From youth to old age
There is a crashing of keys on the piano. The gifted musician plays with a skill and a vigor which captures the attention of all of us. Music pours out, most of it from the early forties when we were young and full of life. We know the songs, all of them. I danced to them with the man who later became my husband, and the memories pour back. A lifetime has passed with the highs and lows that are inevitable. The music and the memories blend into a wonderful mixture. Then, with a flourish, he plunges into his final piece. “I’ll Be Seeing You,” he announces.
Suddenly I am no longer in my Vancouver Lodge on a chilly November day, but back in Calgary on a warm September morning, whose calm is shattered by the rousing music of a military band, and the sound of marching troops.
“Mom, look! They’re heading for the cenotaph in the park. What’s going on?”
“Canada must have declared war,”whispers our trembling mother. “Over and over again – Why does this have to be? Oh, God help us.”
It is September 10th, 1939. The troubles of our convulsing world have finally reached our doorstep. In the early 1930s the European and North American worlds had grown increasingly uneasy. Germany, under Hitler, was striking out against neighboring countries. In 1938 Germany had annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia. Which country would be next?
That same year, 1938, in the United States a partnership of musicians produced a song for a Broadway show. Sammy Fain wrote the score, and Irving Kahal the lyrics. The show was a flop, but the song “I’ll Be Seeing You,” was immediately accepted. It was especially popular with the men in the armed forces. It grew out of the uncertainties and dangers of their times and they claimed it as their own.
When Fain and Kahal presented the song in the play, they used what was called a preamble . . .
“Cathedral bells were tolling and our hearts sang on;
Was it the spell of Paris or the April dawn?
Who knows if we shall meet again?
But when the morning chimes ring sweet again” . . .
Then followed the four verses that make up the “I’ll Be Seeing You” song as we know it.
And we do know it! It has passed from one generation to another and still strikes a chord with the common person everywhere. It conveys a universal truth that persists in being recognized in the haunting melody and nostalgic lyrics. In general neither the music or the lyrics have been altered by the multitude of popular singers who have showcased this song, over the many decades since 1938. Way back, about 1944, there was a beautiful black singer with a wonderful voice. She called herself Billie Holiday. Her life was troubled and tragic, and she died in her early forties. Because she sang it so often, it is sometimes called Billie Holiday’s song.
Back in my Lodge, I listen as the music starts up. People start singing, filling in the words they recall. As the last note on the piano fades away, I look around. Many have tears in their eyes, or are rummaging for handkerchiefs. And so am I.
Why such a reaction? Many reason and different ones. However, we are all old, have large stores of memories, and music seems to be a universal key to releasing these memories. The mind is selective. Good and happy memories are easier to trigger than painful ones. That of course, is as it should be!
On the off chance that some of you may not recall all the words to this ageless song, here is a refresher:
I’ll Be Seeing You
I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through.
In that small café
The park across the way,
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees, the wishing well.
I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way.
I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new,
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you.
My sincere thanks to the many fellow residents who looked up dates, places, and people. Your interest and cooperation is much appreciated. MMG