The Words Fit the Music, or Not

Do not fear. This post begins with a little poetry, but it soon veers off in a different direction.

[I don’t know what happened to the double-spacing between paragraphs. It’s there in the draft, but then some of it vanished. I hope this isn’t difficult to read.]

Because Emily Dickinson wrote many of her poems using the ballad stanza, they can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” You might like to try it yourself.

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry. . . . 

or

He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality. . . .
Some of Dickinson’s poems don’t sound quite right sung to that tune, but it can be done.
Sometimes it works the other way. Lyricists—or somebody—take a well-known melody and write their own words. For example, there’s John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” No matter who plays it, I hear Mitch Miller’s version:
Be kind to your web-footed friends,
For a duck may be somebody’s mother,
Be kind to your friends in the swamp
Where the weather is very, very damp,
You may think that this is the end.
Well, it is!
Another tune that lends itself to parody was originally known as “John Brown’s Body,” but is now famous as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Here’s the hymn performed by the United States Army Field Band.
Please excuse me, but I always cry when I hear it. You might do so as well, so we’ll take a few moments out for that.
But rest assured—the remainder of this post will prompt no tears at all.
Children have for decades sung their own lyrics to the “Battle Hymn.”
“Glory, glory hallelujah
teacher hit me with a ruler
I bopped her on the bean
with a rotten tangerine
and she ain’t gonna teach no more.”
The lyrics get worse, so that’s as far we’ll go with that one.
Often, lyrics are written as mnemonics. When I was in paralegal school, I set a portion of the Texas Probate Code to the tune of “The Battle Hymn” to help me remember content for an exam. It’s called “John Brown’s Intestacy” and explains what happens to the property of a person who dies without leaving a will.
I’m proud of it because, in 2003, when I wrote it, it was accurate,* and composing it was a mammoth task.
If you’ve read it, you probably won’t read it again. If you haven’t, it might prove interesting. There’s a story, not just facts. You may sing it if you want.
Melvil Dewey. Author unknown. Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Before paralegal school, when I was a librarian, I wrote a “Battle Hymn” explaining the Dewey Decimal System of Classification. The idea was to teach children the Dewey decades by having them learn the song. Unfortunately, it turned out, like the system, long and complex. Elementary students couldn’t have learned it in the twenty minutes a week I had with them, and no self-respecting high school student would have touched it.

In addition, I got stuck, couldn’t finish two of the verses, and stopped. I thought it was lost, but today, twenty-five years later, I found it in a box of old papers.
It isn’t perfect. I consider it a work in progress.
But it’s accurate.
Dewey Marches On 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Melvil Dewey plan.
He hath numbered all the classes so that we can understand
How to find those books and shelve those books, both squeaky clean and banned.
Our Dewey numbers on!

REFRAIN:
Glory, glory Melvil Dewey!
His Decimal System is so true. We
Now sing the praise that he is due-ey.
Our Dewey numbers on!

Generalia is a class designed to hold a lot of kinds
Of subjects like computers, magazines, and quotes. We find
It’s zero-zero-zero up through zero-ninety-nine.
Our Dewey numbers on!

100’s for philosophy, beliefs of humankind,
And also for psychology, the workings of the mind,
And ghosts and magic, ESP, and dreams that are divined.
Our Dewey numbers on!

200’s for religion—Bible stories, the Koran,
The Talmud—all the sacred book explaining God to man;
Mythology from Greece and Rome and many other lands.
Our Dewey numbers on!

300 is for social science, things that people do
To live together, like make laws, build schools, have manners, too.
Folk stories are a special treat—398.2.
Our Dewey numbers on!

Dewey spine labels. CC BY-SA-3.0. Via Wikipedia.

400 is for language—English, Spanish, German, Greek.
The dictionary tells us meanings of the words we seek,
The alphabet and languages we sign as well as speak.
Our Dewey numbers on!

Natural science is 500, mathematics is a start,
The solar system, heat and light, and weather are a part,
Wild animals and vegetables and minerals we sort.
Our Dewey numbers on!

600’s for technology—what we use science for,
Space travel and inventions, farming, cooking are just four,
And doctors for both folks and pets, and building things and more.
Our Dewey numbers on!

With arts and recreation, 700’s just for fun!
It’s sports and games and making crafts and paintings that we’ve done.
Photography and music make this class a number one!
Our Dewey numbers on!

800 is for literature, the books we love to read,
There’re plays and poems—Where the Sidewalk Ends and Hamlet’s deed,
And even jokes and riddles—almost more than we will need.
Our Dewey numbers on!

900 holds our history, the years that came before.
Geography tells where we are and where we might explore.
Remember that the Alamo’s 976.4!
Our Dewey numbers on!

To Dewey add some letters and our system is complete.
REF for Reference, F for fiction, B’s Biography.
And E for Easy/Everybody’s picture books so neat.
Our Dewey numbers on!

REFRAIN:
Glory, glory Melvil Dewey!
His Decimal System is so true. We
Now sing the praise that he is due-ey.
Our Dewey numbers on!

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DISCLAIMER CONCERNING THE PROBATE CODE:

*The substance of the Texas Probate Code was codified in the Estates Code by the 81st and 82nd Legislatures, and for that reason, the Texas Legislative Council is not publishing it. If you would like more information, please contact the Texas Legislative Council.

In other words, “John Brown’s Intestacy” is no longer accurate. And the author is not attempting to practice law without a license.

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Image of rose by JacLou DL from Pixabay

For Valentine’s Day: John Anderson, My Jo

John Anderson, My Jo

Robert Burns

Song and glossary follow

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fb/PG_1063Burns_Naysmithcrop.jpg
Portrait of Robert Burns, by Alexander Naysmith, 1787. Via Wikipedia. Public domain.

John Anderson, my jo, John
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We’ve had wi’ ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we’ll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

 

 

Sung by Christy-Lyn

 

***

Meanings of most of the words from Scottish dialect are obvious, but here’s a glossary just in case.

jo-sweetheart
acquent-acquainted
bonny-beautiful
brent-polished new
beld-bald
snaw-snow
pow-head
thegither-together
cantie-great
one anither- together
maun totter down-must climb down

“All in the April Evening”

Last year on Good Friday, I posted “All in the April Evening,” words and music by Sir Hugh Roberton, based on a poem by Katharine Tynan. I’d forgotten about it until a few minutes ago, when I looked at my stats page and saw the post has been viewed three times today.

Good Friday is past, but it’s never too late for music, so here it is again.

Roberton modified the words slightly; his version is the one I use. A link to the poem is here.

Links to performances and biographies of the composers follow.

Years ago my voice teacher introduced me to the song. Now I can’t sing it, because I can’t even hear it without tears.

***

All in the April evening
April airs were abroad
The sheep with their little lambs
Passed me by on the road
The sheep with their little lambs
Passed me by on the road
All in the April evening
I thought on the lamb of god

The lambs were weary and crying
With a weak human cry
I thought on the lamb of god
Going meekly to die
Up in the blue blue mountains
Dewy pastures are sweet
Rest for the little bodies
Rest for the little feet

But for the lamb, the Lamb of god
Up on the hilltop green
Only a cross, a cross of shame
Two stark crosses between

All in the April evening
April airs were abroad
I saw the sheep with the lambs
And thought on the Lamb of God

***

All in the April Evening
Sung by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir
Directed by Sir Hugh Roberton

 *

All in the April Evening”
Instrumental performed by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band

***

–from Wikipedia

Sir Hugh Stevenson Roberton (23 February 1874 – 7 October 1952) was a Scottish composer and Britain’s leading choral-master.

“Roberton was born in Glasgow, where, in 1906, he founded the Glasgow Orpheus Choir. For five years before that it was the Toynbee Musical Association. A perfectionist, he expected the highest standards of performance from its members. Its voice was a choir voice, its individual voices not tolerated. He set new standards in choral technique and interpretation. For almost fifty years until it disbanded in 1951, on the retirement of its founder, the Glasgow Orpheus Choir had no equal in Britain and toured widely enjoying world acclaim. Their repertoire included many Scottish folk songs arranged for choral performance, and Paraphrases, as well as Italian madrigals, English motets and the music of the Russian Orthodox Church. The choir also performed the works of Bach, Handel, Felix Mendelssohn, Peter Cornelius, Brahms and others.

“He wrote the choral work (words by Katharine Tynan) All in the April Evening, and the popular songs Westering Home and Mairi’s Wedding.

“He was a pacifist and member of the Peace Pledge Union. For this reason both he and the Glasgow Orpheus Choir were banned by the BBC from broadcasting during the Second World War.”

*

–from Wikipedia

Katharine Tynan (23 January 1859 – 2 April 1931) was an Irish writer, known mainly for her novels and poetry.

“Tynan was born into a large farming family in Clondalkin, County Dublin, and educated at St. Catherine’s, a convent school in Drogheda. Her poetry was first published in 1878. She met and became friendly with the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1886. Tynan went on to play a major part in Dublin literary circles, until she married and moved to England; later she lived at Claremorris, County Mayo when her husband was a magistrate there from 1914 until 1919.

“For a while, Tynan was a close associate of William Butler Yeats (who may have proposed marriage and been rejected, around 1885), and later a correspondent of Francis Ledwidge. She is said to have written over 100 novels. Her Collected Poems appeared in 1930; she also wrote five autobiographical volumes.

Superscripts have been deleted from the Wikipedia articles.

***

Fentress United Methodist Church (Fentress Community Church)
Fentress Presbyterian Church

We Don’t Want the Bacon! What We Want Is…

Last night I did one thing I too often do and one thing I never do.

The too often: I stayed up late. Very late.

The never: I went to bed hooked up through earbuds and a Kindle to the album “Presenting That Celebrated Maestro MAX MORATH in a Scintillating Program of Waltzes, Shouts, Novelties, Rags, Blues, Ballads, and Stomps.”

And because the music is so much fun, I lay there listening, replaying, listening, replaying… I don’t know how many times I listened to it. I also don’t know what time I finally went to sleep.

Ragtime is my favorite music–piano only, no interference from lesser instruments. Morath is my favorite ragtime pianist. There’s something about his touch… I can’t describe it, but it’s right.

I discovered him years ago in a program on PBS. Then I bought the LP. Recently I repurchased it for Kindle. (Or Fire, or whatever this beast is supposed to be called.)

Tonight, googling for a link to the album, I came across a 1986 New York Times review of Morath’s one-man show, “Living a Ragtime Life.” Serendipity. I didn’t know there’d been a show. Or that Morath is a musicologist.

Or also, according to Wikipedia, a composer, actor, and author. Or known as”Mr. Ragtime.” Or called a “one-man ragtime army.”

I hadn’t planned to say this much about Max Morath, but he’s worth some words, so I’ll quote part of the Times review (which you may skip if you wish):

”IT’S our music that labels our history, more than our wars and our politicians,” asserts Max Morath early in his one-man show, ”Living a Ragtime Life.” Seated at a grand piano under a Tiffany lamp, and flanked by an Edison phonograph, the musicologist, storyteller and expert in turn-of-the-century Americana seems the very epitome of an old-time vaudevillian. But in reflecting with a sly ironic humor on our longing for ”the good old days,” Mr. Morath is much more than a devoted nostalgist. He is a philosopher of American popular culture with Mark Twain’s gift of gab and farsighted historical view. The picture he paints of the 1890’s, ”when sex was dirty and the air was clean,” is of a world that we might want to visit, but, he convincingly persuades us, we almost certainly wouldn’t want to live there. 

But back to what I was listening to over and over last night and why.

First the why: As I’ve already said, it was fun.

The what: Music from the turn of the century–that other century–through World War I. Some pretty bad songs. Some pretty silly ones. Some pretty good ones, usually because they were pretty bad or pretty silly.

Such as the one said to be General Pershing’s favorite song: “We Don’t Want the Bacon: What We Want Is a Piece of the Rhine.”

We_don't_want_the_bacon
By Unknown – http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/explore/library/online-catalog/view/oclc/17842776, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47170152

Chorus:
We don’t want the bacon
We don’t want the bacon,
What we want is a piece of the Rhine.
We’ll feed “Bill the Kaiser” with our Allied appetizer.
We’ll have a wonderful time.
Old Wilhelm Der Gross will shout, “Vas is Los?”
The Hindenburg line will sure look like a dime;
We don’t want the bacon
We don’t want the bacon,
What we want is a piece of the Rhine.

 

 

 

 

And a cautionary song: “Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl.”

CHORUS 1: “You are going far away, but remember what I say
When you are in the city’s giddy whirl.
From temptations, crimes, and follies,
Villains, taxicabs and trolleys,
Oh! Heaven will protect a working girl.”

CHORUS 2: “Stand back, villain! Go your way! Here I will no longer stay,
Although you were a marquis or an earl.
You may tempt the upper classes
With your villainous demitasses,
But Heaven will protect a working girl.”

And a song the sheet music of which Max Morath’s fourteen-year-old mother was not allowed to bring home: “Always Take a Girl Named Daisy.”

If you take a girl out walking
Down a little shady dell
Always take a girl named Daisy
‘Cause daisies won’t tell

The lyrics quoted here are just excerpts of the songs, and are just a sample of Morath’s presentation.

So there’s my idea of fun, the pastime that kept me awake when decent folk were sound asleep. It’s not for everybody, I realize–though, of course, it should be.

Says Morath,  “Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever-evolving American popular music.”

If ragtime and its offshoots strike your fancy, the album cited at the beginning of this post and “Living a Ragtime Life” are available from Amazon (and other vendors no doubt).

And the program “Max Morath: Living a Ragtime Life!” that I watched on PBS many years ago now appears in seven parts on Youtube.

A pilon:

CHORUS:
I’ve got a ragtime dog, and a ragtime cat;
A ragtime piano in my ragtime flat;

Got ragtime troubles with my ragtime wife:
I’m certainly living a ragtime life.

Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah

By popular request, here’s a link to Leonard Cohen singing “Hallelujah.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q

English: Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this all right, Kaye?

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Image by Rama (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

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