Everyone, Please Rise

Editor's Log

Polkadate July 2019. To quote John Adams: The second of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha [time period] in the history of America. This was the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress. Two days later [4th], it was approved by Congress and then edited for two more weeks and re-signed on August 2, 1776. This version is generally accepted as the “original” Declaration. To assist in keeping the general idea of a separate country from England a good idea, many patriotic songs have been written [it was not universally thought to be a good idea by many colonists]. The following is a summary of songs that will be heard in July.

First of all, a song is generally thought of as an original melody and original words wedded into a likeable sound. With many songs the melody is not original but taken from another source with new words added and perhaps a tweak to the melody’s rhythm. At times the melody is borrowed unintentionally.

THE LIBERTY SONG

American independence did not happen overnight. For years, feeling of resentment towards British rule had been brewing in the taverns of New England. Historians regard The Liberty Song, written by John Dickenson in 1768 as the first patriotic song. Dickenson was a Congressional leader of the independence movement. He used the melody of the anthem of the British Royal Navy and penned the words describing the feelings of many Americans. It is best known as using the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” in the lyrics. The lyric structure is very similar to a Scottish song about emigrating to the new world.

YANKEE DOODLE

Every school child in America, and many around the world, have sung Yankee Doodle. It's fun to sing with many nonsensical words to the modern world. The song’s origin dates back to the 1600s in England. One of the many divisions of the population was the royalty and the Puritans. The royalty dressed extravagantly with long ringlet wigs. The Puritans were serious, no nonsense Christians. The English upper crust sang an old song called Nancy Dawson to make fun of the Puritans' sparse lifestyle.

Through regional accents and biases it transformed into Nankey Doodle. The partial lyrics were Nankey Doodle came to town, Riding on a pony, Stuck a feather in his hat upon a macaroni. A Nankey was a derisive term for a simpleton, so was Doodle, doubling up the slam on the Puritans. A macaroni was the term used to describe the knot of fabric in a hat that fashion-oriented dandies would stick feathers in to flamboyantly decorate themselves.

The Puritans departed for the New World (Mayfl ower), but the song would follow them and haunt their descendants a century later. During the French and Indian War in the 1750s (the French and Indians were fighting the British and colonists) (one of the writer’s family was a Scot on the Indian side).

The British soldiers prided themselves on their spit-shined boots and bright red uniforms as they tramped through the New England swamps. The colonists who joined the British in the fight for the territory were a ragtag, wear what you can find attired army. (George Washington commanded a Virginia regiment.) The British derided their comrades by resurrecting the song Yankee Doodle to make fun of the conventionality and poverty of the colonists.

Somewhere, and there are several stories, Nankey was changed to Yankee. This mockery probably converted a few of the King’s loyal colonists to revolutionaries. During the following American Revolution, the British commonly referred to the colonists as “Yankie Doodles”. The colonists soon appropriated the song for themselves and pridefully loved their common clothing.

As George Washington was receiving Lord Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, the bedraggled, no longer colonists, stared at the immaculately attired defeated British Army, (one observer commented that the British had lost, but they looked good doing it). Washington gave a signal and his men busted out singing Yankee Doodle to the British troops. The song was instantly crowned as a symbol of American triumph. It has been sung by troops and citizens in every American engagement since then. In 1944, the French children sang it as Allied troops liberated them as did Korean and Vietnam children.

I’M A YANKEE DOODLE DANDY

Sometimes confused with the original Yankee Doodle Dandy is I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy. By the early 1900s, a Yankee Doodle was used to describe a person perhaps overly-enthused about being an American (if that’s possible). Faltering playwright George Cohen read the story of an American jockey (Tod Sloan) who was the toast of Europe with his dominance in winning celebrated horse races. Cohen wrote a play with the winning jockey riding a winning horse named Yankee Doodle. The play was an success and for years the title song, I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, was sung by everyone including actor James Cagney in a movie produced to enthuse Americans and raise money during World War II.

STAR SPANGLED BANNER

The Star Spangled Banner, is probably the most accurate demonstration of American ideals set to music, or at least to a British drinking song. As the War of 1812 was not going good for America, i.e. British troops burning the White House and Capitol, a Dr. Beanes, who had taken care of both American and British soldiers during the battles on the Maryland Peninsula was taken prisoner by the British and placed in a ship in the Baltimore harbor. Francis Scott Key was a lawyer who was assigned to negotiate a release of the non-combatant, Dr. Beanes. Key’s ship, flying a diplomatic flag, negotiated a release for Beane from the British, but was not permitted to leave the British fleet as the assault on Fort McHenry and Baltimore was commencing.

The British let loose with a 25-hour bombardment by cannon and wildly inaccurate rockets on the fort protecting Baltimore. Towards the end of the bombardment, Key came on deck, expecting to be taken prisoner with the fall of the fort, and saw through his telescope “that our flag was still there.” Key, being an amateur poet and songwriter, was so relieved that he sat down and translated his feelings and visions into words and named it The Defense of Baltimore.

Upon reaching shore, he took his words to a printer and had him notate that it is a song and should be sung to the tune of To Anacreon in Heaven, a British drinking song praising a Greek songwriter, Anacreon (500 B.C.) who specialized in drinking songs. Anacreon’s melody had been used in over 60 published songs prior to this event. Key’s song was written to be sung solo in ballrooms and other upper-class gatherings and not stadiums, thus the difficult sound produced when sung by tens of thousands. America’s joy over the repulsion of the British made the song a national hit (still 13 states).

Over the decades, the title was adjusted to the chorus beginning with “the star-spangled banner” as it competed with Hail, Columbia, as a favorite national song. However, the lyrics of Banner are far more specific and emotional despite its difficulty to sing. Despite being the U.S. Navy’s anthem for awhile and President Wilson mandating it played at all military functions, it was not until 1930 that the Veterans of Foreign Wars petitioned Congress to make it the official anthem of the U.S.

A Congressional committee thought it was in too high of a key for the average American to sing it. Two “citizens” were brought in and sang it, the committee, and Congress approved it and in 1931, President Hoover signed the bill and the words following “Oh, say, can you see,” was now bonafide American.

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

Growing up in the rolling hills of Central Texas, this writer always wondered where are the purple mountains that we sang about in school. After consulting maps, there were none to be found. After a visit to the Rocky Mountains, the answer was clear, the combination of sun and shadows gave them a purplish tint. America the Beautiful was inspired by a visit to Pike’s Peak, Colorado in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates.

Ms. Bates was born in Massachusetts in 1859. A gifted child, she excelled in academics and received a master’s degree from Wellesley College. After graduation, she took a four-year journey through the United States, Europe, and North Africa. She then began her teaching job at Wellesley which she did for over four decades. She later received two doctorates in addition to other awards for her educational work with the students.

As a lover of the written word, she was the author of 32 books and a large number of articles, She was described as being well-traveled, gracious, witty, popular, and scholarly without being pretentious. For a period, she wrote children’s books, and was the first to reveal that Santa Claus was married(!) in the book Goody (Goodwife) Santa Claus on a Sleighride.

In the early 1890s, she was offered a chance to lecture at a Colorado college. Her wanderlust immediately agreed, and as she took a train ride from New England she marveled at the majesty of the Appalachians, marveled at the new technology (the zipper) at the Chicago World’s Fair, and gazed at the vast plains of Kansas before she arrived in Colorado. She was now seeing them as an adult not as the college graduate she was before.

During a break in classes in 1893, she recalled, “We strangers celebrated the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike's Peak, making the ascent by the only method then available for people not vigorous enough to achieve the climb on foot nor adventurous enough for burro-riding. Prairie wagons, their tail-boards emblazoned with the traditional slogan, "Pike's Peak or Bust," were pulled by horses up to the half-way house, where the horses were relieved by mules. We were hoping for half an hour on the summit, but two of our party became so faint in the rarified air that we were bundled into the wagons again and started on our downward plunge so speedily that our sojourn on the peak remains in memory hardly more than one ecstatic gaze. It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind.”

Geographically, Pike’s Peak, in the Rocky Mountains, rises up over a mile above a flat prairie almost instantly. From the top of Pike’s Peak the view combined with the visions of the trek across America started to percolate in her mind. Returning to her hotel room that evening, she sat down to vent her recent trip.

Being a writer, the descriptive phrases of what she experienced came easily. When finished with the first draft of what she thought of as a poem, she entitled it Pike’s Peak and it was published in a weekly newspaper issued by her college back east on July 4, 1895.

In the next several years, she polished and edited it, adding in 1904 the lines: "And crown thy good with brotherhood / From sea to shining sea”. Over the years, several existing pieces of music were adapted to the poem, most popularly Auld Lang Syne. A hymn tune composed by church organist Samuel A. Ward in 1882 was also being used, he had written the melody to accompany a 16th century hymn, O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. The melody and the lyrics worked out beautifully winning a national songwriter's contest in 1926. The song’s popularity conquered the country and Ms. Bates passed away three years later leaving Americans with a promising view of America.

TAPS

Appropriately enough the bugle call Taps will wind up this column. While not generally regarded as a song meant to inspire Americanism, it is one that is heard which reminds Americans that the price of freedom isn’t always free. The bugle has been used for centuries to communicate over distances and to be heard above the din of battle. The difference between a trumpet and a bugle is the shape of the tubing that is blown through and the bell at the end.

The 24-note melancholy bugle call known as Taps is thought to be a revision of a French bugle signal, called tattoo, that notified soldiers to cease an evening’s drinking and return to their garrisons. It was sounded an hour before the final bugle call to end the day by extinguishing fires and lights.

The word “taps” is an alteration of the obsolete word “taptoo,” derived from the Dutch “taptoe.” Taptoe was the command — “Tap toe!” — to shut (“toe to”) the “tap” of a keg at the taverns near military camps. The revision that gave us present-day Taps was made during America’s Civil War by Union Gen. Daniel Butterfield.

Up to that time, the U.S. Army’s infantry call to end the day was the same as the French final call, “L’Extinction des feux.” Gen. Butterfield decided the “lights out” music was too formal to signal the day’s end (this writer finds it boring).

One day in July 1862 the general recalled the older tattoo music and hummed a version of it to an aide, who wrote it down in music form. Butterfield then asked the brigade bugler, Oliver W. Norton, to play the notes and, after listening, lengthened and shortened them while keeping the original melody. He ordered Norton to play this new call at the end of each day thereafter, instead of the regulation evening call. The music was heard and appreciated by other brigades, who asked for copies and many regiments soon adopted this bugle call.

The close proximity of Confederate encampments meant that it was heard and began being used by both sides. The adaption to the funeral service is generally thought that a heroic soldier was killed in action and his body buried where he fell, but permission was not given to fire a salute with rifles. Taps was substituted and it became a custom to perform this at all military funerals. Taps was played at the burial of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson in 1863. This music was made the official Army bugle call after the war, but not given the proper name until later.

At a recent salute to veterans on Memorial Day held in Schulenburg by the American Legion Post, the ceremony culminated with a 21-gun salute and a two-horn version of taps by Johnny Barton and Dennis Olsovsky, which was the most moving of the many renditions of Taps this writer has heard.

You may be seated now.

Texas Polka News

5715 Spanish Oak Drive
Houston, TX 77066
281-836-5362