Like most children banished to the yard on a hot southern day, my brother and I would get into any and everything we could find around my grandfather’s house in Newberry, SC. Some days it was just too hot for exploration. On such occasions, we often found ourselves killing time on the stairs leading down to the carport. The thing I most recall amidst the rusting tools, storage refrigerator, and random junk discarded in said carport was a mysterious wooden box. Long since relieved of its finish, it had a wooden grill with a deteriorating piece of burlap cloth behind it.
I was never really certain what it was until after my Papa passed away. As the family distributed the stuff at his home, my mother and my cousin Robin opened it up, revealing it to be a old record player. More specifically, it was an Edison Victrola. I remember as they cranked it up and we found ourselves amused by the folk ballads we heard: one about the sinking of the Titanic and another about the Wabash Cannonball.
Some years later, my mother had the Victrola refurbished and eventually gave it to me. The story is that my great-grandfather purchased it after returning home from the Great War. It was used when he got it, so it was likely made in the early 1900’s. My grandfather wound up with it at some point, wherein it fell into disrepair. To make it work, you have to crank the thing up and release a lever. The sound comes out of a metal horn that is concealed behind the wooden grill. I have about 40 or so of the quarter-inch thick records. Some of them are original recordings of John Philip Sousa‘s famous wind bands!
There is no doubt that listening to music on a Victrola is a task, but I like it. If you think about it, there are few places you can go that you don’t hear music. We hear it in our car, the store, elevators, bathrooms, tv shows, commercials, restaurants. . . you get the idea. It is nearly inescapable, and that is tragic. I love listening to music, but I feel that in modern society it often becomes a compulsive, mundane, and unfortunately joyless thing.
Think about how often you hear music and regard it as little more than background noise. Then consider my Greatpapa’s Victrola.
For him, listening to music was an activity. He couldn’t just put a record on and mill around the house. A Victrola usually needs a winding near the end of the record or it will run out of momentum before the music is over. Having his in my home reminds me of what a special thing music truly is. Imagine what a delight hearing that player must have been for a man who had likely only heard music performed live when he was a child. How wonderful must the contrast with the more common silence have been for him?
If you’re still reading this, try to take some time and just listen to one piece of music that means something to you. Before you do it, spend a few minutes to take in the silence. . . then listen. . . don’t just hear.