Music of the night: the haunting saxophone and laughter on the streets

There is no sound as sweet as the mellow tone of a saxophone drifting across the chilly air, playing the music of ballroom dancing. When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s, every winter was the ball season. Every Saturday night a ball was held and I often sat on our front veranda watching people walking past. In the wartime, petrol was rationed so it was the custom to walk everywhere. Girls and young men walked past our house going to the local dance hall, the girls wearing evening dresses of tulle, taffeta, organdie or brocade. They wore silver shoes and their high heels tap-tapped on the pavement.

These groups were never silent. People chattered as they walked and I listened until the voices faded when they turned the corner.

Suburban and town streets are surprisingly quiet at night these days. It could be something to do with danger, or the fact that most people no longer walk, but drive at night. Perhaps television has something to do with the silence. People don’t have to go out at night to find company and entertainment.

In the 40s and 50s, the nights were filled with activity and sounds. As a child I often lay in bed hearing what I thought of as walking laughter. Sounds of chatter and giggling could be heard at the end of the lane beside our house. The sounds grew louder as the chatterers passed my window then grew softer and faded away. The voices were those of young people on their way somewhere, or perhaps just walking around. This was possible because, with a lot of people out and about, the streets were relatively safe.

In one country town where we lived, bicycle races were held every Saturday night in the summer. Music was played over a microphone and could be heard all over town. The same two songs were played over and over again but when the races started there was no more music; we heard the commentary as each race was described. The loudspeaker music was like a magnet, drawing excited, loyal fans to the race track.

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At the end of the night of races, the crowds walked home and we heard the excited conversation as people relived the night’s events.

Our town park had a bandstand which really was used. Every Sunday night in the summer the town band played as crowds sat on the grass to enjoy the music. After a day when the temperature had soared, it was refreshing to be out in the cool evening, perhaps meeting friends, and listening to the stirring music of the brass band.

Those nights so long ago were filled with gentle sounds and there is nothing to compare with the mellow, haunting saxophone with its enticing, old-time rhythm.


What do you remember about sounds and music from when you were growing up? Did you have similar fond memories? Tell us below.