Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Memory, in F Major



Music did not run in my family, it fled. Screaming, arms raised, seeking shelter, mercy, from a storm of sharps for flats, and flats for naturals.

We had no piano; no one sang, or if they did, there would be some listener's hell to pay.

Just to give you a vague idea, after try-outs for fifth grade chorus, my sister, my beautiful older sister, was one of only two kids in her class of 25 who didn't make the cut. So every week, while 23 of her classmates trotted off to join 46 others for choral practice, my sister and Steve Melman spent two hours in study period.

That my sister would be so singled out, infuriated my parents, and gave them the very reason they needed to boycott all elementary school recitals for the rest of our born days.

Including mine. Compared to the rest of my family, I was practically Leontyne Price. But they never knew that. And even if they had come to my recitals, they still wouldn't have known that. Not sporting those tin ears, they wouldn't.

Amazingly, though, my parents owned an excellent sound system -- high-end, better than all our neighbors, with a Dual single play/semi-automatic turntable, and a TEAC reel-to-reel player. A lot of bang when you consider they only laid out bucks for three record albums. The demo tape came with purchase, and my parents never considered buying another.

"Come fly with me, come fly, come fly away..." That was on the demo tape. My parents hated Frank Sinatra. "You think that's good?" Dad would scoff. "Oh, turn it off, or at least, turn it down," my mom would say.

When buying this sound system, they must have run into one hell of a salesman; the kind of guy who, if you go shopping for a magnifying glass, two hours later has you signing a contract for the Hubble telescope.

But back to Christmas.

Of our three albums, one third was Mitch Miller's Sing Along With Mitch Christmas Album. Since we listened to this record for one full month every year for maybe six years, I can tell you everything about it, from Mitch's Santa cap on the cover to all the liner notes.

So one year, I guess this would be about third grade for me, I spent my filthy lucre ($1 or so) on a new Christmas album from the Thrify's bin. Some compendium by the Norman Tabernacle Choir.

As we sat down to a dinner, I timed it to play when we tucked into our ribbe and such.

"What is that?" my sister screamed. "It sounds like the Salvation Army Band."

"She's right," my dad said, holding his head."My ears are exploding."

"Who can hit a note that high? Can Heidi [our second Heidi schnauzer] hear it?" said -- I don't know -- someone I still hate.

I suppose I got rather weepy at this point. And my mother patted my shoulder. "Well, it was nice of you to buy this for us. Maybe we should give it another listen, try it later. But you know what I think? I think now we'd all like to sing along with Mitch."

24 comments:

  1. I remember that Sing Along With Mitch album, Karin, my parents had it, too.

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  2. I'm glad you found a way to let music into your life despite acute deprivation in your youth. Of course, there still is that matter of the Hardanger fiddle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZX0e65xMtw
    Some of us love it even if we were born in all the wrong places.

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  3. Funny story, Ms. Bugge. But, unfortunately, I must inform you that having published The Christmas Beakfast Story several years ago, and every year thereafter, I own the rights to the word "Christmas." My lawyers will be contacting you about compensating me for violating my rights.

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  4. Oh, get in the Linden line. Elena is already suing me for the Mormon-Norman. But Norman sang it best.

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  5. Ours was "Roger Williams' Christmastime." I still love it. It reminds me of my father. I didn't know it was cheesy until I played it for people other than my immediate family. Now I have to sneak.

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  6. My dad used to always ask us to sing his favorite song..."Far, Far, Away!!!" I was lucky in that my mom and dad had great stereo system (that my dad designed and put together) and a great 78 library of mostly swing music and classical...and even Mitch's Christmas album!!! When I was in Junior High I joined the Columbia record club...and are you ready for this? For two of my 12 "free" albums...I chose Thelonios Monk and Dave Brubeck!!!

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  7. We had a few Belafonte albums, Fiddler on the Roof, and Irma La Douce, which my parents had gone to see in SF. No Mitch for us. I once knew a woman whose ex had worked for Mitch - his name was Beauchamp.

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  8. My parents always had the latest and greatest high-tech things. And plenty of albums, of which I don't think any held Christmas music. And not a soul in the family was musical. My children and husband? Well, we can give yowling cats in heat a run for their money. It's a point of pride with us. We used to call hubby's sister on her birthday, and put all the kids on speaker phone, so they could sing to their aunt. Imagine our glee when we got her answering machine one year, serenaded her, and then, a few hours later, got a call back. She was giggling hysterically over her very tuneful Irish husband's puzzled question, "What the hell was that?" Some of us are not meant to be around music, Christmas or otherwise (with credit to Mr. Earl for use of the nomenclature "Christmas").

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  9. Exciting times, Mitch Miller and Christmas concerts. I was one of the tallest and always stood on the back bench. One year someone said something funny, the bench wobbled and we all tipped over backwards. Best concert ever.

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  10. We always had music and we weren't great musicians but we had a piano. I still love Christmas music and built some Christmas stations on Pandora the other day, I just love it.

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  11. I think I married Steve Melman.

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  12. We always had piano music in my grandmother house, because my mother used to play piano very well, she was very talented. I remember that on Sundays, my mother played piano all day long and me and my sister loved to hear many popular and classic music. But me and my sister did not had any talent to play music and to sing too. But we loved to hear my mother to play.
    A Merry Christmas to all of you!!

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  13. I was quite shocked to learn that, according to Jim ("next we have a tone poem") Svejda, MM was considered a top notch classical oboist. Hard to reconcile that with the Santa Hat, but we've all got to make a living.

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  14. Not only was he a superb oboist [jazz and classical, early crossover], but he was a fine conductor, maybe the definitive one for Gershwin. I have a CD of him conducting the London Symphony, Rhapsody in Blue and American in Paris. No matter how overplayed those pieces can be, his version is always fresh for me. I can also vouch for the oboe playing too, as I have a CD of that too, thanks to Svejda.

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  15. I loved this post and read it aloud to my husband because you had me in stitches remembering this album. I went looking for it because I grew up listening to it but it was not one I inherited. We had the same turntable and TEAC reel-to-reel in my house, but we also had hundreds of albums. Present day we have hours of holiday music on CD to enjoy over and over again. Merry Christmas Karin!

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  16. I suspect my father has that album somewhere for safe keeping... Merry Christmas, KB!!

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  17. I think my parents have that album. I will check this weekend. Of course there is no turntable to play it on! Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

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  18. And Merry Boxing Day to all of you. And for those poking around the family heirlooms for an old copy of Mitch Miller, I wouldn't look too hard if I were you. (Sharon, your family actually had music in the house, so that pricey sound system was justified.)

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  19. That album always played in our house the entire month of December. You hilarious. And 'boxing day' Ya, my brother and I usually celebrated that too. We seemed to always be getting into a scuffle over the holidays.

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  20. I think Mitch taught at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, and Jim Svejda was one of his students. Later, he ran A&R at Columbia Records.

    Old Mitch -- I do miss that generation, especially when I hear whatever's coming out of the speakers in the car next to mine.

    Poignant, funny, bittersweet -- what great writing . . . !

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  21. I so agree about missing the music of Mitch's time!!! And about the intensity of the feeling when you hear the boom box sounds coming from the car next to you!!!

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  22. Teac reel to reel ? Still got it, and speakers?

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  23. Our family's Alvin and the Chipmunks album would likely have killed them.

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