Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor

When I play “Tip Toe Through the Tulips,” 92-year-old Marcie doesn’t think of Tiny Tim’s 1968 falsetto rendition. Instead, she hears her mother’s voice.

Marcie had a twin sister and another close childhood friend. When the three girls were little, they liked the seesaw—one girl on each end, the third girl in the middle. But three girls often have a hard time playing together. It’s tempting for two to gang up on one. And when that happens, it isn’t pretty.

So Marcie’s mother taught the girls to sing “Tip Toe Through the Tulips” while they seesawed. When the song ended, it was time for the girl in the middle to have her turn on one of the ends.

“My mother used to like that song.”

I hear that a lot. The mothers of many of my elderly listeners played the piano and sang, a common form of entertainment in a time so different from the one we now live in. Early 20th century tunes like “Let the Rest of the World Go By” or “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” were typically part of Mom’s repertoire.

I’m also often told “My dad sang that.” When I played “Melancholy Baby,” Estelle asked if she could borrow my sheet music for a minute to make a copy for herself. Her father used to sing that song to her as a lullaby. Barry wanted to copy “Sweetheart of Sigma Chi” so he would have all the lyrics—both verses and the chorus—that he remembered his father singing.

I treasure these moments when I know I’m providing comforting nostalgia to my listeners. If I select the right kind of music, I can take them back to good times past.

Readers of this blog often comment that a mention of a particular song in a post stirs musical memories of a parent or grandparent: Singing “Shoo-Fly Pie” in a duet with Dad or watching The Perry Como Show together, Grandpa belting out “God Bless America” while Grandma accompanied on piano.

No one who was close to my maternal grandfather can listen to “Carolina Moon” without tears. It joins “Harrigan,” “I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad,” “K-K-K-Katy,” and a dozen other songs we remember him singing in his rich, resonant voice. He’s been gone for 50 years. We still miss him. Oh, to hear that voice again.

Music and memory. What a powerful duo.

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

This entry was posted in Aging, Audiences, Music and emotion, Volunteering. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Daddy sang bass, Mama sang tenor

  1. Judie says:

    Such a lovely blog!! Yes, we surely miss him. Another song of his that always brings tears to my eyes is “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. My singing voice isn’t even close to his but I have always sung to my children and grandchildren. Music brings back powerful memories. Thank you, Paulette. Your blogs are special.

  2. It means so much to me that you’re touched by my blog posts. And that you tell me 🙂

  3. Jessa says:

    What do you think your most memorable songs include?

  4. Well, I really don’t sing, but I made an exception when you were a baby: I sang “Hush Little Baby” to settle you down for sleep. It worked … Sometimes 🙂
    Reciting the words to “Goodnight Moon” worked even better!

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