Lately I’ve been thinking about the nature of musical nostalgia, and it’s pretty obvious that even though a whole generation can share fond memories of certain types of music, each of us has specific songs and/or musicians that hit the target. It stands to reason that the same was true for earlier generations, but some guesswork might be needed when it comes to the details. I’ve often written about the music of my parents because I heard it while growing up, but what about my grandparents?
I remember my maternal grandparents well, but not much about their musical tastes. By the time I was old enough to have noticed anything like that they were into middle-age, and even though the radio was often playing when we visited, I don’t think music was a high priority for them. I do remember that we could occasionally coax my grandfather to take out his harmonica, and he’d always play country tunes like “Turkey In The Straw,” which might be a clue to making some guesses about his favorites (and probably grandma’s too). They had grown up in a rural area, spending most of their early years working on a farm. Their exposure to music in those days was probably at barn dances or maybe the occasional honky-tonk.
My other grandparents were town-dwellers, and probably a little more worldly — after all, grandpa fought in European trenches during World War I. They would have had access to more sources for music, including early records and something that was very popular in the early part of the 20th century — concerts.
John Philip Sousa was a superstar in those days. He’d followed up his many years of leading the U.S. Marine Corps Band by forming his own musical group, and for several decades toured the world, leading his band in triumphant performances. During that period he’s said to have given over 15,000 concerts and some of those were in smaller venues, so it’s at least possible that my grandparents heard him. Almost a century later, we can only listen to Sousa via old recordings, and there aren’t many around because Sousa believed that they were the worst thing that could happen to music. He also wasn’t a fan of radio, but in the later years of his career he did finally start to unbend a little.
He’s most remembered now for the many marches he wrote, and some are still a regular part of any marching band’s repertoire, but he also composed operettas and other works of music. There were also a few pieces that sort of fell in the middle. “Fairest Of The Fair” was nominally a march, but a sprightly and melodic one that – so it’s said – Sousa wrote when inspired by the sight of a pretty girl. Hey, maybe it was grandma!