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New Project: Songs Of The Wwi Era.


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#37 Pete Dunk

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 02:34 PM

Don't miss this little gem:

 

Words and a rubbish midi track here

 

Nicely sung here.

 



#38 Bob Michel

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 03:38 PM

and lots of nobodies-to-be, which I'm sure we feel sympathetic to as well...


Yes, well said, Wolf. The obviously gifted children aren't after all more important than the others. Or even necessarily more gifted.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 05 September 2015 - 03:38 PM.


#39 Bob Michel

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 03:41 PM

Don't miss this little gem:
 
Words and a rubbish midi track here
 
Nicely sung here.


Yes, that's a keeper, Pete; thanks. Great site altogether, in fact.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

#40 Bob Michel

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 03:43 PM

Bob, Have you been tempted to compose any tunes/songs of your own. ?


It's a major vice of mine, actually. Though nobody's going to mistake me for Irving Berlin any time soon.

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Near Philly

#41 Anglo-Irishman

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 06:04 PM

Hi, Bob,

Intersting project! Funny thing is, your song list contains none of the songs that spring to my mind when I think of the Great War: Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack all your troubles in your old kitbag, Mademoiselle from Armentiers ... I suppose that's the differnce between the US and UK perspective.

 

I've discovered an Internet page all about WWI - with lots of songs, sorted by year: here. Perhaps you know it. The audio files are all taken from contemporary gramophone records.

 

The research that turned up this resource had to do with my main instruments, the concertina and the classic banjo. The more I look around for suitable song material to sing to them, the more I realise how firmly they're rooted in the decades around 1900. These old WWI songs and the sentimental ballads from that era just seem to flow out of both of them, whereas modern pop songs feel uncomfortable on them.

As it happens, the two zither-banjos that I have date to before 1915, so they would have started their active life playing "Tipperary" and similar tunes. So at our last Open Stage I sang a medley of the four above-mentioned songs, which I learned at my mother's knee and have never forgotten.

 

That is, I've never forgotten the choruses of them - I didn't know they had verses until much later. I think this is typical of popular songs of that era, and I believe it has to do with their structure. So many of them were composed with a rather insipid, plodding accompaniment to the verse, ending with a fermate and then launching into a lively - or magnificently sentimental - chorus with a melody that you could whistle after hearing the song through once. In the days before YouTube and iPod, this was the way to do viral marketing for a song. Wherever you went, people were humming or whistling or singing this wonderful chorus, and you'd go and buy the record or the sheet music just to see what the rest of the song was like.

 

In fact, the chorus became a format of its own. I remember as a child in Sunday School sitting round singing "choruses." These were short songs with earworm tunes, easy for children to learn, that gave us inspirational ideas in a nutshell, without having to plod through narrative verses that we couldn't read at that age anyway. I imagine that this format arose from the phenomenon that normal popular song were reduced to their refrains for daily use. The refrain, or chorus, was the bit that carried the message.

 

Good luck with your project!

 

Cheers,

John



#42 Bob Michel

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Posted 05 September 2015 - 06:48 PM

Funny thing is, your song list contains none of the songs that spring to my mind when I think of the Great War: Tipperary, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Pack all your troubles in your old kitbag, Mademoiselle from Armentiers ... I suppose that's the differnce between the US and UK perspective.

John--

Thanks for the link, and for the encouraging words. It sounds as if we've had similar epiphanies about the suitability of this repertoire to our chosen instruments.

The titles you mention are among the best known WWI songs on this side of the pond as well, and they're essential to any recreation of that era's music (which is why I kicked off the project with videos of "Tipperary" and "Home Fires"). But I confess that I feel especially drawn to the more obscure numbers. Most of the songs on my ever-growing list are as unfamiliar in the contemporary U.S. as I imagine they are in the U.K. My pleasure in exploring them has everything to do with reclaiming something long lost.

And restoring the forgotten verses is a big part of that pleasure. In the introduction to his classic blues anthology (first published in the '20s), W.C. Handy pleaded with performers not to let the verses go--they often contain the best music, he said--and I've taken his advice to heart. More often than not an entirely different song emerges; even "Tipperary" profits (to my ear) from the resurrection of Paddy and Molly (stereotypes though they may be).

By the way, I don't feel the least bit proprietary about any of this, and would be delighted if you (and others) joined in. I expect I'll retain my Tin Pan Alley focus, given that there's so much material to retrieve, and that it's a stylistic comfort zone for me. But the more perspectives, traditions and voices the better!

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 06 September 2015 - 01:50 AM.


#43 Rod

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Posted 06 September 2015 - 01:54 AM

Yes., The verses play a vital role in these old songs. Irrespective of the lyrics of the verses, their tunes provide the ideal introduction and punctuation to the whole and without them the refrain is in danger of sounding more than a little bereft. W C Handy should be applauded for his attempt to form a society for the preservation of the verse. Once rediscovered a tune is never the same again without them.

#44 Bob Michel

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Posted 09 September 2015 - 04:31 PM

Entry #8 is surely one of the most familiar in the series.

http://youtu.be/bvnoFF_-r3E

"I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" (music by Joseph E. Howard and Harold Orlob; lyrics by Will M. Hough and Frank R. Adams), dating to 1909, was an oldie by the time the Archduke's driver took that fatal wrong turn in Sarajevo. But like "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," the song resonated in a new way with the troops.

That is, the chorus did. I know of no other song from the period that's transformed more completely when the forgotten verses are restored. Sung alone, the refrain is conventionally fond and sentimental, perhaps a bit saccharine (apart from that edgy line "I wonder who's teaching her how"--which in the earliest recordings is usually sung "...teaching her now," as if to mitigate the implied affront to female innocence). But the verses are pretty thoroughly disillusioned, not to say cynical.

Maybe too cynical for a wartime song? After all, Tin Pan Alley in its patriotic mode mainly had the True Blue Girl Back Home praying, flying a service flag and knitting socks, not checking out other options. There are of course any number of popular songs from that distant era that have survived only as fragments, but I do wonder whether the dismemberment of this one didn't have have something to do with the need for idealism and a less nuanced sort of nostalgia. Irony doesn't tend to play well against a backdrop of orchestrated enthusiasm.

In any case, it's a terrific old song, one worth reviving in its uncensored form. I'd uploaded another version to YouTube earlier this year, accompanied on ukulele and whatnot. But this one deserves its own 'tina-centric setting.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 09 September 2015 - 07:59 PM.


#45 Rod

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 01:38 AM

Yes Bob. One of the very best. You have achieved perfect balance between voice and concertina and delightful harmonies. In view of the lyrics of the verses any connection with WW1 may of course have been purely coincidental ? They were not all composing with the hostilities in mind.

#46 Bob Michel

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 02:55 AM

In view of the lyrics of the verses any connection with WW1 may of course have been purely coincidental ? They were not all composing with the hostilities in mind.


No, they can't have been in this case (as with "Tipperary"), since the war was still years off. But the song (chorus, not verses) was a wartime favorite, and I daresay that's been true in subsequent wars as well. My earliest specific memory of it involves soldiers singing on a tropical island--think "South Pacific"--in a WWII sketch on a TV variety show when I was a kid. They didn't sing the verses, either.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 10 September 2015 - 02:56 AM.


#47 Rod

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 03:42 AM

Yes Bob. Many of the choruses have become divorced from their verses over the years and you are doing a grand job by reuniting some of them. A really good chorus has all too often proved capable of standing on its own feet and we have been unaware of what we have been missing.

#48 Bob Michel

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Posted 10 September 2015 - 04:02 AM

Yes Bob. Many of the choruses have become divorced from their verses over the years and you are doing a grand job by reuniting some of them. A really good chorus has all too often proved capable of standing on its own feet and we have been unaware of what we have been missing.


Thanks again for encouraging words, Rod. I suspect that restoring the integrity of the old songs has been the rule rather than the exception in recent performances; I have no illusions about being a trendsetter. Though it's true that I haven't seen too many revivalists wielding concertinas.

I'm a bit of an opera buff (strictly as a spectator, mind), and have always appreciated how much better a famous aria often sounds in its original musical and dramatic setting than when it's sung out of context as a showpiece. This is a bit like that, I think.

Bob Michel
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#49 Bob Michel

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Posted 15 September 2015 - 10:58 AM

For entry #9 we return to an explicitly war-themed song (as opposed to songs that happened to be popular during the war): "Three Wonderful Letters from Home" (1918) by Joe Goodwin and Ballard MacDonald (words) and James F. Hanley (music).

http://youtu.be/OuZtthwi9ug

I learned this one directly from the original sheet music, which I've owned for many years. Presumably it's from early 1918, since it's still a full-sized folio, not the reduced format introduced later that year as a wartime austerity measure. At the bottom of page 3 is the legend: "This song has been adopted by all the Public Schools. Ask your dealer for it. LOYALTY IS THE WORD TODAY (Loyalty to the U.S.A.)." My heart goes out to the kids in those classrooms.

Though maybe it shouldn't. An unabashed tearjerker like this one may test the limits of modern taste, but why bother exploring the popular music of those years, if not to have one's tastes challenged? Obviously this kind of sentimentality played better to the sensibilities of that age than to ours (the song was a hit). It's a well-wrought number, in fact, and deserves to be played straight. Anyway, I like the way it sits on the concertina.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel, 16 September 2015 - 12:16 AM.


#50 chas

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Posted 15 September 2015 - 12:02 PM

Very late to the party, I've just been enjoying this thread and will add my admiration for these great renditions.  Learning "Lena" is a must!

 

Bob, I wonder if you've compared notes with John Kirkpatrick, a very fine anglo player, whose "Tunes from the Trenches" CD is officially launched later this week but was already on sale at Swanage Festival in the UK last weekend.  The track list reveals that he shares at least a couple of the less well known ones with you - Would you rather be a colonel and I didn't raise my boy.  I heard him do some live last summer - I was particularly fond of "The Thing-Ummy-Bob (that's going to win the war)".

 

The obvious difference is that John K's songs are culled from both world wars.  But it's well worth a listen.



#51 Bob Michel

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Posted 15 September 2015 - 12:48 PM

 Bob, I wonder if you've compared notes with John Kirkpatrick,.


Chas--

Well, I'm an admirer of John Kirkpatrick, of course. I hadn't heard about this project, but I'll definitely be picking up a copy. Thanks for letting me know about it!

Bob Michel
Near Philly

#52 Rod

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Posted 15 September 2015 - 01:26 PM

Bob, nothing to do with Concertinas, just a brief snippet of 1WW sentimentality extracted from my fathers memoirs.

In spite of the armistice the army were unable to ship him back to Western Australia for demobilisation until late autumn 1919.

" ..... When I went over to see the Grover family I performed a little ceremony. When I had said goodbye to them, during my embarkation leave, a twelve year old Grover niece gave me a silver medal on a silver chain. It bore the impression of some Saint or other, for they were a Roman Catholic family, and as she herself clasped it around my bare neck she asked me for a promise, which I gave. Never, never to take it off and my Saint would bring me back from the war safely. And here I was - safe, as she had guaranteed. I let her take it from my neck with her own hands, then clasped it around hers with mine, there to leave it. ' Ah - happy he who owns that tenderest joy, the heart love of a child ' . "

#53 Bob Michel

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Posted 15 September 2015 - 02:50 PM

Bob, nothing to do with Concertinas, just a brief snippet of 1WW sentimentality extracted from my fathers memoirs.
In spite of the armistice the army were unable to ship him back to Western Australia for demobilisation until late autumn 1919.
" ..... When I went over to see the Grover family I performed a little ceremony. When I had said goodbye to them, during my embarkation leave, a twelve year old Grover niece gave me a silver medal on a silver chain. It bore the impression of some Saint or other, for they were a Roman Catholic family, and as she herself clasped it around my bare neck she asked me for a promise, which I gave. Never, never to take it off and my Saint would bring me back from the war safely. And here I was - safe, as she had guaranteed. I let her take it from my neck with her own hands, then clasped it around hers with mine, there to leave it. ' Ah - happy he who owns that tenderest joy, the heart love of a child ' . "


Sentimental it may be, but it's also beautifully written and evocative. Have your father's memoirs been published? I'd love to read them.

Both my parents (as I may have mentioned earlier in this thread) served in the European Theatre in the second war. I taught myself to read largely by puzzling over their unit history, "The Story of the 100th" (i.e., the 100th Evacuation Hospital in the American Third Army--the one George Patton commanded). The book had been compiled in the weeks following V-E day, though it had obviously been written over the course of the war. It's an impressive piece of work: thorough, vividly narrated, and decorated with wonderful cartoons (which were what got me interested, as a very small child, in trying to make sense of the text). Its creators, astonishingly, were anonymous--whether as a matter of Army policy or because telling a complex and moving story well was simply another job to be done.

I owe to that humble, ephemeral book (I still own a copy) a lifelong respect for memoirists, especially people who maintain an articulate record of events through chaotic times. We see so much through their eyes.

Bob Michel
Near Philly

#54 cboody

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Posted 16 September 2015 - 12:00 AM

For entry #9 we return to an explicitly war-themed song (as opposed to songs that happened to be popular during the war): "Three Wonderful Letters from Home" (1918) by Joe Goodwin and Ballard MacDonald (words) and James F. Hanley (music).

http://youtu.be/OuZtthwi9ug

I learned this one directly from the original sheet music, which I've owned for many years. Presumably it's from early 1918, since it's still a full-sized folio, not the reduced format introduced later that year as a wartime austerity measure. At the bottom of page 3 is the legend: "This song has been adopted by all the Public Schools. Ask your dealer for it. LOYALTY IS THE WORD TODAY (Loyalty to the U.S.A.)." My heart goes out to the kids in those classrooms.

Though maybe it shouldn't. An unabashed tearjerker like this one may test the limits of modern taste, but why bother exploring the popular music of those years, if not to have one's tastes challenged? Obviously this kind of sentimentality played better to the sensibilities of that age than to ours (the song was a hit). It's a well-wrought number, in fact, and deserves to be played straight. Anyway, I like the way it sits on the concertina.

Bob Michel
Near aphilly

OK, You finally got me.  I started on a similar project for a group of us in 2014.  The idea was to start before the war, contrast that with the word songs from England, add the changing attitudes of America to the war, and close with "victory" songs (and perhaps No Man's Land or Christmas in the Trenches along the way.  Trained singers who can do the pathos stuff.  So, I knew most of these songs, and have been quietly delighting in your versions.  This one though, was totally new to me, and is a wonderful example of...well...what it is.  Thanks for this project and for the nice job you are doing of realizing it.

 

Chuck Boody






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