Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sound of Music

Music has always been an influence on people beginning as a child. I feel that if a young boy or girl is deprived the joy of music, even as an infant, they are missing something huge.

When I was just a kid back in Smock, we did not listen to a varied bunch of musical styles. When walking up the street from church on a Sunday in any other season but Winter, you could hear the strains of Lil Wally or Marion Lush or The Dynasonics coming from almost every home. Sunday meant church but it also meant polkas.

As you are most aware if you have read any of my prior blog entries, Smock was a town that was filled with primarily Slovak and Polish people. Sure, we had a few other ethnic groups thrown in but those middle-Europeans were the majority. So polkas were prolific.

And even if you weren't Polish or Slovak, you knew the difference between an oberek and a czardas and you knew what "Chicago Style" verses "Hunky Style" meant. You knew that Ja Parobok z'Kapusan was played at weddings and you could hum The Bridal Dance. And you got your share of this music at weddings, parties and every Sunday when Johnnie Sims Polka Party was broadcast from Latrobe, home of great polkas, Fred Rogers and Rolling Rock beer.

For me, I began my "study" of music on the piano in St. Hedwig's church hall when I was 5 years old. It was an old upright. I remember that it came from Philadelphia, which was a town far, far away. I had no idea that it was out of tune. The church hall was never locked for the same reason that you never locked your house or your car doors. Later at about age 9, I began to sneak into St. Hedwig's (which was also always unlocked) and play their awful electronic Baldwin organ. I learned what all of the little tabs did. And I used to think that the keyboard marked "Swell" meant that you could play some really swell music on this thing. I even learned to play the 16 pedals which were immaculate since no foot had ever trod on those in our church.

As far as I know, the only musical person that studied music was Bob, my neighbor. I used to hear him squeaking his clarinet through the walls of our duplex home. He went on to play saxophone and trumpet and founded a polka band called The Dynasonics. Other than Bob, I was the only one that I knew about from Smock Hill who ever saw the inside of a recording studio.

Music tells so much about a society. And the music that echoed in those hills around Smock was decidedly middle-European. But it was happy music, most of the time. Besides, how can you tell a sad story in a polka?

As Johnnie Sims used to say, "Happy music for happy people."

Later in life, I took up the Irish whistles and like the piano and organ, I taught myself. And ironically today, I still play happy music, mostly in churches.

Who would have ever thought that Jack & Margie's kid would ever do that?


Warren said...

I love rolling rock beer!


Cori said...

Well you are pretty SWELL at playing those whistles!