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Posts Tagged ‘1963’

We return to my grandpa’s journal of job-related facts and random trivia for another nugget.

I always enjoy finding some topic or trivia fact of my grandfather’s that interests me too.

The factoid about stacked Life magazines from my last post wasn’t really one of those; I don’t have a personal relationship with Life magazine.

I do have a personal relationship with music. I play it sometimes. I listen to it a lot. I like learning about the technical details of making it, and about the lightning flashes of creativity that also make it happen.

My grandpa was in the same place. So I imagine the tidbit at the heart of this post grabbed his brain in much the same way it grabbed mine, and inspired some of the same thoughts and questions:

aabovemiddlec

Non-musical readers might wonder what the big deal is about the A note above middle C (as in, the middle of the piano keyboard). To them, it might seem like just one among the 88 notes on a standard piano.

That particular note has a special importance to musicians and those who build and tune instruments.

A at the frequency of 440 hertz has been endorsed (though not universally adopted — more on that later) as an international pitch standard for the tuning of instruments. It’s such a significant note, in fact, that it has its own Wikipedia entry.

Hundreds of years ago, there was no single tuning pitch, and the intonation of instruments could significantly vary even within the same city. The use of tuning forks did not help, as they were not all standardized at first.

There was also pressure over time to shift pitch upward. This favors stringed instruments (they sound “brighter” and more appealing at higher pitch) but challenges vocalists, who have to push to hit the notes.

Finally, movements arose in the 19th and 20th centuries to set a single consistent tuning pitch, known as “concert pitch.”

(The three preceding paragraphs are condensed from another Wiki entry on concert pitch, which fascinated me, and I think would have fascinated my grandfather if he’d had the chance to read it.)

# # # # #

This all might seem arcane; and indeed, it is possible to enjoy music without thinking much about concert pitch.

Rock bands, especially those without keyboard players, have long been known to tune to non-standard pitches, principally for the comfort of their singers.

My dad, the saxophonist-slash-engineer, points out that variations in concert pitch are more serious business to people who play wind instruments. A clarinetist in an orchestra that changes from 440 Hz to 442 might have to have his or her instrument altered, and a larger change might require the purchase of a new clarinet.

My dad adds: “Somehow a “sharper” sound is preferred by some folks.  If you get used to a sharper tuning, old tunings (like the baroque tunings which I suspect almost anyone can detect as significantly “flatter”) sound somehow more lugubrious and ponderous.”

So variation in concert pitch might be most noticeable to classical musicians who need to adjust to differing standards … and to classical fans who buy two recordings of their favorite piece by different orchestras, play them back-to-back, and notice a curious difference in pace and intonation.

To some classical listeners, concert pitch is more than a trivial interest: It can be a yardstick of whether a reissued recording is faithful to the original performance.

Check out this Stereophile magazine review from earlier this year, in which the reviewer retracts his earlier endorsement of a Cleveland Orchestra recording because the reissue is mastered to 445 Hz instead of 440 — rendering the recording faster and sharper than the real-life performance.

# # # # #

If you’re still reading, you’re probably wondering whether you can hear any difference in standard pitches. Let’s find out, shall we?

Here’s an A above middle C at 440 Hz …

… at 432 Hz …

… at 442 Hz …

… and at 415 Hz.

If you have trouble hearing the difference — or just want to have some fun — try running two of the pitches at the same time. You should hear audible “beats” between the two pitches.

# # # # #

I’m not sure my grandpa knew the full, convoluted history of concert pitch.

If he had, he might not have been so struck by the Metropolitan Opera’s adoption of 442 Hz as a “new standard,” because he would have known that 440 Hz was by no means universal.

Although 440 Hz was endorsed as a U.S. standard in the late ’30s and an international standard in 1955, some major orchestras here and abroad continued to use concert pitches as high as 443 Hz — and still do.

Other sources argue for the use of 432 Hz, claiming it is more soothing and attuned to the spheres. (This post is long enough already so I’m not going any deeper into that, but you can Google it if you want.)

And those who play period instruments have adopted different concert pitches for different uses, which go as low as 415 Hz and as high as 470. (The low end of this range is the “baroque” tuning mentioned by my dad a couple hundred words ago.)

In August 1971, Time magazine — my grandpa’s former employer, and one of his favorite news sources — reported on the disagreement in an article titled “The Pitch Game.” I can’t read the whole thing without subscribing, but I’m sure it fascinated him, and I’m sure it reminded him of the nugget he’d written down in his notebook eight years earlier.

My dad suggests my grandpa took notice of the whole subject not because it affected his listening habits, but for other reasons:

I think he was generally interested in what he considered significant changes to standards in the world.  I think a pitch change might have been in the same ballpark as leaving the gold standard, replacing the voting machine, changing the size or makeup of a baseball, making a penny out of steel instead of copper (1943), these sorts of things.

# # # # #

 I found this subject interesting as well, 980 words ago.

But now I feel like cleaning out my brain with a little 4′ 33″. That doesn’t require adherence to any particular concert pitch.

Wonder if my grandpa ever heard of John Cage?

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“Hoping that our youth may be persuaded to love and imitate the virtues of the men whose great names they have been accustomed, from the cradle, to lisp with veneration, I have long coveted to set these virtues before them.”
– Mason Locke Weems

This week we find ourselves in the retrospectively sunny world of JFK’s New Frontier, face to face with one of America’s enduring myths.

When first I looked at the calendar entry for February 22, 1963 — nine months to the day before Dallas — I squinted at the dotted apparition in the center.

What in the fresh hell is that supposed to be? I thought, sipping my Ward 8. There’s no plant or tree that looks so vibrant and alive in February in Connecticut. February is too late for holly berries, and too early for apples. What IS that?

And then I remembered a certain American legend involving an axe, and a fruit tree, and an honest little boy who grew up to have a federal holiday proclaimed in his honor.

February 22, 1963. Axe and boy not shown.

February 22, 1963. Axe, boy and ham dinner not shown.

Mason Locke Weems, the author who gave the world the cherry-tree story, is known today — to those who remember him at all — for never letting the truth get in the way of a saleable bit of hagiography.

The snippet of “biography” that gave the world the cherry-tree story can be read at Weems’ Wiki page. Project Gutenberg, meanwhile, gives us the texts of Weems’ biographies of Francis Marion and Benjamin Franklin.

(The Franklin bio is titled, “The Life of Benjamin Franklin. With Many Choice Anecdotes and admirable sayings of this great man never before published by any of his biographers.” Reminds me of the remarkable, unprecedented access Clifford Irving had to Howard Hughes.)

Here’s a choice bit from page one of the Franklin biography; I’ll buy a cherry pie for anyone who can stand to read the whole book:

Some men carry letters of recommendation in their looks, and some in their names. ‘Tis the lot but of few to inherit both of these advantages. The hero of this work was one of that favoured number. As to his physiognomy, there was in it such an air of wisdom and philanthropy, and consequently such an expression of majesty and sweetness, as charms, even in the commonest pictures of him. And for his name, every one acquainted with the old English history, must know, that Franklin stands for what we now mean by “Gentleman,” or “clever fellow.”

I find it interesting how a scrap of fiction, apparently made up out of whole cloth as Weems dipped his quill, could become an entrenched bit of national lore known to every generation of Americans.

Nowadays, everyone knows the cherry-tree story isn’t true. (This is not a recent development; I’m sure my grandpa knew this in February 1963.)

But everyone knows the story anyway. Even in the skeptical 21st century, when warts-and-all is the rule and presidents have feet of clay, this antiquated, hopelessly sunny legend still goes around.

Just to verify that schoolkids today still hear the cherry legend, I went upstairs and asked my kids, aged 14 and 11. They hastened to tell me it wasn’t true — but they’d both heard it. (Neither of them could quite remember when and where, which suggests it was some time ago.)

No matter what you think of the relative virtues of truth and falsehood, the eternal resilience of the story is kind of charming.

America’s stock of shared lore is like a patchwork quilt — Paul Bunyan in red plaid over here, steel-drivin’ John Henry in stark gray and black there, Johnny Appleseed in russet dapple in the corner … and a little boy with a white-flowered cherry tree right in the middle, one of the oldest and best-stitched patches of all, as if affixed by some wizened, winsome national grandma.

Taking the cherry tree out of the quilt now would just about require unraveling the whole thing. And Americans, even in the darkest of times, have never bought into that idea.

So Mason Weems’ bald-faced lie will probably outlast us all … as it outlasted our fathers and grandfathers and great-great-great-grandfathers.

I wonder whether any legends of our current crop of presidents — or any truths, for that matter — will last as long.

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Step back with us, won’t you, to a time when your triumphs and problems were your neighbors’ business

… when a series of rattling spins and clicks provided a dramatic prologue to every conversation …

… and when a hero to all sons of western New York was making convoluted, enigmatic introductions like this one every week on network television.

(There is a classic Blumenau family story involving Rod Serling, and perhaps someday I will tell it; but not now. There will be time enough at last.)

This week 50 years ago, we find the youth of 1107 Hope Street celebrating a victory distinctly of its time and place:

Sept. 11, 1963.

Sept. 11, 1963. Whitey Ford and Alvin Jackson cruise to complete-game wins for New York’s baseball teams, who are, respectively, in first place by 13 games and in last by 39 1/2.

Ah, yes, the days when all phones were anchored on desks or walls — and if you wanted another one, you had to have Ma Bell’s minions come put it in. My dad remembers:

I do know that AT&T was a total monopoly when I was growing up, and they owned your phone and the wiring and all, and you rented it each month.  If you wanted two phones, you paid more and rented two phones.  And they could tell from some electrical measurement if you had doctored your system (added an illegal phone).

For many years, the only phone at 1107 Hope Street lived on my grandfather’s desk, in a niche on the first floor just outside the kitchen. There wasn’t much in the way of privacy.

My dad: I would wander across the street to Springdale Methodist Church to telephone girls to ask them out on dates because I didn’t want anyone to hear!

My aunt: Your grandfather and father once had a lot of fun making noise while I was attempting to talk to a male caller. I don’t recall nagging to get another phone, but I probably should have, if only for the privacy reason.

My aunt on the phone, circa 1958.

My aunt on the phone, circa 1958.

Of course, what the kids saw as a lack of privacy, the adults saw as an opportunity. My grandparents used to time my aunt’s phone calls with a kitchen timer and bell, to keep her from tying up the line for too long. (My aunt says she would tiptoe into the kitchen and turn the timer back to buy more time on the phone.)

Finally, in the fall of 1963, my grandparents agreed to end the phone wars and have a second phone (not a second line; just a second phone) installed on the second floor, in the hallway between the bedrooms and bathroom.

It wasn’t a concession to the kids, but a way to make their own lives easier.

My dad: Think about it: they were getting older, and at that time there was no voice recording, so if you didn’t make it downstairs in time, you missed the call and spent the next 3 hours wondering who called!  I think that’s all there was behind it.

My aunt: As your grandparents only splurged on items for practical reasons, I too believe the second phone was installed because your grandparents found it more difficult to sprint  down the stairs to answer the phone.

October 1980. There was a small cabinet in the hall between my great-grandma's and grandparents' bedrooms, with a phone on top. My great-grandma is marking her 94th birthday with a phone call to someone, sitting on a clothes hamper. The door behind her leads to my grandparents' bedroom, I believe.

I’ve used this pic before. Here’s my great-grandma using the upstairs phone on her 94th birthday in October 1980. The phone is almost certainly a Western Electric Model 500 — in black, as you can see.

I do not know whether my grandpa — a tinkerer and a curious sort — ever figured out how to dial one phone from the other, creating his own benign variation on the call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house scenario. It sounds like the kind of thing he would have taken advantage of to save himself a trip up or down the stairs.

I also do not know whether my grandfather ever owned an answering machine. I cannot for the life of me remember his ever having one.

(The one thing I do remember about my grandparents was that my grandma was deaf as a stone post, and her hearing aid used to whistle when she was on the phone, maybe ’cause she’d cranked it up high. I can still hear the sound.)

By the time my family left 1107 Hope, Ma Bell was no longer a monopoly, and the company’s hold on phone installation had been relaxed.

I don’t remember for sure, but I think my grandfolks’ subsequent home in the Rochester area might even have had *three* phones — one in the kitchen, one in the bedroom area and one in the basement.

I dunno if that’s true, though. Sounds awfully profligate for people who clung so strictly to a single phone for so many years.

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I wouldn’t have thought my grandpa had much in common with the hard-drinking, abusive protagonists of “Mad Men,” but it seems like we cross their paths a lot here on Hope Street.

First, Don Draper showed up in our ode to the two New Yorks of the 1960s. Then, we made a Mohawk Airlines reference a couple of weeks ago.

And today, my grandpa’s calendar makes note of an event referenced in the third-season “Mad Men” episode “Seven Twenty Three.”

July 20, 1963.

July 20, 1963. The hip kids in the tri-state region are listening to “Fingertips Part 2,” “Surf City,” “Wipe Out,” “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” “Memphis” and “It’s My Party.”

I didn’t know it until I checked Wikipedia, but this particular solar eclipse seems to have captured the fancy of quite a few creative types.

The eclipse of Saturday, July 20, 1963, is a key plot point in the Stephen King novels Dolores Claiborne and Gerald’s Game, and is also described in John Updike’s novel Couples.

Charles Schulz devoted a week’s worth of “Peanuts” strips to it, as well. (The scrawled note at the bottom of the July 20 calendar entry seems to say something about “C brown.” But I don’t interpret that as a “Peanuts” reference. I don’t think Joe Shlabotnik’s biggest fan ever made it onto the family calendar.)

I don’t have any record of the eclipse providing artistic inspiration to my grandfather. I know of no photographs or paintings of his that depict it, aside from the nifty doodle on his calendar.

I would imagine he tried to take a look at it, though, using whatever the approved and recommended methods are to view an eclipse. With his interests in space and science, it would have been natural for him to check it out.

Isn’t looking through developed film one way to view an eclipse? God knows my grandpa had plenty of that around the house.

(This picture, which regrettably is not my grandfather’s, shows the lengths one American family went to to approach the challenge. And this picture shows how a couple of enterprising American businesses found a promotional opportunity in it.)

According to contemporary sources, only five solar eclipses were expected to be visible from North America between 1963 and 2025.  So, while I’d never heard of this event before, I can understand why it would be big news to those who were around at the time.

The day dawned cloudy, threatening to dash the hopes of countless amateur astronomers. It seems like people got a pretty good look anyway, though. An estimated 200,000 people flocked to Maine that weekend, Maine being one of only two places in the U.S. expected to see a full eclipse.

News reports at the time quoted Surgeon General Luther Terry telling Americans to “watch it on television” to avoid damaging their eyes.

Today, anyone with YouTube can see the eclipse. If you want to put a box over your head for the sake of historical verisimilitude, knock yourself out:

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I think, in the years before I knew him, my grandpa had a bit of an outdoorsy streak — just like  lots of other red-blooded American men.

He wasn’t the sort to swim in icy lakes at dawn, or shinny up a mountain bare-handed.

But, given the opportunity, I think he enjoyed a bit of roughing it out in the woods every now and again.I believe he spent most of his life in city settings — not among skyscrapers per se, but in closely developed neighborhoods — so maybe that explains why he liked to go get a few lungfuls of fresh air from time to time.

Give him a rustic cottage, and a rowboat, and a fire to grill over, and he could enjoy nature happily enough.

Either 1957 or '59, I believe, in the little western Massachusetts town of Becket.

Either 1957 or ’59, I believe, in the little western Massachusetts town of Becket. My grandpa is rowing; my grandma and aunt are enjoying the ride.

From the same trip to Becket: The family enjoys dinner out back of the cottage. Check out my grandfather in *shorts* -- a rare look for him.

From the same trip to Becket: The family enjoys dinner out back of the cottage. Check out my grandfather shirtless and in shorts. Both were rare looks for him, at least in my experience.

Living in Stamford didn’t give him quite the same opportunity to commune with nature. Sure, there were places he could go to enjoy the great outdoors. But the neighborhood where he lived was pretty well built-out and paved over.

Perhaps that was why he deemed a couple seasonal reminders of Mother Nature worth including on his calendar, 50 years ago this month.

March 2, 1963.

March 2, 1963.

If there’s a backstory here, and skunks were a regular part of life on Hope Street, I don’t know it. Perhaps my grandpa encountered one traipsing across the back yard and saw fit to record it.

Or maybe he read this factoid somewhere and decided to lift it for his own calendar. It does sound kinda like something you’d read in the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Wiki, for what it’s worth, says that striped skunks don’t really hibernate so much as they go semi-dormant. And they can start breeding as early as mid-February. So this date doesn’t necessarily represent when skunks start to emerge. More likely, it’s when my grandpa first took notice of one.

As it happens, the smell of skunk is one that I used to associate pretty strongly with Stamford. The drive from one set of grandparents’ house to the other took us through some wooded areas, and it was common to pick up a couple snootfuls of skunk along the way — especially when we made the drive at night.

I don’t mentally connect that smell with Stamford quite so strongly as I used to. But my childhood association of skunks with Stamford (and trips to the grandparents) may be one reason why I have always liked the smell of skunks.

(From a distance, that is. The smell of a skunk close up is ferociously nasty.)

So, yeah. What other natural phenomenon was capturing my grandpa’s attention in March 1963?

March 9, 1963.

March 9, 1963.

The spring maple sap run is a wonderfully New England thing to put on your calendar.

(The time of the sunset, while not specific to New England, is pretty sweet too. The days, they’re getting longer.)

I do not believe my grandparents actually did any maple sugaring or syrup-making. I can’t recall any mention of that in family history.

Plus, if I’m not mistaken, it’s messy work that requires the collection of a lot of sap — certainly more than the trees on my grandparents’ lot could muster.

Thanks to the blogosphere, I now know that it is possible to make maple syrup in Stamford, even if my family didn’t.

The excellent OmNomCT food blog, based in Fairfield County, recently wrote about the annual maple sugar weekend at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center. Apparently you can go there to learn about maple sugaring, buy locally made syrup, and even help judge a cooking contest in which local chefs put the syrup to creative use.

(Well, OK, you can’t do it this year, because the event happened March 2 and 3. But you can put it on your calendar for next year. I would if I lived there.)

Only about two weeks after the maple sap entry, my grandpa would have noted the formal start of spring on his calendar.

I wonder how long it took him after that to start daydreaming about grilling some burgers and hot dogs.

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