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Childcraft: Music for the Family

Posted on Monday, October 19, 2009 in children's books

"Music for the Family" illustrationI hope your family was musical. Mine was not. I grew up with only a few LPs in the house: Glen Miller, Mitch Miller, Johnny Cash, and a Reader’s Digest collection of light classical music. The radio wasn’t on very often and mostly it reported farm prices and local news. I did fall in love with Louis Armstrong as a child, though, so I must have heard him on the radio when Mom was too busy to turn it off. Mom didn’t like his voice; I thought he was the greatest singer and musician I’d ever heard. (I admit that’s not saying much.)

I was never given the drum set I wanted as a child (or the race car set, but I did have a pony.) I was given an accordion. Who gives a toy accordion? I think this speaks to the level of musical sophistication in my family. At a later holiday I received much better musical toys: a tambourine and a guitar. This meant that when the neighbor kids came over and we played “The Monkeys” I could be any of them except Micky Dolenz (and no one wanted to be Micky Dolenz.) I made a great Davy Jones, I’m sure.

Oh Dear! What Can the Matter Be? illustrationThis Childcraft volume of children’s music was probably more often used by parents and scout leaders than by children. My mother never learned any of the lullabies from the book, but I do recognize a few songs from Brownies such as “Oh, Dear! What Can the Matter Be?” and “Billy Boy.”

My suspicions that the encyclopedia publisher was aiming for the Canadian market was confirmed by seeing “O Canada!” under the heading of “Patriotic Songs.” The Christian bias remains with an entire chapter of hymns but “The Hanukkah Song” made it into the “Songs of the Seasons and Festivals” chapter. This was diversity for the 1940s.

Illustration of Johann Sebastian Bach as a childIt’s too bad that I didn’t remember this volume when I was learning to play clarinet and was looking for sheet music. All I ever had was a hymnal to play from. But my situation was nothing compared what what I read about Johann Sebastian Bach. He had to steal sheet music from behind iron bars and copy it by moonlight so he’d have his own music to play. And no one made me play my clarinet in the attic where poor George Frederick Handel had to play his clavier.

I did practice my clarinet willingly, unlike my sister who had given it up after playing for only a year or so. I even picked up a recorder to mess around with and tapped the keys of a Hammond Organ on occasion. I jumped at the chance to play the bassoon in band and loved the sounds that I could strangle out of that strange instrument. But I was never any good. When I was in high school my band teacher used to slap my thighs to try to keep me on beat. And I was never ever in tune. I loved to play but knew I lacked talent.

It wasn’t until Dad gave me a mountain dulcimer he had made that I learned what people meant when they talked about something being out of tune. I could never tune it, but I rested my hand on the base while a friend tuned it for me and suddenly I understood the concept. I could feel the vibrations changing as she tightened or loosened the strings. I still can’t hear any difference so mostly it sits in the living room as a decoration. Luckily the game “Rock Band” doesn’t require any tuning so I can once again play the toy guitar. I think that’s as musical as I’m ever going to get.

MORE on the Childcraft collection:
Poems of Early Childhood
Storytelling and Other Poems
Folk and Fairy Tales
Animal Friends and Adventures
Life in Many Lands
Great Men and Famous Deeds
Exploring the World Around Us
Childcraft: Art for Children

  1. Thanks for the wonderful memories. How wonderful times were in the 1940s, as you describe with this book. Wouldn’t it be great for the world to go back to this. Maybe as more people desire it, it will happen. We can only hope.

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