I Believe in Sharing Music with Children
Children who have creative parents are the luckiest people in the world. My parents were creative: Mom in the home arts and Dad as a teacher and writer. Dad especially had a wide range of interests and skills. He was a true liberal artist. He played the clarinet, bugle, piano, mandolin, and harmonica at different times in his life. He didn’t have much musical skill, and only played for fun. He was so bad on the piano that Mom, after years of married life, finally begged him to stop.
Of the instruments he played, the harmonica was his favorite and his best. My brother and I were lucky Dad read stories to us before bedtime, then sang and played his harmonica. He loved American folk songs. We heard Shrimp Boats and The Gandy Dancers’ Ball and many other tunes that told the stories of working class people who settled America and were its immigrant pioneers.
There were also rollicking tunes about life on the high seas, for Dad loved books, stories, and songs about pirates and high adventure. Charles Edward Carryl’s 19th Century tune A Capital Ship was a playful song about an imaginary boat. Its chorus has stayed with me all my life:
So, blow ye winds hi-ho,
A-roving I will go,
I’ll stay no more on England’s shore
so let the music play-ay-ay.
I’m off on the morning train
to cross the raging main.
I’m off to my love with a boxing glove
ten thousand miles away . . .
Today, I read these lines as an adult. But I enjoy them as much as I did when I was a child. I see in them the exuberance of sailing into the unknown, the thrill of taking action, the attempt to embrace change and make the best of endings. I feel the camaraderie of shipmates on a long voyage, as well as anticipation about the end of the trip. This little tune with its nonsense lyrics still dances in my heart, while poems I memorized for teachers have flown from my mind.
On those nights when Dad read us The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island, his harmonica always came in at the end. It was a way to close those moments of togetherness in a positive and high-spirited way. Of the great memories I have from childhood, A Capital Ship stands out. Whenever I heard it, I knew life was good, and I was good, too. Security and love were never abstracts for me; they were the home I was raised in. The music I heard when growing up pulled my family together, and taught me it was OK to have fun.