Tuesday, July 24, 2012


At a recent music festival, with many highly-amplified professional performers, I was most impressed by a quieter, more spontaneous group singing old songs together for fun. They were on stage, and amplified, and included several professional musicians, but they allowed young children --even a 4-year old grandchild-- to take turns singing silly verses, and they all obviously loved singing together.  They stopped and laughed and re-started songs in an informal give-and-take among the singers.  As I witnessed this old-fashioned song fest, I was thrilled that such traditions continue today. 

My parents and their college outing club friends (with whom they kept in contact for decades after college) loved to sing silly old songs together. Most of the tunes were simple to sing, and in fact were well-known melodies borrowed from popular patriot songs or church hymnals, but with words changed to suit the occasion. As a kid I was sometimes amazed at the nonsense that came from their months. The laughter and smiles that accompanied the singing was wonderfully infectious.  What good times we had!

In our home in Danvers, on a bookshelf in the living room, several well-worn song books were special to us. Some were old spiral-bound copies of the songbooks used in the 1930's and 1940's.  I particularly loved one with bear paw prints walking across the cover.  This series of song books were produced by and for the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association (I.O.C.A.). In the 1960's when I was in college I bought my own copy of "The NEW Song Fest:  300 songs  -- words and music ..."  edited by Dick and Beth Best.  See http://www.ioca.org/songfest/ for more about this series of song books.  

On Sunday, while walking with my husband around our neighborhood, we encountered a porch full of adults singing songs and playing guitar, harmonica, and percussion. They invited us to join them for a while. Standing on that porch I reflected on the many different times and places I've enjoyed such informal music-making. We invited these people (mostly strangers to us) to come to our house next weekend for our annual music party with our friends.

Yesterday at the Soldier's Home in Holyoke, MA, I watched as a woman with a microphone led a small sing-along. Pretty soon she had the old soldiers mouthing the words with her. Sometimes she handed the mike to a volunteer who led an old favorite. "Take me out to the Ballgame" and "Rock Around the Clock" were sung with enthusiasm. I'm always glad to see people singing together for fun. I clapped my hands and sang along.

July 14, 2012, was the 100th birthday of folk singer Woody Guthrie. See http://www.woody100.com/ This coming weekend three generations of Woody's descendants, The Guthrie Family Reunion, will sing together at the Newport Folk Festival. I watched them (and clapped and sang along) at the Green River Festival, Greenfield, MA, on July 14th -- a special treat!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Scenes in a recent movie evoked memories of childhood games and pastimes. Three young boys sitting on a rug concentrating on a board game brought a smile to my face. When the camera zoomed in for a closeup of the board, I gasped in delight: Parcheesi!  I recognized the distinctive board immediately and recalled playing Parcheesi with my sister at our grandparents' home and at our house. There was something exotic about that board, the patterns on it, the pathways that our wooden pawns followed...  A hint of India, I think. I remember the safety spaces and the comfort of landing on one. I haven't played Parcheesi in years and no longer recall the rules, though I'm sure it would come back to me rather quickly if my sister and I sat down at an old Parcheesi board. I'd love to experience it again.

Those thoughts flashed in my mind, in the movie theater, triggered by a one-second glimpse of that classic Parcheesi board. The movie camera, meanwhile, moved on to other scenes of children playing in various rooms of a New England home. The house looked fake, clearly a series of open rooms on a studio set, but each room in turn contained delightfully nostalgic details. I wanted to linger and explore, but the camera continued on, showing me other rooms. The overall effect was stunningly reminiscent of viewing a dollhouse!  

I thought of big old wooden dollhouses furnished exquisitely with old-fashioned furniture and peopled by figures in elegant dress. The daughter of one of my mother's friends had such a dollhouse. Each room contained quaint objects that hinted of earlier times and old customs. Fancy furniture and chandeliers spoke of wealth and distinction. It was very special and fragile. "Look but don't touch!"  Even the more modern metal and plastic dollhouses at other friends' houses were not to be touched without permission. I don't recall actually playing with a doll house. Dollhouses were interesting to look at and to imagine playing with, but they weren't really for active play.  I wasn't invited in to play, to stay and rearrange things.  I could only look briefly -- just as in the movie.  A short pause to see one room, to absorb an impression of the carefully designed and decorated set, and then the camera panned to the next room. When the camera returned to the three boys on the floor, they were playing Jacks! -- another old-fashioned pastime, triggering more memories of childhoods past.

For more about Parcheesi, visit these webpages:

What movie was I watching?   Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson.  I recommend it.