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Tag Archive: 50s

Jul 10

Remembering summers past, a series Summer romances rarely survived until September


“What the heart has once owned and had, it shall never lose,”
- Henry Ward Beecher.

Summer romances, a cultural phenomenon, were big in the 50s and 60s.

I doubt if teens today truly understand what our summer romances were like– the giddiness, the misery, the sweetness, the inevitable parting.

Teen sweethearts do not part these days at summer’s end anyway. They simply text each other into infinity and blog unceasingly on Face Book.

We had one option and one only–write letters or hope they came. Usually we never saw or talked to our summer loves again.

For me, summer love meant Frank, and yes Pete, too.

I met Frank one summer at swim camp, and the next summer I met Pete while working out-of-state at a summer resort.

Both relationships lasted only for the summers in question. Letters were the way we stayed in touch at summer’s end as few people in those days had the technology to make long-distance phone calls. Traveling was out of the picture as well.

Eventually and predictably in the fall, the letters slowed and the romances faded.

When love went bad, girls and guys alike cried in our cherry phosphates while losing ourselves in movie and song.

It was a bittersweet, delicious time of life.

Once years later, just out of curiosity, I tried to find each of these dreamy guys.

I learned that Frank pursued a calling as a chaplain and likely died in Vietnam. Pete pursued a career as a hippy and might still be in Haight-Ashbury somewhere.

So life works out.

Yet, I still remember the songs about the heartbreak of summer when romances were sure to be fleeting and nearly always heartbreaking.

Remember the song “Summer Nights” from the blockbuster movie “Grease”. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John sang “Summer Nights” about their rockin’ summer romance of 1959.

The lyrics of “See you in September” by The Happenings sounds like it was directed at lonely kids away from home for the summer, “I’ll be away each and every night/While I’m away don’t forget to write.”

While at summer camp, these teens often met their true love only to realize too late that their storybook romance would be fleeting. Or, they would worry if the boyfriend or girlfriend back home would wait for them and vice versa.

Gary Lewis and The Playboys sang, “Save your heart for me.”

Chad and Jeremy’s ballad “A Summer Song” admonished summer lovers to live in the moment because autumn would surely come.

The Beach Boys sang the upbeat “All Summer Long” while Brian Hyland crooned “Sealed with a Kiss” as he wrote letters to his sweetheart lest she forget him.

Do kids today have any idea what a summer romance was really like in the summers of our youth? Romantic. Unrequited. Unconsummated. I am guessing no.

At least we had the comfort of knowing that summer romance could live on in our hearts forever.

May 05

Goofy songs and girl groups were the thing

Nothing triggers a memory quite like a song, especially a song from the 1950’s or early 1960’s.

Back then, we heard lyrics that were unforgettable. How could we forget? The songs were colorful, delightful, and yes, goofy.

Songs like “Tutti Frutti”, “Mambo Italiano”, “Shangrila”, and “Lollipop” were the rage in the 50’s.

Sort of miss those tunes these days since much of the music I hear on the radio is completely incomprehensible to me. I think I prefer goofy.

Dorothy, Christine, and Phyllis McGuire sang “Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at suppertime. Be my little sugar and love me all the time.”

In fact, I was so crazy about Phyllis McGuire that I actually went to my mom one day and said, “I want to change my name to Phyllis.”

Since my mother would not call me Phyllis, there was nothing left to do but form a girl group and name it.

Pat, Priscilla, Sue and I decided to call ourselves “The Pastels”. I still wanted to be called Phyllis.

We made our own outfits since we were taking clothing construction in Home Economics class and because we had some 4-H sewing projects ‘under our belt’. One wore pink, one blue, one yellow, and one mint green. I cannot remember who wore what.

Sometimes we carried matching pastel parasols and sang “C’est si bon” because we had recently learned the song in French class. That was reason enough to sing it. Sometimes we sang, “How ya’ gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree? How ya’ gonna keep ‘em away from Broadway, shoutin’ I know and I wanna go?”

That one was close enough to French for us so we sang it everywhere we performed. School programs, county festivals, and street corners.

Actually, we did not really need a reason to sing any song.

Instead of starting a garage band like teenagers do today, we stood on the corner and sang. No piano. No guitar. Just harmonizing.

Jack Madani wrote an essay titled “Pop and Rock Music in the 60’s, A Brief History” on Spectropop.com in which he talked about girl groups a lot like ours.

In the early 60’s, there were four main pockets of pop music, according to Madani—the East Coast DooWop and urban girl groups, the R&B and Soul scene, the California crowd such as The Beach Boys and studio groups in the east like Burt Bacharach, and last but not least, Motown recording artists.

One of those four categories caught our attention. The girl groups.

Yes, we did indeed stand on the street corner and sing a cappella.

Some of the girl groups made it big, too.

In the early 60’s, The Chiffons harmonized to “Sweet Talkin’ Guy”, and The Shangri-las sang “Leader of the Pack”. The Shirelles hit it big on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Dedicated to the One I Love”.

The Chiffons. The Shangri-las. The Shirelles.

The Pastels?

Well, maybe not The Pastels but we did succeed with the name. If you were going to form a girl group in those days, you had to name yourselves with a one-word title.

Yes, goofy songs and girl groups were ‘the thing’.

To clear this up for the under 40 crowd, that would be ‘the bomb’.

Dec 29

French horn finally gets the attention it deserves

In the month of December, one instrument, the French horn, finally gets the attention it is due.


You will hear the horn everywhere this time of year, at concerts, on the radio, and on nearly each Christmas music CD you own.


Christmastime is when this instrument shines.


The music of the season suits it perfectly.


You will notice its mellow notes and its unmistakable haunting sound rise above the other instruments because most seasonal pieces give the horn some prime solo time.


I am glad it gets its day because I dearly love the French horn.


Not many folks pay much attention to the French horn, until the holidays.  Sometimes, it is even the butt of jokes.


Nevertheless, I long to hear its haunting notes ring out, the notes that can range anywhere between that of a military fanfare and a sweet, low melody.


Surprisingly enough to me, I vaguely remember how to play some of those notes.


The French horn was the instrument I played in high school concert band, so I suppose that is why I am still intrigued by it.


I didn’t always love the French horn, however.


It was not what I wanted to play.


It did not interest me one whit then.


I wanted to play the sax like Sue.


A sax was cool, especially in the late 50’s.


My mother would not hear of me playing a saxophone, and said I would most certainly be playing the French horn.


First, she said I must learn the mellophone.


I had no clue why, and I had no idea what a mellophone was. It was not cool, that much I knew.


Reluctantly, I learned to play the mellophone. This instrument is fingered with the right hand, much like a trumpet and is usually the one of choice when French horn players join marching band. It was fairly easy to learn.


The French horn, on the other hand, is fingered with the left hand, while the right hand is placed in the bell to adjust the tone, tune the instrument, and evoke strange sounds much like those of hunting horns from post-medieval days. At the same time, one’s lips must be made to “buzz” against the mouthpiece, and one must learn to change the lips and facial muscles (embouchure) to play all the notes possible on this ancient instrument.


Music historians tell us that the French horn was first developed as a hunting horn in England around 1650. The French called it a German horn; the Germans called it a hunting horn; and the English called it the French horn. Who knows why that name stuck.


At any rate, when I reached eighth grade, I learned that the high school concert band desperately needed French horn players. So, three of us were moved “up,” if my memory serves me correctly. We were not so great, mind you, but we were the only French horn players around.


“My” choice of the French horn over the sax was looking better and better. The band had a plenitude of saxophonists anyway.


A senior, the lone French horn player in concert band, became our mentor.  Dean was good, very good.


He taught us how to make the instrument make grand sounds, and by our freshman year, our director and Dean developed a French horn quartet. Dean led we three freshmen, Harvey, Stan and me, in numerous practices, performances, contests, and concerts. We did infinitely better than “ just all right”, and we knew we were in the right place at the perfect time.


And to boot, we fell in love with this strange instrument, becoming one with it as only a French horn player can understand. We learned, as best we could, how to make it emit its striking sound.


In the fall, yes, we played mellophones in marching band.


Of course, there were French horn jokes to be endured because it was indeed an odd apparatus; jokes such as these:


“What is the difference between a French horn section and a ’57 Chevy? Answer—You can tune a ’57 Chevy.”


“How do you get your viola section to sound like the horn section? Answer—Have them miss every other note.”


Despite the jokes, despite the fact that I really did not want to play it, and despite the fact that a horn was not particularly cool in the world of a sixth grader, I came to adore it.


Somehow, my mother knew exactly what was right for me, even if I didn’t. I suspect she knew it suited my personality and that it would fast forward me straight into high school concert band.


So, when I hear the lovely and surreal sounds of the horn during the holiday season, I become well aware that it is always good to listen to one’s mother.


Sometimes, it takes a few decades to understand why.

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