Tag Archives: piano

The Entertainer

I was well into my sixes or sevens before I noticed my Dad was different from other fathers.

It wasn’t until the fourth grade that it more meaningfully got my attention. We were asked to write down what our fathers did for a living. (They didn’t ask about our mothers.)

We were allowed to take this assignment home, even though it called for only a word or two. I took mine to my father, asking him how to spell “comedian.” He said he preferred “entertainer.”

The next day at school, we read our responses aloud. There were a lot of businessmen and government employees and several fathers working at the Pentagon. One girl reported that her father told her what he did was nobody’s business. Years later, I realized that her father worked for The Washington Post, when I noticed his byline as an overseas correspondent, then later as chief of the London Bureau and, before retiring, the paper’s ombudsman.

But I assure you, there were no other entertainers.

I’ve written plenty in this space about both of my parents, so if you’ve been around here for a while you have a sense of how my folks differ from yours.

My father turns a big number ending in zero today, so it gives me occasion to reflect on what makes him stand out. Not as an entertainer; most people already know that.

How My Father Is Different From Yours
by Monica Russell; oops, Welch

  1. My father has never worked in an office.
  2. My father went to work at night, usually around 8:30 p.m., after an extremely early dinner and a nap. For much of his career, he did two shows a night, six nights a week, including holidays.
  3. My father often wore a tuxedo to work.
  4. My father worked at a keyboard before yours did.
  5. My father couldn’t write a straight absence excuse after I had stayed home sick from school.
  6. My father took me on a cross-country train trip when I was 9; but he made me use the time to learn all 50 state capitals. Ask me any…
  7. My father took me to church ‘most every Sunday. He often tested me afterward on the homily. Ask me any…
  8. My father has been parodied on The Simpsons, Mad About You, Murphy Brown and Saturday Night Live.
  9. My father hasn’t really retired yet, though he tried. Just this week he said, “You may recall the vow that I made two years ago that I would come out of retirement on the day that congressmen would skinny dip in the Sea of Galilee. I have kept this solemn promise.”
  10. My father could probably make a list just like this one about his father.

Happy x0th birthday, Dad. You’re one of a kind.


Filed under Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio

Behind the music

Mondays seem to be shaping up as human interest blog days, so feel free to skip this if you came today for wordishness.

I’ve been making my way through the “Tell us more about . . .” requests that arose from the seven things I shared about myself upon receiving the Versatile Blogger award.

After telling my party-crasher story a few weeks ago, I had planned to tackle how I could be the child of two musicians without having any musical talent. I just couldn’t come up with a natural angle. Or an answer.

Nonetheless, if you happened to read about how I figuratively shot myself in the foot to get out of a piano lesson, you’ve had a glimpse into the obstacles I’ve encountered on the path to musicianhood.

I’ve told you before, when I was growing up, family parties involved everyone singing around the piano and children performing plays and magic acts for the adults. In retrospect, I suspect their sending us upstairs to rehearse might have been intended to let the adults complete their sentences uninterrupted.

Everyone was encouraged to sing a song. There was no “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” The kids sang Broadway tunes or popular songs of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

I got out of it every time. Besides being painfully shy, I suspected from a young age that I was a terrible singer. One of the first songs I ever learned to sing was “Moon River,” but it has never been performed in front of a live audience.

I idolized the von Trapp Family, the King Family and the Partridge Family. As a member of the Russell family, I secretly wanted to be the girl standing beside the piano, doing a number the way my cousins did, and the way their children continue to do, carrying on the tradition.

In 1971, at age 12, I decided to verify my suspicion objectively. I locked myself in my room with a cassette recorder. I flipped on the radio and sang along to “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who. I thought I sounded pretty good—until I played it back. For 40 years I’ve prayed that tape no longer exists. I’ll plead here for any family member who might have it in his or her trunk of memorabilia, to please destroy this humiliating relic.

Yesterday, we had a most wonderful afternoon with my cousin Lesley (remember Lesley?) and her family at my Godparents’ house on Maryland’s eastern shore. We ate steamed crabs and silver queen corn, became reacquainted and laughed over stories told and retold. Then we gathered around the piano.

We heard some old family favorites and the evening ended beautifully with two of Lesley’s daughters sharing their superb singing talents. The 18-year-old stunned us with two perfectly performed songs, from our generation, not hers. Then the 10-year-old sang, a cappella, in perfect pitch, “American Pie,” moving some of us to tears. “American Pie” came out in 1971, the same year as “Behind Blue Eyes.”

As I reflected on the day on our drive inland, I was struck by how the young people are keeping alive the music of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, and I was stirred by how generously they had shared their talent with us.

I was so comfortable in my role as an audience member.



Filed under Family and Friends, Movies, Television and Radio, Music