29 April 2011

Musical memories of my mother on her 41st death anniversary

My parents, John and Mary with my Auntie Nan, a younger sister of my mother, and her husband (or husband-to-be at the time) Joe Kiernan, all of them now gone to their reward, at Powerscourt, County Wicklow, south of Dublin, around 1940. My parents were married on 6 July 1942, Auntie Nan and Uncle Joe in 1941, I think.

My mother died quietly in her sleep at home in Dublin, early in the morning of 29 April 1970, exactly four hears after the death of her own mother, whom I knew as Granny Collins. I'm not sure how old I was when I learned that Granny Collins had been born Annie Dowd.

Mam had a lovely singing voice and appeared in a number or amateur productions in her single days. Her favourite singer was Deanna Durbin, born in Winnipeg, Canada, of Englihs parents but raised in southern California, who left the Hollywood scene after her last movie in 1948 and went to live in Paris where she is now in her 90th year. A song she sang at the end of a 1939 movie, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, that has been recorded by many opera singers, mostly tenors, was my mother's party piece, Because. It is sung in the context of a wedding and, as it happens, there's a big wedding today in London, that of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Clearly, there's some twist in the plot at the end of the movie but it's a happy one!

The last song I heard my mother singing, I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen, has always been a great favourite in Ireland. As far as I can recall, she sang it at a farewell party for me before I left to study in the USA in September 1968, nine months or so after my ordination. 'Kathleen' is an anglicised form of 'Caitlín', a Gaelic form of 'Catherine', as is 'Caitríona'. The song was written in 1875 by a German-American, Thomas P. Westendorf. Deanna Durbin sang it in her last movie, For the Love of Mary, made in 1948.

My own favourite song by Deanna Durbin is Beneath the Lights of Home. It brings out clearly the purity of her voice. Deanna is playing a character named Jane Dana in the 1941 movie Nice Girl? who sings the song at a benefit concert for  the Red Cross. Jane is having a somewhat complicated love-life at the time. Not surprisingly, this song became a great favourite with soldiers overseas during World War II.

There were great songs during the 1930s and 1940s but sometimes the toll on those who sang them in Hollywood movies was enormous. Deanna Durbin's very first movie, Every Sunday, a short one made in 1936, featured Judy Garland when they were both 14. Poor Judy's subsequent life was a mess, while Deanna simply left the artificial Hollywood 'lifestyle'.However, by the time she did so she had been divorced twice.

One of the blessings of my childhood was plenty of tuneful music.

Please remember in your prayers my mother, born Mary Collins, dying suddenly at the age of 55, and her mother, born Annie Dowd, dying from cancer at the age of 84, sharing the same death anniversary. May they rest in peace.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I shall keep them both in my prayers. That photo is very beatiful!