Melodies Linger On

Rosemary Clooney has left the building.  So have Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Vic Damone and many others.    

As far as I know, there is no longer a radio station in central Indiana that plays their music. When my local radio station switched to an all-news format recently, listeners lost their last venue for the “music of your life” as the station once called its format.  Now, you will probably search the radio dial in vain to hear a song like “Star Dust,” Hoosier Hoagy Carmichael’s timeless tune that some say is the best popular song ever written.  

I know.  I’m getting old.  If there’s one thing that defines and separates the generations, it’s music.  It seems that, since time eternal, the “older generation” has berated the “younger generation” for their taste in tunes.  The minuet probably shocked George Washington’s parents.  Today’s “rap” and “punk” and “alternative” styles have caused genuine, and warranted, concern among parents and educators.

For our grandparents and great-grandparents, the music of the day was “Bicycle Built for Two” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”    Then, it wasn’t the sales of CD’s and videos that determined the hit songs.   It was sheet music.  There was a piano in nearly every home.  This was the heyday of the player piano, too, for the odd home that had no homegrown talent.

The pace picked up with the “jazz age” as “flappers” gyrated through songs like “Black Bottom” and “Five-foot Two.”  The Depression followed and the tempo slowed to “torch” songs like “Body and Soul” and the stark “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”  World War II and the big band era got the country tapping its foot again as the likes of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman created a sound that many will contend was the best that the country ever produced.   While some songs, like “One O’Clock Jump” shook the dance hall, others, such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” poignantly spoke for those whose loved ones were far from home.

Big band music faded after World War II and the baby boomers searched for something that would represent their own style and tempo.  What they discovered, of course, was “rock and roll.”  Elvis put on his blue suede shoes and the rest is history.  “Rock” has gone many routes, from teeny-bopper to disco to rap and beyond.  And we haven’t even mentioned other types of popular music, like folk and country, which have been evolving on parallel paths, sometimes crossing over here and there.

Over the years, some of the best music has come from movies.  Music and movies seem to go together.  Even silent films were never really silent.  They had music provided by a piano or, in larger theaters, pipe organs and small orchestras.  Early moviemakers realized that music could set the mood and convey feelings that the flickering screen could not.  When sound pictures came in, music was added to the soundtrack.  It’s movie music that tends to unite the generations.  The blockbuster “Titanic” gave us “My Heart Goes On” which became a hit with all ages.

For many of us, the first music we heard outside the home was at church.  “The Old Rugged Cross” is one of the first songs I ever remember, along with “Standing on the Promises” and “Showers of Blessing.“  Even today, when our congregation sings “Blessed Assurance,” in my mind I am a youngster again at Crystal Lake Church Camp.  We must have sung other songs there, but that one conjures up for me the entire week of fun and fellowship.

Think of all of the songs we have heard throughout our lives.  We sang to them, danced to them, laughed to them, cried to them, worked to them, and, mainly, made memories with them.  Who hasn’t turned on the radio and suddenly heard a song not thought of for years?  And who hasn’t had a song like that transport them back through time, to a place and a moment that you realize now has become a precious thing?

Music is poetry woven through our lives.  We hardly know it’s there, yet it is a strong current in our stream of time.   The days go by ever swifter, the world turns ever faster, and our music provides for us a rhythm and rhyme.  Radio stations may come and go, but the songs are never ending.  Their melodies linger on.