An Abiding Entity “Music”…..#5 (the 50’s)

When conversing – it has an unimaginable number of stories to tell

Mikes first remembrance of music was the melodic sonnet voice of his Mother, for she was one who bequeath lullaby’s.  As a toddler  the sound of  her voice  provided a sense of comfort and security in his new-found existence.    As he proceeded thru adolescents he found an almost surreptitious aspect to the harmonious meaning of music, an artistic paint to score the canvas of the melodic world and at the same time to underscore events and project stargazing visions.  There was unspoken adventure in music, he was able to find it in movies,  the radio broadcast,  the concert hall, a vitality of inspiration to those who understood its prevalence and meaning.


Burckhalter music curriculum was made up of several affiliations, the lower age classes being shepherd into a session called Rhythms, where they perform various exercises to recorded music.  Upon reaching the fourth grade those students with music interest are given the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity and discover hands-on the mechanics of the instrument of their choice and make a decision to continue on participating in the 5th and 6th grade orchestra.  The final music contribution was Dance.  Mikes mother along with volunteered help  instructed the H-6 grade class in the classic Waltz, Virginia Reel and Ballroom Dance.  Mike’s 4th grade-school musical ambition was to play the french horn, but was told by the instructor he might first see if he could blow a cornet.  After failing in his first attempt he was handed a tonette, a plastic toy appearing elongated instrument with finger holes and told if he wanted to proceed with the band music class he would have to practice with it.  After the second class, he gave his notice that he had no desire to play a tonette in an orchestra and dropped out of the class.

Class in position for the Standard Oil Broadcast

Class in position for the Standard Oil Broadcast

Appearance was deceiving, there was no such thing as nap time in Mr. Hayden’s fourth grade classroom,  the class students having been asked to lay their heads down on folded arms at their desks.   It was ten o’clock and the weekly Standard Oil Company School Radio Broadcast was about to begin.  The Broadcast was an instructional music program introducing students to an organized group of musicians commonly known as members of a symphony orchestra and their world of classical music.  Apparently Mr. Hayden in his wisdom thought that by laying one’s head down would make the person more conducive and attentive to the broadcast.   It was during this class time that a young Mike realized that his elicitation  what he believed to be the true meaning and scope of music was shared by others.  Mr. Hayden confirming his music appreciation by sharing the Standard School Broadcast and during the program’s absence, sharing his forte as an accomplished pianist performing  request from his students in the school’s music room.

Pictured on a musical canvas

It wasn’t a piano,  it was an entity and it was now residing in his living room.    There was  some doubt if the piano would remain,  something to do with ownership and family, but this didn’t concern him, it was here.    He had touch the piano once before when it sat at its original residence and it beckoned to him, at last he could  give it voice and  discover what it had to say.    The Upright had a name, Monarch,  but those gazing upon it couldn’t see the plaque hidden away inside that read, “Made by the House of Baldwin”.    He was truly impressed because Baldwin,  Steinway & Sons,  Bosendorfer,  were all renown names of concertmaster quality.  If only it could talk,  it could relate an unimaginable number of stories  it had experienced thru the years.  The young man having found a friend, soon discovering that it could discourse and he wouldn’t be the only one sensing what it had to say.  His friend could emit every emotion from light-hearted happiness,  to  largo despondency, it could paint a pictured aria on its musical canvas,  the  oceans bellowing the song of the high seas or  a forlorn  Wagon Train crossing the plains and the tapestry sound of a babbling brook on hillside.  This magical instrument knew no bounds,   providing a means to transport one to unlimited horizons.

Miklos Rozsa 1942 musical portrait of Rudyard Kiplings Jungle Book.

Miklos Rozsa 1942 musical portrait of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.

The young man’s discovering his fingers would effortlessly transfer  his melodious thoughts and emotion to the keyboard reaching a crescendo point his accompanying euphonious friend could read his every thought and give them revelation. There were times he could sit and play at his discretion and other times that were deemed not appropriate.  He respected the restrictions when applied and some weeks his total playing time was less than ninety minutes,  but only because other adventures called.  There was an unlimited amount of musical resources at his command, his family having accumulated a large collection of 78 rpm recording which were at his disposal for listening.  His older cousin Bud O’Toole was a collector of extended play 78 rpm recordings of all the great classical compositions, which were left  in Mike’s  possession while he was on active military duty during the Korean War.  His father’s taste in music was a limited one,  but occasionally while traveling with in him by car his Dad would turn on a local country-western station.   Mike’s mom enjoyed the light classics, big band and the pop music from the thirties and war years.    The young man kept current by radio with the Hit Parade and later with The Burgie Music Box and Lucky Larger Dance Time.  His younger sisters Kay and Nancy never encountered the affection that was apparent within, their predilection of music was something to listen to, not experience.

A young Sergei Rachmaninoff

Responsibilities and time limits prevailed when seated before the piano,  not everyone in the household shared his enthusiasm, his dad when returning from work at 5:00 p.m. preferred the solitude of a quiet house, thus the piano forte ceased before 5:00 .  With no formal training, despising the term “play by ear” he took it upon himself to learn the treble and bass cleft scales, the time and key signatures, able to discern sheet music but not a sight-reader.  Returning home from school one day the 5th grader was totally surprised when his mother asked if he wanted to take piano lessons. Visions of grandeur coming to mind, to journey down the same well-traveled road of Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky.

Mike giving voice to a friend.

 The first lesson was spent with hand position, finger crossover, rudimentary scales, a enlightenment of the basics which the youth had already acquired.  The second lesson was one of sight-reading right and left hand elementary melodies.  The middle-aged instructor somewhat at awe with her new student before leaving placing a very simplistic arrangement of Home On The Range in the key of G on the piano instructing him to practice sight-reading and not to memorize it.  On her return the following week, Mike played Home On The Range, trying his best to stop a natural instinct to add progressions and flourishes that were not in the musical score, but to no avail.  The piano teacher immediately arose, walked to where his mother was seated in the dining room, giving noticed that she would no longer be available, emphasizing that the young man lacked the discipline to play the music as written.

Korla Pandit & Liberace

  With his favorite radio programs enriched with their classical background music now a signpost of the past and with the advent of a television’s new personalities such as Korla Pandit and Liberace both attempting to placate the past classical heritage.  Mike was very much aware of a transition, the popular standards of the thirties that were broadcast were soon overshadowed by the hits of American Bandstand.  As a youth he soon discovered discernment comes with age,  surprisingly he never acquired a desire to memorize a lyric, finding he was not prejudicial but holding fast to a belief that lyrics were poetic works, whereas the euphonious rainbow performed by instrumentation was an illustrated canvas of interpretation and symbiosis painted by the composer and residing within the musical spectrum were the meaningful signatures of life.



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