Calumet Roots

Musical prodigies flourished during The Great Depression

2012-01-15T00:00:00Z Musical prodigies flourished during The Great DepressionBy Archibald McKinlay Times Columnist
January 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

In June, I used this space to call attention to Jackie Evancho, a new sensation as a youngster who sounds almost exactly like an adult singer, and the feedback has been enlightening.

One of the points I was trying to make in the column was that young voices, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, emerged because there wasn't much else to do.

I used as an example the voice of Carmen Vera, who was the star of my elementary school, East Chicago Washington. One of the responses to the column came from Carmen's sister, Marian Galasso, of Pinellas Park, Fla.

Since she was three years younger than her sister, she doesn't quite remember the era when Carmen was the reigning diva of the school, albeit at a very young age. She did remember, though, that the performances of all of the Vera family probably led to their acquiring a piano. She believes that one of the local ladies' clubs felt that the piano would be a worthwhile project to encourage Carmen's musical ability.

Indeed, Carmen did take piano lessons from a nun at Assumption Church. A year later, Marian, too, began piano lessons. The two of them would take turns playing the piano and singing. In their repertoire was one of Franz Schubert's serenades.

Carmen would play while Marian sang, and vice versa. The piano gig expired after three years, although Alice, the youngest sister in the family, continued taking lessons for several years. When she reached high school, she became the choir's accompanist. Occasionally, she played solos.

After she graduated in 1945, Carmen attended Hammond Business College to prepare herself for employment at Youngstown Sheet and Tube. She felt duty bound to help her family, and even bought her parents a new gas stove and a new bedroom set.

Carmen married in 1948 and settled in Griffith. She had a boy and a girl and eventually five grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. She and her husband lived in Kentucky's Lake Barkley area. After her husband died, she moved back to Indiana and lived in the Lowell area.

Trying to recall Carmen and her voice was a real challenge for Marian. But it did steer her into the auditorium and the music classes conducted by Miss Young, who was also remembered for her beautiful eyes and neat braid around her jet-black hair.

In these "Auditorium" sessions, Miss Johnston recited poetry, which led to Marian's love of poetry. When she became a teacher, she made sure poetry became a part of her elementary classes.

Miss Yellen read to each class from whatever book she was reading recreationally at the time. One of these was "The Boxcar Children." Marian remembers how truly unique her elementary school was - the art room, the music room, the science room with lab tables, etc.

As I think back, it's hard to imagine how a super elementary school could exist and prosper during the Great Depression, when today, teaching the lower grades consists of lessons in survival. Whatever happened to progress?

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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