Thursday, August 09, 2018

“If Memories Were All I Played”

Do you remember that phrase from Rick Nelson’s 1972 hit song, “Garden
Party”?  If so, you’ll also remember the full sentence – “If memories were all I played, I’d rather drive a truck!”

Well, I understand Rick’s point.  No one wants to be defined solely by their past nor is one’s life well lived if it only revolves around memories of the good old days.  But it’s important to note that Rick Nelson wasn’t dismissing the value of memories altogether.  Not at all. After all, his “garden party” performance included “all the old songs” which the audiences wanted to hear and which he enjoyed playing. He simply didn’t want to be limited by those old songs.  Yes, he had a rich repertoire from the past – that was terrific – but Rick Nelson also wanted to also be appreciated for who he was in the present moment.

I’ve often thought about this as it relates to our ministry of “When Swing Was King” as we take the music of the past into senior care facilities.  It is natural enough for anyone to love the music of their youth and therefore to relish the memories and moods those songs bring back to them.  Thus it is an absolute delight to Claire and me to be able to bring those things to them.  However, it is also a great thrill and honor for us to develop existential friendships with the fans of our program.  We bring the “old” gifts, gifts they cherish more than we ever dared imagine.  Yet through the “When Swing Was King” outreach, we become present day friends with the members of our audiences…at all ten places we play each month.  We listen to their stories of the past to be sure, but we also talk a great deal about the present.  And, as the Lord opens up opportunities, we talk too about the future as we share our joyful confidence in the heavenly inheritance that Jesus Christ purchased by His sacrifice for our sins.

But there’s another angle to my Rick Nelson reference and that is that even the old music needs an occasional update.  In the case of “When Swing Was King,” it means that Claire and I recognize that our audiences are continually changing as “younger seniors” move into the facilities on our schedule. And because we promise “a sentimental journey back to the days of your youth,” we must continually move our music selections forward in time.

Now, as you know, we already make regular changes in our program. Our basic “catalogue” includes 24 plus shows but every time a series comes round (every two years), I change 2-5 songs, 60-80 of the 200 or so photographs, and several of the stories in my narration.  Therefore, every presentation is, quite literally, unique.  But as we now move into our 9th year of “When Swing Was King,” we are not merely making such changes; we are also advancing our musical era into the 1950s and 1960s.

No, that doesn’t mean we’re going into rock and roll.  We will leave to somebody else a program that stars Elvis, The Beatles, and Abba.  Claire and I are going to stay the course with the mellow, more thoughtful music of the big bands and vocalists of the golden age.  Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw will stay center stage.  As will Bing Crosby, the Dorsey brothers, Sinatra and Como, the Mills Brothers, Chick Webb, Guy Lombardo, The Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald,  Lawrence Welk, Helen Forrest, Count Basie, Harry James, etc.  Nevertheless, we are increasingly making room for other popular performers who came a bit later: Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Andy Williams, the McGuire Sisters, Robert Goulet, Eydie Gorme, Dean Martin, the Lennon Sisters, Kay Starr, Jerry Vale, and others.  Indeed, we closed July’s show with Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” (1957) and it was a huge hit with our audiences.

So, there you have it – a quick report on the modifications of “When Swing Was King” as we try to keep it as relevant, sweet, and enjoyable a program as possible.  Our fans are certainly worth the effort!

And for an example of the fare we offer, here is the August playlist, terrific songs every one.

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra — “A String of Pearls”
2) The Andrews Sisters — “Begin the Beguine”
3) Artie Shaw Orchestra — “Out of Nowhere”
4) Nat King Cole — “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”
5) Harry James Orchestra — “If I Loved You”
6) Ella Fitzgerald — “Blue Moon”
7) Benny Goodman Orchestra — “Here’s Love In Your Eyes”
8) Guy Lombardo Orchestra — “Getting To Know You”
9) Eydie Gorme — “Hello, Young Lovers”
10) Larry Clinton Orchestra (Bea Wain, vocals) — “Heart and Soul”
11) Lawrence Welk Orchestra — “Hoop-De-Doo”
12) Fred Astaire — “The Way You Look Tonight”