When one’s growing up years are spent in an Indiana town called Mishawaka, more worldly acquaintances are likely to dismiss it as “rural.” Despite the fact that it is located immediately next to South Bend, home of Notre Dame, and that I had 335 in my high school graduating class, many assume that I must have grown up on a farm, Indiana’s enduring stereotype.
This account from my growing-up years has more to do with my father than with our locale, but both are important. My dad was a rough-hewn sort, product of a small town and a stern upbringing. Our family moved to Mishawaka during the war so that he could work at a better-paying job.
Like many children, I didn’t know my father very well. He worked long factory hours, did overtime regularly, walked to work, and we didn’t have a car or a telephone for a long time. What we did have is classical music on the radio, free South Bend Symphony tickets from my high school music teacher, piano lessons, and for me, violin lessons (unsuccessful). When I came down for breakfast in the morning, a certain classical radio station from Chicago was always on. On Monday nights, the Railroad Hour was a requirement. I have often reflected on that music’s influence on my life — not as a performer, but certainly as an appreciative audience member. But what I have enjoyed most, and due directly to my dad, such an unlikely fan, is musical theatre.
When I was in junior high, a wonderful production came to our high school stage and our family attended. A highly praised drama group from South Bend each year offered one big musical performed in Mishawaka. The first for me was "Robin Hood". The next one was pivotal — "Naughty Marietta." Written by Victor Herbert, full of costumes and period detail, with a love story in full voice with chorus, I was hooked. This was the first of many.
I remember “The Red Mill,” “The Prince of Pilsen,” “Of Thee I Sing,” “New Moon,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” and before I moved away from Indiana forever, “Brigadoon.” I recently had to Google a certain song, though, since I didn’t remember the name of the show it is from. The show is “Up in Central Park,” and the song is a catchy little ditty with lyrics that I didn’t completely understand at the time — “The Fireman’s Bride” (She won’t sit home by her fireside).
At these shows, I could hear my father laugh, a not-very-familiar sound from a pretty antisocial fellow. Along the way, he also took us to some movies of opera and a Strauss epic filled with “Tales of the Vienna Woods.” These were enjoyable, and educational too, but those live operettas filled with singing and dancing, humor, and often improbable plots, are gems of nostalgia for me.
When operettas eventually evolved into Broadway musicals, I amassed a rather large collection of original cast and soundtrack albums. One even had the wonderful Beverly Sills singing “The Fireman’s Bride.” These, and a collection of playbills, had to go when I moved here, but stored somewhere in my long-term memory, are those many happy musical moments gone by.