0719 PV Headshot Jean Shriver.JPG

Ever heard of musical schizophrenia? 

Well, I have it and maybe you do too. Here’s how it happened with me.

As I grew up, our household boasted one small brown Philco radio which was never turned on except on weekends. On Saturdays it blasted out the Metropolitan Opera and on Sundays, the New York Philharmonic.

I’d lie on the oriental rug that covered our living room floor, idly turning the pages of one of my mother’s big art books. I wasn’t terribly interested in the music, but I enjoyed spending time with my mother.

My grandmother, who often played Chopin waltzes on her Steinway, took me to the Budapest String Quartet at a local theater and also to the Trapp Family Singers. It was there that I stared at the youngest Trapp, a boy even younger than me, wearing knee pants.

At my elementary school, we put on a pared-down production of Humperdink’s  Hansel and Gretel. In December we learned to sing Adeste Fidelis in Latin.

And so it went until the year I got the measles.

I was pretty sick and they closed the shutters at my windows and covered the lamps to preserve my not very good eyesight. I was not allowed to read or color or do much of anything.

Feeling sorry for me, my mother brought up the Philco radio and put it beside my bed. This opened a whole new world to me.

I loved the soap operas, Stella Dallas and Amanda of Honeymoon Hill.

Around supper time, came the exciting adventures of Dick Tracy and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy.

But it was a program later in the evening that brought new sounds to my ears. The station was in Camden, New Jersey and it featured country stars such as Hank Williams and Bob Wills. 

I can still sing most of “Walkin’ the Floor Over You” and “Lovesick Blues.”  But, if you’re smart, you won’t ask me to do so.

These songs struck a spark in my lowbrow heart.

When I recovered, I’d walk to my fourth grade class quietly singing, “Smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”  I never told anybody of my love for those nasal voices and plunking guitars. I just assumed they’d make fun of me for liking “hillbilly” music.

One glorious summer I spent on a ranch in Montana and the cowboy who herded us girls along a trail would get out his guitar when we stopped for lunch and play, “Nobody’s Darling but Mine.” and “Jack of Diamonds.”

We’d sing along. I was in heaven.

When I had a car of my own, I’d keep the radio tuned to a country station, but changed it the minute somebody else got in the car, especially my husband.

He had perfect pitch and sang in choirs, and I figured he wouldn’t understand. Together, we went to symphonies and operas and I enjoyed them, though I didn’t have his ear, nor his appreciation.

Lately, country music has seemed too commercial,  so I turned back to classical music, especially Beethoaven and Sibelius.

Then I heard some clips from Ken Burns’ upcoming TV series on country music.

Those half forgotten songs by Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard  and Dolly Parrton reminded me of l loving Willie Nelson’s “Angel Flying too Close to the Ground."

When I heard Patsy Kline sing, “I fall to pieces ...” and once again I knew why that plaintive music had so touched my heart. 

Guess I’ll always be a schizophrenic where music is concerned.

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