A Song In My Heart

This week I did a virtual event for the Mission Valley Chorus which is related to Sweet Adelines, which is the distaff side of Barber Shop Quartets. As far as I know, those are still all male, but a lot of things have changed in that regard in recent years.

When my husband asked me, “How did you get mixed up with them?” I replied. “They asked.” And that was true—they did ask. But it was also only part of the answer, because there’s some history here.

Sometime in the early eighties, while I was still living in a condo in what was then called the Denny Regrade, a national convention came to town featuring the above mentioned groups—Barber Shop Quartets and Sweet Adeline Quartets from all over the country.

I have no idea which year it was or even the month, but it must have been in the summer, because the weather was beautiful and the sky over downtown Seattle was absolutely and gorgeously blue. Suddenly, all of downtown Seattle was like a scene out of the Sound of Music. There were quartets singing at street corners, on buses, in elevators, and on the trolley down by the waterfront. There were probably quartets singing on the Washington State Ferries, although I can’t say that for sure.

Some of our friends who lived in the same condo development were friends with members of one of the top line quartets, and they came to Bay Vista to do a live concert in one of the units. It was wonderful. It was magical, and that’s part of why I agreed to do something for the Mission Valley Chorus—because I still treasure the memory of those song-filled days in Seattle. But there’s another reason as well, and that would be my mother, Evie Busk.

Some of my regular readers are probably shaking their heads and saying, “Oh, dear. Not HER again!” Well, yes, her again, and that’s just the way it is. And as Evie would have said, “Like it or lump it.”

And just like much of that virtual event, this blog will be about music and my mother. There’s an excellent chance that, in fifteen years of blogging, I may have told all or part of this story previously, but here’s the thing about stories. How many times as a kid did you hear the story of Little Red Riding Hood, for example, or the Little Red Hen? And every time you heard those stories, you loved them right? And what about those old Knock Knock jokes. Even now, those old jokes are to be treasured.

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Orange.
Orange who?
Orange chu glad I didn’t say banana?

Still funny, even after all these years. And so, back to Evie Busk.

I wish I could have been a mouse in the corner when my mother was growing up with her five siblings. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect that, just like in our house on Yuma Trail in Bisbee, music was alive and well in the Anderson household. I’m guessing there was singing when people were doing dishes or cleaning the house. For all I know, maybe there was even singing out in the barn when people were milking cows.

My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse I doubt she ever had an official music class or teacher in that one-room schoolhouse. As far as I know, Evie Busk never had lessons in playing any instrument, but what I do know is this: she had an astounding collection of lyrics and melodies stuck in her head, and she shared them all with of her children.

By the time I was old enough to be aware of such things, my older sisters, Janice and Jeannie, were busy singing duets in the talent show at Greenway School and at the Christmas Pageant for the Warren Community Church. When I came along, our mother taught me to sing the melody, while Janice and Jeannie harmonized.

The three of us—Janice, Jeannie, and Judy—comprised the set of kids, the ones born in South Dakota, that our mother referred to as “the first batch.” When the second batch came along—all born in Arizona—their voices were added to what was fast becoming a mini-chorus.

For the record, here’s a word about our father, Norman. As my younger brother Arlan once said, “There are 88 keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.” And that was true. Our father couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. I somehow doubt he enjoyed the constant song-fest going on around him, but he tolerated it with great patience.

I know I’ve mentioned before that long family car trips were full of the songs our mother taught us: The Old Pine Tree; Tumbling Tumble Weeds; Sweet Violets; Cool, Clear Water and others too numerous to mention. We all had our favorites. Arlan and Jim owned their duet version of Sweet Violets.

The last time all seven of us kids were together before our brother Jim passed away at age fifty was on the occasion of our parents’ 65th wedding anniversary. We sat around in the conference room at a small motel in Bisbee and sang all those old songs, one verse at a time.

When the party was over and Bill and I were walking to our car, he asked me. “How did you all learn to sing in harmony?” I looked at him in complete astonishment and said, “Doesn’t everybody?”

But of course the truth is, everybody doesn’t. And that caused me to think back through those very first ventures into three part harmony, with our mother helping me maintain the melody, while Janice and Jeannie confidently sang their parts.

And that’s the other reason I did that talk for the Mission Valley Chorus this week—because of a mother who never had an official music lesson in her life but who was, nonetheless, a masterful music teacher.

23 thoughts on “A Song In My Heart

  1. Let music ever surround us!! Thank you for sharing stories about your mother and your siblings. I love to hear the memoirs and it’s always fun! What a wonderful family.

  2. Loved this, particularly the description of your father’s singing ability. Like your. Mom, I have an amazing number of songs and lyrics in my head – and I sing them often and loudly. My now deceased hubby was an extraordinary bass singer. He proudly told people I gave every key an opportunity in a single song. And I did/do. Just move to where I can hit the note. I say did/do, because I’m no longer aware of doing it. And, a few days before he died, hubby told me that either I was getting better or he’d gotten used to it.

  3. I am a new member to you blog and I don’t yet know the amazing stories of your mother, so please go right ahead and tell these stories. I love hearing about your family.

    Thank you.

    Barbara Stewart

  4. You bring back memories of me & my girlfriend harmonizing to the song “I hear Music & there is no one there, etc” do not recall the name of song. Thought we sounded wonderful- still remember every word except the song title & this was 70 years ago!!! Thank you for your memories!

    • You’re just in love. Irving Berlin. Lyrics are on-line. Loved to listen to those who could, sing.

  5. What a beautiful story. I hope more families continue to sing together today. Music ? is such a gift and provides excellent skills in patience and practice. Our 1 year old Grandson is already asking for music to dance to when he visits ?

  6. You’ve reminded me of our car trips. Mom was a soprano and dad was a bass – and they loved singing those same songs. I remember well “You are my sunshine”. I was a young girl and somewhere along the way I started singing along. And I remember trying to harmonize. I think back and realize I was an alto long before I could read music, athough they had me starting to play the piano when I was six. Thank you for those memories. I just lost my mother in March (and of course we couldn’t be with her) and I really needed this memory! It put a smile on my face!
    KL

  7. Music is such a gift to us! I am thankful to also be the recipient of that gift. And yes, I am sure songs were being sung to the rhythm of the milk hitting those pails in that old barn on the Anderson farm.

  8. I always thought it easy to sing in harmony without music sheets! Thanks for bringing a pleasurable memory to this 84 year old fan of your books!!!!!!!!

  9. I love Evie Busk! Keep telling us stories of her because each time you do we learn a little bit more about her. What she accomplished in life may not seem remarkable to her, but it was, and the fact she filled it with song, well…

  10. It was such a delight, to have you visit our chorus.
    I love your stories!
    And thank you for reminding us about the value singing with others brings to everyone, singers and listeners alike.

  11. Oh, Judy! I never expected to hear about four-part harmony from you, but I’m so glad I did! I was a member of Sweet Adelines for a decade. I sang “tenor” in a quartet, in the chorus, and eventually became Assistant Director in our chapter. We had so much fun going to competitions, and in 1967 we won the Regional Competition for the Rocky Mountain Region. We were one proud chorus!! I, too, started sing harmony in grade school. I don’t know how it came about, but I always “heard” the harmony and was able to figure it out. Back in Texas during those days (right after WWII and up until 1950) we had a “devotional” every morning that came over the P.A. system before classes started for the day. One of my friends and I had learned we could harmonize together, and the principal asked us to sing often for the devotional. We loved singing “I Come to the Garden Alone” (I don’t think that’s it’s actual name, but you get the drift. Thanks so much for reminding me of all those happy days. Now, if I sing at all, it’s with recording of the McGuire Sisters, and old tapes from my Sweet Adeline days!!! Thanks for reminding me!!

  12. When the party was over and Bill and I were walking to our car, he asked me. “How did you all learn to sing in harmony?” I looked at him in complete astonishment and said, “Doesn’t everybody?”
    Words of wisdom – I wish all of us could harmonize instead of being so divisive. Satchmo sang it best: “And I think to myself what a wonderful world,
    Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world”

  13. Loved your story about you all singing together. Our home always had music and we would all sing too but we didn’t have a piano to help us keep in tune but we enjoyed it and also we danced with the songs from the Big Bands.
    Its too bad music has been taken out of our schools, and dance too. I played a clarinet all through high school and played in concerts and marched in the band. And our girls athletic team put on a musical “South Pacific” and we danced and pantomimed to those songs. It brings back such happy memories.

  14. Thanks for the memories! (O don’t you hear them, hear them when they ring? That can only happen when the fairies sing!)

    • White coral bells upon their slender stalks
      Lilies of the valleys deck my garden walk.
      Oh, don’t you wish, that you could hear them ring
      That will happen only when the fairies sing.

      That’s what comes of all those years in Girl Scouts.

  15. I love reading about Evie Busk, and the way she fostered in her children a love of music and gave them the skills to perform it themselves. What a musical woman she must have been, to be able to do that with no training. That story reminds me of how grateful I am, on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, for my own mother, who didn’t teach me to sew or knit etc.–because she didn’t know how herself–but taught me to play the piano, AND figured out a way to ensure I practised. I thought at the time that she was pretty mean, but later realized what a gift she’d given me, because for some years now, teaching others how to play instruments has given me a living. And no, harmonizing is NOT something everybody can do. In fact, many who would like to, and try to learn, find it impossible. So you Busks are an innately talented bunch!

  16. Such wonderful memories. I was blessed to be in a musical home, too. My dad was always in the church choir and we were encouraged to sing, too. He was active in a barbershop quartet and at his funeral we had songs from several groups to lift us. When my 3 sisters and I watched, Lawrence welk show and the Lennon sisters came in; we loved it. My mom ad dad would encouraged our attempts to sing their songs. We had a piano and the songbook for Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical. I shared this book with my neighbor’s girls; they enjoyed the musicals, too.

  17. Love your sharing a of your mother. We, too had music in our home. My first piano lessons were 3 for $1. 1947.
    Later got to a teacher for $1 per lesson. She discovered my interest in church music so assigned me two hymns per week in addition to my regular assignments.
    I have played piano for church and singing groups for over 65 years.
    I believe my husband’s cousin was there from Alaska with her Sweet Adeline group during those events. Her name is Donna Hill.
    Love your books n blogs!

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