Random Thoughts

The Soundtrack of My Life

... there is something so important about songs...

Ann Robbins Talbot

"Music is the soundtrack of our lives." If you step away and view your life as a movie, this quote from Dick Clark rings so true. A certain song can bring back a person, place or event in a second.

The first song I ever learned was "down in the meadow in an itty bitty pool; swam three little fishies and a mama fishy too; swim said the mother fishy, swim if you can; and they swam and they swam all over the dam."

I was not a pretty preschooler in the manner of Shirley Temple. And the Dionne Quintuplets, a year older than I, were very interesting characters. So, early on, I realized that I needed to develop some kind of talent to get a little attention. Song and dance! That was it. I learned to sing "Three Little Fishies" with lots of hip movement. Being a chubbette, there was a lot of hip to move. Everyone commented on my cuteness, so I learned a second song, "Mairzy Doates," and became enrolled in dancing lessons tap and ballet. My teacher was E. Virginia Williams, later to be the founder of the Boston Ballet Company. It was quickly apparent that I did not have the physical attributes needed for a ballerina, so my concentration was tap. I remember being a munchkin on the stage of the Auditorium Theater in Malden Square in a purple, lime and fuschia costume as we presented "The Wizard of Oz". I had rhythm!

Upon entering my third grade classroom, I hit a hard reality. There were three singing groups the Robins, the Bluebirds and the Blackbirds. I was terribly disappointed not to be designated a Robin since my name was Ann Robbins. And I was doubly disappointed to discover that the Blackbirds were only to mouth the words, not sing. Song and dance was slipping away.

One year I attended the YMCA Day Camp. On Talent Day three of the older girls sang a lovely song in harmony "Shine Glorious Sun." I was so envious. Imagine my delight when I entered sixth grade and found there was a place for me. In our music book was "Shine Glorious Sun" and there was a little rhythm part of three or four notes for us Blackbirds. Even though the melody was off limits to me, I was going to part of the chorus after all.

I guess Junior High is the time when your personal taste begins to emerge. My older brothers had lots of records, mostly jazz. I remember Cab Calloway, Count Basie and an album from "Cabin in the Sky." I was not fond of this sound. I longed for a musical style of my own. Suddenly the radio became my good friend and I was a daily listener of the Boston Ballroom in the late afternoon. The DJ played the popular hits of the day from four to six o'clock, most of them tuneful sing-a-longs. I discovered that my classmates were also listening to pop music and learning the songs. When we were together, we became a little chorus of our own.

The technology of music began to change. The large radios that were pieces of furniture taking the most important place in each livingroom were replaced with table models. Soon every home had a record player. One 78 rpm record at a time could be heard at about three minutes each. A record album consisted of several records, each in a paper sleeve, held together in a three ring notebook. I first owned an album of the songs from "Gulliver's Travels", a full-length cartoon. The princess in the story had a song called "Faithful" and the prince in this Romeo and Juliet knock-off had a song called "Forever". When they finally lived happily ever after, their final song was "Faithful Forever" of course.

When 33 1/3 rpm records came out, albums became very popular. The whole album was on one record in a cardboard sleeve. Even the sleeves became collectors' items. My first album was "Miss Liberty", a gift from my brother. It was my first taste of Broadway music, songs that told the story, and I was hooked for life.

Pop music continued to come out on singles, but a new speed was added, 45 rpm. The hole in the center was about an inch in diameter requiring new record players or adaptations. And now the mechanisms allowed many records to be piled up and played automatically without a person running to change each one.

High school was the time that music became an integral part of my life. It was the era of the popular male Italian singers like Frankie Laine and Tony Bennett. The female soloists like Patti Page and Rosemary Clooney were big. The quartets were amazing. I even attended some concerts at Hampton Beach when the Four Lads were singing. Each quartet had a slightly different style and they were fun to sing with.

Instrumental music had changed from big bands and jazz combos to orchestras with lots of violin. Soundtrack music was popular and long playing records could be purchased for every movie and Broadway show. But records scratched, broke, and warped in too much heat. Needles were a pain in the neck. Soon records were replaced by tapes which eventually stretched with use until they were just a series of squeaks. CD's have followed, but their longevity is still unknown. The newest item is the I-pod which I know nothing about.

What happened to the dancing part of my life plan? I washed out of ballet, lost interest in tap. But in my college years I found modern dance. We dove in wholeheartedly. We went to workshops to learn the basics of movement and floor patterns. We formed a Modern Dance Club and by trial and error, learned about staging. We performed in solos, duos, all the way up to ensemble pieces, agonizing over our musical selections and our choreography. And what a time we had with costuming. Martha Graham would not have been pleased with our end-of-the-year extravaganzas, but we were stars in our own universe. As a result of endless rehearsals, I know every note of "Waltz of the Flowers", Copeland's "Rodeo"  and "Teddy Bear's Picnic". I even did a solo to a reading the poem "What is a Girl?" It was great fun.

With CD's being so handy to store, much previous music has been re-recorded. Looking through a catalogue is like traveling back through life. Collections of pop music by one artist, collections from a particular year, collections of a special genre all are found on CD. In my car I have six CD's of Broadway music to keep me company. At home I am more liable to play new-age artists like David Young and George Winston something mellow with flutes and guitar. I am not big on country but I own all of Jo Dee Messina's songs because she was my student in fourth grade. I have most of Andrew Lloyd Weber's albums, even the ones that didn't become popular like "Aspects of Love." And I have all of Simon and Garfunkel just because I like to hear them sing.  

Several years ago when I began collecting CD's, I asked my husband to buy me a good player for my birthday. He bought a wonderful little Bose. I would turn it way up and listen from all points in the house, then run down and change the CD or play it again. A few months ago, I made an interesting discovery. The machine has a repeat button. I don't have to dash downstairs at the end of every CD any more. Who knows what wonderful advances will continue to appear? I shall try to keep up. As long as I can hear my life favorites, I am happy.


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