Mistakenly waltzing in slow time

When I was about nine or ten years old, my sister had me stand on her feet as she waltzed us around the living room to whatever record she had chosen to play on her wind-up portable Victrola.

I remember that Victrola by RCA, with the symbol of a dog gazing into the cone of a megaphone speaker atop an RCA turntable and the emblazoned slogan written beside it: “His Master’s Voice.” My sister Sylvia–our family called her Sis–probably got the turntable as a birthday gift.

I remember the Victrola had to be cranked by inserting a specially shaped handle into a slot in the front of the machine just below the turntable. It took 12 or 15 cranks to get it up to enough torque to handle a three- or four-minute 33-1/3 rpm disk.

Years later, when Sis was no longer a bobbysoxer, and I was a pre-teen becoming enamored of pop music, I recall cranking the turntable myself and listening to some of the records from Sis’s collection.

The machine had two speeds: 78 rpm and 33-1/3 rpm. The slower speed was for playing larger vinyl discs that were called “long-playing,” and one could listen to an entire collection of pieces on a single disc with a good cranking. In fact, I became so adept with the machine that I could crank it even while a record was spinning and the needle was doing its job in the groove.

But here’s the rub: I didn’t quite understand that large did not necessarily mean slow and that many records were larger but still designed to be played at 78 rpm, records such as those contained in my sister’s boxed collection of Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite.

The discs were larger, so when I played them, I set the rotation control, not at 78 rpm but 33-1/3. Thus, I spent several afternoons listening to the Waltz of the Flowers and other wonderful pieces of Tchaikovsky’s suite running at less than half-speed!

I seem to recall it took me two or three days of determined listening before I figured out why the “classical” music dragged. When I listened to it at the proper speed, I became enchanted and began to understand what my seventh- and eighth-grade teachers were trying to get across to us during “music appreciation” classes.

Incidentally, I seemed to know at that point that whether I waltzed slowly or fast on the turntable of life, I still could attend to the Master’s voice.

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