Monday, October 23, 2017

The musician in the dad

Louis Armstrong
My very-much-younger brother
Rob could recognize the sound of
Louis' horn when he was a toddler.

Below: Glenn Miller
Mom and Dad loved his music
and made sure I loved it, too.

On a wind-up gramophone in the 1950s; on my portable record-player in the 1960s; and later, on a cabinet stereo or even a battery-operated cassette player— my parents loved to play the music of their youth: swing, blues, jazz, swing, and one of their favourites: Dixieland.

When my brother Clint and I were still quite small, we learned the names of all Dad's favourite bands and the band leaders, and several of the musicians, not just Louis and Glenn.
Our younger sister was either too young or too disinterested. Probably too young.
Canadian Army Show

Like so many music students in the pre-WWII era, Dad had to learn violin when he was a youngster, but his real love was the trumpet. He could, and did, play other horns and other instruments, but he always loved his trumpet.

Dad played standing bass* in a dance band, and was a musician in the Canadian Army Show in Britain in WWII (where his other assignments included painting scenery, because he was also a dab hand with a brush).

Army show musicians, singers, and artists, all belonged to the army—they wore army uniforms, but they weren't trained soldiers. The show's job, as bombs dropped all around, was to entertain Canadian, British and other allied troops who were about to be sent across the English Channel to France.

One almost-fateful day, members of the army show were rounded up, put on a train and told their eventual destination was France...once there, they would no doubt be expected to use rifles, hand grenades, and who-knew-what-all weapons. They were not amused.
No amount of talking could convince superior officers that they didn't know one end of a machine gun from the other but, at the last minute, orders came to send them back to the Army Show from which they had come. Great sighs of relief (and cheers, I imagine) from scenery-painters, sign-painters, musicians and other entertainers! They'd have been helpless cannon fodder for sure, I'd bet.


Years later, back home, married and enjoying fatherhood, Dad quickly recognized my brother Clint's musical aptitude and eventually taught him to play trumpet.
However, I was, and am, tone deaf, so Dad told me early on that the best he could do for me was to teach me to listen to music, to learn and appreciate the sound of each instrument.
I'm so grateful he did that. I still can't carry a tune in a bucket, but I learned all the words to all the songs I heard on the radio, all the hymns in church, and can enjoy mouthing the words when others around me are singing songs from the 1940s and 50s, the 60s and 70s.
Nothing, however, matched the enjoyment of listening to Dad and Clint playing trumpet together. It gave me great pleasure, all warm and fuzzy and proud.

One of the sweetest and funniest things Dad did: when he bought my portable record-player, it came with a box of 45rpm records: a full set of Glenn Miller's music. Dad said I had to play one Glenn Miller record for every rock'n'roll record. Although I discontinued that one-for-one as I grew older, Dad's patient instruction stood me in good stead when it came to listening to the sound of other musicians, other orchestras, other bands.


I love a lassie, a bonnie Hielan' lassie
She can warble like a blackbird in the dell.
(Traditional Scottish song)

My mother, however, carried her own musical instrument within her: she could whistle every song she'd ever heard. She could definitely "warble like a blackbird in the dell" as the song says.

When I’m lonely, dear white heart;
Gordon and Pauline Davies
black the night or wild the sea,
By love’s light, my foot finds
the old pathway to thee.
                                (Eriskay Love Lilt)


Dad gave Mom an engagement ring before he went overseas. When he returned to the west coast of Canada, he married her: Pauline MacKenzie, his high school sweetheart.

One last note...when I was 21, my old parents became new parents: and my brother Rob quickly made it clear (when he was a toddler) that he had inherited our dad's artistic ability. Rob has always made his living in the animated cartoon industry, and I'm ever-so-very proud of him, proud to the point of annoying him when I get too gushy. Sorry, kiddo, but that's me.

*Bass, upright bass, string bass, acoustic bass, acoustic string bass, contrabass, contrabass viol, bass viol, standup bass, bull fiddle and bass fiddle. (Wikipedia)

PS—One day I might tell you about the bagpipe lessons I insisted on.

Posting for Fiona's wonderful meme  Our World Tuesday.


ellen b. said...

I enjoyed your family history. Great memories.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
That was a wonderful shared memory Kay! Music, I think, is a bit like mathematics; one either has 'it' or one doesn't - but if the latter, there is always something else of equally impressive skill. For you it is words! YAM xx

Jo said...

"One last note" Kay, your are so good with words! Someone has to listen to music so your talent is appreciated very much. Great story about your dad, and siblings and I read open-mouothed about a lady who whistles. How awesome! Blessings Jo

carol l mckenna said...

What a wonderful tribute to your family of origin ~ and intriguing post ~ glad Dad got sent back to where he belonged in WWI ~ ^_^

Love and light,

A ShutterBug Explores ~ aka ~ (A Creative Harbor)

Felicia said...

I wish I had your gift of storytelling. Your Dad sounds like he was an amazing and talented fellow.

Lady Fi said...

Thank you for sharing your memories! A musical upbringing brings so much joy.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Love your family stories. My little brother was the musical one in our family (me, I have exactly the same ear for music that you do and was told the exact thing... some of us have to be listeners). Anyway, when my brother was in a college band Louis Armstrong came to town for a concert and at the after party he sat beside my brother who played the piano to accompany Louis singing ' What a Wonderful World'.... Bob (my brother) kept an autographed copy of that sheet music on his piano all his life. And they played a recording of that song at his funeral, so it always makes me cry a bit.

NatureFootstep said...

nice to learn about your musical family. :) The mucic I too listened to as a child. :)