The Sounds of Music come from a wide array of sources, some of them unusual, or unique, others so inventive they defy belief. Who would have believed some resourceful rhythm-maker could produce toe-stepping sounds from spoons? And how about the musical saw; some players produce such lilting sounds that they would make a carpenter envious.
The Yellow Hammers and the Baxters of long ago belted out their colorful lyrics to the accompaniment of guitars and fiddles, while Roland Hayes sang his arias to the tunes of grand pianos and the sweet sounds of violins. Popular singers performed with big bands, evolving to the jazzy sounds of trumpet and saxophone and piano. Bing Crosby included melodic whistling with his baritone voice.
But there are other ways to make music, inventive, unexpected and surprising ways. All one needs is the feel, a little bit of know-how and the magic touch. Fred Astaire could tap out tuneful sounds with his feet. So could his movie partner, Ginger Rogers, except, by her own boast, she did it while dancing backwards, in high heels.
The Atlanta Braves once added a giant calliope to their on-field sounds. The calliope is an instrument that produces sounds by sending compressed air through large whistles, making for a wailing, call of the lonely kind of sound. It was supposed to create a different kind of ambience within the confines of Atlanta Stadium. However, even balls clanking off Braves fielders’ “iron” gloves made better music, and the calliope went the way of a sour note never to return.
Now and then, you find musicians playing a dulcimer. That’s a string instrument made popular in the Appalachians and other mountainous regions, albeit not many other places. The dulcimer is primarily a self-taught accomplishment, as are most instruments considered unique; you just don’t find too many dulcimer instructors around here.
The dulcimer will be recognized at the eagerly awaited Smithsonian Institution exhibit, New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music, scheduled at The Harris Arts Center, April 14 – May 24. It is pictured in a life-sized cutout of three musicians.
Then, there’s the jug, an accompanying instrument for the most part. Before it makes music, it is properly held with thumb and index finger over either the right or left shoulder, its opening pointed downward toward one’s mouth. When its contents have been emptied, usually internally, who cares what sounds it makes?
Some folks play the washboard, although modern advances to do one’s laundry have made it almost obsolete. Also called a rub tub, the Smithsonian exhibit will feature it in hands-on fashion; one can pull it out and “play” it . . . or use it to wash one’s jeans.
As kids, we hummed through comb and tissue paper to make music . . . if that is what it was.
But it was yet another inventive way to make music – food for thought as we observe all things musical in preparation for the New Harmonies celebration of, among other happenings, our Gordon County music legacy.
Mitzi Hutchinson, owner of Thurston’s Café, recalls when her second or third-grade teacher brought something called an autoharp to class. “It was a triangular string instrument that she, Miss Thompson, I think, played for us. I don’t know if I have seen one since. It had a very unusual sound as I recall.”
There are those who can sound a tuneful sequence simply by slapping their thighs and legs with open hands. Now, that is talent.
The bagpipe, a bona fide and oft-used instrument, is to Scotland what the guitar or fiddle is to southern folks in the United States and isn’t often heard in these parts. But, once in awhile, you hear it in its mournful fashion wailing out a tune, usually “Amazing Grace.” Nothing activates the tear ducts faster.
On the other hand, a happy sound comes from yodeling. Cowboy star Gene Autry was a yodeler: “Yo da ladeee ye he,” give or take a throaty gurgle. Anyhow, it always got the girl’s attention, along with Autry’s horse Champ, who could whinny in tune.
Spoons, Jew’s harp, tub boards, saws, jugs, yodelers, whistlers . . . the world of music knows no bounds. So, pay attention. That soft-drink bottle in your hand might be more than a soda container. It just might make music.
(The New Harmonies : Celebrating American Roots Music exhibit is on display at The Harris
Arts Center, April 14 – May 24. Admission is free to the exhibit and to many live performances. Other events will be ticketed at affordable prices. Call 706-629-2599 for details.)