The term, "The Gift Of Music" has often been used by shrewd marketeers and others in the retail music industry to encourage sales. Yet, beyond that, music truly is a gift to all of us that comes from many sources. They are the composers and lyricists who labor over a new melody and poetic words to reach our soul, the publishers who take care to create clear and attractive sheet music, the talented artists who create beautiful covers and numerous others in the music industry who create the beauty of music for us to enjoy. Most of all though, the gift of music comes to us from the performer. It is the performer who brings the songwriter's ideas to life for us to appreciate. It is the performer who adds their own emotion and skill to interpret the music and make it live in our hearts. Of the performers, perhaps none other bring us gifts of the joy of music more than those within our own families who work long and hard to please us and who bring beauty, love and enjoyment to our hearths.
In the early years of the Tin Pan Alley Era and well into the 20th century, most of America learned about music and shared in its performance in the home. The growth of the music industry and interest in music before the days of electronic mass media resulted in a tremendous growth in the sale of home pianos and piano teaching. The majority of middle class homes had pianos and at least one or more performers within the family. These are the people who made American music live. These are the people who were the unsung heroes and heroines of popular music for the first five or six decades of the twentieth century. Though home music was and still is important beyond the 60's, the growth in mass media and recordings signaled an end to the wonderful days when the family gathered around the piano while mom, dad or some other family member played and led the family in wholesome enjoyment of music. Many of these performers went on to become professionals, some did not. Regardless, they all played an important part in making America's music a memorable experience.
There are thousands of these heroes in our lives, most unsung and publicly unappreciated. However, for those of us who enjoyed the privilege of their company, they brought us joy, happiness and memories enough to last a lifetime. This month, we honor all these musicians through the life of just one, Sylvia English. A year ago this month (December, 2002), Mrs. English passed away and her family found well over 500 pieces of sheet music that they graciously and generously donated to ParlorSongs so that they would be preserved and could be enjoyed by others. This month, we will share with you just a few of the wonderful songs that Mrs. English played for her family and others as a performer. As we enjoy the music, I'll share with you some aspects of her life and her impact on her family with the hopes that their experience is symbolic of the American musical experience in those homes fortunate enough to enjoy such love and skill.
Sylvia Joan Tuxbury was born in Hampden Newfoundland in 1929. She grew up in Amesbury Mass and met her future husband, Fred Charles English Jr. in High school where both played the clarinet in the High School band. Graduating from Simmons college with a major in Psychology, she married Fred and moved west rather than take an appointment as a mathematics teacher. Family always was central to Sylvia and she always kept close ties to her five children and other relatives. A woman of accomplishment with a broad range of interests, she was active in community, supporting youth, the DAR, Campfire Girls, PTA, yachting and of course music. Her musical skill was unique and her daughter Wendy told us; "Her music was a hobby which she pursued with a passion. Anywhere she traveled she would pick up a foreign instrument and try to master it. Her last and latest attempt was at understanding Jazz piano - not easy for her at all as she admitted." We'll add some additional information about her as we go through the music this month. This issue is dedicated to the memory of Sylvia English and all the musicians who have brought music into our homes. We also want to thank the English family for their generous donation of this music and their support of our objectives.
As an additional symbol of the gift of music, we are making all of this month's songs available to you in a printable format (using the Scorch player) AND in a printable PDF format complete with the original cover image. Given the generosity of the English family and this giving time of year, we thought it only appropriate to pass this small gift of music on to you, our readers in appreciation for your support of our venture. Enjoy the music!
If you'd like to contribute an article to us at ParlorSongs, we'd love to have your help and contribution. The "rules" for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any of our readers, anytime and would enjoy having a "reader submission" or "favorites" feature from time to time. Heck, get involved, help us out and write a feature for us!
Come with us now as we revisit the wonderful music of The Sylvia English Collection. As always, this issue is on two separate pages so don't miss page two of this issue.
Music by: Dermot Macmurrough
Lyrics by: Josephine V. Rowe
Cover artist: Unknown
Shortly after receiving the donation of this music I heard this song played professionally for the first time. Few songs carry the emotion and love that this music conveys. Though the words are a bit enigmatic, the message of love is clear and it is not surprising that a woman who valued friends and family so highly would have this song in her collection. According to her sister Ginette,
"Sylvia played the piano for her younger siblings when she was in Jr. High. Her whole family (aunts, uncles, parents siblings played between them) the piano, mandolin,banjo. and violin. They sang together as a form of recreation. Music was always a form of entertainment and an expression of the family's love and cooperation for and with each other."
It is fitting then to offer this beautiful song as our first selection to note the deep and abiding love that music can convey to others. Those who share this love with us through their talent are family treasures.
This work is also included in Terry Smythe's incredible collection of piano roll conversions we've featured before. Here is a midi of the work played by "Brockway" on Ampico piano roll 91061. The song is almost religious in its tone and style. Through composed, it has a wonderful flow and is one of the most expressive works I've encountered. Though the title sounds like someone's name, macushla is an Irish term of endearment meaning darling or dearest. The song is one of Ireland's most popular and is well known there but unfortunately, less well known in America. The song's final note, a high B flat is problematic for some singers but the great Irish tenor John McCormack told the composer he could sing it and he went on to record it and made it famous. The song subsequently appeared in a movie in 1938 and was also later recorded by Andy Sanatella and Bill Wirges in the 30s. In addition, many of the other famous Irish Tenors since McCormack have recorded the song. The song appears on many current anthologies of great Irish songs, Amazon lists at least 10 CDs currently available that include Macushla.
Dermot Macmurrough (1868 - 1937) shared his name with one of Ireland's greatest historic figures, Dermot Macmurrough, king of Leinster, born 1110. Donizetti wrote an opera based on Macmurrough's exploits. Unfortunately, this Macmurrough's life is less documented and aside from this one song, I'm unable to locate any other songs by him or details of his life. His partner in this venture Josephine V. Rowe has fared no better, aside from mention of her as the lyricist, she too has vanished, for the moment.
Hear this great love song Printable sheet music (scorch format only)
Of course coming from Massachusetts, it only seems appropriate that Mrs. English would have some songs that relate to the state where she was raised. Such a song of regional interest is this delightful novelty song from the days when travel was more leisurely and friendships and lasting relationships were often made on the train or in this case, the ferry. The collection Sylvia English amassed included a large number of novelty songs. Of course they are fun to hear and sing and probably reflected her sense of humor. As one of her sister's said, "music was fun!.. It was a real joy to gather around the piano to sing with the family and friends."
This song is a delightful, novelty song by one of early Tin Pan Alley's best composers. The song portrays a trip aboard a ferry to Boston where a young man meets his love and soon they marry. But as with many good natured novelty songs of the times, there is a final twist to married bliss with the final chorus line of: " But I wish "oh Lord" I fell overboard, On the old Fall River Line." With a very upbeat melody and terrific lyrics, this song deserves continued exposure. The Fall River Line operated a fleet of upscale and luxurious ferries that plied the south coast of New England from Fall River to New York and back with connecting rail service to Boston from 1847 to 1937.
Harry Von Tilzer (b. July 8, 1872, Detroit, MI, d. Jan. 10. 1946, New York, NY nee: Harry Gumm.) Harry, one of five children, was to find a career in music as did his younger brother Albert. When still a child, his family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where his father acquired a shoe store. A theatrical company gave performances in the loft above the store, and that's where Harry learned to love show business. His career really started in 1886 when, at age 14, he ran away from home and joined the Cole Brothers Circus. By 1887, he was playing piano, composing songs, and acting in a traveling repertory company. He changed his name at that time. His mother's maiden name was Tilzer, and he 'gussied' it up by adding the 'Von'. Thereafter he would be called Harry Von Tilzer, and later his younger brother Albert would adopt the name also. Harry met Lottie Gilson when the burlesque troupe with which he was working reached Chicago. The popular vaudevillian took an interest, and induced him to go to New York. In 1892, Harry, working as a groom on a trainload of horses, arrived in New York, with just $1.65 in his pocket. He rented a room near the Brooklyn Bridge and became a $15.00 per week saloon pianist. He left New York briefly to work in a traveling medicine show, but returned to again work in saloons and later as a vaudevillian in a 'Dutch' act with George Sidney. At this time, Harry was writing songs, literally hundreds of songs that were never published. He would sell them outright to other entertainers for $2.00 each. But the tide was about to turn for Harry. One of his songs was published, My Old New Hampshire Home, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling. William C. Dunn, owner of a small print shop, purchased it outright for $15.00, and issued it in 1898. It was a hit that sold more than 2 million copies. In 1899, three more of Von Tilzer's songs were published: I'd Leave My Happy Home for You, lyric by Will A. Heelan I Wonder If She's Waiting, lyric by Andrew B. Sterling Where The Sweet Magnolias Grow. The success of My Old New Hampshire Home prompted Maurice Shapiro of Shapiro-Bernstein Music Publishers to make Von Tilzer a partner, and the firm was renamed 'Shapiro, Bernstein and Von Tilzer'. Harry then wrote his next big hit in 1900, A Bird In A Gilded Cage (Sibelius scorch format). In 1902, Von Tilzer quit the partnership and formed his own firm 'Harry Von Tilzer Music Company'.
Andrew B. Sterling (b. 1874, New York City, d. 1955, Stamford, CT) is perhaps one of the greatest American popular song writers from the period. His most lasting partnership was with the great Harry Von Tilzer but he wrote numerous songs in collaboration with other composers such as Lange. Lange was a successful song composer for many years and went on to write motion picture scores culminating in his Oscar nominations in 1943 and 1944 for his songs The Woman in the Window and Casanova Brown.
William Jerome (b. 1865, Cornwall-on-the-Hudson, NY - d. 1932, New York, NY) One of Tin Pan Alley's and early Broadway's most important lyricists, he collaborated with many of Tin Pan Alley's greatest composers including Walter Donaldson, Andrew B. Sterling, Harry Von Tilzer and Lewis Hirsch. His main collaborator from 1901 too the 20's though was Jean Schwartz. Early in his career, like many of his fellow songwriters, Jerome performed in Vaudeville and Minstrel shows. He formed his own publishing house who's best known publication is George Cohan's great hit war song, Over There. He wrote music for a number of the Ziegfield follies as well as many stage shows including, In Hayti (1909), Piff! Paff! Poof! (1904), and Vera Violetta ( 1911). His most famous songs include Bedelia (MIDI), Chinatown, My Chinatown (MIDI) and Get Out And Get Under The Moon.
Enjoy this wonderful "Boston" novelty song Printable score! (Scorch format)
Another terrific novelty song from the same year by the "dean of American composers," Irving Berlin is one of many such treasures of song to be found in Sylvia's piano bench. This song, a rather stinging look at unmarried maidens and a fictional ball staged by them is fun and funny, despite the unflattering nature of the lyrics. The song struck me as one of the simpler songs by Berlin I've encountered. Though written at least two years past his break into stardom with the more complex Alexander's Ragtime Band, I thought the song rather harmonically thin and with accompaniment that was almost minimalist. The lyrics are pretty good though and tell a cute story, even if a little uncharitable towards older women. Of course it has that characteristic Berlin sound but is not one of his best, in my humble opinion. As with the Fall River song, this one too has a punch line ending that would no doubt have been fun to bellow out in a family sing along. Sylvia's oldest daughter Wendy reminisced about family musical fun and told us; "Music invited laughter and conversation among our family and guests. Guests were invited to sing along or join in. One time an older Irish guest was asked to dance a jig to my flute playing. I could not keep up with this old man whose legs were faster than a lizard!"
Irving Berlin. Born Isidore Baline in Temun, Russia, in 1888, Berlin moved to New York City with his family in 1893. He published his first work, Marie of Sunny Italy (Scorch format) in 1907 at age 19 and immediately had his first hit on his hands. It was at that time he changed his name to Irving Berlin. His total royalties for this first song amounted to 37 cents. In 1911 the publication of Alexander's Ragtime Band (MIDI) established his reputation as a songwriter. He formed his own music-publishing business in 1919, and in 1921 he became a partner in the construction of the Music Box Theater in New York, staging his own popular revues at the theater for several years. Berlin wrote about 1500 songs. One unique fact about Berlin is that he was not able to read or write music or play the piano except in one key (F sharp). He picked out melodies or dictated them and had assistants fill in the harmonies and accompaniment for him. Berlin never seemed to give credit for these very talented people. In his later years, he had a special device attached to his piano that allowed him to transpose any song into his "favorite" key. His initial start in the music industry was as a singer and then as a lyricist. It was only after great success in writing lyrics that Berlin turned to melodies.
Music by: Albert Gumble
Words by: A. Seymour Brown
Cover artist: Starmer
No, this is not a song about Shirley Temple, or the 1938 movie of the same name. It actually is a song title based on a book that was published in 1903 by Kate Douglas Wiggin about a young girl, Rebecca who is sent to live with her two strict, unfeeling aunts, who do not appreciate the young girl's charm and energy. This song never appeared in the Temple version of the film. Long before Temple made the title famous, Mary Pickford starred in the first film titled Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm in 1917. The cast included: Mary Pickford, Eugene O'Brien, Helen Jerome Eddy, Charles Ogle, Marjorie Daw, Mayme Kelso and Jane Wolfe. That film was true to the Wiggin story. This song and the 1938 Temple movie are based only on the title. Neither the lyric of this song, nor the plot of the Temple production follow the original book's plot. However, the Temple film though did include a farm and an aunt. It just seems that the title itself captured the imagination of the public and was used in a number of different contexts.
Regardless of its provenance, this song is one of the most delightful of this month's features. The verse is quite interesting with the melody accompanied by a constantly moving line that adds harmonic complexity to the song. It is the chorus however that really shines. There is a wonderful interchange of melody and lyrics that is classic "teens" Tin Pan Alley style. The style reminds me of classics such as Moonlight Bay (Scorch) or By The Light Of The Silvery Moon. The music is written for solo or a duet and the harmonies are wonderful! I suspect Sylvia and her family sang this one together often. Or, its possible she and her sister(s) sang it in the home. As her sister said;
"Both of Sylvia's parents were very musical...Sylvia and her sister sang duets. They were invited to sing in public at a full Grange Hall event in their home town. Complete with microphone they sang "Mexicali Rose", "O Playmate Come Out And Play With Me" and one other unremembered song."This song would have been made to order for them!
Albert Gumble (b. 1883 - d.1946) . Gumble not only wrote original
music but he also arranged for many of Tin Pan Alley's most prominent
composers including; Percy Wenrich, Alfred Bryan, Gus Kahn, Edward Madden,
Bud D. Sylva and Jack Yellen. He wrote the music for at least one Broadway
musical, Red Pepper in 1922 as well as a number of single hits
during the Tin Pan Alley days. Albert Gumble's best known single work
work is Bolo Rag (1908) however his credits also include Rebecca
Of Sunnybrook Farm (1914), The Wedding of the Sunshine and the
Rose (1915), If You'll Come Back to my Garden of Love (1917),
I'll Do it all over Again (1914) and The Chanticleer Rag.
A. Seymour Brown (b. 1885, Philadelphia - d. 1947, Philadelphia)
Brown was an actor and lyricist. In addition to his lyrics for the 1914
work, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, his best known work is Oh
You Beautiful Doll (Scorch format) (1911). Brown also wrote lyrics
for a number of Broadway productions including; Rufus LeMaire's Affairs
(1927), Adrienne (1923) and A Pair of Queens (1916).
As an actor he starred in a number of productions including the 1907 musical
The Grand Mogul. Among his other songs are Gee, But I Like Music
With My Meals with Nat D. Ayer.
Hear this old lovely song Printable score! (Scorch format)
The English family, like most of us, enjoyed wonderful times together with music like this. Perhaps this song would bring back memories like those shared with us by her family;
Whenever mom was at the organ, we would inevitably be drawn together from all parts of the house or yard to join in. All five children learned to play at least one instrument while growing up. On holidays, we gathered together and played in groups with mom playing accompaniment.
Charles Kassell Harris was born in 1867 in Poughkipsie, NY and died in NYC in 1930. He lived for many years in Milwaukee and published many of his early songs there. His After The Ball, (Scorch format) published in 1892 is generally considered to be the watershed song that started the popular song industry in earnest as a commercial juggernaught. Though Harris wrote many songs over the years, none ever rose to the level of popularity as After The Ball. See our in-depth biography of Harris for much more information and many musical examples of his work.
Enjoy this classic Harris medley song Printable score! (Scorch format)
The first world war spurred patriotic composers to write and bring us music on a grand scale. Both world wars were times when the musicians of the country united to write patriotic song after song. A few wrote protests. Among the many songs written during the first war were a number of very humorous songs that made the military experience less fearsome and exposed the folly of government and often the military mind. Such songs set the populace at ease and allowed us to assuage many of the fears we had at home worrying about our boys and their fate. This song is one of the best of these war novelty songs I've seen. It has a set of four verses and choruses that are an absolute delight. Musically, Laska has generated a joyful melody and chorus that is so infectious that surely every whistler and hummer on every street could be heard rehashing the song. For more about the incredible music of World War One, see our acclaimed three part series of articles on the subject. Be sure to look over the lyrics, either by viewing the song using the Scorch player or by using the link to the lyrics.
This song, and others like it would have been ideal for a campfire sing along and Sylvia English could well have taught it to her Campfire girls at some point. Her daughter Leslie related;
One of the things I remember about Mom was the way she used to share and teach her music with campfire girls. I also loved it when we sat around a campfire as a family and sang songs, or riding in the car on a long trip, or her playing the organ for her own pleasure or with guests at a party at our house.
Edward Laska ( dates unknown) Laska, a composer and lyricist is
probably most famous for his prohibition era hit, The Alcoholic Blues
(1919). However he wrote many other songs, several in collaboration with
some of Tin Pan Alley's greatest lyricists including several with Jerome
Kern. Laska also wrote at least one Broadway musical, We've Got to
Have Money, staged in 1923. Among his other works are; The Landlord
Blues (1919), How'd You Like to Spoon With Me? (1905) and Do
Listen to this great old comic war song Printable score! (Scorch format)
See our resources page for a complete bibliography of all other resources used to research this and other articles in our series.