08/27/2012 11:26 am ET Updated Oct 27, 2012

A Small Gathering of Friends

This post originally appeared on WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

Time was, when a group of friends would get together, they'd fire up the reel to reel recorder and spend a few minutes recording the visit for posterity. Sometimes it might be conversation, sometimes it might be skits, sometimes it might be music. For me, finding such recordings on a secondhand reels of tape is like successfully panning for gold must be for a prospector. There is something special about hearing people enjoying each others company, and listening to the full throated, untrained but enthusiastic singing that rises up on such occasions. Today, two significantly different groups of people, recorded (mostly likely) not so many years apart from each other, enjoying fellowship and singing around the piano.

In the first tape, features a group of perhaps a half-dozen young adults. I believe this tape was in the same batch of tapes from which I excerpted the off-color fairy tales two months ago, and two of the voices here sound to me like the same people who were on that tape. Don't be put off by the fairly out-of-tune rendition of "Row Row Row Your Boat" that leads off this segment -- it gets more interesting, as they spend about 15 minutes going through a surprisingly wide variety of music. Throughout the eight or so songs, there is a great, infectious energy and a strong feeling of friendship.

My favorite point is probably when they veer from the traditional hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty" directly into Tom Lehrer's wonderfully macabre "I Hold Your Hand in Mind." Another highlight is a version of "Jamaica Farewell" which manages to feature moments both of lovely harmony at some points and of seemingly tone-deaf singing at others. Then there's the moment that everyone in the group repeats an off color phrase, moments before launching into yet another hymn ("For the Beauty of the Earth"). If you stick around until the end, you'll hear a switch from piano to some nice acoustic guitar playing and a spirited rendition of "Bill Bailey."

Unknown Group of Friends -- Hymns and Folk Songs (MP3)

The second recording features another group of friends, older than the first group, and made up of three couples, I believe, named (if I've heard things right) The Beaumonts, the Curtises and the Cohens, and a seventh person named Clara (another couple is mentioned later, but they do not seem to be heard on the recording). The recording here lasts about 10 minutes. After the host couple engage in a bit of banter about recording their friends, and some giving of thanks, the other couples arrive, and more bantering for the microphone ensues.

A brief, sweet rendition of "Always" is followed by some joking comments about the performance, then a longer version of a song I don't recognize, and more jolly comments.

The remainder of the tape, as you'll hear, is poorly recorded, and I have cut out a lengthy solo version of the song "Some Enchanted Evening," sung by one of the women, due to it being particularly badly recorded. This rendition is referenced in the closing two minutes of the tape, in which various people present make some closing comments and thank their hosts for a nice evening.

The Beaumonts, The Curtises, and the Cohens -- Conversation and Songs (MP3)