Thanks to author Bruce Atchison for inspiring this post. When I was eight years old, Dad gave me an eight-track player for Christmas. Because of my limited vision, I was delighted at how easy it was to use, just slid the tape into the slot and pushed it in and the music started playing, no messing with records and needles. The tapes didn’t need to be turned over, and as long as I left one in the machine, the music kept playing until I got tired of hearing the same songs and wanted something different.
Once I became familiar with an album, I usually listened to it from beginning to end. After the last song played, I pulled the tape out of the player before it started at the beginning. I was intrigued by the fact that although the machine was called an eight-track player, the tapes only had four tracks, each track containing several songs. There was no way to navigate between songs, but I could push a button to move from one track to the next. If I had a favorite song on a particular album, I often navigated to the track that contained the song and waited for it to come around.
One of my first eight-track albums was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water. One of my favorite songs on this album was “El Condor Pasa.” When I was twelve, I discovered that I could sing my favorite songs and accompany myself on the piano. I sang “El Condor Pasa” in this fashion at a talent contest. I didn’t win, but the experience launched my junior high and high school singing career.
A couple of years later, my younger brother Andy took an interest in playing the drums so needless to say, we formed our own band. At first, Andy didn’t have a drum set so he used an old paint can and a chip of wood for a drumstick. Because Mother wouldn’t let him bring the paint can into the house, we pretended the front porch was a stage. Andy found another wood chip for me to use as a microphone, and I stood on our imaginary stage, holding that chip to my lips, and singing. My only accompaniment was Andy banging away on that old paint can. It was crude but exhilarating. Years later, I wrote a poem about this experience, and you can click below to hear me read it.
The eight-track machine wasn’t the only way I listened to music. After we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, and my father took over the family’s coin-operated machine business, we had a jukebox in our home. Again, because of my visual impairment, I was delighted not to have to mess with a record needle. I just pushed a couple of buttons. The desired disc was deposited onto the turntable, and the needle positioned itself. Because the print in the display window was too small for me to read, I memorized the button combinations that would play my favorite songs. Andy and I spent many happy hours with our friends around that jukebox.
I never pursued my dream of being a singer, but I continued singing and playing the piano through high school and college. When I decided to go into music therapy, I learned to play the guitar. For fifteen years, I worked in nursing homes and other senior facilities, and part of my job was singing and accompanying myself on the guitar or piano. My music was a comfort to many people during that time.
When I got married and started writing full time, my husband Bill, who fell in love with my voice, asked me to play and sing for him from time to time. After he became paralyzed as a result of two strokes, my music was a comfort to him as well. When he died, I sang “Stormy Weather” at his graveside, accompanying myself on the guitar.
Now that Bill, my eight-track player, and the jukebox are gone, I listen to music on compact discs and cassettes. I don’t care for a lot of today’s popular music but enjoy listening to my favorite songs that were popular when I was growing up. My taste has expanded to include classical music and jazz.
Most of my singing is done with a women’s group called Just Harmony. We perform at conventions, parties, and other venues. Some of our music is accompanied on a keyboard by our director. Other songs are sung a capello. Every once in a while, though, as you’ll hear if you click below, I’ll sit down at the piano and play and sing one of my favorite songs.
How did you listen to music when you were growing up? Was there a song that highlighted a pivotal moment in your life?
Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver