"Oh, dear! What can the matter be? Dear, dear, what can the matter be? Oh dear, what can the matter be? Johnny's so long at the fair."
I must have been three or four -- no more than five-and-a-half because that's when my long, wavy brown hair was chopped into a pixie cut -- when my dad sang that to me as my mom brushed my hair into submission. My first memory of someone singing.
"He promised to buy me a trinket to please me; and then for a kiss oh, he vowed he would tease me. He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons to tie up my bonny brown hair!"
My dad didn't sing much, even though he had a passable baritone voice. He could carry a tune and his voice, while not big and booming, was smooth. His choice of songs, however, didn't much meet with my mother's approval.
"My name is Yon Yonson. I come from Visconsin. I verk in de lumber yard dere. And I go down de street and de people I meet, dey say "Hey, dere! Vot's your name?" And I tell dem my name is Yon Yonson. I come from Visconsin. I verk . . . "
I don't remember my mother singing much at all. Although she had a cultured and expressive speaking and reading voice, her untrained soprano singing voice sounded forced -- maybe because her piano teachers through childhood and college directed her toward strictly classical music studies. Perhaps she would have been a great torch singer -- we'll never know because, to her, the epitome of a great singer was someone like Maria Callas .
I remember her wistful delight when my second cousin's mother took up voice lessons in her 30s? 40s? and joined a local opera group. My mother was thrilled when I took voice lessons for a couple of years during high school, first from our choir director and later from a prominent area vocal teacher.
But my first memory of my mother and singing was when I was six and sang in our church choir. Not a children's choir. A mixed ages choir because the tiny Episcopal church (see photo above) we attended in Mountain Home, Idaho, didn't have enough people to warrant both an adult and a children's choir. You wanted to sing, you sang -- regardless of how old you were.
Me? I got to sing because my mom was the choir director. I think she also played the organ? piano? for the services . . . but that part I don't remember.
What I do remember is holding the hymnal and rehearsing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" . . . and having the audacity to ask my mom if I could hear a particular passage again because I hadn't quite gotten it. I must have heard one of the grownups make a similar request and copied it, because I remember my mother being a bit annoyed with me and one of the other women kind of chuckling and saying, "It's OK. We have time."
My next memory is a little later. I was maybe seven or eight and sitting by her at the piano while she played (an octave higher than written) and sang this very delicate little ditty: "I had a little nut tree, nothing would it bear but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear. The king of Spain's daughter came to visit me, and all for the sake of my little nut tree. Her dress was made of crimson; coal black was her hair. She asked me for my nut tree and my golden pear. I said so fair a princess never did I see. I'll give to you the fruit of my little nut tree."
My dad on the other hand taught me this one:
"I went to the animal fair. The birds and the beasts were there. The old baboon by the light of moon was combing his silvery hair. The monkey, he got drunk. And sat on the elephant's trunk. The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees and that was the end of the monk, the monk, the monk."