Jim Bishop: Listen … remember? They’re playing our song

“While listening to the radio just now I heard an instrumental rendition of ‘This is My Father’s World,’ and, when I hear that song, I picture our (late) mother standing up front, leading rows of children in singing that particular song when she was in charge of music during Vacation Bible School at the Doylestown (Pa.) Mennonite Church. She used large posters (with the lyrics on them) that sat on an easel.”

My brother Eric, of Souderton, Pa., wrote these lines in a recent e-mail exchange with us Bishop siblings, reflecting on associations and connections that are triggered by songs when we hear them.

Brother Bob of Doylestown responded: “That same song is imprinted in my mind but from another setting – the apple packing house adjacent to the Pinto (Md.) Mennonite Church. I attended Summer Bible School there. Aunt Lois (Dayton) was our teacher and led that song.”

That led to a shared memory from Elmwood first south residence hall (in 1967, my senior year of college when I roomed with Bob, a freshman): Floormate Sandy Burkholder playing The Mamas and the Papas songs over and over again. Sandy, from Newport News, Va., lost his life in a hunting accident some years later.

Bob then continued: “Joe Jones’ ‘You Talk too Much” – a No. 1 hit in 1960 – was playing on the jukebox in a diner in Sullivan County, Pa., when Frank and Jerry Troester and Dad and I were having breakfast prior to going grouse hunting early one fall morning. I shot my first and last grouse that day with a single shot 4/10.” Frank Troester and my dad, neighbors for many years, are both gone – greatly missed, certainly not forgotten.

I think of my dad every time I hear The Coasters’ top ten hit from 1959, “Yakety Yak.” I can still hear Dad cry out, “Yakety yak . . . don’t talk back,” and then proceed to imitate King Curtis’ saxophone instrumental bridge in the middle of this good-time tune.

As Eric noted in a follow-up message, “These song associations don’t have to be sentimental, just indelible in our memories.”

I’ll slip my Jamie 45 rpm copy of “Maybe You’ll Be There” by Billy and the Essentials on to the JVC turntable and the hands of time turn back to 1962. I’m sitting in a booth at the R&S Diner along Rt. 309 with fellow musketeers Jerry Troester, Dick Meyers and Jack Gross.

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons’ “Rag Doll” comes on the radio, and once again I’m playing miniature golf at a course along Rt. 611 in Cross Keys, Doylestown, on a warm summer’s eve in 1964.

Speaking of 1964, I had my first date on Oct. 4 that year with the fair young damsel who is now my beloved wife of 43 years. We doubled with college classmate Henry Rosenberger in his pea-green Corvair (with the blackened rear end – his car, that is).

While inching down Skyline Drive on a cold, foggy, rainy Sunday afternoon, Henry’s car radio (WHBG, 1360 in the Land of Dixie) played Darlene Love’s “Today I Met the Boy I’m Gonna Marry.”

I should add – or maybe I shouldn’t – that I bedazzled Anna during this close encounter by playing Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug, Chug-a-Lug” on my baritone ukulele. I ‘m forever grateful to ole Rog for his luminous lyrics that I’m sure helped impress this sweet young thang, because it took three years for Anna to hear and respond to the Darlene Love tune.

I can’t hear or sing “Be Still My Soul,” based on Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” without getting choked with emotion. This hymn was sung at my dad’s funeral in early 1998, led by brother Michael with him soloing while the congregation hummed in four-part harmony.

I hear “Twilight is Stealing,” from The Temple Star song book published in Singers Glen in 1877, and similar sentiments rise to the surface. The melody, perhaps more than the words, brings to mind my late mother, Ann Dayton Bishop, who left this life in December, 2009. We brothers four sang this piece at her funeral. I’m surprised how buoyed I felt in having the opportunity to pay this musical tribute to her life and legacy.

For me, singing a variety of hymns of faith is the most energizing aspect of weekly worship. Similar to Eric’s recollection, many songs transport me to my childhood congregation, the Doylestown Mennonite Church, and visions of the late Millard Detwiler leading the flock Sunday after Sunday in selections from the black “Mennonite Hymnal” and gospel numbers from the red “Life Songs No. 2.” The service always closed with the “Doxology.” I cherish those memories and the experiences tied to these musical roots.

I question whether much of what passes for contemporary music will have the same persuasive, memory juggling or even restorative powers, say, 20 years from now.

Move me, soothe me, O wondrous music . . . and thanks for the memories.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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