Welcome to my first monthly column for the Hamilton Post. I have been a reader of this monthly since its inception. I am a Hamilton born and bred, and at the ripe of age of 83, I am a card carrying member of “Wrinkle City!” I also intend to stay planted in “America’s Hometown” for the rest of my days, months, or years.
I am reviving “The Way We Were;” the byline I used in the “Mercer Messenger” and then the “Hamilton Observer” during my 32 years of writing for the local press. I will be remembering life as it was in the 1940’s up through the present day, with emphasis on the very early years of a very rural Hamilton Township. One of my favorite subjects is the wonderful music of my youth.
How I miss the “Big Bands” and the wonderful vocals of Vera Lynn, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Fisher, Patti Page, The Platters, The Four Aces and so many from the 1940s and 50s. They are no longer in the musical lexicon of pop culture.
I always had the great desire to play the piano or guitar. When I look at those 88 keys, I am completely at a loss to understand how anyone can put 10 fingers on the correct keys simultaneously to make such wonderful music. I did dabble with the Ukulele back in the Arthur Godfrey years, but soon found that it was great for a small room, but not what I wanted.
Then along came the computer! With the technical description of computer music known as “MIDI;” (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) various musical instruments can be “synthesized” and songs can be reproduced with remarkable clarity and very pleasant output; all of which that lends itself to vocal singing.
All of which brings me to the subject of this month’s TWWW column which deals with Tom Glover and Jack Pyrah’s “The Music We Grew Up With” at Kuser Park gazebo. My journey into this 10th annual sing along program began back in the spring of 2006 when then-Mayor Glen Gilmore and his administration had to curtail the weekly appearance of professional bands from the area. We had the wonderful music of Benny Snyder, my classmate Dick Chime’s Polka Band, and other professional musicians which former Mayor Jack Rafferty brought to a very grateful citizenry. However, the aforementioned austerity program and the very costly weekly expense of paying professionals resulted in Mayor Gilmore’s cancellation of the very popular summer concerts.
I had been bringing my music to countless senior citizen groups from the early 1980s aiming at the “Greatest Generation” and World War II veterans. Those who attended those programs loved to hear those old songs they seldom hear in today’s raucous “Rock and Rap” society. With that in mind, I approached Mayor Gilmore and very humbly told him I was not a professional musician, but the many senior citizen groups I performed for loved to hear those old songs. I proposed replacing the professionals on a volunteer basis; no cost, no obligation. Mayor Gilmore accepted my offer and thus began what has become an annual spring and summer program at bucolic Kuser Farm, which I consider my second home.
Three years ago, what began as a Tom Glover solo program came to a very pleasant end when a remarkable event occurred. It was a steamy hot August evening at one of my Sunday programs. I put my computer on “auto play,” announced to those in attendance that I was taking a break, and as I came down the gazebo steps with my bottle of water, a guy approached me and said “You don’t recognize me but…” I immediately said, “Yes I do: You’re Jack Pyrah, Class of 1950 at Hamilton High. You were the baritone in our barbershop quartette. I was in the class of 1951, and when you graduated, I took your place!”
Jack was astounded. He has aged as we all do, but the ravages of time didn’t change him that much; at least as I saw him. He had just lost his dear wife Doris a few months earlier, in May, and was in an emotional quandary. I asked him if he still sang, and he said only in the shower and the church. I asked him if he would be interested in joining me in my volunteer effort, and the rest is history.
How great it is to have a fellow Hamilton Hornet as a singing partner. As it turned out, Jack’s loss of his wife and his return to the music he also loves gave him an escape from the ever-present mourning experience of the passing of a loved one. Enter Devine Providence: When my dear Judy went to be with the Lord in December 2014 after 60 years of wedded bliss, Jack became a factor in assisting me in my personal mourning process. When the two of us sing in unison, our voices are identical, and it sounds like one voice in stereo.
And so, here we are in the spring of 2017, ready to begin Year 11 as Mayor Kelly Yaede Presents “The Music We Grew Up With.” Plans call for our first concert of the year to be presented on Sunday, May 28, and every Sunday through August from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with the possibility of continuing into September; weather permitting. The program is free and open to all within traveling distance of Kuser Park with parking in front of the gazebo on the large open field.
We were wondering how many would show up on a holiday Sunday, but we did our program on a Labor Day weekend and there were many in attendance. We have found that there are many who refrain from holiday travel and just want a pleasant and easy activity to attend to celebrate the day. The photo shows part of a large group that attended one of our concerts during the 2016 season. I hope to see many of our readers at this event. See y’all later this month.