Nonna in her concert throne with Marina, 2014

Nonna in her concert throne with Marina, 2014

If music gives us a soundtrack of our lives, mine has certainly spun into fast-forward in the past four years.

At Lemont Elementary, I think everyone tooted on the flutophone for a year or two. There was one brief moment in the late 1960s when I owned a guitar. I still remember my guitar teacher’s name, but no chords. In college, I listened to my Porgy & Bess album more than The Beatles or The Rolling Stones; I was smitten with the South.

At Charleston’s Spoleto USA festivals I was introduced to “scat singing,” Rachmaninoff, Woody Herman and the Thundering Herd, and helped Ella Fitzgerald find an authentic barbecue joint. In the baby years, music was Raffi, Barney the purple dinosaur, and the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round… As the kids grew older, music consisted of the “routine” pieces at Kutztown twirler events, saxophone-induced howling from the family Bouvier, and my singing of Janis Joplin tunes as I drove the curves of Eagle Point Road.

Now, as my mother’s caregiver, I’m in the midst of a music explosion. On Friday nights we have Concerts on the Village Green in Lemont. Sunday nights, it is the South Hills Music Picnic Series. We attend Jazz at the Palmer (Art Museum) once a month. At Webster’s Bookstore Café, we sip tea at evening concerts and Sunday Brunch gatherings, listening to live performances of Chilean folk music, the senior center’s Second Winds big band, or a duo called Hops & Vines. This is all FREE music in Happy Valley, and doesn’t include special events such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, JazzPA , the Acoustic Brew Series, or anything and everything musically related to Penn State.

It gets so crazy that two questions have been added to my mom’s repertoire of “What day is it? What’s on the agenda? Should I wear a dress?” Yes, when she knows we are planning to go to a concert, the big two are: “Is the concert indoors or outside?” and “Do we need to bring chairs?” Fashion and comfort are main concerns.

This summer, we joined in The Pat Farrell Community Sing, inside, seated on the pews of State College Presbyterian Church. I thought you might be interested in this slice of local history, all of which was new to me.

Fifty or sixty years ago, State College residents got together for a “community sing” each summer week under the direction of Frank Gullo, then director of Penn State’s Glee Club, and Hummel (Hum) Fishburn, then director of Penn State’s Blue Band. This tradition disappeared in the 1970s. The Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts brought it back in 2011 to honor the memory of Pat Farrell, a former Arts Fest board president. At that time, the organizers polled community singers, musicians, and other interested folks to compile a list of songs that represented the State College community, which they gathered into The Pat Farrell Community Sing Songbook.

The songbook contains a mix of hymns, folk, patriotic, and protest songs, show tunes, and yes, the Penn State Alma Mater. (For you history buffs, Pat Farrell is recognized as the force behind the change in a few critical words in PSU’s alma mater, written by Professor Fred Louis Pattee in 1901. When I was a student at Penn State, the words to the alma mater said Dear Old State would “mold us into men” and we feisty young women would shout as loud as we could, “and women.” Well in 1975, Professor Pat Farrell convinced the Board of Trustees to substitute “childhood’s gate” for “boyhood’s gate” and had Dear Old State simply “mold us” rather than “mold us into men.”)

The directors of this year’s sing-along introduced each song and got the crowd going. My mom lit up when we sang Do Re Mi and Oh What a Beautiful Morning—she loves old musicals. I had a smile on my face recalling Cat Stevens’ take on the 1931 hymn Morning Has Broken. But I was really captured by one song I don’t recall ever hearing before (although I’ve read since that it has been sung by Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary). The lyrics of A Song of Peace, written by Lloyd Stone between World Wars I and II, touch my heart:

This is my song, O God of all nations,

A song of peace, for lands afar and mine;

This is my home, the country where my heart is.

Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine.

But other hearts in other lands are beating

With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,

And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine.

But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

O hear my song, thou God of all nations,

A song for peace for their land and for mine.

I think it is time for a global anthem. This one has my vote. Laurie Lynch

Written on Slate: “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” –Pablo Casals


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