I had a rare night to myself last night. My husband was out-of-town and my daughter was at a sleep over. Late into the night, I found myself glued to an old movie from the 1940’s, an era I silently envy and wish I could have experienced firsthand.
The movie, Orchestra Wives, is one of the better swing era musicals and features the Glenn Miller orchestra. The plot itself isn’t Oscar-worthy: girl meets boy, boy is beneath girls’ station in life, but marries her and whisks her away to a life of new experiences. Jealousies ensue, breakups occur and true characters are revealed to bring reunions. The music, of course, is amazing; how can you not love The Glenn Miller Orchestra and the great big band sound of the ’40s?
But it wasn’t the movie’s story or music that gave me pause. It was the world it depicted. Night after night, the band traveled from town to town to play clubs and venues where people got together to sing and dance. To enjoy each others’ company and make music. Back then, it was such an important part of everyday life. And unlike today, people had to go out…they had to be together…to make it.
Looking back in time, so much of our heritage is set to music. Worshipers sang in church as a community of believers, lifting their voices together in praise. Farm hands and slaves toiled away in the fields, orally recording their history and struggles for generations to come. Cowboys worked with wild west and settled their cattle in the field at night with gentle songs and lullabies that still stand the test of time.
Families went to the camps of the Adirondacks, the Catskills, Maine and like to reconnect and live the American Dream. Their children put on shows, sang cheesy songs around campfires and they put on major entertainment productions. If luck was on their side, they might even find their future mate! But of course, they always made music together. Sometimes called The Borscht Belt, in homage to the Jewish-American families who frequented them, most of these beautiful resorts now stand in ruin.
Somewhere along the way, the post-war boom of economic success changed that. We stopped going out to find the music. Televisions were mass-produced and we could sit in our own homes and become receivers of the great shows. I can remember my own excitement as a child at watching the performances on The Sonny and Cher Show, The Glenn Campbell Hour and the likes of the greats of Carol Burnett, Ed Sullivan and even Lawrence Welk. My family all sat around the TV — together — and did not miss these great performances. We laughed, sang and made music together; but we did not have to go out to find or make it.
Today’s digital world continues to push us further and further into the abyss of isolation. We can explore new music, make music and even produce and share it without ever interacting, physically, with another human being. How sad.
As wonderful and magical as the experience of music is, we have lost the most important part of the pleasure it brings…making it together.