In my childhood (my first), my musician mother dutifully dragged me to our local “Artist Series” recitals. Living in a lower tier market (96th out of 100) meant the artists were on their way up or out. Mother cried regardless, but especially when once-greats like the Met’s (the non-baseball one) Renata Treble, then in her 66th season, performed (fresh from recent appearance on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour), attempted high C, and only her accompanist hit it.


Some of the selections even sounded promising:


“I’ll now sing, Chi Vuol La Zingerella?, Renata gushed, “or Who Desires the Gypsy Girl?” (I’d’ve said about the whole village, especially on dollar shot night). Then, Renata sang ¾ in French.


Fortunately, I was prepared because the sheet music lay (grammar award!) in the piano bench at home. On each was printed: “For high voice, medium voice, low voice, no voice” (my range) with arrow pointing to the one purchased. The title might be German, while inside, the lyrics appeared in several other languages, including English. Those English lyrics would make the Pope pop Valium.


“Here’s a lovely art song,” Renata declaimed, handkerchief waving hypnotically from her wrist, “Ruf vom ein Lachend Bach or, Call from a Laughing Brook, music by Wolfgang Amadeus

O’Toole, English lyrics by Wayne Garnge.” Good. Program notes avoided.


Were I a laughing brook

Curled in a cozy nook

I’d laugh’n sing’n babble some

Till mine be the path thou took.



Fa la la-la la-la la la-la.

Fa la-la la la-la la.


Were I a large oak tree

Hanging over thee,

I’d wrap my limbs around thine own

And cling eternally.



Were I a tiny stone

Lying on thy path alone,

I’d await yon plaintive cue

To enter thy footwear zone.


Mother’s tears resumed when 350lb. Renata next rendered Si mi chiamano Mimi (Mimi? Howzabout Moomoo?) with enough rrrrrrrrolled r’s to make a Scotsman proud and with tremolo that made Butterfly McQueen sound tame. Tears became sobs right through Renata’s encore (though none was requested):


“I’d like to end on a high note.”


Might as well.  She hadn’t hit one yet.


“I get many requests for The Zoo Song, by Roland Vespus, my favorite children’s song since first I sang it in 1894.”


The turtle is a wondrous beast

Tho’ he’s so awfully slow.

But you’d be less than fast yourself

If you had your house to tow.


The rabbit hops about all day

Through weather good and rotten.

He hasn’t any clothes to wear

But sports a tail of cotton.



The zebra is a sort of horse

Who’s never, ever pale.

With his stripes of black and white

He looks like he’s in jail.


By animal nineteen (star-nosed mole), Mother whispered, “Remind me to toss that one out when I get home.”


Renata entombed her last note, a very flat D sharp; Mother sobbed, “Once great,

now stinky”; I pictured Renata’s 67th season in Flumk, Wyoming, and home we went.