By Larry Teren
“The Sweetest Sounds, I’ll ever hear are still inside my head” invokes a special memory for me. It was written for a musical play called “No Strings” which debuted in 1962. It is the opening line to just another in a series of many great songs put together by the team of
Rogers and Hammerstein
When Dad became confined to spending the rest of his life in a nursing home he also lost his ability to stand let alone walk. A prisoner of his bed and wheelchair, he relied on the devotion of family members as well as the kindness of staff to keep him from stagnating and atrophying.
I bought Dad a new cassette tape recorder in 2002 which was not so easy to find and brought several of his cassette tape recordings to the long term care facility for him to enjoy. Most was stuff he recorded over the years- old time radio shows, conversations he had with my brother, and singers and instrumentals that he favored.
One day I mentioned to Ma that it was a shame that I couldn’t take the old 33 LP records in the basement of their house and convert them to cassette tape as I’m sure Dad would enjoy them. She asked why I didn’t try putting them on the Zenith Stereo Hi-Fi piece of furniture that had been sitting in the dungeon for at least twenty years. I said, “that old thing? It’ll probably never work. Didn’t you notice the watermarks on the cloth protection over the speakers? It must have got soaked from all the minor floods down there.”
I said all that to protect from disappointment but was still willing to give it a try. I plugged the power cord into an outlet and turned the thing on.
Lo and Behold! The turntable started spinning. I took out the Richard Tucker album knowing how much Dad admired him. The automatic record changer no longer worked so I manually placed the record on the turntable and put the tonearm and needle gently on the record as it spun.
Like magic, it was forty years earlier and I was sitting in the front room of our apartment on Quincy Street in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. The Zenith played non-stop on summer afternoons with not much else going on when my buddies were at Day Camp. There was Tucker and his brother-in-law and closest rival- Jan Peerce. There were Broadway Musicals such as “Oklahoma” and my favorite, “The Music Man”. It was high tech for the time- Stereophonic Fidelity with AFC Locking and Booster switches. It was also an FM radio receiver.
The playback was now scratchy and maybe no longer truly stereophonic but still more than functional. Knowing that I had something to work with, I took the tape recorder from Dad’s room, brought it to the house and started taping all of his old favorites including Richard Tucker’s 1963 recording of “The Sweetest Sounds” with the maestro Skitch Henderson’s arrangement building to Tucker’s high C finish.
Dad was appreciative of my efforts and also got lost in time listening to playback in his room. He seemed surprised when I told him that Tucker and Peerce were no longer around. Maybe he was living in a time warp where time was rewound back to the days he was young and vibrant himself. That was alright by me. They say it’s not good to live in the past but what do they know?
“The most entrancing sight of all is yet for me to see…” I’d give a million to know what Dad is seeing now.