A sad song of summer

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

An unpleasant part of retirement is the dreaded downsizing.  This includes cleaning out closets and storage rooms, some of which have been untouched for decades.  It can be a bit depressing, especially when you try on clothes that haven’t fit you for years.

I will admit I am a bit sentimental when it comes to family trinkets.  Ceramic knick-knacks that we gave to my grandmother were always welcomed with great fanfare.  Little did I know that a great many of those items would wind up in my own house. 

Over time, Mary Lou and I wound up with an outsized amount of silver, crystal, and formal china.  It was an accumulation of both of our families going back several generations.  We could not part with anything of significance, even as times changed over the ensuing generations.

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This week, however, I was faced with trimming down my large collection of music.  It isn’t that I collected historically significant music as much I never threw anything away.  This was especially true of music that I either inherited or purchased over time.

Mary Lou put a stack of music in front of my chair.  It was from a drawer in a piece of furniture in our living room.  One of a dozen or more such drawers, which did not include the boxes in the garage or the plastic boxes under our bed.

If it were my choice, I would never throw away a piece of music, but I had to admit that most of these pieces of sheet music and song books I had not played in years.  In some case, many years.

As I started thumbing through the boxes I was filled with nostalgia and fond remembrances.  Much of the oldest music belonged to my aunt who just passed away at the age of 90.   Some belonged to my own mother.  Even more special was the music that belonged to my grandmother, and a few pieces that were purchased and owned by my great-grandmother.

I know they owned these pieces of sheet music because they had carefully written their name in ink on almost every title page. 

Perhaps the most special find was a song whose lyrics were written by my own great-grandmother, Bessie Rainer Ford.  The original hand-written manuscript had the copyright information written in ink.

I began to realize that I had a treasure trove of music that spanned more than the past century.   Some of the covers of the music included the Andrews Sisters, Jeanette McDonald, Nelson Eddy, Duke Ellington, Ethel Merman, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael.

I found music that was owned by my own two daughters, who decided at some point with my blessing not to pursue their musical talents.  They were playing more advanced compositions than I remembered.

Then there was sheet music from my own love of the piano and organ.  Some of it was from my earliest days of piano lessons.  As I continued going through the boxes, it was like a trip down my own musical memory lane.  I could see certain books and know which pieces I played and when I played them.   I could remember pieces I loved or hated.  I remembered the tests of certain long forgotten classical pieces, some of which I conquered and some that yet remain a challenge for the future.

I spent a lot of money on sheet music and songbooks.  The best of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s…..you get the picture.  It has been years since I bought sheet music other than purchases made on the internet.  This is yet another way the internet has disrupted and transformed the way that we do business.

Downsizing it not for the fainthearted.  No one wants sheet music from 75 years ago, just as they don’t want Victorian furniture.  Unless you are going to add storage buildings for the rest of your life you have to dispose of those material things you love, while accepting that the people you love do not want them.

That is the sad part.  I am comforted by the fact that every piece of music I disposed of this week is probably available in the archives of the vast internet world.  But each piece of music that I had in my hand was played at least by one of five generations of my family.  That is pretty special and reinforces my long held belief that music is indeed a universal language.