Growing Old and Aging

Music From Cradle To Grave

Adapted from the September 1915 edition of The Etude Magazine

Of all the forms of art that intellect has conceived to beautify and bless our lives, to help us to forget and forgive the trials and tribulations of existence, from the earliest emergence of awareness to the last failing perception, none is so intimately associated with our every experience, as music. Music is well named the universal language, not only because it is understood and felt in every land, by every race, but also because it voices and influences the universal experiences of all humanity. None is in such close touch with every phase of life's ebb and flow, of emotions, dreams, hopes, and fears as music. It has been well said that we all love to "emote". We enjoy thrilling to the vividly expressed emotions of others in the strains of great music. It adds so much to our own emotional experience and we are pleased to find the moods we have ourselves felt or imagined, reflected in musical art. It puts us in touch with other minds and hearts. It gives us comfort in feeling that, in joy or in pain, we are one with all humankind. Music is the golden chain whose links bind all humanity in a bond of common feeling and fellowship.

Gods may rise and fall, faiths may wax and wane, creeds be made, modified and abandoned, but music remains, outliving them all. What matters the form or name of the particular cult which music is called upon to serve? The essence, when reduced to the last analysis, is virtually the same; the effect practically identical in every case, from ancient Egypt to modern America. Creeds may falsify the facts, dogmas may deny the fundamental truths they assert, preachers may vilify and blaspheme the very God they claim to serve; but music remains true to the ultimate realities.

In later life, when we have reached the introspective and retrospective age, we are prone to live in memories, rather than in hopes and aspirations. Associations from our youth add a sort of mystic spell to the charm of certain strains of music. The half-forgotten fragment of a tune, heard or recalled by accident, is filled with reminiscences sadly sweet. It will unlock storehouses of memory forgotten for decades and we live again among the refreshed scenes and persons of the long-buried past. This is the secret hold certain old, familiar melodies have on all of us; not their intrinsic worth, but the associations connected with them.

At last, when we come to the end of our days, music provides its last comforts. Tolling bells and muffled minor measures of the funeral march accompany us to our last resting place. As Tennyson said, "Music that gentler on the spirit lies than tired eyelids upon tired eyes". Thus, music is the first, last, best, most constant of our friends among the fine arts. It meets us at the threshold of life with gentle, caressing voices. It cheers and strengthens us to the loftiest endeavors. It quickens our purest, deepest emotions. It echoes our every mood and experience and leave, reluctantly, at last only when its soft, solemn harmonies have muffled the clang of the iron portals of the tomb. Or does it leave us even then? We can only note that in all dreams and pictures of the hereafter, music is the only one of the fine arts which has a place. We don't hear of poets writing or reciting great verses, or of artists painting pictures. But, we do hear of the harp, which is the emblem of instrumental music, and of choral harmonies among the angels, typifying vocal music.

It has been said and often quoted, "Music is the only thing in Heaven we have on earth, the only thing we take to Heaven". In this issue, we've chosen songs that exemplify this journey.


To enjoy the full musical experience, we recommend that you get the Scorch plug in from our friends at Sibelius software. The Scorch player allows you to not only listen to the music but to view the sheet music as the music plays and see the lyrics as well. Each month we also allow printing of some of the sheet music featured so for those of you who play the piano (or other instruments) you'll be able to play the music yourself. It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius Scorch player now.

Richard G Beil, March 2012. This article published March 2012 and is Copyright © 2012 by Richard G. Beil and The Parlor Songs Academy. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author..

Cradle Song


Words and Music by: Alexander Mac Fadyn

Long before a baby can understand spoken language, it perceives and responds to the soothing influence of the lullaby, softly crooned by mother or nurse. The child feels the heavy, protective love expressed in these sweet tones. It is quieted by the gentle magic of the soft refrain. This is its first introduction to any form of art - the cradle song. The cradle song is probably the oldest and most widely known and used of all musical forms. The character and moods are always the same and the uniform keynote is maternal love.

Hear this lovely lullaby song ( Scorch format, be patient, long load time, printable)

Listen to MIDI version





In the Little Red School House



Words and Music by: James Brennan and Al Wilson

As the child grows, it finds the natural expression of exuberant spirit in the strongly marked rhythms and lively swinging melodies of the simpler forms of music. They whistle or sing at play or as they go hopping and skipping off to school. Upon entering school for the first time, children are filled with a sense of wonder and pride at having finally achieved a "milestone". After a few years, that initial feeling begins to wear off. We can all remember telling our parents at some point, "I'll sure be glad when I'm grown up and don't have to go to school any more". And, the universal reply went something like, "Just you wait. There'll come a day when you'll wish you were back in school, with no worries and no bills to pay". Here's a lively tune that captures that feeling.

This video contains the "patter" chorus that describes an incident to which all of us can relate from our own school days.

Hear and see the score to this song ( Scorch format, printable, be patient for images to load)

Listen to MIDI version




After the Ball


Music by: Charles K. Harris
Lyrics by: Charles K. Harris
Cover artist: unknown


The gaiety and sensuous beauty of the dance, as expressed by the music, appeal irresistibly to the emotions; especially the waltz, which is the love dance, the idealized mating instinct, voiced in alluring melody, like the songs of birds in springtime.

Featured in our October 2001 issue, not only was this the first piece of music to sell a million copies, but it started the "Popular Song" industry.

Aging, regrets, bad choices made, this song has them all. A story being told to the protagonist's young neice, he reminisces and explains how, as a young man, he viewed his true love kissing another man at the ball. He refuses to listen to her attempts to explain, forsakes her, and spends his life growing old, alone and bitter, only to learn after her death that it was an innocent kiss from her brother.

This song is featured on our Parlor Songs Favorites CD.

Listen to and see this great song of folly and growing old. (Scorch format only)

Listen to MIDI version



Swing Song


Music by: Paul Perrier

A bit later we find the youth and the maiden, in the first flush of adolescence, responding eagerly to the throbbin, sensuous measures of dance music in its various forms. In the Victorian era, and extending into the first decade of the new century, it was considered unseemly for couple to dance in public, unless it was a stately waltz. That began to change. A dance craze swept the nation's urban centers in the early 1900s, led by young women. Soon nearly every neighborhood hall, ballroom and saloon with the space was taking advantage of the phenomenon, and it wasn't long before specialized dance halls sprang up all over Manhattan. By the 1910s, over five hundred public dance halls were in service throughout New York City, and nearly one hundred dancing academies were in operation teaching young people the latest steps.

Listen to and view this song ( Requires the Scorch plug-in, be patient, sometimes a long load time due to graphics)

Listen to MIDI version


When The Moon Shines In Ireland



Music by: Bert Peters

Words by: Marvin Lee

Here's a tune that can't be found listed on any Irish song site, but should be. The melody lends itself to harmony and, if sung as a ballad, rather than at the original tempo, would make a great pub sing-a-long. Little is known about Peters. There are only 2 other titles that can be found which show him as composer, Morning, Cy (1907) and The Clock of Life (1909). He was also an arranger, teaming with Gertrude Lincoff in 1930 on Drifting and with Billy Baskette in 1932 on Same Old Moon. Marvin Lee seems to be just as obscure as Peters. We do know he wrote both words and music to the 1917 song Livery Stable Blues which is distinguished by having been recorded by the Original Dixieland Band and W.C. Handy's Orchestra. That song was briefly revived in 1938 by Bunny Berigan and his band.

Listen to and view an old song that resonates today ( Requires the Scorch plug-in, be patient, sometimes a long load time due to graphics)

Listen to MIDI version




Music by: James A. Butterfield

Lyrics by: George Washington Johnson


We end our St. Patrick's Day salute with another song that makes the list on every Irish song site. But, like Kathleen, it never mentions Ireland, wasn't written by an Irish composer, and wasn't written in Ireland. Coincidentally, this one was also written by a school teacher. Seeing the name of composer and lyricist, one immediately pictures them together at the piano working out the tune and words. However, like America The Beautiful, this song began as a poem, with music added later.

George Washington Johnson was born in 1839 near Toronto, Canada. At age 20, he became a school teacher in Hamilton, Ontario, where he fell in love with Margaret "Maggie" Clark, one of his pupils. It turns out that Maggie was suffering from tuberculosis, although it's unclear whether they knew of the illness before or after they were married in 1864. In any event, during one particularly harsh period of her illness, Johnson walked to the edge of the Niagara escarpment, overlooking what is now downtown Hamilton. There, he penned a poem to her that was first published in 1864 in his book of poetry titled Maple Leaves. Maggie died on May 12, 1865 at the age of 23, less than a year after their marriage.

James Austin Butterfield was born in England in 1837 and immigrated to the United States in 1856, first coming to Chicago where he taught violin and singing. He later established the music house of J.A. Butterfield & Co. in Indianapolis, where he issued The Musical Visitor, the first musical journal published in Indiana. It's unclear exactly how Johnson's poem came to Butterfield's attention, but in late 1865, he put music to it and it was published in 1866.

Johnson died in 1917. In 2005, he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 1878, Butterfield became the second president of the Music Teachers National Association. He died in 1891. The schoolhouse where the two lovers met still stands on the escarpment above Hamilton, and a plaque bearing the name of the song has been erected in front of the old building.

Listen to this song of lover's lament ( Scorch plug-in, printable, be patient, long load due to graphics)

Listen to MIDI version



Thanks for visiting us and be sure to come back again later to see our next issue or just to read some or all of our over 130 articles about America's music. See our resources page for a complete bibliography of our own library resources used to research this and other articles in our series.


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