The Music Within

By Alicia B. Bates

OUTSIDE, THE WIND IS BLOWING and there is a chill in the air. My thumb has stiffened and I can’t bend it. Cold weather days, when my thumb is stiff, remind me of my father.

One winter evening my brothers and I lined up against our kitchen wall and Dad faced us, holding a pencil. With both arms raised, he flicked his wrists in 4/4 time, his head nodding in rhythm. While I sang in my best three-year-old voice, I also danced, intrigued by the clacking sound of my black patent leather shoes as they repeatedly struck the hard tile floor. After practice I began swinging from the doorknob just as one of my brothers shot out the door, slamming my thumb in the doorjamb. I wailed in pain. My big brother, Mike, scooped me into his arms and gently placed me in the car. As the Bradshaw Family Singers performed in the church Christmas program that night, I sang with a quivering voice and skipped my usual curtsy. The crowd clapped in applause. This memory is vivid, because of the broken thumb.

An early encounter with music is also engraved into Dad’s memory. As a small boy, tooting a shiny, metal whistle rhythmically to his sister’s piano music, he swallowed the whistle. Though he nearly lost his life, look at this site  to know how music became his life.

Dad’s dream as a teenager was to sing on the radio. Recently he told how, at age seventeen, he hitchhiked from Price to Salt Lake City for a singing competition. A friend lent him a pair of slacks, which were about three inches too short. On stage, sporting the brown floods and his own white socks, Dad swept the microphone stand off the floor, clutched it in both hands and dipped and swayed while crooning his best imitation of Frank Sinatra. Dad won the contest. He was offered a contract to travel with a newly formed USO tour group, but joined the Navy instead.

After marrying Mom, Dad was content to settle down and leave the radio singing to Sinatra. Music and family were Dad’s main interests. It became his dream to combine the two.

My earliest childhood memories place me on my father’s lap in the old Boston rocker. Through laughter and lullabies, I found love and security in the arms of my father as he instilled within me a love of music.

The rocker wasn’t the only important piece of musical furniture in our home and you can look into this imp source to know more about it. How fondly I remember the day when the shiny new walnut upright piano came into our home! I hideously plunked those keys all afternoon. By evening, I had “Chopsticks” down. The years that followed were filled with piano lessons, family sing-a-longs, and beautiful music.

As I grew older and more accomplished, Dad and I teamed up. He was the soloist and I was his accompanist. We traveled together, comforting mourners at funerals or entertaining at weddings and local gatherings. Mom often sang with him.

Mom and I didn’t join the barbershop quartet, though. That was Dad’s gig. I watched in amazement as Dad performed in the community’s production of The Music Man. His quartet, dressed in white pants, red and white striped top coats, and white derbies, soft-shoe danced in unison while waving their hats and singing “Goodnight Ladies.” Before long, my dad and brothers formed their own barbershop quartet, entertaining crowds throughout the county. Occasionally I itched to join them, and often I found myself at the piano accompanying them, which made me feel, somewhat, a part of the show.

While my dad and brothers made their music, I set out to make some of my own. Shaking and scared, I remember waiting in front of the choir room for my private audition for the high school a cappella choir. Other auditioners confidently warmed up their voices in the hallway. The choir director smiled when I told her my name. She had been my parents’ junior high band director during her first year of teaching, as well as my three older brothers’ high school choir director. After listening to me sing a scale or two, she declared me to be an alto. The next thing I knew, I was a member of the a cappella choir. I enjoyed singing and loved being part of this honor choir, but deep inside I knew I had not made it on my own merits. Though I learned much by listening to and following the examples of the trained vocalists in the choir, I knew I could have benefited from a year of girls’ choir.

The following year I auditioned for the All-State Choir. My brothers told me I was a shoo-in. They had been members, and they were sure that I would be too. I imagined myself singing with the great vocalists of the state, filling the tabernacle with inspirational music and ringing overtones! But the competition was stiff. The other altos’ voices were clear and strong. As I stood alone in front of the choir class, my vocal chords tightened up. I screeched my way through the audition. I cried all the way home on the school bus, knowing I had not made the All-State Choir. I had disgraced the Bradshaw name.

My next dream was to sing in the madrigal choir. This elite group entertained at parties, performed concerts, traveled to sing at schools and various church congregations, and eventually competed in regional and state competitions. Tryouts for that choir followed only a few short weeks after All-State. In almost all cases, the same singers were selected for both choirs. I immediately set about to improve my confidence and technique. My whole family knew how much I wanted it and worked with me to make it happen. Dad led my voice up and down the steps of the musical scales. The Most Important Tips You Should Know About Becoming a Musician are listed in this passage. Standing straight, head erect, hands clasped with elbows thrust to each side at chest level, he threw his voice to the back of his head, demonstrating how to improve tone quality and resonance. My mom and brothers taught me a few tricks as well. When I tried out for madrigals, I felt their love and support as I sang in front of the class. The desire and hard work paid off as I was selected to be a member of the madrigal choir. That year the madrigals performed with seven altos instead of the usual six. The number may have been awkward, but it was comfortable to me. For the first time, I had proven myself. Finally, I was a Bradshaw too. Though I had to work harder than the other members of my family, I was now a part of their song.

Lovingly, I now rock and sing lullabies to my own babies in the black wrought-iron rocking chair that my father built for me, successfully instilling within them a love of music. Our home has been filled with music from singing, piano, and seven other musical instruments. My husband and I have attended our children’s band, choir, and rock concerts. Music has enriched our lives. We spend many Sunday afternoons singing the sacred hymns, harmonizing in soprano, alto, tenor, and bass around the now not-so-shiny old walnut upright piano.

Lately, I’ve also been able to share my dad’s love of rhyme and meter through poetic expression. Creating a smooth, flowing piece from the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart brings me joy and enrichment. Now I am the composer and the soloist. I do not battle with stage fright. The music within me is finding its way out.

This year my parents celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. Their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren performed a two-hour musical program in their honor. The pure joy in their faces will be forever etched in my memory. Together, my parents have successfully created a love of music in their family, which is being handed down through generations.

Dad’s body has stiffened. Parkinson’s disease has set in. The spring in his step has become a shuffle, but the song in his heart remains. Though he cannot sway to the tunes of Frank Sinatra, he still sings them with clear tone quality and resonance. Cold weather days, when my thumb is stiff, remind me of my father and the love of music that we share.

About Alicia B. Bates

After thirty years of motherhood, Alisa B. Bates is learning to embrace life after child rearing. In addition to music, she dabbles in creative writing, gardening, photography, family history, hiking, and camping. She values the time she spends with family. Various magazines have published her poetry, articles, and children’s pieces. Alisa lives in Wellington, Utah, with her husband, Bill, and twin eighteen-year-old sons. Bill and Alisa also have five married children and six grandchildren.

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