Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Words & Music

For the past couple of years, as Mom's short-term memory has slowly eroded, I've found that she really enjoys having me read poetry from her past. Often she will recite bits and pieces along with me; she is definitely of those generations that were required to memorize all manner of verse and oratory, as well. R.L. Stevenson ...Whittier... Longfellow ... Riley ... Wordsworth ... Burns ... Scott, among others.

When I was younger, hipper and much, much more contemporary in my outlook, I sniffed at those same classic writings (called "the canon" by one patronizing academic a Google search produced.) Now in my wiser or at least more experienced years, I realize just how being able to recite the same words bound old and young together across the generations. Today youngsters exercise their memorization muscle only to grab maybe 10 years worth of pop culture fluff (or agony), with no ties to a past shared with their parents, grandparents and possibly their own older or younger siblings, and certainly not their own children who will follow them. Too bad.

Which brings me to the song books pictured here, found among my LH's large sheet music collection. I recall the Golden Book from junior high school music classes. Checking copyright notices (earliest, 1915), it would appear to have served at least two, if not three generations of school kids with songs from the 1850s to the early 1900s -- again forming a bridge across the years. Hymns, noels, spirituals, patriotic and Civil War songs, rounds, plus sentimental ballads and a handful of marches and college anthems. I wish we'd had the more recent (1935) Silver Book, which included folk songs from around the world in addition to the standards. Collected, even before the Smithsonian got into the folk act back in the late 30s. Of course, I was looking for songs -- or their words -- that Mom might remember.

Here is the back of the third volume above, a product of 1927. Apparently The Cable Company, which made pianos, also operated a publishing division. And, if you were scratching your head about my combination of poetry and song, be aware that this division also published One Hundred and One Famous Poems: all the verse you love the most. Your old favorites: Browning, Wordsworth, Robert Burns, with the best work of the outstanding modern poets: Kipling, Sandburg, Millay and Masters. BTW, all these song books were published in Chicago, which, prior to WWII, boasted a lively book, music and magazine publishing industry.

The Google, of course, is a wondrous source of poetry. Recall a line or two? Move over, Mr. Bartlett. Just pop the words into the search slot and you'll have the complete work faster than Bob's your uncle. Besides, where but on the Internet would you find a list of Top 500 Poems, on which William Ernest Henley's solemn Invictus (#53) is followed immediately by Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face, by Jack Prelutsky (#53).

11 comments:

worldphotos4 said...

You have an interesting collection. I'm sure there is much more. Perhaps a post for another day.

Anonymous said...

The song book I have is fairlky contemporary, it being the IOCA (Intercollegiate Outing Club Assn) 'Song Fest" originally published in 1948, updated and recast as 'The New Song Fest' in 1964. In the preface, some of the songs that couldn't be included were McNamara's Band, The whiffenpoof Song, Casey Jones, the Prisoners Song and the Road to Mandalay--bugger the copyrighters.

Hermano

Melanie A. said...

I've done volunteer work for a sheet music library here in Oakland's Paramount Theatre. It's fascinating to discover how much music people used to play themselves-- apparently even the advent of radio didn't harm the music publishing industry. I think television must have.

It is dismaying to realize many of us share only commercial jingles or catchphrases from blockbuster movies as shared cultural memories. It is heartening to find out that poetry endures, even through memory loss.

Granny J said...

steve -- actually, most of the sheet music is either JS Bach or lesser Baroque composers. LH was an excellent pianist...

Bro -- Ah yes, ASCAP! (Amer. Soc. of Composers, Authors & Publishers, I believe -- anyhow, the old music combine) Recall the ASCAP strike? What I hadn't realized at the time was that the year or so when no copyright pop music could be played on the radio gave birth to bop, with the performers weaving their way around tunes. That was also the year that all new songs you heard on the radio used music from the classical repertoire -- primarily Tchaikovsky.

Granny J said...

melanie -- my father's mother and her kids (all 4) had a family orchestra, she being the violinist...her father had got into trouble with the Methodist church authorities for playing the fiddle up on the roof of his house! Up through the 30s, any proper young lady took piano lessons as a matter of course. As for those shared commercial jingles -- they, alas, will go the way of the old Burma-Shave signs (which, quite frankly, were better than many jingles.)

sheoflittlebrain said...

Interesting post GJ. It's great that you and your Mom can meet in that place that is old and familiar to her:) My Mom at 94 still recites the Raven begining to end as well as bits and pieces of many more poems. She still memorizes things that catch her fancy.

I think people did a lot of singing for their own entertainment in days gone by. It was a pleasurable way, before the tube, to pass the time.

Granny J said...

brain -- The Raven? My favorite bird, BTW! Probably it was the invention of the Victrola that started our descent onto today's overstuffed couch.

Jan said...

granny j..I have been wondering about your dear mother.

Interestingly, even when my mom couldn't carry on a conversation, she could sing along if I sang an old hymn.

I really like this post..I have several books from the 1800s with poetry, and fairy tales, and one with music. I wouldn't part with any of them.

Granny J said...

jan -- those sound like lovely books. I recall that in earlier times, the magazines for ladies usually included at least one music score.

Lane said...

Niece from Memphis here...remember now...your mom (my grandma) made it VERY clear to me upon my singing from those two books, that those songs were from HER FATHER'S time...(I'm assuming as opposed to the more modern times of her 104 years)

Granny J said...

Lane -- Ha! You've just confirmed my multi-generational use comment about the good old Golden Book. Yep, everything in there except my Grandma G's 3 Little Girls From Blue Land and, of course, Pop's Johnny Verbeck, which I'm told was my favorite lullaby when I was a wee one.

 
Photo Blog Blog Top Sites Blog Directory for Prescott, AZ

Local Blogs - Blog Top Sites