As a life-long music lover, I measure many of the technological changes in today’s world by changes to music and how I listen to it. The equipment and the media have changed dramatically in the last sixty years.
My grandmother had a beautiful wooden console in her living room. Lift the lid, and you would see a thick metal arm with elegant gold scrolling on it. A black circle lay in the top and little wells around the edges held pointed metal pieces. Granny said the circle was the turntable and the metal pieces were needles to play the records.
A handle fitted into the side of the cabinet and powered the mechanism by winding a motor. The records, thick and stiff, were stored in the lower part of the cabinet. That mechanism was a Victrola and the one-sided records spun at 78 rpm. The sound was scratchy and occasionally distorted as the motor ran down, but the experience of listening was a delight to a child with no other frame of reference.
When I was in sixth grade, a friend invited me over to her house to do homework together. She played her new record as we worked, and I fell in love with Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” soundtrack. Until then I was strictly a country music and Southern gospel girl, but the King gave me a taste for other music, as well.
At Christmas my parents asked what I wanted for Christmas; I didn’t hesitate a moment. I wanted “Blue Hawaii” and a record player to play it. Guess I was a good girl that year because Santa brought me what I wanted: a little portable phonograph and Elvis.
My album spun at 33-1/3 rpm, and singles revolved at 45 rpm. In a miracle of technology, I discovered I could stack records on the spindle and play several albums before I had to change records.
I bought records with my allowance and found that there were many genres of music that appealed to me. Later music moved to tape-eight tracks and cassettes and the mechanism to play the music became smaller and smaller. Now an “album” is a compact disc and the quality of an inexpensive portable unit far exceeds that of Granny’s Victrola. No matter, music is still the magical medium that transported a little girl on wings of melody into a land of imagination.