Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keeping Harry’s music alive

Harry and Jeanette (his future wife) in the heyday of Big Band music

For most of his adult life, Harry wrote columns in local papers and newsletters, outside of his writing career in the Pentagon. What I didn’t know is that he pitched yet another series of articles at age 92, which he titled “The Music Corner”, at his last residence, Riderwood Village in Silver Spring, MD. He emailed the first article below to an editor there, but she rejected it. (A famous movie quote comes to mind: Big mistake. Big. Huge.) After my dad passed away in May 2014, we donated almost his entire music collection to the Riderwood Village library.

April 5, 2014
The Music Corner

Most of us here at Riderwood are old enough to remember the popular music of the World War II era. Many of us actually lived through the turbulent 1930s and ’40s, and those who came along soon afterwards have heard the songs of those days on the radio, in concerts and TV performances. I have been collecting the music of that era for the past half century and have amassed more than 15 thousand recordings featuring the big bands and the legendary performers who entertained us over the years. They are all on CD albums, which I’d gladly share with anyone interested.

Meanwhile, I’d like to share some of the background information I’ve accumulated regarding the songs, the composers, the lyricists and the performers. These kinds of stories may not be directly related to activities here at Riderwood, but there is certainly a high degree of interest here in popular music and the “big bands” in particular.

Just a year ago, for example, a singer named Clara Ann Fowler passed away, and while not many were aware of her death by her real name, everybody took note of it by her stage name – Patti Page. She was one of many performers dubbed Patti Page by the Page Milk Company, which featured her on its fifteen-minute radio show, but she kept that name permanently and went on to make it famous. She was only 18 when she started, shortly after she graduated from high school in 1945. In 1947 she signed a recording contract with Mercury Records, becoming their official girl singer, and in 1948 she had her first million-selling record single – “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming”. Remember that one? Run it in your mind and it will haunt you for days.

Mitch Miller, who made all those sing-a-long records, was the producer for Mercury Records. He had developed a technique for overdubbing a singer’s voice to create a vocal harmony arrangement. He used this process on many of Patti’s recordings and she became the first pop artist to do so. But it wasn’t until 1950 that she hit it big-time with her recording of “Tennessee Waltz”. It became her signature song and is listed among the two or three best-selling songs in American popular music history, along with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”.

Nov. 17, 2013

This article honors TAPS. It was Harrys final music-themed column in his previous community’s newsletter, in Leisure World, also in Silver Spring, MD. He kept up that column for several years. Researchers now consider the tale below as military folklore; chances are Harry heard it long ago.

It is especially fitting that we end the year of musical columns with the melody that ends each day at every American military base – TAPS. It is also fitting because it marks the end of my tenure as a columnist for this newsletter, since my Jeanette and I are leaving Creekside for the Assisted Living facility at Riderwood, where she can get much better care than I can provide for her here.

At sunset, when the flag is lowered and the sound of the bugle blowing TAPS over the loud-speaker system fills the air, everything on a base stops moving. Vehicles stop, people stand still in their tracks, all activity ceases while the solemn notes ring in their ears. It is a military tradition, just as the playing of TAPS at every military funeral is a tradition. It all started during the Civil War when most of the Southern states attempted to secede from the Union and the Northern states, under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, stopped them from doing so. It is one of those historical moments that are quickly forgotten, yet have the power to change a nation.

The year was 1862. Capt. Elli and his Union troops were stationed at a place called Harrison’s Landing in Virginia where they had just fought a pitched battle with Confederate troops. After dark, when the fighting stopped, he heard the moans of a wounded soldier in the field between the two sides. Capt. Elli risked his life to crawl on his stomach to the wounded man, since both sides frequently indulged in random fire across the field between them. He succeeded in dragging the man back where he could get medical attention, but when he reached his own lines they found that he was a Confederate soldier and that he was dead. In the early morning light the Capt. took a closer look at the dead soldier and froze with shock when he suddenly realized that the dead boy was his own son.

His son had been studying music at a school in the South when the war began and, without telling his parents, he had enlisted in the Confederate Army, as did most of his fellow students. The next day, Capt. Elli asked if he could give his son a full military funeral along with the Union troops who had died in that battle, in spite of the fact that he was an enemy soldier. He was given permission to have a solitary funeral with only one musician, a bugler. The Capt. found a paper in his son’s uniform pocket with a song that the boy had written himself, and he asked the bugler to play the melody at the funeral.

The song, of course, was TAPS. That was the first time that haunting melody was played, and it became an instant sensation, to be played at all military funerals ever since. To this day you cannot hear that plaintive tune without getting a lump in your throat or even a tear in your eyes.

The words were added later, in three stanzas.

TAPS (Lyric)

Day is done, Gone the Sun, From the lakes, From the hills, From the sky. 
All is well, Safely rest, God is nigh.  

Fading light, Dims the sight, And a star, Gems the sky, Gleaming bright.
From afar, Drawing nigh, Falls the night. 

Thanks and praise, For our days, Neath the Sun, Neath the stars, Neath the sky.
As we go, This we know, God is nigh.

Harry’s wife for 70 years passed away at Riderwood Village barely two weeks after he wrote this story.

Copyright 2016
Elaine Blackman

1 comment:

  1. This was a very interesting article...I remember Patti Page when I was young. And the history of Taps - I had never heard this. To think Uncle Harry was still writing his articles even when he was so focused on the care of his beloved Jeanette. Every time I read one of his articles I so wish I could discuss it with him.