Tag Archives: music

Memorate: A Coworker’s Ghostly Encounter

Context:

Informant N is the collector’s supervisor in the technology department of USC SCA. He is 27 years old and grew up in Denver, Colorado until age 7, when he moved to Sandpoint, Idaho. His father’s family is from the “deep south,” and his mother was “an army brat” who lived mostly near the east coast. N’s family has been in the US “since the mayflower,” and his ancestry is mostly German, Northern English, and Welsh. He now lives in Los Angeles, CA and is a singer/songwriter, as well as an employee of the film school’s technology services.

Text:

Informant: “Okay so when I was a kid, my mom – in the first floor, this was like a three story house, the house was like a hundred years old if not more. Um, classic brick style home, it was in Denver. And there was a doctor who lived in the house with his um… I think she was a distraught person, probably back then. Like she probably had some mental illness that was untreated and you know, back then they kind of skewed those people into obscure…”

Collector: “What year was this?”

Informant: “Oh this was like 30s (…). So she was a well-known pianist at the time and she eventually committed suicide in the house and the house was also a historical site. So the house is old, there have been people who lived there who had some musical connection and there was the suicide and you know… There was a couple times growing up where I would hear the piano play and my sister would hear the piano play while we were upstairs and my mom wasn’t home playing the piano nor was my dad or whatever, or we had a babysitter at the time. So there was just a couple weird moments in that house where the piano would be playing and we’d go downstairs and it would stop playing so whether that’s true or not I don’t know but I remember it and my sister clearly remembers it and to this day it’s very bizarre to me and it makes me feel a little… (*informant trails off*)”

Collector: “How did you find out about the woman who died?”

Informant: “My parents – my mom found out about it after they bought the house. The history of the house.”

Collector: “From who?”

Informant: “I think from a neighbor’s family or something. (…) It was like a local thing so it was kind of weird. (…) The piano that was in the house was over a hundred years old at the time.”

The informant also mentioned that his sister, who was 8 or 9 at the time of the piano incidents, is “still perturbed” by them to this day. He also mentioned that he experienced what he called “typical ghost stuff” – that he would hear dogs barking at nothing, and that one of the room’s in the house (his sister’s room) was specifically colder than others. His family checked and made sure that “the piano wasn’t a player” piano (a self-playing piano), and noted that the music he heard was notably classical, and that the woman who had died was a classical pianist.

Interpretation:

N’s ghost story seems pretty typical upon first glance, but I find it interesting because of both his personal context and folkloric trends in memorates. For one thing, the informant seems to truly believe that all of this happened and that something supernatural was going on because his sister also experienced it. He mentioned her multiple times throughout the story and when he was providing more context, and we’ve talked a number of times about how people tend to believe what their peers, family, friends, etc do. What’s more, his family heard about the woman who supposedly died in the house from a neighbor, making this particular figure almost a local legend. While I wouldn’t label her a full-on urban legend for lack of popularity or name, the story about her being mentally unstable and her death in the house is legend-like. She has the traits of one as a woman believed to be mentally unwell and responsible for a haunted area. The apparent ghost is not necessarily true, but there is a negotiation of sorts about whether to believe it for the informant, his family, and his neighbors. This woman’s story lines up with a lot of what we know about ghosts – having unfinished business of some sort (to play music for others), hauntings that happen when things don’t go as they should (her suicide), and the idea that ghosts’ have property even after death (the piano). This story is definitely a memorate for the informant, who seems unsure whether he believes in ghosts entirely, but is fairly convinced that something happened in this house, and still finds it inexplicable and bizarre 20 years later.

Christmas Music Car Ritual

Text
C: “My Grandma started this ritual because she was a very big fan of the Thanksgiving holiday and a very firm believer that like, Christmas season doesn’t start until Thanksgiving passes. Um, and so she started this thing in the car that you are not allowed to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. Um, and then it’s like- it was believed it was bad luck, like it’s not proper, like, um, I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s like we’re not celebrating the holidays in the proper way. And if someone requests it it’s like- like I have personally before been like ‘should we listen to Christmas music’ and been like shunned by my brothers being like ‘No! Grandma says we do not listen to Christmas music in the car until after Thanksgiving, like Grandma does not allow that.’ So it is like a holiday ritual now that we follow.”

Interviewer: “And was it like a big deal when you could listen to Christmas music again?”

C: “Mhm! Especially when it would be with my Grandma, because she would have in her car this, like, plastic container that was at least a foot long that had all of the CDs of Christmas albums, like, stacked. So like, it was when that got transferred from her garage into the car after Thanksgiving, that was the signal of ‘okay, now it’s time’ and then it like- it was like finally, we can ask and we don’t have to be afraid of her being like, ‘no, it’s not Thanksgiving yet.’”

Interviewer: “Would that be something, like, an act that you witnessed, or would it be like a fun surprise?”

C: “No, we would see her do it, because we practically lived with her for most of my childhood, so we would see her from the garage get- like, we knew where it was in the garage- get it and put it in. And then it was a thing of like, we can each grab one of the CDs and pick the ones we wanted, and then she would put them in and then take the next one out and be like ‘what’s the next song to have on?’ So it was like an actual little ritual thing.”

Context
C is a current student at the University of Southern California and grew up in Palm Desert, California. She explained that the ritual always occurred the day after Thanksgiving. When asked if anyone had ever broken the rule about no Christmas music in the car before Thanksgiving, C laughed nervously and admitted that she is a massive fan of Christmas music and sometimes listens to it in her AirPods during the summer, but that she “will NOT tell anyone” in her family, as they would still react poorly. Her pre-Thanksgiving Christmas music listening is restricted to her AirPods, however; she described one instance in which she began to listen to Christmas music in the car with her boyfriend before Thanksgiving, but felt “too guilty” and had to turn it off. Despite her love of Christmas music, C believes she will continue the tradition and ritual with her future family.

Analysis
This ritual seems to be a very calendric/seasonally-based ritual enforced, as C mentioned, to ensure the ‘proper’ and time-appropriate celebration of the seasons. I have noticed that the United States, especially in commercial settings, tends to begin preparing for Christmas well in advance of the holiday, often de-emphasizing Thanksgiving celebrations by barely squeezing it in between Christmas and Halloween. By establishing listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving as a forbidden practice, C’s grandmother is able to keep the lines between different seasons and celebrations distinct and honor each in their own time. In doing so, she also created a ritual that, from C’s description, served as a fun and fondly-remembered marker of the beginning of the Christmas season for her and her grandchildren.

Carnaval Brazilian Festival

Informant: Carnaval, the most famous Brazilian Festival. You probably know it. Huge party every year. In Carnaval you play music in groups and do specific group dancing. its about celebrating your community and having fun with others around you.

Context: My informant was born in Brazil and spent the majority of his childhood there. Obviously he celebrated the Carnaval every single year. He would go with his family and dance all night and all day and listen to good music and eat good food. He hasn’t been back to Brazil in quite some time so he is looking forward to that.

Analysis: It is always interesting looking at the holidays of other cultures. You start to see the differences and similarities between what they celebrate it and why. Most American holidays are celebrated because of some holy person or because some tragedy that led us to being American. I quit like how this holiday according to my informant is just celebrating the community and having good times with everyone close by.

Flower Moon Music and Arts Festival (Chapman University)

Text

Collector: “Do you participate in any specific rituals or festivals?”

Informant: “We have Flower Moon. It’s a Music and Arts Festival that’s been happening every year for the last three years on the last week of April. It’s usually at the same venue the Garden Amphitheater in Garden Grove, California. It has three stages. And we have 15 different artists, five artists per stage. And it’s not just the music it’s also the arts because we get six different vendors who are all champions to us in the arts. Artists, by the way, are all Chapman students and alumni. And we also get vendors to come sell clothes, jewelry, and food. And it’s like basically like our version of Coachella because it’s the weekend after both the Coachella weekends happen so we call it Coachella weekend three.”

Collector: “How much does it cost for a ticket?”

Informant: “$20 for Chapman students and $30 for general admission. And it’s sponsored by our school, we get sponsors from SGA. So Student Government.”

Context

The informant is a female undergraduate student at Chapman University in Orange, California. She is co-president of The Collective, a music club on campus that’s responsible for organizing the Flower Moon Festival each year.

Analysis

The Festival showcases Chapman Student’s artistic and musical abilities. The financial sponsorship from Chapman University shows that the school enables artistic expression. They provide a space where student’s talents can be appreciated and commodified. The showcase restricts artists to a very niche group: Chapman students and alumni. In my opinion, this makes the event more attractive to people in that university folk group. Ticket price differences urge students to attend, as they get in at a discount. 

The Big D

Text:

Residents of Dallas refer to it as “the Big D.”

Context:

The informant lived in Dallas for 17 years, and grew up knowing this nickname for her hometown.

Interpretation:

Preliminary research points towards this nickname originating from the song with the same name, “Big D” from the 1956 musical The Most Happy Fella. The name popularized when Bing Crosby recorded the song, and stuck when a columnist at Dallas Morning News titled his column “Big D.” Since then, residents of Dallas have continued to call their city “the Big D” without necessarily knowing the origin of the nickname.

The longevity of the nickname may be more due to its function as a double entendre than the timelessness origins. Though the nickname remains the same, the meaning behind it changes, so that new generations believe their hometown nickname is unironically an epithet for genitalia.