Archive | March 2012

Greatly Loved Disney Composers

I recently heard about the death of Robert Sherman and wondered who he was. He and his brother, Richard, composed some of the best loved Disney songs of the day.

Robert Bernard Sherman was born December 19, 1925. His brother, Richard Morton Sherman was born June 12, 1928. Their father, Al, was a well known Tin Pan Alley songwriter. The family moved a lot in their formative years. In high school the brothers both learned how to play a variety of instruments. While still in those high school years, Robert won much acclaim for the radio and stage programs he wrote and produced.

Robert and Richard Sherman with Debbie Reynolds

Robert joined the Army in 1943 while he was still seventeen. He was awarded a purple heart and it was during this time that he developed a fascination with England. Both brothers attended Bard College in New York State. Richard studied music and Robert majored in English Literature and Art. Robert served as editor for the college newspaper and wrote his first two novels while in school, before graduating in 1949.

After finishing schools the brothers went to work writing songs with their father. Richard was drafted into the Army in 1953, during the Korean War. He was not in combat, but joined the band and glee club during which time he served as their conductor. While he was in the service his brother, Robert, worked with other musicians. In 1958 the brothers founded Music World Corporation.

Their first Top Ten Hit was “Tall Paul” with Annette Funicello. Walt Disney was impressed when he heard the song and eventually hired the brothers to work with his Wonderland Music Company.

In 1965 the brothers both won an Oscar for separate films, including Mary Poppins. They won Oscars for the songs “Feed the Birds” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. They worked directly with Walt Disney until his death a year later and then freelanced their talents.

The Sherman Brothers on the Mary Poppins Set

They wrote songs for the movies: “The Jungle Book”, “The Aristocats”, both versions of “The Parent Trap”, “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh”, “Charlotte’s Web”, and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”. Other hits songs included “Pineapple Princess” and “Let’s Get Together”. They also wrote the song “It’s A Small World” for the Disney theme park.

In 1974 they wrote the musical “Over Here!” It became the largest grossing original Broadway Musical of the Year and was nominated for a Tony.

“The Tigger Movie” {2000} was the first Disney movie score they’d written in twenty-nine years. They also wrote the songs for the stage productions of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Mary Poppins: The Stage Musical.”

In total the brothers earned 9 Academy Award nominations, 2 Grammy Awards, 4 Grammy Award nominations and 23 gold and platinum albums. In June 2005 they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. They were bestowed honorary doctorates from Lincoln College in 1990 and Bard College in 2011.

The Sherman brothers with Walt Disney

Richard and Robert Sherman wrote more motion picture musical song scores than any other team.

Robert married Joyce Sasner and had four children. The year after her 2001 death, he moved to London, England. The brothers were able to still compose together with the use of email, the fax machine and frequent visits. Richard married Elizabeth Gluck and they had two children.

In 2002 Robert had his first exhibition for the paintings he’d been creating all his life. He wrote his autobiography “Moose” in 2008. In May 2009 a documentary was released on them called “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story”.

The brothers were presented with a Window on Mainstreet Disneyland for their contribution to Disney theme parks.
Robert died recently on March 5, 2012.

What is Tin Pan Alley?

Have you heard the term Tin Pan Alley but had no idea what it was?

The term Tin Pan Alley refers to the songwriters and publishers of the late 19th and early 20th Century. These men were all based in New York City and were originally located at West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. A plaque is now on the sidewalk in the area to commemorate it. Before their move to New York City, the publishers were scattered throughout the country.

Tin Pan Alley in the late 19th Century

Monroe Rosenfeld is believed to coin the phrase in his articles as a derogatory reference. He wrote a series of articles for the New York Herald around 1885 and referred to the constant playing of the pianos which sounded like “tin pans being beaten in the alleyway.” During this time vaudeville was replacing the minstrel show.

Over time the phrase was embraced and described the music industry in general.

Copyright was not monitored as strongly in the late 19th Century as it is today. Publishers often print their own versions of songs that were popular at that time. On June 11, 1895 a group of publishers formed the Music Publishers Association. ASCAP {American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers} was founded in 1914 and helped push it towards becoming a “mega force in popular music.”

Pin Pan Alley

Vaudeville players often visited Tin Pan Alley in search of new songs for their acts. Composers and performers kept up with the times moving from the slow moving ballads to incorporating the cakewalk music, ragtime, blues and jazz tunes.

Many of the lyrics of the day showed a happy, innocent time in small town settings.

Irving Berlin published “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in 1911 which gave Tin Pan Alley and Berlin their “crowning achievement.” It also changed the way America listened to music.

Wikipedia says it best, “Tin Pan Alley became a melting pot for culture and musical tastes, despite racial lines, and although limitations still existed, the art of the music was still able to emerge!”

Other large name composers with Irving Berlin were Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart, Noel Coward, Gus Lahn and Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Some popular songs of the day include: “After the Ball”, “Give My Regards to Broadway”, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”, “God Bless America”, “The Band Played On” and “Shine On Harvest Moon.”

The end of Tin Pan Alley is not very clear. Some believe it was in the 1930s with the Great Depression. During this time the phonograph and radio crushed the sale of sheet music. Other sources believe the decline happened in the 1950s as Rock n Roll became popular and supplanted earlier styles of popular music. Truth be told it was probably a combination of both of these and the changing times.

In 1959-1960 a short lived TV series was aired that took place in Tin Pan Alley.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Bach

Today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday. He was born on March 21, 1685 making this the 327th anniversary of his birth. As a trained pianist, Bach was one of the first composers I played and to this day I still love playing some of his Inventions and other works.

Johann Sebastian Bach

J. S. Bach was born into a musical family, the musical pedigree going back at least four generations before him. His father, John Ambrosius Bach, was the director of the musicians in the town. His mother was Maria Elisabeth Lämmerhirt. J.S. was the eighth of fourteen children born to the couple. At a young age his father taught him to play the harpsichord and violin. His mother died in 1694 and his father followed just eight short months later.

At the age of ten he moved in with his father’s twin brother, also a noted musician, Johann Christoph Bach. “When Carl Philipp Emanuel {J.S. Bach’s son} updated the family genealogy in 1774 he noted that the twins were identical in looks and mannerisms to the extent that even their wives could not tell them apart.” While living with his uncle, who introduced him to the organ, he would pour over the manuscripts, even though it was forbidden.

At the age of fourteen, J. S. Bach was awarded a choral scholarship to St. Michael’s School in Lunenberg. His two years there exposed him to a wider range of European culture and musical influence.

J. S. Bach

After completing school, J.S. Bach worked as a court musician in several positions. In 1706 he married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach and they had seven children together. Four of these children survived to adulthood.

In 1717, Bach went to work for Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Kothen as his Kapellmeister or director of music. Prince Leopold appreciated his talent and paid him well. He often took Bach with him on his travels.

Barbara died on July 7, 1720 while Bach and Prince Leopold were abroad. A year later he met and married Anna Magdalena Wilcke, who was seventeen years his union. They had thirteen more children, six of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1723, Bach was appointed Cantor at Thomaskirche in Leipzig. This was a very prestigious post that he held until his death, twenty-seven years later. He left Prince Leopold, after the Prince’s marriage. The new Princess was not as impressed with music as the Prince was.

St. Thomas Church in Leipzig where J. S. Bach served

Bach composed his Mass in B Minor in 1733 for the King of Poland, August III. He monarch eventually appointed him Royal Court Composer. He later extended the work into a full mass, but it is believed it was never performed during his lifetime. Mass in B Minor is considered to be among the greatest choral works of all time.

Bach composed during the time known as the Baroque period. He established counterpoint, harmonic and motive organization, and adapted rhythms, forms and textures he embraced from the Italian’s and French. His abilities as an organist were widely acclaimed and respected during his own lifetime. He was not only a German composer and organist, but also a harpsichordist, violinist, and violist.

His works as a composer include works for the keyboard including The Well-Tempered Clavier, his Inventions and Sinfonias; canons and fugues, lute music, orchestral and chamber music; vocal and choral works including his chorales, cantata’s and passion’s, such as St. Matthew Passion and St. John Passion.

Near the end of his life Bach became blind. On his deathbed he dictated a chorale prelude for organ, Vor deinen Thron tret ich hiermit (Before thy throne I now appear, BWV 668a), to his son-in-law. He died on July 28, 1750 at 65 years of age. Some say his death was the consequence of an unsuccessful eye operation a few months earlier. Many modern historians believe his decline and subsequent death was a combination of a stroke and pneumonia.

Johann Sebastian Bach

J. S. Bach was originally buried in Old St. John’s Cemetery in Leipzig. In 1894 his coffin was found {originally his grave was unmarked} and moved to a vault in St. John’s Church. The church was destroyed during WII and in 1950 his remains were moved to Leipzig’s Church of St. Thomas.

Several of his sons became well known musicians in their own right, including Wilhelm Friedemann Bach,Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, and Johann Christian Bach.

Bach’s reputation grew after his death and he is now considered one of the greatest composers of not just the Baroque period, but all time. All of his works were catalogued by Wolfgang Schmieder and published in 1950 with the BWV meaning Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (“Bach Works Catalogue”).

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: Is It Really An Irish Song?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! When I go to the nursing homes to do music this time of year the most requested song is When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. I was suprised to learn that it was not a song from the country of Ireland.

When Irish Eyes Are SMiling

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling is a tribute to Ireland. The lyrics were by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr. The duo teamed with Ernest Ball, who wrote the music. The song was written for an Olcott production titled The Isle O’Dreams. The song was first published in 1912.

The Isle O’Dreams premeried at The Grand Opera House in New York on January 27, 1913 and closed on February 22 of that same year. Olcott actually sang the song in the production. At that time he was a famous Broadway Star.

All of these men were American born, although Olcott’s mother was born in Ireland. I’m sure hearing her share stories about her childhood led to him developing a love for the country. He was also the lyricist for My Wild Irish Rose which he wrote in 1899.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling became popular among the American’s. It became an anthem for St. Patrick’s Day. The song has been used in over twenty-five movies and recorded as singles or on albums more than 200 times. It was also the opening for the radio program Duffy’s Tavern. So as you sing the song today, you can tell your friends about the origin of the much loved song.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling Lyrics

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure ’tis like a morn in spring.
In the lilt of Irish laughter you can hear the angels sing,
When Irish hearts are happy all the world seems bright and gay,
And When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, sure, they steal your heart away.

Verse 1:
There’s a tear in your eye and I’m wondering why,
For it never should be there at all.
With such power in your smile, sure a stone you’d beguile,
And there’s never a teardrop should fall,
When your sweet lilting laughter’s like some fairy song
And your eyes sparkle bright as can be.
You should laugh all the while and all other times smile,
So now smile a smile for me.

Verse 2:
For your smile is a part of the love in your heart,
And it makes even sunshine more bright.
Like the linnet’s sweet song, crooning all the day long.
Comes your laughter so tender and light.
For the springtime of life is the best time of all,
With never a pain or regret.
While the springtime is ours, thru all of life’s hours,
Let us smile each chance we get.

Danny Boy, A Song With Many Meanings

With St. Patrick’s Day approaching I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at some of our favorite Irish Songs.

3 Leaf Clover--Luck of the Irish

The ballad, Danny Boy, is one of the first songs that come to mind when speaking of Irish Songs. The words were written by Frederick Weatherly, a lawyer and lyricist. Weatherly was an Englishman and wrote thousands of songs and had at least fifteen hundred of them published. He was so well known and respected that composers vied to get their hands on his lyrics. He was not only well known for his lyrics, but also for his law career. He did not become a lawyer until he was thirty-nine years of age and often appeared for the defense.

Danny Boy was originally written in 1910 to a different tune then the one we know today. The story goes that his American sister-in-law sent him the tune we know today. Margaret, his sister-in-law, heard the tune from Irish immigrants in the Colorado gold mines. Upon hearing it she immediately thought of Fred and his numerous lyrics. She asked for a copy of the music and sent it on to her brother-in-law. Frederick Weatherly set the words of Danny Boy to the tune known as Londonderry Air in 1913, with just a few minor changes in the lyrics.

The tune we know as Londonderry Air was first published in an 1855 collection titled “Ancient Music of Ireland.” Jane Ross is said to have heard a local fiddler playing the tune and wrote it out. When she sent the melody to George Petrie for the publication of the aforementioned book. The song had no title, but believing it was associated with the Irish County of Derry or Londonderry, was given the title Londonderry Air.

Leaving an Irish Home

The age and origin of the title have been greatly debated. Some critics believe the melody does not sound that old. It was later discovered that the tune was a distorted version of the song Aislean an Oigfear {The Young Man’s Dream} which has been traced back by Denis Hempson to at least mid 17th Century. Other sources say the composition was linked to the 17th Century blind harpist Rory Dall O’Cahan. The tune has had over 100 different song lyrics attached to it. It is sometimes called “Air from County Derry”.

The original version of Danny Boy had four verses, but two more were later added and most recordings have six verses performed. The tune was popularized in vaudeville and soon became a favorite. The first recording was made in 1915 by Ernestine Schumann-Heink. Vocalist Elsie Griffin also made it a popular song. In 1918 one publisher published the song with the title of Eily Dear, stating men should sing it to Eily Dear instead of Danny Boy.

Danny Boy has become the unofficial signature song and anthem of Ireland. Ironically it was written by an Englishman, who is believed to have never set foot in Ireland.

Irish Seaside

There are various meanings, but no one knows for sure the true meaning Weatherly had in writing the song. Some of the most common meanings to the lyrics are:
–a parent sending a son off to war {the 3rd stanza gives credence to this belief}
–A mother/father saying goodbye to a son
–A girl saying goodbye to her sweetheart
–Young men immigrating and leaving their mother behind in their homeland {Eily Dear gives reference to this belief}

Danny Boy

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be there in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And when you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
You’ll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.
And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

I’ll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.
And I shall rest in peace until you come to me.
Oh, Danny Boy, Oh, Danny Boy, I love you so.

From a Wretch to Best Loved Hymn: the story behind Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is one of the best known and loved hymns of our day. When it was first written it started off as a poem to illustrate a sermon on New Years Day 1773.

The poem was written by John Newton and is considered to be his spiritual autobiography in verse.

John Newton was born in 1725. His mother wanted him to be a clergyman and at her knee he memorized numerous Bible passages and hymns. She died when he was seven years old and he would later recall her tearful prayers over him.

After the death of his mother he alternated between boarding school, living with his stepmother and the high seas. At the age of 11, he joined his father on his boat and began a life on the seas. They were involved with capturing men from West Africa and selling them as slaves. Several years later he was pressed into the British Navy. He deserted, was captured, suspended for two days and then flogged. He admitted later his thoughts switched between murder and suicide. While a sailor he renounced his faith and openly mocked his Captain with obscene poems and songs that became so popular the crew would join in. He gained notoriety for being the most profane man the Captain had ever met and even went so far as to create new words to “exceed the limits of verbal debauchery.”

Peril at Sea

On March 9, 1748 a terrible storm came upon the slave ship he captained. It was so bad that he and another mate had to tie themselves to a pump to keep from being washed overboard. He cried out to God for help and the next day he began to read “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A Kempis. This book led to his conversion in Christ and eventually a dramatic change in life. He celebrated March 10 annually thereafter stating “The 10th of March is a day much remembered by me; and I have never suffered it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748–the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”

He continued his work, holding services onboard for his crew, and tried to justify the selling of slaves but eventually realized just how inhumane his work was. In time he felt a call for the ministry and began to crusade against slavery.

John Newton married his youthful sweetheart, Mary Catlett, on February 12, 1750. He left a life at sea and worked as a clerk at the Port of Liverpool for nine years while obtaining his education. He was 39 when he was ordained as a Minister of the Anglican Church. He served the illiterate and poor village of Olney, England {near Cambridge}. The main industry of the 2,500 residents was making lace by hand. He was very involved with and loved by the residents of his parish.

He was greatly influenced by John and Charles Wesley. When he could not find enough hymns to share with his congregation, he began to write simple heartfelt hymns for his congregation to use over the psalms they’d been reciting. Large crowds gathered to hear him preach, where he’d share about his early life and conversion. This was during a time when most ministers refused to admit to any wrongdoing on their part. John Newton and his friend, William Cowper, produced the Olney Hymns Hymnal, with Newton writing over a fifth of the songs.

John Newton, author of Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace is based on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17: “Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: “Who am I, O LORD God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O LORD God.” The song originally had six verses and was titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation”.

It is not known what, if any tune, was associated with the initial singing of the song. It was associated with a number of different tunes before finding a home with the melody we know and recognize today. The tune we use today is an early American folk melody known as either “Loving Lambs” or “New Britain” {I’ve seen references to both}. The earliest known publication of the song was in 1831 and “scarcely a hymnal appeared through the south during the remainder of the 19th Century that did not include this hymn”. The last stanza we know today {When we’ve been there ten thousand years} was added later and was a spiritual that had been sung and passed down orally for over fifty years in the African American communities. This stanza was included and published with the song for the first time in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

John Newton Grave

John Newton died in 1807, the same year British Parliament abolished slavery throughout its domain. {To learn more about the fight in parliament, the movie Amazing Grace is a great resource.} Right before his death he was quoted as saying “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”

He wrote his own eulogy that was placed on his grave stone. “John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.”

Below are all of the lyrics to Amazing Grace, including those no longer used.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

{Last verse later added}
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Then when we first begun.

A Tribute to Whitney Houston

The world was saddened by the unexpected passing of Whitney Houston. I remember seeing her in The Bodyguard while still in high school.
Enjoy this performance of one of her most popular songs.