Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today, I said goodbye to my mother

Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring
May 26, 1930 - December 29, 2010

She wasn't famous, but she did play the piano.  By ear.  And pretty good at that.  She also sang, with a clear, pleasant voice, on key, but in a baritone range.  She always said it was because of a tonsillectomy she had relatively late in life, but I suspect it really was the years of smoking.

My mother ended her battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) yesterday.  The past year had been especially tough, as dementia took hold of her brain in late 2009, with a brief but not complete respite during the summer months of 2010.  Although her memory was not reliable, she never "forgot who we were" - well, she did call me by my late father's name once, but just once - and just this past Monday morning I took my laptop computer to the hospital to show her the video I had shot of our family Christmas Eve get-together.  She watched the video, pointing out her great-grandchildren and commenting on how pretty the decorations were.  She was unable to come home for Christmas, and my brother, his son's family, and I had worked until the morning of Christmas Eve to decorate the house for the gathering.

Mama loved Christmas.  She loved the music.  She loved the decorations.  Oh, how she loved the decorations.  Candles in the windows, wreaths on the shutters and on the big front door, at least two hand-painted ceramic manger scenes displayed throughout the house, all the knick-knacks packed up and replaced with special Christmas knick-knacks, and two Christmas trees.  One "real", and one aluminum tree.  When aluminum trees fell out of fashion, We just had a "real" one, which was eventually replaced with a tasteful artificial green tree.

Christmas 1962.  I'm the cute one..

The console stereo in the living room would be fitted with a stack of Christmas LPs: Floyd Cramer, the Lennon Sisters, Ferrante and Teicher, Andy Williams, Roger Williams, and the Organ and Chimes of Robert Rheims.  We wore out at least three copies of that organ and chimes record through the years.

Mama loved Christmas.  1976 or 1977.  She had not remarried, and there was only one grandchild.
I think my childhood love of music came from the Christmas season, from the lush harmonies and orchestrations of the records she played during that time of the year.  As I grew older, I found these lush sounds in the music of my piano lessons - Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Bartok.  Mama never really cared much for most of the classical music I played, but she supported me just the same.

After a few years of spiritual wandering, I returned to church music in August of 2006, taking a post as pianist in a small United Methodist Church in Franklin, Georgia.  My affiliation with this church went back a long way, as many of their members' children had studied with me.  I left that church in October 2016 and now serve as pianist at Loyd Presbyterian Church in LaGrange, Georgia.

Anytime I played for family gatherings, Mama would say, "Now, play my piece".  In three recitals that I performed in churches, she asked me to play "her" piece as an encore, and I did.  When she became ill, I dropped it from my repertoire.  An incident happened at my church recently, and I felt led to play the piece as a special music offering, without having practiced or played it in over ten months.  After church, I made the video below.

Mama, can you hear me? 

(Andrae Crouch's My Tribute (To God Be the Glory) - modeled after Dino Kartsonakis' arrangement)

JULY 2011 UPDATE:  I wrote an arrangement of a song Mama made up as a young girl and often played for me.  That story, and a link to a video performance, may be found here.

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Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring

(ROANOKE, ALABAMA) The funeral for Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring, 80, of Roanoke was held at 1 p.m., Friday, Dec. 31, 2010, at First United Methodist Church with the Rev. Steve Baccus officiating.  Burial followed in Randolph Memory Gardens.  Mrs. Moring died Wednesday, Dec. 29, at Randolph Medical Center, after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Mrs. Moring was born May 26, 1930, the daughter of James Monroe and Mary Ella Sikes French. She was a member of Roanoke First United Methodist Church, had been a homemaker, and managed a family business, Bob's Grocery.

Mrs. Moring is survived by one daughter, Deborah Ann (husband Paul) McMurray of Roanoke; two sons, H.G. "Robbie" Robertson and Richard Earl "Rick" Robertson of Roanoke; two sisters, LaVelle Langley of Roanoke and Frances Johnson of McDonough, Ga.; seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Moring was preceded in death by her husband of 24 years (1947-1971), Hansard "Bob" Robertson; her husband of 30 years (1977-2007), Douglas Grice Moring; her parents; and nine other brothers and sisters.

Pallbearers were Harry Botsford, Bobby Robertson, Steven Robertson, Gus McMurray, Will McMurray, Gilbert L. Huey Jr., David Cummings, and Steve Cummings.

Quattlebaum Funeral Home, Roanoke.

A picture from 1947, the year she married my father.  The picture is inscribed to him on the back.

Mama loved her cars.  Here she is with her beloved 1970 Cadillac Sedan de Ville, the last car my father

September 19, 2009. The day Robbie and I brought Cookie home to her new Mama. In a month the decline began and Mama was in the hospital. But hey, you're looking at a 79-year-old woman in this picture, and that's her real hair color.  I still have Cookie, and she is a comfort to a lonely old piano teacher.

Mama's 80th birthday.  May 2010.  She was lucid.  She was beautiful.  She so enjoyed spending time with her family, and her visit with friends Mary Reeves, Mary Agnes Messer, and Frankie Neighbors.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Florence Foster Jenkins - the Carnegie Hall Program!

A little sleuthing on the Internet can give us some of the most interesting things.

All I can say is - oh, to have been there.

Lady Florence (as she preferred to be called) in her younger years.
Us record collectors lovingly call her Flofojen.

Pictured below is what I believe to be the first commercial issue of the Florence Foster Jenkins recordings, a 10-inch LP containing only the Jenkins tracks.  It was later released on a 12-inch LP, deleting "Serenata mexicana" and including the "Jenny Williams and Thomas Burns" Faust recordings on the reverse.  There is also a two-45 rpm record set of the same material, which I own, but can't get my hands on at the moment.  She made her recordings at Melotone Studios in New York City, which was a label that made "vanity" recordings.  In other words, you paid, you recorded, you got boxes of records.  At least one of these (the Magic Flute aria) was sold commercially (and actually reviewed in record magazines!), but these were mostly made available to friends and admirers.

And even though I have shown it elsewhere, here is a copy of one of the Melotone 78 rpm records.  I am proud to own a complete set of the known extant recordings, and this one is by far the most scarce.

This DVD pictured on the left, produced by Donald Collup, is a highly recommended documentary of the life and times of Lady Florence.  It is beautifully and sensitively done, and gives the viewer a great deal of insight as to what drove her to perform.  The old BMG  (formerly RCA Victor) CD "The Glory (???) Of the Human Voice" is the standard old collection of Flofojen chestnuts, it is readily available, but does not include the "Valse caressante" featured on the Lennick "Murder on the High C's" on Naxos, or Gregor Benko's "The Muse Surmounted" on Homophone/VAI.  "The Muse Surmounted" is reviewed in depth on this blog, and that post may be read here.  I am probably not exaggerating when I say that my sense of humor, and my love of music, has been influenced by Florence Foster Jenkins, as I had a vinyl LP copy of her Victor album since my teenage years, and modeled a stage persona from my college years, "Tessie Tura", after her.  It's hard to deny that through the cacophony, the lack of rhythm, and frankly the lack of much else that marks even mediocre singing ability, that there was no lack of joy in her singing,