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Bob Michel

New Project: Songs Of The Wwi Era.

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Bob, I'm so pleased that you appreciated that one. I had been aware that father had been scribbling away in his old age but he was very secretive about it all and I only stumbled across the memoirs some years after his death. Never published....but I did extract the portion relating to the 1WW period and ran off an extremely limited edition on the computer. I shall see if I can resurrect it and eventually get a copy of it to you, but I am no longer very adept at that kind of exercise. Fingers crossed !

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OK, You finally got me..

 

Chuck--

 

Thanks for the kind words; I'm glad you're enjoying these little efforts. I initially thought about arranging the songs chronologically and/or thematically, but decided I'd be more comfortable jumping around as the mood struck me. Years ago I was given a test that purported to assess my Learning Style, and I scored off the chart as "concrete random."

 

It's fun, too, to mix up more familiar numbers with songs that very few people have sung or heard in the last hundred years. There are plenty of both in the pipeline.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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Ten songs down! We'll mark the milestone with another nod to the inexhaustible Irving Berlin, by way of one of his better-known hits. It's also the one item in his vast catalogue which he famously performed himself throughout his career:

 

http://youtu.be/WA2v4P06OVc

 

1917 brought bad news and good news to the songwriter. The former came in the shape of a draft notice ("Army Takes Berlin!" read the headlines): only just eligible at the advanced age of 30, he joined the nearly three million conscripts who would eventually be called up under that year's Selective Service Act. The latter came as reassurance from the Army that he wasn't bound for the trenches. He was more useful to the war effort writing songs.

 

The result of this arrangement was "Yip Yip Yaphank," an all-soldier revue that ended up on Broadway the following year. Berlin himself performed this song in the show, and it became not only his indispensable party piece for the rest of his life, but a perennial Army favorite. My parents, veterans of WWII, taught me the chorus (along with snatches of a dozen other period military songs) when I was a toddler. I remember watching the elderly Berlin, comically got up in WWI uniform, sing it on TV during the '60s. It was so familiar to me that I realized, sitting down to work it up a few months ago, that this once I even knew the verses.

 

Though I take the assertion with a grain of salt, Berlin always claimed that the song originated as a cri de coeur, not intended for publication. He really did hate the Army--or at least the discipline of camp life, from which his unique skills and celebrity status didn't exempt him. But however disgruntled, he was notoriously and sincerely patriotic throughout his career: one of the numbers he wrote for "Yip Yip Yaphank," but decided not to use, was a song which he'd dust off in the '30s, and which became probably his biggest hit of all, at least in the U.S. The song was "God Bless America."

 

I applaud his earlier inclination: I can't abide "God Bless America." This song, on the other hand, I've been humming all my life.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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Bob, your historical research is as welcome as your performances.

 

My father and his mates were all concious of the fact that they were all volunteers. ( 3rd Division,Pioneer Battalion, AIF ). As a pioneer farmer who had been struggling for a few years to clear remote virgin Western Australian bush he would have been used to surviving with negligible creature comforts, which was probably just as well. I guess that volunteers would have tended to keep their opinions to themselves at the time and just got on with the job, knowing that they could hardly criticise others for their predicament. Conscription for active service is probably a very different experience.

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' Oh ! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.'

 

Bob, That one brings back early memories to me. I was a youngster, ( born 1938 ) , and I clearly remember being roused in the early hours of the morning by a simplified version of this being played by a Royal Artillery bugler practically beneath my bedroom window. A contingent had arrived to set up an anti-aircraft battery on farmland immediately adjacent to our house and he would bring the troops to their senses early each morning ( those who had not been on duty throughout the night firing at German aircraft overhead ). The bugler's medley also included one that we kids used to sing along to called ' Come to the Cookhouse Door, Boys ' . Does that one mean anything to you Bob ?

 

Rod

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Rod--

 

I've heard "Come to the Cookhouse Door," but I don't know whether it ever had any currency in the U.S. Army. Other, similar mnemonics did, though; I imagine that the practice of singing "You've got to get up/you've got to get up/you've got to get up this morning" to reveille probably predates Irving Berlin.

 

Something else with currency in the U.S. Army (as in others, presumably) is the timeworn adage "It's a soldier's right to complain." It's taken pretty seriously, in fact, though within limits. There's a story in my family about my father, a new draftee, writing home to kvetch about camp rations: he'd been served a dish of sardines and raisins, which struck him as beyond the pale. My grandmother had the bad judgment to write a letter of protest to one of the Philadelphia papers about such inhuman conditions, which in turn prompted an editorial ridiculing (understandably) the triviality of the complaint, and preaching the need for sacrifice during wartime, etc. As a result "sardines and raisins" was a byword in my childhood for silly, pampered whining.

 

It was also a subtle, allowable dig at my father. After all, it's a child's right to complain.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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' Oh ! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.' Very cute, love it. A nice little arrangement Bob, well done.

 

Cheers Steve.

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I remember reading the verses to "Oh! How I Hate To Get Up in the Morning" while I was in scouting. It did somewhat resonate with me during that time.

 

However, whenever I was at annual training there was seldom ever any actual need for a bugalar. The quietly loud sound of twenty to thirty men shuffling around, shaving, getting dressed, talking and complaining, etc. would be enough to wake me up physically, although I only really woke up mentally sometime between the march to the chow hall and after breakfast.

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However, whenever I was at annual training there was seldom ever any actual need for a bugalar.

Live buglers have become scarce as hen's teeth in this part of the world. I've been reading stories like this one for years:

 

http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/music/2015/07/05/Is-it-time-to-play-taps-for-live-buglers-at-veterans-funerals/stories/201507050072

 

If real buglers are no longer playing even at military funerals, I have to wonder whether there's a camp anywhere that still employs them for more routine duties. Similarly, I live within earshot of a local school's electronic carillon. No doubt I'm showing my age when I say it, but the point of this exercise escapes me utterly.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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The world moves on. In my regiment the bugle had been supplanted by the infinitely more versatile cornet and trumpet of the military band and I don't suppose the average listener was any the wiser.

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The world moves on. In my regiment the bugle had been supplanted by the infinitely more versatile cornet and trumpet of the military band and I don't suppose the average listener was any the wiser.

You're right, of course. But one hates to see a venerable craft die off. And I have a special affection for limited, specialised instruments (one-row melodeon, anyone?).

 

Besides, every time I hear that counterfeit carillon I remember the group of students who painstakingly and lovingly restored the decrepit real one at my college to playing condition. I suppose that was then, and this is now.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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The bugle is a very straight-forward piece of plumbing. Probably attractive to the military for its compact size and its ability to still function after a fashion after taking a direct hit from enemy fire. !

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Bob, You mentioned that you would like to read my father's WW1 memoirs. I have run off a copy on the printer and if you care to email me with your full postal address I am happy to despatch it to you by surface mail. Our email address is :- coachmans.bs@outlook.com

 

Rod

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Bob, You mentioned that you would like to read my father's WW1 memoirs. I have run off a copy on the printer and if you care to email me with your full postal address I am happy to despatch it to you by surface mail. Our email address is :- coachmans.bs@outlook.com

Rod

That's extremely generous of you, Rod; many thanks! Message sent.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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Song #11 marks our first foray into the hardcore propaganda songs of the period.

 

http://youtu.be/qKK41zQ3Puo

 

The U.S. entry into the war in April 1917 rode a rising wave of popular sentiment, but translating that bellicosity into actual enlistments posed a problem. Six weeks after the declaration only 73,000 had volunteered for service. Wilson's administration had foreseen this manpower shortage, and had begun laying plans for a draft the previous year; the Selective Service Act of 1917 would eventually guarantee nearly three million conscripts.

 

But a large, heavily industrialized army of draftees was a hard sell in the America of 1917, and no effort was spared to capture the hearts and minds of the populace. Tin Pan Alley responded with what can only be called ferocity. It would take a very long time to record even a sizable fraction of the hysterically pro-war songs published in 1917, even if one had the stomach for it.

 

This one merits inclusion not only because its with-it-or-on-it message is particularly chilling ("The Sentiment of Every American Mother!" screams the subtitle), but because it's a forthright response to that extremely effective anti-war song of 1915 (recorded earlier in this series), "I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be a Soldier." The echoes of that song's lyrics in this one seem to me a tribute to just how effectively the earlier hit had challenged the American psyche.

 

The various threads of reform in those years--temperance, pacifism, economic populism, feminism and woman suffrage--were thoroughly interwoven, and made for some pretty odd bedfellows in American politics. And the war complicated everything enormously, splitting the progressive movement in two. There were brave holdouts, who maintained their opposition to the conflict until the end (I harbor a special admiration in this regard for, among others, the reformer Jane Addams, and for the Socialist leader Eugene Debs, who served a prison term for his convictions). But many, many others jumped on the war wagon. This song captures the mood, and the consolidating groupthink, of those first critical months.

 

One curiosity: the song is often described as a response to the U.S. entry into WWI; but my personal copy of the sheet music has this penciled annotation: "Anna G. Hottenstein to Mily E. Hilemann, Mar. 1917, Lebanon, Pa." If that's accurate, it predates the declaration. Not that it much matters. In the late winter of 1917 an American didn't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew.

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

Edited by Bob Michel

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I had a hunch that there ought to be Yiddish songs from the period. I was looking for something actually recorded in the Pale, but almost all recordings like that have probably been casualties of history. I did find these, recorded in America:

 

https://rsa.fau.edu/album/1150

 

You will recognize some of the tunes in the second one (that and I Hate to Get Up in the Morning both quote the same phrase used in the chorus of I Don't Want to Join the Army at "fornicate my bleedin' life away"). It's a bit a of a mindblower to hear songs from the Allied side in what sounds like German. (It's actually Yiddish, but the accent is more German than usual). About the singer:

 

http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/yt/lex/B/birnbaum-louis.htm

 

There will be lots more on the FAU site but it's a bastard to search - not catalogued at all by date or subject matter.

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I had a hunch that there ought to be Yiddish songs from the period. I was looking for something actually recorded in the Pale, but almost all recordings like that have probably been casualties of history.

Very cool; thanks for the link! An unexpected benefit of this little project is that I'm learning a lot about music from that period which I'd never heard before.

 

I'm not surprised that the Yiddish songs were recorded here first; there are lots of parallels (traditional Irish music, for one). And of course the Yiddish theatre was a very big deal in the U.S. at that time: Wikipedia tells me that at the start of WWI there were 24 establishments in New York City alone. The debt of Tin Pan Alley to that tradition (and to Jewish music in general) is enormous. So many of the tunesmiths (including Irving Berlin) were a generation removed from the Pale; there are countless quotations of traditional and popular melodies in commercial songs from those years (including, delightfully, in "God Bless America").

 

Bob Michel

Near Philly

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