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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. The melodies and verses presented here are from diverse regions, from varied human characters and communities, and each is sung differently in different places. The song history of America, when some day it gets written, will accomplish two things. It will give the feel and atmosphere, the layout and lingo, of regions, of breeds of men, of customs and slogans, in a manner and air not given in regular history, to be read and not sung.
And besides, such a history would require that the student sing his way through most of the chapters. If and when such history is written it will help some on the point registered by a Yankee phi- losopher that there are persons born and reared in this country who culturally have not yet come over from Europe. The chronicle would include that quaint commentary from the Rio Grande, “In Mexico nobody knows how to sing and everybody sings!
For instance, musical Chicago a few years ago looked with keen interest on a lawsuit. Two composers were each claiming to be the first and only music writer to score the Livery Stable Blues. On the witness stand the plaintiff testified that one evening, songhag before jazz had become either a vogue or an epidemic, his orchestra was playing in a cabaret, “and a lady dancer started doing some fancy steps, and I picks up a cornet and lets go a few pony neighs at her.
The trombone come through with a few sontbag laughs. TUen the banjos, cowbells, and sax puts in a lot of ‘terplitations of their own. And that was the first time the Livery Stable Blues was played. The origin of jazz is still in sonbbag fog of wordy disputation.
American Song Bag
The years to come will see plenty of argument on other moot matters. There is presented herein a collection of songs, ballads, ditties, wongbag together from all regions of America. The music includes not merely airs and melodies, but complete harmoniza- tions or piano accompaniments. It is an All-American affair, marshaling the genius of thousands of original singing Americans.
The book begins with a series of Dramas and Portraits, rich with the human diversity of the United States. There are Tarnished Love Tales Told in Song, or Colonial and Revolutionary Antiques; some of them have the feel of black walnut, of knickerbockers, silver shoe-buckles, and the earliest colonial civilization. Out of the section of Pioneer Memories, one may sing with the human waves that swept across the Alleghanies and settled the Middle West, later taking the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the amerifan coast.
That notable distinctive American institu- tion, the black-face minstrel, stands forth in xmerican separate section. There are groups of railroad, hobo, work-gang, steamboat songs. Seven Mexican border songs give the breath of the people above and below the Rio Grande. Tunes and verses are given from the camps of lumberjacks, loggers, and shanty-boys. One section contains ballads chiefly from the southern mountains. One called Kentucky Blazing Star has the largest assemblage of interesting Kentucky ballads and songs that has been put between the covers of any book.
A little series of exquisite musical fragments, light as gossamer mist, are grouped under the title, Lovely People. The book closes with a list of spirituals called The Road to Heaven.
Probably pieces, strictly folk songs, have never been published; they have been gathered by the compiler and his friends from coast to coast and from the Gulf to Canada. It is for the library, but it belongs ammerican the music corner of the library, or on amwrican piano, or on the back porch, or at the summer cottage, or at the camp, or wherever people sing songs and want new songs to sing.
There is a human stir throughout the book with the heights and depths to be found in Shake- speare. A wide human procession marches through these pages. The rich and the poor; robbers, murderers, hangmen; fathers and wild boys; mothers with soft words for their babies; workmen on railroads, steamboats, ships; wanderers and lovers of homes, tell what life has done to them. Love and hate in many patterns and designs, heart cries of high and low pitch, are in these verses and tunes.
There are low-keyed lyrics, brief as the life of a rose; there are biographies of voyagers that epitomize long novels and thick log-books.
Songs from ‘The American Songbag’ by Carl Sandburg
This is precisely the sort of material out of which there may come the great native American grand opera. Look at its program. Its human turmoil is terrific. Blas- phemies from low life and blessings from high life for baritone or soprano are brought amerixan.
Puppets wriggle from their yesterdays and testify. Curses, prayers, jigs and jokes, mix here out of the blue mist of the past. It is a volume full of gargoyles and gnomes, a terribly tragic book akerican one grinnirigly comic; each page lifts its own mask. It is as ancient as the medieval European ballads brought to the Appalachian Mountains; it is as modern as skyscrapers, the Volstead Act, and the latest oil-well gusher.
Though meant to be somgbag, it can be read and is a glorious anthology of the songs that men have sung in the making of America. History, we may repeat, runs through this book.
Yet it is first of all, we say again, a song- book to be sung rather than read. Music and the human voice command this parade of melodies and lyrics. They speak, murmur, cry, yell, laugh, pray; they take roles; they play parts; in topics, scenes, and “props” they range into anthropology, houses, machines, ships, railroad trains, churches, saloons, picnics, hayrack and steamboat parties, and human strugglers chanting farewell to the frail frameworks of earthly glory.
There is patter and jabber of vulgarity, there are falsetto mockers and groaning blasphemies, there is moaning of prayers and tumult and shouting of faiths. Honest workingmen and hardened criminals sing their lives; beloved vagabonds and miserable miscreants are here; pretty babies and tired mothers, bad boys and anxious fathers, people who are fat, rollicking and gay along with restless and desperate men and women; they stand forth here and in bright ballads or songba melodies tell what life has done to them.
The American Songbag comes from the hearts and voices of thousands of men and women. They made new songs, they changed old songs, they carried songs from place to place, they resur- rected and kept alive dying and forgotten songs. Ballad singers of centuries ago and mule-skinners alive and singing today helped make this book. Pioneers, pick and shovel men, teamsters, mountaineers, and people often called ignorant have their hands and voices in this book, along with minstrels, sophisticates, and trained musicians.
People of lonesome hills and valleys are joined with “the city slicker,” in the panorama of its pages. The American scene and pageant envisioned by one American singer and touched off in one of his passages is measurably vocal here.
A minor portion of them are enduring poems of lyric or narrative value; they are. Yet even with such poems there is an added lighting or tincture given them if the air is hummed or the americcan sung to an accompaniment. A few of the ballads and ditties are too long to be sung, from the first to the last verse, more than once a year.
Only by singing, however, will some of the airs and verses open up their best slants and glimpses. We quote an able singer’s comment, “Many a modern song the interpreter looks at with a shudder. Riddled with expression marks and even breathing marks, hedged in with arbitrary directions, radiating polyglot colloquialisms, it looks like a barbed-wire entanglement.
Singer and accompanist smile at one another, study the song as a whole, sogbag sing it their own way. Some tell of lovable eyes and hearts, others tell of crimes learned of in grand opera or read about in daily newspapers or in the classics of liter- ature.
They deal with a panorama of events and people, substance and shadow, americaan and fleshpots, as well as filaments of sunset mist.
Often a song is a role. The singer acts a part. Characters or atmosphere are to be delivered. No two artists deliver a role in the same way. Yet all good artists study a song and live with it before performing it. There is something authentic about any person’s way of giving a song which has been known, lived with and loved, for many years, by the singer. Perhaps I should explain that for a number of years I have gone hither and yon over the United States meeting audiences to whom I talked about poetry and art, read my verses, and closed a program with a half- or quarter-hour of songs, giving verbal footnotes with each song.
These itineraries have included now about two-thirds of ameridan state universities of the country, audiences ranging songbaag 3, people at the University of California to 30 at the Garret Club in Buffalo, New York, and organizations us diverse as the Poetry Society of South Carolina and the Knife and Fork Club of South Bend, Indiana. The songs I gave often reminded listeners of songs of a kindred character they knew entirely or in fragments; or they would refer me to persons who had similar ballads or ditties.
In the arranging of a song I would usually sing it for the composer and bring out my note- book sketch, a rough affair rapidly penciled and as a document looking rather like a “shivaree” than a quiet wedding.
The composer songvag I usually collaborated on the main design or outline of the harmonization or accompaniment. From then on sngbag work was entirely that of the composer, except in a number of instances when I suggested a different mood, atmosphere or rhythm to meet the requirements of the song as I had customarily heard it. Zongbag words “arranger” abbreviated as Arr.
The slngbag setting of a song is occasionally an elaborate and accomplished harmonization.
If time and circumstance had permitted there would have been included a number sonbag guitar, accordion, and harmonica accompaniments for the port- able instruments. Special acknowledgments songhag made to Alfred G.
Wathall, to Thorvald Otterstrtfm, to Leo Sowerby, and to Hazel Felman for musical settings, for counsel and guidance at points where their technical skill and musical experience was requested.
Wathall wrote the major number of harmonizations; he had songbg gift of versatility requisite for the treatment of such a varied character of songs. His moods of work and methods ssongbag approach have a generous gamut. The ways of his heart and head range from the playboy who pranks as he pleases, who follows the gleam of the whim of the moment whether he happens to have the wishing heart of an innocent child or the tumultuous thoughts of a stranger lost in the solitude of the packed traffic on a big city street.
More important yet, Wathall is the cunning technician familiar with all the classics, exercising a gift of showmanship in behalf of a humanity that he loves with laughter and tears.
He knows what is verandah and what is ashcan in the realm of music and ameican mingle them with effective contrast. His “Music Box” and “Arabian Nights” creations for WGN, the Chicago Tribune radio station, for which he is the master arranger, have had a remarkably widespread and enthusiastic audience. His “Sultan of Sulu” music was the work of a ameridan genius. The touch of genius, too, goes for his forty-minute musical setting of that trifling ameriacn from Rootabaga Stories, a piece of puppetry called “The Romance of the Rag Doll and the Brooin Handle”; as the announcer reads the story there are accompaniments and interspersals of music from a chamber-music orchestra.
Leo Sowerby was twenty-one years old when a Chicago orchestra produced a concerto americwn ‘cello by him entitled “The Irish Washerwoman. He was a bandmaster during the World War. Then later he is found doing a happy-go-lucky arrangement for Paul Whiteman’s orchestra; it may be an exploit in “jazz” or pos- sibly a construction in “the new music.
He is as ready for pioneering and for originality as the new century of which he is a part. One other definite thing is that he does not prize seclusion to the point where he is out of touch with the People.
American Song Bag by Sandburg, Carl
Not “the peepul” of the politicians, nor the cus- tomers of Tin Pan Alley, but rather The Folks, the common human stream that has counted im- mensely in the history of music. We reckon it a privilege that Sowerby could undertake the musical settings for sixteen of our songs.
Thorvald Otterstrorn is a compound of toil, technical knowledge, and genius.