I can’t sing. I think I flunked 8th-grade choir because the only notes I could read were the ones I passed secretly to my girlfriends. The one time I remember actually paying attention was when we learned to make the sound of a champagne cork popping with our thumbs inside our cheeks when we sang: “When we finally kiss good night,” air kiss, thumb POP!
Those confessions out of the way, my mom and I sang our hearts out last night at a “Rodgers and Hammerstein Sing”. Jessie Barth, a former choral music teacher at Bellefonte and State College high schools and lifelong fan of Oscar Hammerstein, led the program. Our paths didn’t cross until Friday morning when I read an article promoting the sing-along. It was like talking to an old friend and I mentioned I thought my mother would love it. It turns out Jessie knows my mom. She says she got “retail therapy” at my mother’s gourmet and gift shop The Country Sampler.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from my mother’s dementia, it is the lasting richness of music. The first thing my mother lost from the disease was her ability to cook. When I make one of her treasured dishes, she asks, “How did you learn to make this?” or “Where did you get the recipe?” Breaks my heart.
But music, it is her joy. Doesn’t matter if she’s dancing the waltz or the cha-cha, she floats with the music. When we’re driving in the car, her hands are tap-tap-tapping on her black leather purse to the classical music on WPSU. And, some of her favorite alone time is watching the videotapes of “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma,” and “South Pacific” that Richard gave her.
My mother was a drummer in the Braddock High School Marching Band in the 1940s and she still has the beat. Last night, she squeezed the stuffed chirping Baltimore oriole as birdsong accompaniment to “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and clapped the clappers to “I Whistle a Happy Tune” with the best of them.
The sing-along was in the Reynolds Mansion in Bellefonte. Bellefonte was a one-time home to five Pennsylvania governors and the county seat and Victorian showplace of Centre County. Now a B & B, the Reynolds Mansion has the beauty of an era gone by, but the parlor got boisterous last night when 40 or so strangers filled the room with song, laughter and reminiscences.
Jessie was 9 when she became smitten with Hammerstein, American theater’s top lyricist. Oscar gave her “soul a songbook,” she’ll tell you. After retiring from teaching at 45 she began exploring human harmony by writing, singing and researching. Jessie is a co-founder of the Oscar Hammerstein Center at Highland Farm in Doylestown. In 2011 she created the CD “At Home With Oscar, A Hundred Million Miracles” as a tribute to Hammerstein, recorded at his beloved Highland Farm. She has met family members, researched his writings in the National Archives, and talked to anyone who knew Hammerstein, including the neighborhood paperboy. She does “Oscar” sing-alongs to promote human harmony and peace in the world, as Oscar did by writing of love and problem solving, she says.
Reynolds Mansion innkeeper and pianist Tricia Andriaccio and percussionist Carol Lindsay (“I’m the ‘along’ in sing-along,” Carol says) accompanied Jessie and our gang. Between songs, members of the audience read letters written about Oscar or by Oscar, and Jessie shared some of her personal stories related to Oscar. My favorite was the pride she took in meeting the man who planted the corn across from Hammerstein’s estate that inspired the line, “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,” in “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin.’”
“Getting to Know You” was a crowd pleaser, and when we sang “The Sound of Music” the line “the hills are alive…” brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the glorious feeling of climbing up hen hill at Fleur-de-Lys Farm. Two Bellefonte high school students each sang a song they’ll be singing next week in the high school’s performance of “South Pacific”. Several men in the audience had a 20-minute practice session during intermission and came back to serenade us with “There is Nothin Like a Dame” and a group of women did the same with “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?”
The night ended with the last song Oscar Hammerstein wrote before he died in 1960: “Edelweiss”. All I could think of is how much Kutztown would love this show. Laurie Lynch
One Last Confession: I was named after the Laurey in “Oklahoma”.
“South Pacific” Sing-Along: Might be coming to State College in June. In the meantime, I’m going to talk to my only friend with a fan club and see what she thinks about the possibilities of Jessie coming to Berks County.
Now Showing in Hamburg: My fermenting friend Val has a quilt hanging at The Gallery of Hamburg at 335 State Street. “I worked on this quilt off and on for about six years,” writes Val. “In those six years, I met you when I was on a quest to find more fresh local foods. The quilt reminded me of your yard.”
There are purple irises and golden sunflowers, hearts from a quilting guild friend who moved to Florida (Val embroidered flowers on them), chickens, ducks, cats, dogs, and a cardinal in a birdhouse. “Gardens need sunshine and rain. At the top, there is a paper-pieced sun. The rain is quilted around the rainbow.”
Val said she learned many sewing techniques from the quilting guild and wanted them all represented in this quilt: hand applique, machine applique, foundation paper piecing, piecing, texturing with tucks and gathers, hand embroidery, and a wee bit of machine embroidery.
Fleur-de-Lys has been featured in newspapers, magazines, television, photographs, and paintings, but never a quilt. Quite an honor. Thanks, Val.
What a Difference Two Weeks Make: Kale and cabbage seeds have germinated in the milk jug greenhouses, ONE crocus is blooming in the garden, and yes, I spotted the College Township cousin of Punxsutawney Phil. Spring resisted, but it is finally coming.
Forget Funerals, It Is Engagement Time: Yes, the cycles of life continue. My nephew Liam got engaged to Jess, and Celso, now a grad student at Kutztown University, proposed to long-time girlfriend Sarah.