I knew in an instant, I had to honor this subject by writing a little more than just a quick quip. You see, music supported the household in which I was raised.
Dad was born in 1918, in a cabin which his father built on their land in Knowlton, Wisconsin. The second son, third of eight children born to Polish immigrants. Dad grew up like any of the other boys in that community, in that time – he was full of ambition and dreams, and he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, a professional musician, an accordionist.
This dream was conceived when the family attended a wedding where an Italian accordionist mesmerized the guests with his unrestrained version of Flight of the Bumblebee. Dad was stung (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun) by the desire to “be” that accordion player in his own life.
There was a big problem in attaining Dad’s dream though — how to afford buying the expensive instrument, and if by some chance he acquired it, learning to play it would present a new problem. There would be no money for lessons.
Call it fate, destiny, luck or just coincidence, there was to be a musical talent contest at the upcoming Fall Fair, and the grand prize was a gleaming, brand new accordion!
Strapping his thinking cap on securely, Dad had to figure out how he was going to win a musical talent contest when he had no musical instrument to play, other than maybe spoons or milk jugs, and he didn’t think those could produce a fine enough tune to win the contest. He had to solve this dilemma, his future, his life, the lives of his future wife and children depended on this talent contest!
What kind of instrument could he afford with limited monies from glass bottle refunds at the local general store and learn to play it in a matter of weeks? A HARMONICA, of course!
When Dad saved enough money from the bottle refunds, he set out to purchase his brand new harmonica. Between school, work, and chores on the farm, Dad taught himself how to play the harmonica without any instructions nor guidance from anyone. He was a quick learner, but more importantly, Dad had a natural talent for music, one which some of his six children inherited. I was NOT one of the naturally blessed musical offspring.
I do not recall what melody Dad said that he played for the contest, I do not recall what other talents he competed against or what songs the others played, but, my Dad won first prize!
From that winning day forward, Dad taught himself how to play the accordion, how to read music, and taught his three brothers how to play as well. They formed a band and would play at local events, parties, and social gatherings.
As they matured, and their local notoriety grew, (by this point, the grown brothers were living in Chicago) they invested in their own music school with TWO locations! They continued to entertain and play at many, many events.
Dad continued playing his accordion, well into his 80’s, I personally believe that he lived for the music. He stopped playing when he could no longer physically manage to carry the cumbersome accordion, amplifier, and paraphernalia to each event. He died three months later, at home, in his bed.
During one of my occasions sitting with him as he lay dying, he asked me to “..turn that music up..” There was no music playing, no radio, no television. I proceeded to turn a radio on and turned the music up loud. “No, no, no, that’s not the music, the OTHER music, turn the OTHER music up.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that what my Dad was hearing was not music from this realm. I could not enhance the vibrations nor bring him closer to it, he had to do that on his own.
A private nurse/caregiver watched over him the last night of his life as he quietly slipped away to her singing hymns in Polish. He followed the music home – for the last time.
Love and miss you Dad.
Music is still a constant companion in my life. I believe it can be healing.
Music touches our spirits, invigorates long-lost memories, and for a moment, however brief, can make us feel young again — as witnessed in this very touching video from Youtube: