Rodgers and Hammerstein, My Mother, and Me

It was my tenth birthday.  Ten was the age when we graduated from birthday parties with paper hats and streamers and playing ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’. For my birthday I had the choice of taking three friends to Camden Park, an amusement park, or taking one friend to see Oklahoma on stage.  I picked Oklahoma.  I chose wisely.

I never knew music could be so wonderful.  I was swept away.  Suddenly music was more than a song.  It made me want to dance, spread my arms wide, and sing out loud.  It had feeling.  It opened the whole world wide.

Thank you, Rodgers and Hammerstein.  They brought to music what Charles Dickens brought to literature – real people, and a sense of understanding.

Many weekends I spent with my good friend Kirk, who also loved musicals.  We played Rodgers and Hammerstein record albums, dressed up in costumes, and became part of the story.  We sang with abandon.  This would become an important part of my teaching later on – bringing heart and soul into music, and eventually into reading aloud.

I vividly remember The King and I, and also South Pacific.

Like Oklahoma, I saw the stage performances.  Now, I was latching onto specific songs as if they were a lifeline.  “Shall We Dance” and “Whistle a Happy Tune” were powerful songs from The King and I.

The tears came with “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific. It ripped at my heart.  An older man and a younger woman, children he had previously fathered – all come into play with this song.  This was my first introduction into an unconventional love relationship.  Rodgers and Hammerstein went even deeper, with a love affair, racial prejudice, and the issue of social consequences.  That was strickly taboo in the early 50’s.  Yet, it was natural and welcoming in the Broadway show.  When young Navy Lieutenant sang “Carefully Taught”, it was my first introduction to diversity and acceptance.  I have never forgotten.

The first time I saw my Mother cry I was fifteen.  Imagine that.  Even after my Father died, she never cried in front of her children.  She was ever strong.  You can grasp the shock when I saw her cry.  Back then, television aired a movie after the 11 o’clock nightly news.  My sister and I stayed up to watch the movie, Carousel.  Mother must have heard it and came downstairs to join us.  Apparently she had seen the Broadway show and loved it.

The end of the movie is high school graduation.  Bad Billy Bigelow, who was killed in a fight and left behind a young woman he loved and their daughter, is allowed to leave heaven and visit his daughter at her graduation.  He sings to her “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”  My Mother cried.  I cried.  My sister cried.  To this day, this is the song.  It’s more than the tears; it’s ‘Life 101’.

The Sound of Music is probably the most well known and popular of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, and rightfully so.  It is music and a storyline that everyone loves and remembers.  Most people grew up on this movie.  I’m lucky to have grown up on so many more.

Fast forward to today.  Rodgers and Hammerstein did more to teach me about the world, people, relationships, life and death, and right and wrong.  It was the story they told, and of course the music.

I wasn’t a strong reader, so these were often my ‘books’.  When I began teaching, music became an important part of what I did with children.  Not the children’s songs that teachers teach, but real music, from classical to Broadway to soul – the real stuff.  Oh, it has made a big impact.

It was only natural that the passion for telling all the stories Rodgers and Hammerstein told transitioned to my reading aloud.  I grabbed every good book and read it to children in the same way their music did.  I stand, cry, sing, cheer…it’s a long list.  It’s what I do to make books come alive for children.

Thank you, Rodgers and Hammerstein.  You gave me my roots.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Death and dying, Diversity, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, music, Singing, The Arts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

80 Responses to Rodgers and Hammerstein, My Mother, and Me

  1. Ritu says:

    Oh I love all musicals!!!

  2. Opher says:

    You can’t beat music.

  3. quiall says:

    “You’ll Never Walk Alone” moved me to tears just thinking about it! Music has the power to touch your soul, words the power to understand. Together they are magic.

  4. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Something to brighten your weekend. A post from Jennie Fitzkee on the significance that musicals have in her life, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein… A lovely post with the wonderful You’ll Never Walk Alone… head over and share you memories of the magical age of musicals with Jennie….

  5. beth says:

    what a wonderful memory, and more wonderful that it has continued to be a part of your life, with your love of music and sharing it with others, big and small.

  6. CarolCooks2 says:

    Thank you for the memories, Jennie some of my favourite musicals…You can’t beat a good musical I couldn’t pick a favourite as each and everyone I have watched has something which plucks at the heartstrings…A lovely post-Jennie 🙂 x

  7. Your post brought back memories of how much my mother enjoyed Rodgers and Hammerstein and how she shared that love of musicals with me. I remember back in the early ’60s, the A&P did a promotion where you could earn points toward a record album with your grocery purchases. That’s how my mother got the soundtrack albums for all the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.

  8. Dan Antion says:

    My mother loved musicals and had many soundtracks that she would play on Saturday mornings. I still recognize and enjoy those songs.

  9. joylennick says:

    Thank you for your wonderful musical memories, Jennie. I too loved all those musicals. my best friend at college had a lead role in Oklahoma and should have been an actress she was so good, and when we both joined an amateur song and dance group I was a dancer in Carousel (def. not a singer as that was like caterwauling..) I saw South Pacific with Mary Martin in the lead role in the west end of London. All fabulous musicals.Lucky me! Lucky us!

    • Jennie says:

      How wonderful, Joy! You saw Mary Martin in South Pacific? I am so jealous and happy for you. There’s nothing better than the live stage, especially Rodgers and Hammerstein. You had so many great experiences. I am in awe at what you did in Carousel and Oklahoma. Yes, we were the lucky ones. I’m glad this brought you wonderful memories. Thank you, Joy!

  10. Darlene says:

    What a wonderful story about what makes you, you. Musicals have always been a part of my life too. We didn´t get to the movies often as we lived on a farm, but we had a local musical theatre group which was very good and performed most of these musicals. I´m pleased to see that young people today still enjoy them.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Darlene. Yes, this is a big part of me. I think the local theater groups are terrific. Growing up, they left a stronger impact on me than the movies did. We were the lucky ones. I wish even more young people enjoyed musicals and theater.

  11. Beautiful music and post, Jennie!

  12. I’m with you on the love of Rogers and Hammerstein’s music. I think I saw all of their musicals. I also had the pleasure of performing as Jigger Craigan in a Connecticut community theater production of Carousel. You’ll Never Walk Alone always got to me since we had a beautiful chorus that wrung tears for the cast and audience alike. They also made me sound terrific in the two jigger songs. Thanks, Jeannie.

  13. This is so beautiful Jennie! My dad introduced me to Rodgers and Hammerstein and this brings up so many wonderful memories. Thank you for this.🤗

  14. Great post, Jennie. My mom had a Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook and not only did we sing all the songs, but we plunked them out on the piano. You evoked all kinds of great memories with this post. Wonderful.

  15. Loewef says:

    I was obsessed with *The* *King and I*. Still have large portions of the libretto memorized.

    Some appeal in the clash of cultures, attempts to reconcile, love somehow “conquering all,” but imperfectly, as human love always is.

    It was too much to bear when the king died. But I watched it again and again.

    *The Sound of Music* is still gold standard. I always wanted to fast forward through Mother Superior’s warbling urge to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain…till you find your dream.” I suppose the sentiment was well intentioned, though, and it sent the Fraulein to the Von Trapps.

    [All things work together for the good of those who love Him]

    I’ll have to watch South Pacific. Lots to do, still.

    On Sat, Mar 14, 2020, 5:06 AM A Teacher’s Reflections wrote:

    > Jennie posted: “It was my tenth birthday. Ten was the age when we > graduated from birthday parties with paper hats and streamers and playing > ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’. For my birthday I had the choice of taking > three friends to Camden Park, an amusement park, or takin” >

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Loewef. Great comments! Many people don’t even know about the other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals beyond The Sound of Music. While that is the most popular (yes, I adore it), it doesn’t rip your heart the way that South Pacific does. You definitely need to see that movie.

      The King and I is so powerful! The music alone, like when the King puts his arm around Anna’s waist to dance, is enough to make me drop to my knees. Yes, the death scene is hard to watch, but I watched it many times, too.

      All of their musicals have a clash of cultures, following your heart, and a sense of right and wrong. Frankly, these never get stale or old. Thank goodness. They were very clever in incorporating “the important stuff” into very different places, scenes, and situations.

      These men were brilliant, in heart and mind. I wish watching their movies or at least listening to the songs was mandatory in high school.

  16. In scary times we need lovely posts like this nostalgic tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein by Jennie. Please take a moment and visit her wonderful blog and share your own musical memories!

  17. Reblogged this on By Hook Or By Book and commented:
    During scary times we need lovely posts like Jennie’s nostalgic tribute to Rodgers and Hammerstein. Please take a moment and visit her and share your own musical memories!

  18. Well that brings back happy memories. My Mum played the lead roles in all those on stage, and I would go to rehearsals with her, and be in the audience on the last performance. Happy times, and I still know all the words to all the songs!

    • Jennie says:

      That is absolutely wonderful! Well, more than absolutely wonderful. Lucky you! I know all the words, too. I truly believe these songs and their stories shaped my life. The world today needs more Rodgers and Hammerstein. Thanks so much. 🙂

  19. Margie says:

    Wonderful post!
    I so enjoyed it!

  20. petespringerauthor says:

    The part of your piece that I connected the most with was picturing you and your friend dressing up and “singing with abandon.” You should hear me wailing away in the shower.😎 I’m a sucker for anyone who doesn’t worry about what anyone else thinks and focuses on having a good time. That kind of attitude is so refreshing. Be yourself!

    • Jennie says:

      That’s me, Pete. 🙂 It’s a wonderful way to be, isn’t it? Music will definitely do that, and it all started with Rodgers and Hammerstein. It certainly is a good trait for a teacher to have. Thanks so much!

  21. I’m with you, Jennie! Rodgers and Hammerstein gave me my roots too! I’ve seen all the movies, a few stage plays when a teen. Their songs still sing in my heart. I think it’s time to watch them all again. By the way, I loved them so that I used to sing to my students when they were arriving to school–“Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” (Oklahoma), “Climb Every Mountain” and “My Favorite Thiings” (Sound of Music) among them. The children loved them and I’d often year them singing or humming these tunes on the playground. ❤ Oh, the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Thanks so much for sharing, Jennie. xo

    • Jennie says:

      Your stories are wonderful, Bette! ❤️ You gave me a great idea. I could sing the first few lines of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and substitute “everything” with a child’s name. “…Andy is heading my way.” This will be wonderful!! Yes, when you hear children singing or humming on their own, you know it was successful. Thanks so much, Bette!

  22. Elizabeth says:

    One of the high points in my adult life was attending a performance of “South Pacific” where my daughter was Bloody Mary and my granddaughter one of the widower’s children singing “Dite moi”

  23. Norah says:

    The richer the experiences, the richer the teaching, the richer the learning … and so it goes.

  24. A really lovely post, Jennie. I also love musicals and The Sound of Music is one of my favourites, along with Cabaret and Mame.

  25. Anne Copeland says:

    This is one of the most touching and inspirational posts I have ever read. If only most teachers would get involved with their students in activities like this, what a world of difference it could make for them. I still remember my one teacher who really cared for all of us students. Every day she introduced us to a different kind of music, sometimes the jazz of the times (the 50’s) and sometimes musicals, and other music, even classical, and she had us write our feelings about it. She put up cartoons and then photos of famous people of the times (not necessarily actresses and actors) and she had us write about that. All of us loved her. She made learning as teens something magical and not a single student was lost to feeling as if we were all just data to help the teacher meet HER requirements. We each believed she was talking to each of us privately. I think I told the story of when she had us write something, and then went around and told us each what great writers we were and how we would each become excellent writers and editors. Each of us thought we were the ONLY ones getting such high complements, and it was not until years later that I learned from an old classmate how she had told each and every person in that class the same thing. So yes, getting out our singing, writing, art, and just general living in harmony with others regardless of race, belief system, culture, etc., and learning to live with and be ok with our feelings as we go through different stages of emotional growth because we have seen them in this way can help us all to get through a lot of things in life. I think often about the many foster children (already labeled juvenile delinquents) and those whose parents were perhaps no longer part of their lives, have perhaps never known what it is like to be a happy child or to have a young adult who only knows that their life was ended in so many ways when they were young. It is so much more difficult to try to help them when they have none of the things you gave those you worked with. Thank you every single day of my life, for you are the magical teacher in my mind who can make a true difference in everyone’s life. You will, like my high school teacher, always be one of my teaching heroes even though I never got to take one of your classes. Hugs and forever blessings, Anne

    • Jennie says:

      This is beautiful, Anne. Thank you so much! I do remember your story about your teacher. Yes, if only all teachers could understand the enormous difference they can make. I applaud and echo all your words, here. When I get back to school after the mandatory closure, it will be a perfect time to burst forth with some of these songs. We’re learning about France, and currently the famous artists. You should see me showing Monet and saying, “You can do this!” Of course I have real paints in tubes and palettes. So, to inspire my budding artists, I have introduced them to music – on my record player with my albums! I will definitely be including and singing Rodgers and Hammerstein! Again, thank you for all your kind words. They mean a lot. ❤️

  26. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much for this lovely post!

  27. srbottch says:

    Oklahoma is one of the best. How about the line, ‘the grass is as high as an elephant’s eye’? Great post, Jennie.

  28. Your memories do my heart good. I had very limited experience with many things but what I did get to see, usually a movie version, stuck with me as well. No one I knew shared in that love so I kept it all to myself. It’s nice that so much has been preserved for us to view now. Just like the children’s books, I can catch up on what I missed. What a great reminder that it’s still out there. Thanks, Jennie.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it is still out there. How wonderful it will be for you to see these movies again. Of course they will make you laugh and cry far harder than they did the first time you saw them. They will fill your heart. Even the music alone is powerful. There is one scene in “The King and I” where the king is ready to dance with Anna, which is a powerful message of accepting a new culture. He reaches out to put his arm around to dance, and the music alone says all the words and emotions. Sigh! Frankly, I think these movies should be mandatory watching if you are over the age of 14. They stick with you. 🙂

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