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Recordings Offer Acoustic Novels Of American Families

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Recordings Offer Acoustic Novels Of American Families

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Recordings Offer Acoustic Novels Of American Families

Recordings Offer Acoustic Novels Of American Families

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One of Phil Nohl's recordings
One of Phil Nohl's recordings

My interest in home recordings started in 1999 when I bought a bunch of records at an estate sale.

I didn't know what they were, but I was attracted to the odd-looking labels: Duodisc. Turns out they were amateur recordings made in the 1940s by a family from a small town in Pennsylvania.

I got home and dropped one on my old record player. Many of the discs featured a 15-year-old boy. Others had members of the boy's family singing or playing the piano.

I listened to these records and made a visceral connection. Here was a family, like mine, who loved singing and playing instruments for the sheer joy of making music. Just an average American family, not overly concerned if they sang out-of-tune or hit the wrong chords. These were my people.

Phil Nohl says the records are an essential piece of history. hide caption

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Phil Nohl says the records are an essential piece of history.

So I started buying home recordings everywhere I could: estate sales, flea markets and even online.

Now, 10 years later, I have about 4,000 discs, and I've listened into the private lives of people from the 1930s to the 1950s.

It's an odd feeling being privy to the personal soundtrack of other families — people who may still be around or not. One thing I discovered that many families have in common is that their first recording usually starts with a test.

Of course, few people had the advantage of a store representative coming to their home. Most folks were on their own, trying to figure out sound levels, making sure everything was working as it should, and more importantly, how to behave in front of an open microphone.

Hear Recordings

'Everywhere'

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'Danny Boy'

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'Making Eyes'

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Once people got comfortable with making their own recordings, their true voices and talents were captured.

After the good kiddies went to bed, out came an ingredient to add another touch to home recordings: Alcohol.

I'm a voracious reader of these acoustic novels of American families from the 1930s, '40s and '50s.

I put one record on after another and never get bored. These are one-of-a-kind stories. The best part is that I have to do a lot of the work filling in the details because not all records are labeled.

Each record is one-of-a-kind, a treasure, and an essential piece of American history, and I plan to keep looking for more.

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