Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

My Musical Musings by Elizabeth Clements

My Musical Musings -  by Elizabeth Clements

Have you ever listened to a song in another language and wanted to know what it was all about? I grew up listening to country music on the radio. My mother loved opera, had books that told about some of the operas and arias. She missed not hearing them so when we finally bought a stereo, she’d buy classical lps. I didn’t understand the words, but I loved the melodies. One album that I nearly wore out was Carmen. Oh how I loved The Toreador Song as I dusted the furniture. And then there was Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In my mind’s eye I’d see the Cossacks flying over the steppes on their speedy steeds and imagine the clash of sabers and the cannon’s roar. Even the cartoons on tv used opera when Tom was chasing Jerry or Road Runner played tricks on Coyote….I think that was his name.

In my humble opinion, nothing speaks to the soul like music— and sometimes without a single word spoken. But when a song had words, oh my, nothing could beat Marty Robbins’ El Paso. That was my teenage anthem. And Frankie Laine singing Ghost Riders in the Sky. And on a Saturday night, at home all alone, laying on the couch and dreamily listening to Elvis asking, Are You Lonesome Tonight, or Jim Reeves saying, He’ll Have To Go. Even my opera-loving mom loved these last two singers.

All four Beetles were songwriters as well as musicians, but Paul McCartney and John Lennon were the most prolific.  Between them they wrote and recorded over 200 songs from 1962 until 1970.  Much of the older population shrugged them off as just another (phenomenally) successful rock group…until someone had the brilliant idea to adapt Yesterday, Penny Lane, Let It Be, and All You Need Is Love, to cite just a few, to be performed by a symphony orchestra. At times one didn’t realize it was a Beetles song until the melody broke into the familiar chorus. I think only then was The Beetles’ incredible talent truly appreciated by the non-rock populace <grin>.

It isn’t just instrumentals that can stoke one’s love of music. I think Spanish and Italian are two of the most beautiful and romantic languages in the world. There have been times when I’ve longed to know the words of a song performed in another language. Two singers I’ve chosen to use as examples are Julio Iglesias and Ivan Rebroff. They are opposites in many ways, but their talent and emotional      contribution to their songs has me often enthralled.

The first time I heard Julio sing (he’s the father of Enrique Iglesias) was back in late 1982 when he made his first appearance on American television on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, which we watched every night. Johnny introduced someone but I was half asleep and didn’t catch the name— but in just a few seconds I jerked to full attention.

“That’s him! That’s him!” I squealed. Poor Doug, he didn’t know what the heck I was talking about. At the time I was working on my third book, about two pop singers. I saw Samantha, my heroine, quite clearly, blue eyes and gorgeous long red hair to match her sexy, smoky voice. Samantha’s partner in crime was her manager and accompanied her on the piano. He was also in love with her. I had a hero, of course, also a singer, but I couldn’t “see” him until that incredible moment on late night television.

Okay, back to Julio. He sang with such emotion, often with his eyes closed and I remember demanding out loud, “Open your eyes.” He did, occasionally, for just a couple of heartbeats and I was mesmerized with those soulful, almost bashful brown eyes. (He’s a very humble person).  I felt his emotion, but I didn’t know a single word he was singing. And wanted to. Badly, and yet in one way it didn’t really matter because I was so wrapped up in the melody. But I did want to know his name (this was before the age of Google, let alone the internet <bigger grin>. And then the program ended and to my utter frustration, not any further information was forthcoming about this awesome Spanish singer.  For some reason the video of his first appearance is no longer available, so the video below is his second appearance on The Tonight Show where he sings Natalie.


Two weeks later, the incredible happened. Johnny mentioned their switchboard had lit up after a singer had performed and there was such a never-before-demand for the return of a singer so soon after a performance. And this time I learned his name. Also, by this time my Samantha had kicked my original hero to the curb, had even forgotten his name (as did I) and she was falling in love for real. I gave this transformed hero a fitting name: Julius. Except when I was talking about my story, I kept calling him Julio instead of Julius. So, I thought to avoid further confusion for others as well as myself, I renamed my hero Raphael, a very good Spanish name, right?  

Also, in those two weeks before Julio’s second guest on The Tonight Show, my Muse and I were very active in creating a history and background for Raphael. And here’s the kicker. Several years later, long after I’d finished the book and put it aside to write my first historical romance, I came across a little bio simply called Julio, complete with his life story and pictures. I think I must have somehow channeled Julio’s life because the similarities between his real life and my fictional one were downright psychic.

Julio was born in Madrid, Spain, to wealthy parents. He excelled at sports and had dreams of continuing with soccer when a car accident left him partly paralyzed. A nurse gave him a guitar to help pass the time as well as exercise his fingers. Eventually he started writing songs. Little did he know this exercise would inspire him to write a song, sing it and win a song contest in Spain, likened to Star Search. Since then he has sold more than 100 million records in 14 languages. When he came to the Jubilee Auditorium, Doug and I went to see him. We had excellent seats, but we were also in a direct line with the powerful speakers, so I think my head was a little numb—but oh, my heart was euphoric!


Here’s my favorite song by Julio, which he also wrote and sang in Spanish on The Tonight Show. I so wanted to know the words. He has since recorded Hey in English. But that song, too, proves when a song squeezes the heart, the melody also caresses the soul.

Julio remains my favorite singer to this day (yes, Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Tom Jones, Adam Lambert and Elvis, I love your gift that you share with the world…but Julio’s my favorite). And I love his music best of all when he sings in Spanish, even though I only understand a few words here and there…and it doesn’t matter because the heart loves what it loves.

However, now I have to introduce you to Ivan Rebroff because this Russian-German singer is not to be missed and is in my top seven list of favorite singers. I would “guesstimate” that 99.9% of the readers of this blog have never heard of him. Perhaps I never would have, either, if we hadn’t been living in Germany for five years and first saw him on German television back in about 1969 or 1970.

Standing an impressive 6’5”, often performing in Russian peasant clothing and a Cossack hat, Ivan Rebroff was an awesome singer with a 4.5-octave range from deep, deep bass soaring to beyond soprano. In 1931, he was born prematurely on a train station platform in Berlin, Germany, of immigrant Russian parents.  I’m sad to say he died of heart failure in 2008.

His big break came in 1968. Although he sings classical and opera, he is most famous (and popular) for his Russian and/or German folk songs. I have his Christmas album plus a two-CD set that has a collection of many of his beloved songs that he sings in German or Russian. He also sings in English, so a Google search can get you several English renditions such as Old Man River and Danny Boy, etc. I couldn’t find a video of my favorite song by him, but this one is my second favorite, called Abend Glocken or Evening Bells.

I also have to share this next video simply because it shows his playful side and how he can slide from falsetto to deep, deep bass that gives me delicious shivers. It’s called Im Tiefen Keller (literally translated Deep in the Celler and is another one of my favorites because it beautifully demonstrates his awesome range, plus, I absolutely love his sense of humor as he sings a drinking song. After all, he is an actor as well as a singer.

Doug and I attended his concert at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary and because Doug knew the security guard, we were able to go backstage to meet Ivan Rebroff after the concert. He’s even more impressive in person than on tv. I still have his signed souvenir photograph.

In closing, I just want to mention that music has always been a large part of my life. I come from a long line of musicians, most of whom had their own small bands and played at dances, weddings and other special occasions in the old country. My grandfather played the violin as did my great-uncle. I learned to play the piano, but sadly I didn’t inherit their talent nor their voice.

I treasure childhood memories of Saturday nights at my great-uncle’s home where all my family would gather around for music, singing and dancing (and probably some liquid “refreshments” as musicians were known to love their wine and ale. When we moved to the farm, my mother’s cousins and their wives would sometimes take the hour-long trip to come visit overnight. After supper, the dining room table was pushed against the wall, the scatter rugs rolled up and stashed and it was like old times again, just fewer people. Peter would bring his accordian and play while my mom and his brother, Johnny, danced. They did the waltz beautifully, but it’s the tango I remember the best.  I loved watching them dance, but I also have many memories of Peter, his head cocked to one side, his eyes closed, as he played without any sheet music. He truly felt the music and could play by ear as well as read sheet music. There would be singing and it was wonderful.

I remember rides in the truck going home from town on a Saturday night, my grandmother in the middle and me sitting on my mother’s lap. They sang beautiful harmony while I sang lead because I didn’t have their talent to harmonize and sometimes I’d slide into harmony, too. Hopeless, but now I just smile and ignore my two left feet <grin>.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to listen to the videos and perhaps be lured into watching a few more. I’d love to hear about your musical musings and memories.

In light of my musical musings, here is a little excerpt from my novella, Diamond Jack’s Angel. I’m so proud to be part of the anthology with five other wonderful authors that make up the Hot Western Nights Anthology. It’s great reading any time of the year, not just on a hot summer night.

He shook her off with a smile and wave of his rope-veined hand. “No more talk. Just sing, mein Engel, sing.”

Angela smiled at the endearment. She’d always been his angel from the moment he’d first held her. Her parents had taken her back to Austria for a visit when she was four years old. He’d sat her on his knee and taught her to strum the small guitar he’d bought for her. Hand in hand they’d walked in the alpine meadows where he’d shown her the small white flower, edelweiss, and spoken of his love for the mountains. Years later, lonely after his wife died, he’d travelled to Colorado to visit his daughter and had felt instantly at peace among the Rockies, different from the Alps, but still beloved mountains. Angela instinctively knew he’d never leave them.

And so, she strummed and sang songs her mother and Opa had taught her. One by one, five old miners emerged from their tents and gathered near the fire, joining in on a chorus or simply humming along with the now-familiar songs. When she played the last notes of the song she’d written about edelweiss, it was an unspoken end to the evening and the old men retired to their tents.

Feeling unusually melancholy, Angela stared at the dying fire, stroking Max’s big head, grateful for his company. He was always sensitive to her feelings and pressed closer, nudging his cold nose into her palm. She loved being here with her grandfather, taking care of him, cooking for the miners who treated her like a daughter. They always took time to hunt and bring meat for an evening meal, supplementing their food with the milk and eggs from the goat and chickens. For extra income, she took in laundry, which filled her days. Keeping busy made her forget how much she missed her parents who had been killed in an avalanche while they were skiing.

She couldn’t bear to live in the house, so when her grandfather came to Denver for the funeral, she’d left with him. And how much longer would she have him? He was in his high seventies, getting so frail but far too stubborn to admit it was becoming harder each day to work his claim.

Rising, she doused the fire, picked up her guitar and climbed into the wagon to sleep.



Link for Diamond Jack’s Angel/Hot Western Nights Anthology

Beneath A Horse Thief Moon:



  1. Tender and beguiling excerpt, Elizabeth, bitter-sweet and poignant.
    Ivan was impressive! Reminds me of the Finnish bass Marti Talvela.
    I agree with you about music - as a child I loved Christmas in our house with everyone singing round the piano.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Lindsay, for your kind words. The story was inspired by a true event of Turtle Mountain that came down one April morning over a century ago. I just moved the location to Colorado so I could make my own ending. Christmas Eve was always so special. After a big meal and the dishes were done, we gathered near the tree and sang carols. My mother and grandmother had beautiful voices and harmony and I sang lead...but I sometimes drifted into harmony Even once I had children, I'd play carols on the stereo and we'd sing, even the boys were antsy to tackle those gifts under the tree. Christmas is my absolute favorite time of the year.

  2. A lovely post. I, too, love music, and grew up in an environment where music was something we did, rather than something passive which washed over us. Some languages do seem to suit some kinds of melodies better than others. And no matter what the language, they are almost always best in the cadence of the language they were written for.

    1. You are absolutely right, Christine with your last sentence. Julio does a great job of singing in English, but it's his Spanish songs and even some of his French versions, that can keep me spellbound. I cannot live without music. I've downloaded so many of my CDs onto the computer and I play whatever suits my mood. Funny though, when I'm writing or editing, I play James Last's Classics, all instrumental but sometimes with a choir but no words, just la la la-ing along. Other times I may want the 1812 Overture or CCR to get me energized. Thanks for stopping by. It's fun to read the memories.

  3. Elizabeth, your memories sound like how my mom talked about her years of growing up. She was the oldest of 11 kids, and the first 5 were girls, so she taught them all to sing and harmonize, and they would put on shows for their parents in the evenings, and people would ask them to sing, etc. I was classically trained in piano, something I'm sure my mom wished she had been able to do when she was growing up, but there was no money, no piano and no time in her childhood world for that. My two sisters used to sing together at family functions and church. I came along much later, when they were 10 and 12, so never performed with them, but Gary and I had our own little band and we sang together for years.

    I love El Paso. It's the ringtone on my cell phone. Gosh, there are too many musical artists that I love in so many musical genres to even begin to mention. I'm glad you provided links. I will go listen now. I have never heard of Ivan Rebroff, so I definitely have to go give him a listen! Excellent post--I really enjoyed your memories!

    1. What a wonderful musical history you have, Cheryl. My brother learned to play the trumpet in band, but he chose to live with my grandmother so I never heard him play. Being seven years older than me, he wasn't around much before he joined the R.C.M.P., so our family gathering at Christmas was very small. Your Christmas gatherings must have been wonderful with so many beautiful voices. I'm glad you had your own band. Did you play the piano in your band? My Mom's cousin and her husband were part of a quartet that played at weddings. Eva could sing anything and her hubby played the sax while Helen played the piano by ear and I think her husband played the guitar. Such fun and now they've been long gone and only the memories remain. I thought of you and Kaye when I mentioned El Paso. Seems there's no doubt the three of us love that song and is our favorite. When I used to have a cell phone, I'd never know it was my phone ringing. Then one day my d-i-l loaded One Direction's The Story of My Life on my phone and I instantly knew when my phone rang. Love the beat of that song especially the chorus. Too bad the band broke up, but Harry Styles I think is doing quite fin on his own. Have you ever listened to Andrea Bocelli's son sing? They've done a couple of duets together. He has a beautiful voice with looks to match . I do hope you'll get a chance to listen Ivan Rebroff. I listen to him for hours (that's the beauty of the continuous play button on my computer).
      Whe Im Tiefen Keller comes on, I stop what I'm doing and just grin all over my faces when he descends to the lowest register. He's such a rascal. Thank you for stopping by, Cheryl. I truly appreciate it.

  4. Elizabeth,

    Marty Robbins... He was the love of my life and, tragically, he never knew of my undying adoration (or obsession, depending upon one's perspective, I suppose).

    I remember going to a Beatles-themed party when I was 10. I desperately didn't want to go, but my mom insisted. I was happiest when I wasn't around other people, especially peers, and my mom was practically desperate to have me attend a social get-together. The girl who invited me was 13-ish and rode my school bus. She was old enough, as were the majority of the other girls at the party, to be ga-ga over the Beatles. I was not. I barely knew who they were. To make it worse, we were supposed to dress up like out favorite Beatle. OMGollyWolly. The only thing I had going for me was my haircut. I called it a Prince Valiant style, but apparently I was ahead on the coiffure fashion as it was cut just like J, P, G, & R's. lol All in all, I had a wretched time, but I survived. lolol

    1. Ah, Kaye, you made me smile...and shame on Marty for never returning your adoration. We have a lot in common with our music. I guess you and Cheryl and I could create our own El Paso group I play his music a lot and so enjoy the YouTube videos. He's such a rascal during his life performances. There one really great clip where he's the host of his show and a young Merle Haggard is a guest. Merle does impersonations, does one of Johnny Cash who comes out and stands behind him. When Merle was asked to do a Marty imitation, he said he didn't have the jacket. So Marty quickly removed his coat and handed it to Merle, who handed his own jacket to Marty. Then he did a fabulous version of Devil Woman. Loved Marty's reaction. But I don't think anyone has ever done a cover of El Paso. How dare they. There is only one person who can sing El Paso. I feel for you about the Beetles concert. I was never big on them, enjoyed their music and their movies, but they couldn't compare to Elvis or Marty's songs for me. Then throw in The Righteous Brothers, the Everly Brothers, the Statler Brothers, only one group was actually brothers. I also was and still am a big fan of Glenn Yarbrough. Oh my, what a voice. And Roy Orbison. Okay, I better stop or this could turn into a book. How can you tell I'm starved for conversation?

  5. Many times I will listen to music as I write, especially if I'm stuck. One piece I like to use during dramatic scenes is 'Danse Macabre' by Saint-Saens, the timing in that piece makes scenes so much more exciting to write. Doris

    1. I always have music playing on my computer for background, whether I'm reading posts, writing or editing. The music will complement whatever I'm doing. I want instrumentals, usually James Last's Classics when I'm writing or proofreading. When I' reading e-mails or on FB, it can be CCR or Elvis or one of my playlists of favorite songs. I'm not familiar with Danse Macabre, but it sounds like something I'd love for an action scene. I'll have to look it up. Thanks for stopping by,

  6. Elizabeth, I so enjoyed reading your blog. I too am a person who loves music, all kinds from pop to rock, to opera, or ragtime, etc.. You name it, I enjoy it. Even throughout my school years I sang in choirs, played the piano(not great, but good enough for my ears), and now also play the Celtic Harp. My maternal grandfather emigrated born in Scotland to the USA, and played several instruments as well as taught piano, etc. (Unfortunately, I never knew him as he died just before my birth). But all five of my uncles played piano, guitar, accordion, organ, and more. Since I could first walk and talk, I loved every kind of music there was and is now. I've enjoyed singing, playing the piano for years and over the past 15 years have played the Celtic Harp (not great but I'm slowly getting a bit better. Whether I'm watching TV, or a good musical on stage, etc., or simply watching and listening to music wherever, it sets the mood for so much enjoyment. Now my oldest granddaughter(entering 2nd year of college, majoring in music and English), plays a number of instrument(mostly piano, sings, writes music, and has already performed off roadway. I agree music sets the tone and touches the heart no matter time, or place. And in a book, it can almost talk to the reader and set add so much feeling and depth to a scene. Thanks for wonderful and interesting blog.

    1. Aww, Beverly, what wonderful times you've had with your musical family and with so many musicians playing various instruments and you on the piano, what fun you must have had and the wonderful memories you've made. And now yur granddaughter is adding to the musical circle.
      Good for her. I've always loved the sounds of a harp being played and so happy for you that it brings you so much pleasure playing it. I'm sure you're being modest, and play beautifully. I would imagine it's not an easy instrument to play, but sounds heavenly. I'm glad you enjoyed my post and thank you for your kind words, Beverly.

  7. I have some similar music memories, Elizabeth except it was my dad who loved classical music and opera. I do remember him suddenly getting into the Beatles when they created a symphony score to some of their music. He said Elvis wouldn't last. LOL He did not like country music, but I did. You mentioned Frankie Lane and I have to say I adored him, and I especially loved his whole album "Hell Bent For Leather".
    While I cannot play music while I write, I like to play music BEFORE I write. I even create play lists that inspire certain stories.
    I learned a lot more about you in this post which I loved. I wish you all good things...

    1. I wish you didn't live so far away, Sarah, because I think we'd become even better friends. I loved reading your post and learning a bit more about you. That album of Frankie Laine's is a good one. Isn't it interesting how the singers back in his era had such distinctive voices one could instantly recognize on the radio...unlike many of the young male country singers on the radio these days who I can't tell apart...too vanilla or something. Now Marty and Frankie and Jim Reeves, just to name three, they were so distinctive. Thanks for stopping by and sharing some of your musical memories, Sarah.