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Mar 10, 2013

Ways Done in the Past - Music Records

First Singapore Heritage Week at the National Museum ground on 1 October, 1986.  The visitors were watching an old gramophone donated by the public at the event.

These appropriate archived photos are curated and posted on this blog with the courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore and elsewhere on the Internet with acknowledgement and thanks to the contributors.

Long ago before the modern days record players, hi-fi stereo sets and tape-recorders and sound recording systems, music records were played on manually winded gramophones in Singapore.

Lets take a look at the "Memories of Grandfather Gramophones" blog.

What better ways to blog on the ways done in the past for the old-timers of music lovers in Singapore to relate their memories and experiences of a past era in their own words and sentiments through their written memoirs in their books.

An excerpt from "AMBER SANDS  - A Boyhood Memoir" by Mr Lee Kip Lee.  Discover the simple pursuits of children in Singapore in the 1920s and 1930s to bring to life those colourful days of a bygone era - when fishing meant learning the art of worm-catching.

In this blog about Mr Lee's memories of schooldays, food, music, hobbies, games and sports with loads of information and details at the prevalent at the time and even now.  Here's the blog topic on music records and the grandfather gramophoneas for us to share.
... Pa (his) collection of records ranged from folksy Frank Crummit songs to dance music by Jack Hylton and Carrol Gibbons and his Savoy Hotel Orpheans to two black American singers called Layton and Johnson to Malay krongchongs and even a stack of Chinese records.  On the classical side, he loved listening to operas and symphonies particularly Verdi and Beethoven which came in special albums.  He also had several sets of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, his favourite being "The Mikado".

He loved listening to music luxuriating in his easy chair, doing absolutely nothing else whilst some else - my aunt's adopted daughter - provided the wherewithal to operate the gramophone by winding it, placing the record on the turntable, and inserting the steel needle into the pickup before starting to play it.  She then sat down until it was time to repeat the same motions for the other side of the disc.  It was a boring chore which she accepted with great forbearance.

Those were the days between 1930 and 1940 of the ten inch and twelve inch (diameter wise) 78rpm records, the smaller one for popular music and the larger one for classical music.  The popular labels were His Master's Voice, Columbia, Parlophone and Regal-Zonophone all of which were familiar to me as Pa had given me the authority to go to Nang Heng, the music shop at Selegie Road, to buy records to my heart's content.  It was a marvellous system permitting me to bring home a boxful of records on approval, sign for them, listen to them during the weekend and return those I rejected.


When the grinder -  the spring gramophone - became obsolete, Pa bought a Philco radio-gramo-phone.  It was a comparatively massive piece of furniture measuring four feet high and three feet wide, with the automatic gramophone player on top, the radio component and control knobs in the middle and the loudspeaker at the bottom.  The radio tuner, which displayed several wavebands, was one-and-a-half inch square.  As for the gramophone, all we had to do was to position a pile of records on top of the spindle, press a button, sit back, and listen as the discs tumbled down one by one.

Both Pa and I spent many pleasurable hours glued to this equipment: he, on his non-golfing days listening to Wickham Steed, the BBC's analyst; and I, combing the radio wavelengths on Saturday nights tuning in to the NIROM (Netherland Indis, now Indonesia) station to hear the "live" broadcasts of my favorite band, the Hawaiian Syncopators, opening the programme with their signature tune "On The Beach at Waikiki".  Or I would turn the dial to the request programme of the Happy Station in Hilversum, Holland, or to the studio of the Voice of America at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.  The Singapore station with the call sign ZHI was privately operated from a radio shop at the corner of Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut (it later became the premises of The Keller Piano Company) until the government set up the British Malaya Broadcasting Corporation in the Cathay Building.

Amber Mansion at Orchard Road  c1929
The Keller Piano Company opposite Amber Mansion  c1956

Pa always did everything in style.  To ensure clear radio reception he ordered a contractor to install, in the corner of the garden, a 30-foot mast connected to the aerial.  It was the only one in Amber Road.  As a result, it was from this Philco set that we heard, loudly and clearly over the BBC, the voice of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing Britain's declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939.

Like some of the Peranakan men of his vintage, Pa had a great love for Dondang Sayang music and was, in his youth, in his element at weddings or birthday parties when he would participate in the singing of Malay pantuns by means of which the singers engaged in musical repartee.  Not only that.  At such gatherings he also played the violin which, because it provided the melody, was an integral part of the band which also consisted of a couple of handheld drums, a round drum and a gong.  It was therefore a sad day when, whilst adjusting a deck chair, one of his left-hand fingers was crushed, putting paid to all his thoughts of becoming a Dondang Sayang violinist.

"Dondang sayang" performance in 1961
His musical interest extended to singing.  At parties he enjoyed standing behind a pianist and singing Stephen Foster's songs like "Old Black Joe", "Swannee River", and "My Old Kentucky Home".  As the evening wore on and as the mood turned lachrymose, the strains of  "Silver Threads Among The Gold" filled the air.

Lets listen to "Old Black Joe" by Juanita Hall Choir - Songs by Stephen Foster played on a gramophone record for nostalgic memories of the old music record for enjoyment of the oldies.  Sound technologies may have evolved over the centuries and become obsolete, but music lovers of evergreen song will live on.



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