23 September 2011

Music Time--The Background

Welcome back. In my last blog post on music, I jumped right in there and played a guitar solo for you. I’m sorry; there should have been a warm-up act. 

Warren’s parents at 
a resort hotel, 1950s.
Music-Loving Parents 

I grew up with parents who played no instruments, probably couldn’t read music but loved music. Broadway show tunes, opera and classical were tops, yet they didn’t object to any other music, even something as new as rock ’n’ roll or someone as different as Elvis. “He’s cute,” is the way my mother would have put it.

If my mother wasn’t more-or-less singing, she was more-or-less humming. They loved to dance, any excuse. They encouraged…ok, pushed…my brother and me to take lessons, join the school choir and appreciate all manner of music.
Warren (near center) in combined high school choir. 
(1960 Cohoes High School yearbook, Cohoes, N.Y.

Musical Family
Warren’s great-uncle’s string quartet, 
early 1900s

My mother’s family had professional musicians. Her uncle traveled through Germany with his string quartet before coming to the U.S. around 1920. One of his three daughters taught piano in Brooklyn. 

My mother’s brother-in-law, my uncle, sang classical music and turned down a contract to sing regularly at Radio City Music Hall. Two of his three children, my cousins, trained for opera. Although they moved to other professions, they continued to sing professionally on the side, primarily at churches and synagogues and as oratorio soloists. One eventually did return to full-time music as a cantor and musical director.

One of my mother’s brothers, another uncle, had fun playing accordion. Those two cousins skipped musicals careers and went directly into medicine.

On my father’s side, the closest I can come to anyone with special musical talent is my grandmother. This warm, elegant, soft-spoken, little woman could whistle loudly using two fingers, one from each hand. “How else could I handle eight kids?” (I’d be happy to demonstrate what she taught me.)

Warren’s two-finger-whistling grandmother 
with seven of her brood, late-1940s.

Musical Exposure

When I was heading toward high school, I began an exceedingly hot, 20-year love affair with rock ‘n’ roll. Heading off to college, I worried that we’d break up. What a relief to walk across campus during freshman orientation and come upon a band doing a perfectly acceptable rendition of “Boney Maroney.”

In high school, I was familiar with popular folk music (e.g., Weavers, Kingston Trio), mainly because of my bother. At college, I was exposed to an expanded repertoire of folk and blues (e.g., Huddie Ledbetter, Robert Johnson) and found time for concerts ranging from Joan Baez to Doc Watson.

In one of the early 1960s folk music periodicals, I read about a little known Bob Dylan, who had recently arrived in New York City. Captivated by his music, particularly since it was easy to play, I was blown away the first time I heard the Byrds doing Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Folk rock covered two of my bases.

Though not much of a jazz aficionado, I always slipped in a little--enough to be mesmerized by Paul Desmond’s solos during a Brubeck concert.

Current Musical Settings 

Most of the stations I preset on my car radio are news or talk; however, I’ve got one each for Classic Rock, Classical and Country. I’m amazed that the music I tune to most in the car or at home is Country. 

Country and Western was atop my dislike list when I grew up. But today’s Country…how can I object to songs like “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)”? Or months ago I thought the Wall of Sound was back--minus brass, plus cowboy hat--when I heard “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” Go ahead, Google the YouTube clips or try these links: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HX4SfnVlP4, www.youtube.com/watch?v=0c4ti6TKzt0  

Wrap Up 

Now that I’ve gotten this far, I realize I left out part of the musical story. I’ll save it for next week.


  1. 23 09 11

    Your writing style is easy and excellent. Love the anecdotes.

    Thi and I went to a Ramsay ewis Trio concert in Wolfeboro last saturday. It was very intimate, and like being back in a night club in the 50's. Except that there was no smoky atmosphere.

    Cheers, Luke

  2. 23 09 11

    Right back!

    Make that "Ramsay Lewis Trio".

    I don't know who is "Ramsay ewis".