Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Family That Sings Together

We have quite a musical family. That is true today and it was true in the past.

When I went to the funeral for my cousin (first cousin, once removed), Eva Jane, her children spoke about how much she loved singing and dancing. She loved it so much, in fact, that even though her memories were fading away, she could remember the hymns and sing them word for word, on pitch and in tune. Her father, Tom Smith, my grandfather Raymond's brother, sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The Smith brothers, of which my grandfather was one, often sang together for events in Springville, Utah, where they lived. Another brother, Claude, also sang with the Tabernacle Choir.

My grandfather, Raymond (or Ray to his family) loved singing as he worked in the house, or in the garden, or at his work,  just as Eva Jane did. Grandmother Vivian told how he loved to sing to her: "I Dream of Vivian with the Light Brown Hair." That was his version of "I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," a song written by Stephen Foster (c. 1854). She played the song for me on the piano and I learned to sing it as a girl. Grandma was always a bit concerned that the case of pneumonia (not his first) he developed after walking her home from a dance they had attended where he sang might have lead to the lung cancer he developed which took his life. "I was cold and he gave me his suit jacket so that I would be warm and then he got sick," she said. "He was overheated from the dance and the singing he had done."

Grandfather Ray also liked to sing "Winter Wonderland" to his Vivian. That song was not published until 1934 and my grandfather died in 1936 so he would not have had long to sing it to her. He was an Irish tenor and was in many musicals in Utah County. We have a photo of him with the cast from "HMS Pinafore" written by Gilbert and Sullivan as it was presented in Springville. We also have a photo of him posing with other members of the lyric choir of Huntington in Emery County. By then, he and my grandmother were living there.

Grandmother Smith was an accomplished pianist. In her teen-aged years she got a job playing piano for the silent movies. The pianists had to come up with their own script of music; it didn't travel around with the movie. If the scene was sad, she would have to play sad music and, if was happy, she would need to play upbeat music. She said she loved the job because she got to see all of the new movies. She also accompanied her sister Jessie, who loved to sing. Grandmother always said Jessie had such a beautiful voice that everyone wanted her to sing.

Grandma's father, John Pritchett, was a pharmacist who built his business in Huntington. But he could also play the violin though much of the music he played was fiddle music. "I loved to hear him play "Turkey in the Straw,'" said Grandma. She said that he often played for dances and could play many types of music including waltzes. In that day, the dance to do in public was the waltz. In fact, the two-step was considered a bit risqué.

My Aunt Renee, my mother's sister, played the trumpet. She was very good. However, the thing I remember most about her musical talent was her ability to whistle. She could do many different bird calls and sounded, at times, like a flute and at others like a horn. It was truly remarkable. I tried to learn from her but I couldn't, and still can't, whistle at all. Aunt Renee could also play the harmonica. She tried to teach me to do that as well and, once again, I failed to learn

On the other side of the family, my grandfather also had a beautiful singing voice. In his early days he sang with and lead choirs. My father and mother were both singers. In fact, the night that my father met my mother, she sang in a quartet for the floor show. They sang, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes." My father saw her at that dance, and told one of his friends, "That is the girl I am going to marry." He asked her to dance, swept her off her feet and, later, did marry her. I didn't ever hear them sing together, that I remember, but I can only imagine that it was beautiful. Even in his later years, Dad sounded like Bing Crosby. My mother was a second soprano and could also sing alto. Dad could also play the harmonica and loved to do so at camp outs. I know, first hand, that my father was a wonderful dancer.

I am not much of a singer. I was always terrified to sing in front of people unless I was singing with a choir or chorus. I did a fair amount of singing for others when I was a child and even took singing lessons. When I was little, I was not afraid but, when I became a teenager, I was horrified. When you try to sing when you are so frightened, your voice will not respond. It shakes and squeaks and you cannot, for all your trying, reach any of the high notes. I decided to write instead of sing.

 My husband, sang in the Danish LDS Choir when he was in Denmark. He sang a bit with church and college choirs after he returned home but he, like me, never sang a lot. He did play the trumpet but, over the years, he has not kept that up.

However, fortunately for me, my life has never been devoid of music. My children and grandchildren all have musical gifts. Many of them play the piano, many play other musical instruments and all of them can sing. Most of them, in fact, sing like angels. None of them are afraid to sing in public. They all have inherited the musical gene. So when it comes time for me to stand with a heavenly choir, after this life, I will just be able to keep my mouth shut and listen to my family singing around me.

If they are singing, I will be in Heaven.

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