By Paul Harach – Hafford, Sask.
I turned 93 in Nov., 2013 and there is rarely a day when I’ve not had a tune in my head, a musical instrument to play, or a song to transpose.
The love relationship between me and music started in 1937 with my purchase of a guitar, then later a banjo and clarinet, and eventually the saxophone which remains my expression of love.
It still thrills my heart to see people leaving their cares behind when they step onto the dance floor for an old-time waltz, polka, or jive.
I remember ordering my first banjo in 1939 for $29 from Eaton’s; putting $5 down and getting two references to vouch that I could carry the $2 a month payments.
I was not anymore convinced how I was going to get the $2 to make the payments than the bank was! I eventually sold the banjo and bought a clarinet with monthly payments of $3.05 for 10 months.
While in the music business, we were paid $5 per booking and travelled by Bennet Buggy or by foot – carrying our instruments to the dances.
Sometimes we played up to four times a week, because the old-fashioned Ukrainian farm wedding would be a three-day affair.
The first day would be at the bride’s place with ladies lamenting songs while braiding the bridal wreaths, the second day at the church where we got our tips and later played on a platform or granary on the yard for the dance, and the third day was at the groom’s place with some bargaining at the gate over a few drinks to lead the entourage pass with the bride’s trunk and dowry.
At regular dances, boys were charged 15¢ at the door, but girls were given added incentive to come by admitting them for free. Eventually we got paid $1 each while top bands were getting $8 for a 5-piece band.
In 1940 I bought a saxophone for $30 and that’s how I became the leader of a band and others to follow. I continued playing with pick-up bands and, for a few years, played with some neighbours and cousins.
One time, we were booked last-minute to play at one of the dance platforms on a Sunday because management didn’t think the band they had hired would come, as they were playing at an all-night Saturday dance.
No need to worry, the other band showed and the management had the two bands performing.
In the early 1930s and up to the early ‘40s, platform and hall dances were often raided or closed down by police, mainly to enforce the Saturday midnight curfew. This also scattered the bootleggers, if they were around.
I’ve played at weddings since the late ‘30s, their children’s weddings, and now 25th, 50th, and 60th anniversary parties.
It’s wonderful to see families come together to celebrate marriage vows and most especially, those that were taken decades ago and the couple still has a sparkle in the eyes when they dance.
My wife, Nellie, always encouraged my love for music. When I first saw her over 75 years ago, she was with her two sisters and she danced a mean jitterbug. She was like a butterfly smiling and laughing to all. This lighthearted woman became my wife and took the edge off my seriousness and helped to make me whole.
My music took me to many places and farming kept me for many hours on the field, but there was always a love note on the table from Nellie for me to read when I came home.
After 67 years of marriage, Nellie passed away earlier this year and it only seems like yesterday I was pushing my bicycle up the hill to pick her up to go dancing.
I wonder what the music world holds in store for the next generations. If the experience is close to mine, it will be a wonderful dance.