The Music Man or Every Good Boy Does Fine

My first formal introduction to music was as a 3rd grader in 1960. Mr. Applebaum was hired at our school to teach us music appreciation. Apparently, someone made a donation to our poor private school to give us this luxury beyond mere reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. Applebaum was a roly-poly guy but with an authoritative attitude. Even though he looked like an easy mark, no one messed with him. Besides, he carried a long wooden pointer (but with a rubber tip) to emphasize the words that came out of his mouth. Or maybe he was just a creature of habit as he also conducted a band.

Mr. Applebaum never called us by our first names- it was always mister or miss so-and-so. Even though he was dealing with eight year old kids, it was all business. His life was music and he expected everyone else to share the same enthusiasm.

Fifty years later, I still remember the music associations that were drilled into the deep recesses of my mind: EGBDF- or “every good boy does fine”, as well as FACE. Both of these acronyms are notes in ascension placed in between each other. In other words, it starts with E, then F, followed by G, then A, B, C, D, E and finally F. Supposedly, you can place the first E on one the of lower lines or spaces on a musical graph and you will never forget how to sight read music. Okay, if you say so.

Mr. Applebaum wanted to show the school authority as well as parents that his charges were getting bang for the buck. He organized both a choir and a small school band. His trademark conducting method was to arrange all songs that were to be played with musical instruments to start with the same two beat staccato lead in as he waved his magical wand. It was very common and comical to witness the Star Spangled Banner start like this: “one, two, one two, one two, (slow down the beat) Oh.. Oh.. say (pause) can (pause) you (pause) see…”

Years later, good old Applebaum convinced the private high school board to let him put together a play production for my senior class. Nine and a half years after I first observed his baton waving shenanigans and marching band staccato, he was at it again and for four performances of My Fair Lady, the audience heard songs like “Loverly” and “I Should Have Danced All Night” start with the ubiquitous “one, two, one, two, one two..” I was one of the few who was in on the secret as only a couple of my 3rd grade classmates had gone on to the same high school. I guess Mr. Applebaum thought of himself as another Professor Harold Hill.

The next year as a freshman in college I took Music 101. I could read the sheet music and play half well a recorder but the lady music teacher did not share my sense of rhythm and gave me my first D. I had one more in Speech and Performing Arts but for the next three and a half years in a normal discipline of coursework I got mostly A’s and a couple of B’s and ended up graduating with honors.

About a dozen years later, I decided to take voice lessons as a lark. Again, I had to get used to sight reading a musical composition sheet. This time, though, there were words in Italian all over the page. My instructor, a Doctor of Music no less, kept on telling me to sing from the diaphragm. The next time I came to his place for a lesson, I brought one with me and asked him how I could sing through it. That’s when he threw me out and that was the end of music as a hobby. I don’t sing in the shower but I do in my car. Now that people talk on their cell phones while driving, with the window raised, most people can’t tell if I am making a fool of myself or breaking the law. Aren’t the two mutually exclusive?

Life is Grand- I Mean, Great

Recently a sister felt it was time to brag about her grandchild to all her relatives who email with her. This was in response to another sister whose daughter-in-law sends out daily video and pictorial releases of the first child/grandchild.

I don’t have a problem with receiving their daily missives. Not at all. Keep ’em coming. What bothers me is what I supposed to call their kids? My siblings are grandmothers. But, I am in the prime of my life and don’t want anyone to add the word ‘grand’ as a title when addressing me. I’m the great uncle, not grand uncle- see? I’m a great uncle besides that. The objects of affection are great nephews and nieces- not grand nephews and nieces. Got it?

So, my sister- or should I call her granny?- related the following story about her oldest grandchild who is now about 4 years old, I think. Heck, I don’t even remember his name. I always nod when she mentions it, knowing very well that it is not sticking in my memory bank.

The boy received surgical stitches the other day. He fell on a toy and got a large cut above his eye. His mother- whose name I don’t remember, either- said: “He was such a trooper! We all kept talking to him during the process to keep him occupied…here are a few things he said on the exam table, while he was being stitched…

(Ed. Note: I promise you that this will all make sense later on. Let me know when you are finished reading. Ok?)

Dr.: Do you want ice-cream after we fix you up?
Boy: yeah
Dr: Which flavor?
Boy: RED!!!! (with tears streaming down his cheeks)
Dr: You mean strawberry?
Boy: no, cherry!!!! OUCH OUCH!

A couple of minutes later..
Boy: It hurts it hurts! I want a cherry on top! I want cherry ice cream with a cherry on top so they are twins! (sob sob)

Boy: I want apple ice cream!
Dr: Do you mean apple ice-pop?
Boy: NO!!!!! I want red apple ice-cream!

Mother (what’s her name): When mommy and daddy were little, we also got big boo-boos and went to the doctor to get stitches.
Boy: And after a lot of days and nights, Dr. Sammy took them out?”

My sister’s daugther-in-law continued: “I realized later that Dr. Sammy’s prize box was empty, so that’s why he was telling me so that I would give him ice-cream. In the car on the way home, he said, ‘Mommy, we should get Dr. Sammy more prizes ‘cuz he doesn’t have any more!’
He noticed on his own! LOL!” (Don’t you love it when people laugh at their own humorous observations. [Ha, ha])

Dear reader, if you’ve stopped rolling your eyes, I’d like to point out the significance of this vignette. You see, when anyone ever looks at me after I say something stupid- which is usually about every fifteen minutes- someone will invariably say to me,” hey, did somebody drop you on your head when you were a kid?”

I’d then usually nod and say, “not quite but my sister brained me with a large metal spinning top when I was three and she was four. I don’t remember much about it other than being told I was taken to the doctor who stopped the bleeding and stitched up my skull.”

I don’t recall as well receiving any gifts to help make the hurt go away. I didn’t get even with her but my sister got her comeuppance a couple of years later and this I do remember- she came running home from playing next door with our neighbor who lived on the same floor in our apartment building. She was screaming hysterically because a wire hanger was caught in her head and couldn’t extract it. I think she had to get a tetanus shot because of the metal breaking the skin. Served her right.

Oh, and this is not one of the sisters who are grandmothers. Yeah, I guess you can say I hit the trifecta in female siblings. Well, nobody is perfecta.

Chicago Radio Daze

Do kids listen to the radio for music anymore? Apparently less and less are doing so and broadcasters are taking notice. A new 24 hour all-news radio station is taking to the airwaves in Chicago with the call letters of WWWN-FM , 101.1 on the dial. Most recently the same spot had been WKQX, a music station. In addition, WBBM-AM in Chicago, a CBS-owned radio station, has just started duplicating their AM signal on 105.9 FM. It had until recently been WCFS, an adult contemporary music station.

CBS officials say that by adding the FM signal for their all-day newscasts, other than seasonal sports broadcasts, those in downtown, high-rise congested areas as well as far out suburbs will now be able to pick up their signal. AM stands for amplitude modulation which relies on the strength or loudness of the signal. This is why some stations covet having 50,000 clear watt signals that get picked up at night as well. There are some AM stations that are even mandated to go off the air after sundown. WGN was chartered an all clear 50,000 watt station because they were willing to air a decent amount of farm related news to the Midwest.

FM stands for frequency modulation. The ability to pick up these signals are based on the proximity, not the loudness, to the transmitter. This is why it is often easier to pick up FM radio stations than AM in areas with tall buildings. The signal strength is not interfered with as much especially if the FM transmission tower is nearby.

This jockeying for supremacy of the Chicago airwaves and changing of the guard in listener tastes brings back several memories for baby boomers listening to radio in the 1960’s. Before the Beatles showed up we used to listen to rock and roll stars like Elvis, The Beach Boys, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Leslie Gore and many others. The music played loud and it all sounded pretty much the same. But to us the real stars were maybe the disk jockeys who fought for our attention on the various music radio outlets.

At one time or another three stations- WLS, WJJD and WCFL rocked us for loyalty and ratings numbers. Dick Biondi was king of the hill on WLS. By 1964 he was gone and returned to Chicago on arch-rival WCFL in 1967. Biondi as of most recently was still on the airwaves doing nostalgic radio, some fifty years later.

Art Roberts took the baton at WLS in the mid 1960’s and was the top dj for a while. Larry Lujack went on to super stardom first at ‘LS and then ‘CFL in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

By the late 1960’s, I didn’t care much to listen to the British rockers who inundated American culture. As I was in my late teens then, I was more interested in sports and talk on the radio to help me fall asleep.

In the morning, I’d wake up to, as did most kids, Wally Phillips on WGN radio because that’s what our mothers were listening to in the kitchen as they prepared breakfast. In my case, it was something I could not avoid. I slept in the dining room adjoining the kitchen as we only had three bedrooms and five kids- three sisters and a baby brother. I drew the short end of the stick in a stacked deck.

Wally presented a hodgepodge of news, weather, sports, talk, bits of humor, topical discussions, and a sliver of music. Until the day he retired, he was at the top of the radio Arbitron ratings.

In the early ’60s, to help me fall asleep, I’d listen to Jack Eigen on WMAQ in the Palmer House Pump Room, or was it the Chez Paree, interview celebrities passing through town. Or, if I was in a different mood, it would be good old Franklin McCormick on WGN playing his big band music and lullabies. His mellifluous cadence was enough to hypnotize anyone to sleep in 10 minutes or less.

Today some of these call letters are used on different frequencies and the station formats are a far cry from those in the 1960’s. Some, such as WMAQ and all-news WNUS have been retired. WIND is now
a conservative talk station as well as WLS. WCFL which had 1000 on the dial has given up the spot to an all sports talk station owned by ESPN. During the past twenty years, with the migration of Mexicans to Chicago, Spanish language oriented stations have developed large followings and big numbers in the ratings. Incredibly, WGN is still what it was 50 years ago, catering to sports and mostly middle-age tastes. As always , they host the Chicago Cubs games on radio and despite a few blips of post-season success, no announcer has yet to be able to boast that one can hear the World Champion Cubs on WGN. I think when it does happen, radio programs will just be transmitted over the Internet. And the announcer will be called a podcaster. Transistor radios will be shown in museum exhibits and clock radios will be thrown out when seniors sell their homes and move to assisted living facilities. But, don’t touch that dial!- or should I say website address url?