Songs of Yesteryear - Y Magazine
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First Person

Songs of Yesteryear

Memorable tunes, accompanied by pianos or kazoos, still play in the minds of these BYU alums.

The Nine-Fingered Pianist or A Simple Cake Mistake

By Marianne Layton Marlor (BMU ’81), South Jordan, Utah

My freshman year, I was crowned Miss Felt Hall and became a candidate for the Miss Heritage Halls contest. I was also a busy piano major trying to bake a simple cake. Always in a hurry, I put the beaters into the mixer not realizing it was already on! Suddenly and to my great horror, I realized that my right index finger was caught in the beaters. Panicked, I picked up the mixer, headed out into the hall, and cried for help.

At Utah Valley Hospital they dismantled the mixer bolt by bolt to free my finger from the twisted steel. They said I was lucky not to lose my finger, stitched me up, gave me pain meds, and returned me to my apartment. There was just one problem: I still had the talent portion of the contest ahead. I was determined to not let my injury stop me from playing. I changed the fingering so that I wouldn’t have to use my bandaged index finger.

For the talent competition I sang a silly song to explain the accident to the judges. I ended by playing my original piece, Brahms’ Rhapsody in G Minor, with my bandaged finger sticking straight up. To my surprise, I won the talent portion of the contest!

Kazoos in the Music Box

By Candy Miller Steinhorst (BS ’77), Layton, Utah

Music permeated my life at BYU. My roommates were all music majors or minors, so we affectionately nicknamed our house the “Music Box.” At any time you might hear piano, flute, violin, or voice emanating from its rooms. Although I enjoyed the piano parties and impromptu Sunday concerts, my favorite memory is of the 69th Ward kazoo band.

I had always wanted to be part of a marching band in a parade—the great sounds, the drums, and the marching routines were always a fascination. So our ward learned fabulous songs on our kazoos, practiced routines, and marched in a couple of homecoming parades. With foil and a garden hose, I transformed my kazoo into a tuba. One year, we even had matching t-shirts and tied balloons onto our jeans. We were the “Fighting 69th Ward Kazoo Band” with Bishop Allen waving from a jeep at the rear. For most ward members, it was just a fun, crazy activity, but for me, it was a dream come true.

BYU Karaoke Unplugged

By Kelly Fleming Smith (BA ’01), Trussville, AL

A group of freshman, a karaoke machine, and a free room at the Heritage Halls central building—that’s all we needed for entertainment one Friday night my first year at BYU. Since we didn’t have karaoke music, we brought our own CDs to sing to our favorites. The karaoke machine’s microphone didn’t work, so we borrowed a mike from the Heritage Halls office.

On one of my solo performances, I noticed a couple of my roommates leave the room for a few seconds and come back in with big mischievous grins. When the song was over, I asked what was so funny. “We’ll show you—just wait,” they said. As the next boy got up to sing, my roommates discreetly led me out the door and down the hall to the next room. As I entered, I heard the unaccompanied voice of the boy singing, bellowing loudly through the room. Here, we heard just the raw—and in my case I’m sure not very melodious—voice through the speakers. We then revealed our secret to the group. We had a good laugh and continued to sing, taking turns to go to the next door room to see who really had a chance to make it big in the music business!

Fy Don’t You Practis?

By Donald W. Hemingway (AB ’42), Salt Lake City

In fall 1936 I wanted to try out for BYU band, so I went to the band office and met the director, Professor Robert Sauer, a German immigrant. He asked me to take out my clarinet and play for him. I started as last chair, third section, but at least I was in. I played all that year and loved it, especially when we went on tour and the trumpet trio played “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies,” composed by Sauer.

When I returned from my mission, I was third chair, second section. I never made first section as there were four chairs, and were they ever good. The band never achieved the perfection Sauer desired. He often expressed his dissatisfaction with a statement that has guided me for 65 years. With his distinct German accent he said, “Ach! Fy don’t you practis? Fy don’t you take a liddle intrist?”

Thanks to the Dude in the Back

By Joseph N. Leavitt (BA ’05), OSC American Embassy, Somewhere

When I arrived for my gig at Mama’s Café one evening with my guitar and a gaggle of fellow freshman friends, I found an empty stage. No mike. No amplifier. I owned neither. You don’t need a mike and amplifier to butcher Counting Crows songs for an audience of six outside Q-Hall.

The crowd I’d lured with the promise that my gig would be less boring than watching X-Files in the Morris Center was growing restless. Feeling the early symptoms of a stress-induced headache caused by competing with David Duchovny for female attention, I panicked and started playing unplugged.

When I finished my nearly inaudible opening number, a flanneled gentleman in the back of the room mercifully offered me his sound equipment. I gladly accepted.

After my anonymous benefactor set me up, I seized the microphone and offered my gratitude: “Special thanks to the dude in the back for lending me his stuff. Rock on, my man.” Ever gracious, Peter Breinholt just smiled while all others within earshot stared at their feet, red-faced on my ignorant behalf.

Following my crude set, Breinholt stepped forward for his unannounced show. As he introduced himself, my jaw (and self-esteem) dropped. I hadn’t really called this respected performer “dude,” had I? Fortunately, his intimate show was so memorable that my friends let my gaffe slip their memories.

Impressive Musical Notes

By Lindy Johnson Taylor (MM ’93), Orem, Utah

One of my favorite piano-performance classes was the keyboard-skills course, in which we improvised, transposed, composed, arranged, and sightread. The classroom had about 20 pianos in it—with headphones, so we could play without disturbing one another, and still be taught by Jeffrey L. Shumway (BA ’76).

Not every student was a fan of the class, and many dedicated musicians pained over the assignments, writing the finer details on beautiful manuscript paper, carefully preparing before class.

One day, after I played an arrangement, Professor Shumway asked me what I had written my notes on. I was embarrassed to hold up a receipt from the BYU Bookstore with a few thoughtful chicken scratches on it. Instead of reprimanding me, Shumway held it up in front of the class—a shining standard of what they all should do. It was one of the best compliments I ever received from a professor.