Images in the above collage are original art plus bird images from this month's featured sheet music covers.
Birds of a Feather
Tin Pan Alley Sings About Birds
It's springtime again and the birds are singing. As the ice and snow (in the Northern Hemisphere) give way to April showers and early Jonquils, the songbirds return and emerge to sing their joyous, if not occasionally annoying songs. Birds have long been a staple subject for the composers of Tin Pan Alley and beyond. In just about every country, you'll find popular songs about birds and this month we even feature one by one of the worlds greatest classical composers.
It was not difficult to find songs for this month's feature. It was more difficult deciding which ones to NOT use. As a result, and we hope for your enjoyment, we have more songs featured this month than usual because I simply could not lay some of these gems aside. In the end I had to sacrifice simply because I did not have the time to produce more for your listening pleasure and did not have time to research and write about them all.
Most of the more well known songs about birds don't appear here. Songs such as When The Red. Red, Robin, or Bye-bye Black Bird are not yet in the public domain and others simply are so well known that they can be found on many sites. As always, we like to present lesser known or remembered works to "revive" works that have been forgotten and present you with what we feel are musical treasures that deserve hearing and preservation in the present.
Several of the works this month have no words, they are instead piano solo expressions of birds and in one case, a fabulous fantasia on the theme of Septimus Winner's Listen to the Mocking Bird. We are also reprising the most popular of all of our sheet music reproductions, The Robin's Return. We've updated the notation and improved the performance by upping the tempo and coupled it with its companion piece, The Robin's Departure. All in all, I think that this issue offers some of the best music we've published on our site. I also want to mention that several of the works published this month are from a major new collection donated to Parlor Songs by Dick and Jean Tillinghast. We will be doing a separate feature on this new acquisition soon.
If you are new to us, 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 some of the music yourself. It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius Scorch player now.
Richard A. Reublin, April, 2006. This article published April, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin 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 or a company officer.
There is a song for just about every bird known to man. Usually the bird is set in a romantic venue but sometimes it is comedic. This month we'll look at both styles. We begin with the oldest edition (not the oldest song), this very unique piece from 1885. In some respects this work is both romantic and comedic and quite curious in that the chorus is actually built around yodeling, This song carries an engraving of Miss Laura E. Burt and the headline, "Laura Burt's Popular Song.' Regrettably, Miss Burt is lost at least in my library and I could find nothing about her.
The music is in waltz time and is definitely in the Polka style. Polkas were quite popular during this period and we've seen many examples. The melody is a bit simple but pleasurable. You'll hear some definite imitations of the cuckoo's call in the verse. Many of the songs about birds attempt imitation of their namesake bird. The chorus of this song is where the surprise was. Apparently Miss Burt had a talent for yodeling as the chorus is mainly a yodel. It's very short but very entertaining and even made me laugh with some delight when I first heard it. This work appears to be a very early work from Selden as most of his more popular works were published 20 years later.
Edgar Selden (Dates unknown) wrote a number of songs for early Broadway shows including The Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 & 1908 and a 1900 farce, A Hot Old Time for which Selden wrote the book, music and lyrics. A terrific poster from that show can be seen at: http://www.rainfall.com/theatrical_posters/tp_2105.htm That show only ran for 28 performances at the Victoria Theater in New York. He also wrote The Taxicab which ran from June to September of 1908. Among the few other individual Selden titles I've found are; All That I Ask Is Love (1910) and The Old Village Bell (1885).
Hear this early cuckoo song ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Even the lowly old crow has songs that were written for it, mostly humorous ones. Here we have an example that was published Sunday, May 7, 1905 as a music supplement to the New York American and Journal. The cover art is by H. B. Eddy who created hundreds of covers for the NYA&J over a period of about five years. The cover depicts what must be two mutant crows as they have both human and bird characteristics. If you look at the upper right, Miss Wina Zaza Rogers has her face plastered on the side of a barn. Hardly a respectful place for a portrait but clever at the same time.
At first, I was not particularly impressed with this song, the verse struck me as simplistic and forgettable. It is pleasant and as with many of the newspaper supplements the music is not too complicated, presumably arranged at a level where most average players could enjoy it. The chorus on the other hand is a little denser, not much mind you but it is the melody that shines. The chorus melody is memorable and conveys a lightness and warmth that very nicely supports the lyrics. Despite the somewhat crude cover, this is a very nice song that makes a crow seem lovable and sweet.
Maurice Stonehill Very little seems to be in print about Stonehill or his works. Besides Caw, Caw, Caw!, he did write a song for the production of The Girl From Kay's (1903) titled My Little Love Bird. Joe Nathan does not fare much better as all I've found is two other titles that also appeared as newspaper supplements; The Girl on the Automobile (1905) and For His Mother's Sake (1904).
Enjoy this wonderful crowing song. ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Words and Music by: John Barnes Wells
Cover artist: Unknown
Our second humorous crow song also includes a chicken as a bonus. This work is a very humorous and somewhat wacky song that goes 'round and 'round on word plays. The cover is rather stark but the music and lyrics within are outstanding. When I first heard this one, I had to double check the publication date for it sounded much more modern than its contemporaneous works. It is definitely a very forward looking piece.
The song is through composed with no clearly defined verse or chorus. It is in a straightforward A-B-A structure. After a short vivace introduction, the first section is quite up tempo marked Allegro capriccioso and in common time. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical and it seems to be cut from the same cloth as The Lunatic's Lullaby (1926) a very famous nonsense novelty song. As we move into section B, the tempo changes substantially and is a slower waltz that seems more serious but still the absurd lyrics continue. The final section returns to the A theme and wraps up the story. We build to a short coda with an accelerando and crescendos and end with a fast flourish.
John Barnes Wells (1880 - 1935) was more an author than composer, at least as far as I can determine. I did locate one other song by him titled simply, Why? published by John Church in 1914.
Hear and see this later "crow" song (Scorch plug-in)
1905 (this version)
The origins of Turkey In The Straw are often confusing and muddied up by countless arrangements over a period of over a century. The melody and original lyrics seem to have first been published around 1834. The quick time and jaunty melody lends itself to barn dances and country fiddles so it really caught on and is still very much in the standard repertoire. It's simplicity and memorable tune made it easy to play and easy to remember. Many versions of lyrics have appeared over the decades so it's difficult to sort out the original. The entry in Wikipedia (the on-line free encyclopedia) succinctly outlines the songs origins:
"The song's tune was first popularized in the late 1820s and early 1830s by blackface performers, notably George Washington Dixon, Bob Farrell and George Nichols. The tune was sung to different lyrics, and was called "Zip Coon". This version was first published between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore. All three of the above performers claimed to have written the song, and this dispute is not resolved."
The version we provide this month is a piano only "ragtime" version arranged by Otto Bunnell. It is one of the most delightful arrangements I've heard. This particular arrangement is well known and often mentioned in many web sites and books on the subject of ragtime. It begins with a short introduction based on the familiar theme, then proceeds through a more or less standard presentation of the theme. There follows a wonderful staccato passage and then a more developed presentation of the theme to the conclusion.
Otto Bonnell though mentioned often in musical contexts, it is almost always in the context of his writing of this arrangement of Turkey in the Straw. It seems that most of his lasting works were arrangements rather than outright original composition. He arranged The Cat Came Back in 1893 for Harry S. Miller and that same year, Divorced with Charles Moreland. We found at least two songs he wrote that were published. In 1891 Bonnell wrote the music for She's More Than 7 with W.C. Robey's lyrics. In 1892, he wrote The Man In The Moon May Be Looking with John A. Fraser Jr. I've been unable to find any biographical data on Bonnell.
Lyrics (There are no Lyrics for this work)
Having established that the whippoorwill is unlikely to sing any popular song, we must conclude that the poor cuckold in this song was duped by the pretty lady who had no intention of returning! In spite of that Helf and Denison have given us a typically tuneful Tin Pan Alley song that is enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy except for the lyrical story. The introduction and verse are pleasant and have a definite period sound. The chorus is excellent with a nice melody and harmony.
J. Fred Helf was a popular composer during the first two decades
of the twentieth century who, like many other successful composers, formed
his own publishing company. His company did quite well for several years
and published for a number of popular songwriters as well as for his own
works. Helf's firm's demise shows the fragility of many of the businesses
of that period. In 1910 Helf published Play That Barbershop Chord,
by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, or at least that is how Helf published
it. Songwriter Ballard MacDonald had begun work on the song and had written
dummy lyrics before leaving the song behind. The piece was finished by
Lewis Muir and William Tracey, and MacDonald was incensed that Helf left
his name off the sheet music. He sued Helf successfully, and the award
of $37,500 forced Helf into bankruptcy thus ending his foray into publishing.
Enjoy this "rediscovered" song (Scorch plug-in required)
Probably the best known "bird" song in American music is Listen To The Mocking Bird, published by Alice Hawthorne under the pseudonym of Septimus Winner in 1855. I can recall learning the song in grade school and though it may not still be a staple of childhood musical learning, it certainly was for many years before and after my experience. The original song tells the sad story of a lost love who has died. Most of us are only aware of the chorus but the entire song is well worth hearing. The song carried at least three verses and the memorable chorus. Here is the first verse and chorus:
I'm dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally;
That said, this particular work is a masterpiece of arrangement. The Mocking Bird has been written and rewritten in arrangements many times over the century and a half since it first appeared. The arrangement is without words and as you listen you will see why. It is titled as a grand fantasia on the theme and it is a pianistic tour de force, in my humble opinion. The arranger, Meacham has written a piece that fascinates me in it's complexity and creativeness. Written in the form of a theme and variations, the work begins with a fast and furious introduction followed by a fairly straightforward arrangement of Auld Lang Syne and becomes ever more complex and daring as it moves finally into the "mocking bird." He treats this theme in the same manner; easy at first then ever more complex. The repeat of the verse is fabulous. Marked marcato il canto, Meacham takes it up an octave and has interjected birdlike ornaments between the phrases. Then the repeat of the chorus is handled completely in triplets with emphasis on the melodic notes. I've listened to this over and over and love it each time I hear it. You must view and listen to this work using the Scorch plug-in to fully appreciate it's mastery. We have made this available in printable format for those of you advanced enough to dare tackle it.
F. W. Meacham was born around 1850 in Buffalo New York and his death occurred sometime after 1895. Meacham's primary fame came with the famous American Patrol (Scorch version) but he composed other works, among them There Is No Place Like New York After All in 1895 and obviously many, many other works as American Patrol carries Opus number 92.
Listen to this fantastic pianistic tour de force. ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics (There are no lyrics to this work)
The ubiquitous robin is one bird that seems to have received more than it's share of fame regarding songs or piano solo works. In our experience the most famous and requested piano solo title is The Robin's Return (featured below) but there have been many others, some well known, most not. In our collection, I had several to choose from and have included three in this feature. I probably could have done an entire article just about "robin" songs. A quick search yields at least 100 songs about or mentioning the robin just from the Tin Pan Alley era alone! Maybe I'll do that separate feature someday in the future.
This work is a fine example of the 1910s period in American music. Full of sentiment and pureness of heart and relatively simple and straightforward in its harmonies. The harmonies of this period were dominated by intervals of sixths and octaves. Those intervals seem to lend themselves to this type song and to the ear are distinctively dated and of the early 20th century. The verse of this song is lovely but thinly scored. So too is the chorus. The lyrics are perhaps the strongest suit in this work by a team of relatively unknown composers today. I selected it simply because of its exemplar structure and period sentiment. It's a nice song.
Charles E. Casey wrote lyrics for at least two songs other than When the Robin Calls His Mate. He co-authored a song with the famed Chauncy Olcott in 1907 titled Every Star Falls In Love With Its Mate and wrote the lyrics for On a Dreary Summers Night in 1916.
Jacob H. Ellis is credited with several works; Autumn Leaves (1905), Charge (1913), When the Robin Calls His Mate (1912) and The Spirit of the U. S. A. in 1927.
Benjamin J. Richmond also wrote at least two other published works including; The Dance of The Song Birds (1902) and Falling Star (1903)
Listen to this 1912 robin song (Scorch Format)
Of course, all birds must die and pet birds are no exception. Even the great Tshaikowsky could not resist a bird song. Spelling of the composer's name included here is as given in this work. Since that time his name has appeared in a variety of spellings to the point where one would wonder what his name really was. This piece includes a wonderful commentary on the composer's life (very short) and on this work. Rather than attempt to better it, I'll leave it to this 1913 publication to speak for itself.
It's a fabulous piece and we've made it printable for those of you who would like to play it. It is amazing how such a simple piece can rise to the level of a masterpiece.
Listen to this classic dirge ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics (There are no lyrics for this work)
Music by: Bert Grant
Though the Grand Fantasia on The Mocking Bird wins the masterpiece award this month , this song is my "discovery of the month" as far as melody and lyrics go. It is simply an outstanding work that deserves to be heard over and over. With a short introduction, this waltz song moves to a verse that is so melodic, it is like having a bonus chorus. With the use of silence (rests) that punctuate the lyrics the composer brings interest and life to the song. The verse ends with a slowing and expressive descending melody. The chorus is a soaring melody with wonderful harmony that floats through the air and caresses the ears ever so gently. The blending of music and lyrics and the use of rests makes this song flow as if it were a conversation. It's a great song.
Bert Grant Despite a fairly large oeuvre of works, little can be found about the composer Bert Grant. We do know he wrote quite a few popular songs including If I Knock The "L" Out of Kelly (Scorch format), When The Angelus Is Ringing(Scorch format), Arrah, Go On, I'm Gonna Go Back To Oregon (MIDI) and When You're Away and it is a little puzzling that so little can be found either on the net or in our many references about him.
George Graff Jr. (b. 1886 - d. 1973) Graff was a prominent lyricist during the early years of Tin Pan Alley. He wrote lyrics for individual songs as well as entire shows (Isle O' Dreams, 1912 with Ernest R. Ball). Chauncy Olcott, the famed "Irish" singer asked Graff to write another song for the show and Graff responded with what is arguable the best "Irish" song of all time, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Though he was a successful songwriter, Graff later became an investment counselor and later retired to live in the Poconos. (Claghorn, p. 180). Among Graff's works are; Till The Sands of the Desert Grow Cold (1911), I Love The Name of Mary (1910), Good-by My Love, Good-Bye (1911), While the Rivers of Love Flow On (1913), Wake Up America! (Scorch format) (1916) and Blue Bird Bring Back My Happiness (1917)
Listen to Blue Bird, my "discovery of the month" ( Scorch plug-in)
Music by:Vincent Rose
This is the only "bird" song this month besides "Funeral March" whose cover does not carry a bird or nature image and I wondered at first if the song was more about a person than a bird. The cover is without doubt absolutely stunning. The painting is by Frederick Manning who painted some of the most beautiful "woman" covers of the era. Despite the cover. The song inside is indeed about the nightingale (bird). Indirectly it implies a woman is involved but the lyrics are mostly directed to the nightingale and her "song of love."
The style of this song is reflective of the changes taking place as American music moved into the jazz age and the cultural revolutions that the 1920's fostered. Music became bolder, more daring. Dissonance that would never have played to the ears of earlier decades flourished and somber keys with haunting melodies became a rule rather than an exception. This song is really very good and it is musically interesting. Be sure to listen and view the music using the Scorch player to fully appreciate this piece.
Vincent Rose (b. 1880 - d. 1944) Rose's primary fame revolved around his bandleading and many recordings made in the 1930's. Rose moved to the US at age 17 in 1897 having received his musical education in Italy. He settled in Chicago and there worked in orchestras as a pianist and violinist. He formed his own orchestra there in 1904. Though he did not compose many songs most of his songs were successes. He also collaborated on several stage shows including BOMBO (1921) Earl Carroll's Sketch Book (1929) and Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1931. Among his greatest works are; Avalon (Scorch format), (1920), Linger A While (1923), Fascinating You (1929), Tonight or Never (2931), The Umbrella Man (1938) and Blueberry Hill (1940).
Listen to "Nightingale" ( Scorch plug-in)
Words and Music by: Jack Mc Gowan and Edgar Moran
A terrific cover with an art deco subject livens up this otherwise nearly monochromatic sheet. This piece has a definite Broadway feel and swing to it. It has a very happy and lilting melody both in the verse and the chorus. The song is not about "flocking together" but rather is a very pleasant allegorical tale of two birds looking for happiness and the friendship, love and support two like minds can find in a partnership. This song came in a close second for "discovery of the month" and as with many of the songs we feature, is well deserving of hearing again and again.
Jack McGowan (b. 1894 - d. 1977) started his career in Broadway primarily as a performer and writer. His first few years from about 1919 to 19276 were as a performer in such shows as Take it From Me (1919), The Blue Devil (1920), George White's Scandals (1922) and The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly (1923). In 1926, McGowan began writing shows and continued to write, direct and produce Broadway shows up till his last, Say When in 1935. His other Broadway credits include; Mama Loves Papa (1926), The Lady Lies (1928), Heads Up (1929) and Girl Crazy (1930).
In 1933 McGowan began writing screenplays for Hollywood. "After collaborating on the script of Paramount's Sitting Pretty (1933), he moved to MGM, where he'd spend the rest of his movie career. He contributed gags and storylines to such big-budget MGM musicals as Born to Dance (1936), Babes in Arms (1939), Little Nellie Kelly (1940), Girl Crazy (1943) and Broadway Rhythm (1944). Jack McGowan also co-wrote the 1936, 1938 and 1940 editions of MGM's Broadway Melody series." (Quote demarked information by Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide as found on Yahoo! Movies)
I found one other song attributed to Mc Gowan; I Have To Laugh, from 1931. As for Moran, this appears to be his only published composition.
Listen to "Birds of a Feather" ( Printable using the Scorch plug-in)
1914 (This version)
Music by: Leander Fisher
We end this month with a companion pair of works that are works of musical art appreciated by countless piano teachers and students for almost 150 years. Leander Fisher wrote both of these and though this first one is not as well known as the other (below, The Robin's Return) it is an equal as far as melody and value as a teaching or parlor piece. We first published this work in July of 1999 and with the help of a reader in Wisconsin who provided us with a copy of the sheet music and the results of some of his research about the composer. Here is what we wrote then:
"Fisher was quite prolific in composing a number of fine works that are in the British Library. Rob was kind enough to share with me a copy of the Fisher catalog from that library. Among them are these works and others including The Meadow Lark and The Swallows Return. It seems he favored birds as theme material.
Listen to "The Robin's Departure" ( Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics (There are no lyrics for this work)
Music by: Leander Fisher
We first featured this work on our site back in 1999 and it has been a favorite for visitors to our site ever since. At that time I said" As a child growing up in the "snowbelt" of Northeastern Ohio, no other event heralded the arrival of spring more than the return of the ubiquitous Robin. I always knew that when I heard that first Robin's song that spring would be soon upon us. Leander Fisher celebrated that arrival for us with this wonderful composition for piano that is timeless in it's style and has retained it's freshness for well over 100 years."
No other piece in our collection has received more comments, inquiries and sales of sheet music than this work. It was a staple for piano teachers for many decades and many of the writers we hear from tell us that they can remember their mother, or grandmother playing it when they were a child. It is one of the greatest such pieces I've encountered and I have listened to it over and over for many years and never tire of it. For this republication I've upped the tempo in response to many writers' comments and cleaned up the score so that it is a more accurate reproduction of the original. You can purchase a hard copy reproduction of this work and the Robins Departure or any of the other works featured this month from us for $8 postage included (to the US, more to other countries).These two are $8 due to length, the other titles are $7. Just write to us and we'll give you more details.
For several years I've searched for biographical information on Fisher but have been unsuccessful except for the much appreciated information provided by a reader as outlined in the previous work.
Listen to "The Robin's Return" ( Scorch plug-in)
Lyrics (There are no lyrics for this work)
This article published April, 2006 and is Copyright © 2006 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy Text, images or music may be reproduced only in accordance with our usage policy. Commercial use prohibited without permission. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.
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