized a small dance troupe and so Eva and I became immersed not only in the music, but the folk dances as well. It was wonderful to take part in an activity that leaned far back into our heritage.

I was fortunate to have attended a school whose curriculum included musical appreciation. Twice a year, students from many of the other private schools were taken to a concert given by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Here we were introduced to the best composers of all time, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and many others.

During the performances, their music came to life for us as we sat in that darkened concert hall. The maestro would begin by telling us about the composer and the various instruments we were about to hear. Then he would turn to the orchestra, tap his baton on the podium and wait for complete silence. When you could have heard a pin drop, he would raise his arms and on his downbeat, the music began.

I loved all the music but my favourites were the Strauss waltzes and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. One of my best memories of those concerts was the time they performed Rossini’s William Tell. The audience erupted into some very enthusiastic clapping of hands and stomping of feet. We all knew this movement as most of us frequented the movies on Saturday afternoon just to see the next episode of the Lone Ranger. 

Getting back to Perry and his music, to me, he was the best of the singers from that era. Of course, I liked Dino, Frank, and a host of others, but Perry had a special way of delivering a song. I always felt that he was singing to me. Many years later when I was going through some hard times, I would put on his records and let his gentle voice comfort me. It did not make my troubles disappear, but it helped. I was sure that the writers of these woeful ballads must have had similar experiences. The lyrics from “Killing Me Softly With His Song”, is particularly poignant and Perry’s rendition perfectly vocalizes each word. But he also sang many happy songs and some silly ones like, “Hot Diggidy, Dog Diggidy…” or “Papa Loves Mambo”, songs that could change my mood. I would sing along and grunt at the proper moment in the mambo tune.

I never missed his TV shows and wish that there was a nostalgic channel that would show them again. Not only Perry’s, but Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, Laugh-In, Bob Newhart, the Smothers Brothers and many, many more. Programs that make a person feel good by watching them and comedies that are really funny and have nothing to do with sex. How many of us howled at Carol Burnett when she came down the stairs wearing that ridiculous velvet curtain?  I am not a fan of newer music. For one thing, I can not make out the words or what they are singing about and as for Country Music, I prefer the songs of Marty Robbins.

Mostly now I just watch old movies, Jeopardy and the News. Well, let’s face it, the news these days has become our nightly reality horror show. As for Jeopardy, it is not the same without Alex Trebek. It will be interesting to see who will inherit this very desirable position. I have liked most of the guest hosts, they have all been good, but, there was only one Alex.