Friday, July 4, 2008

America, the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain . . .

The author of "America the Beautiful," Katharine Lee Bates, was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1859 and grew up near the rolling sea. Her graceful poetic style came through in poems such as "The Falmouth Bell:"

Never was there lovelier town
Than our Falmouth by the sea.
Tender curves of sky look down
On her grace of knoll and lea. . . .

Bates, who eventually became a full professor of English literature at Wellesley College, made a lecture trip to Colorado in 1893 and there she wrote the words to "America the Beautiful." As she told it, "We strangers celebrated the close of the session by a merry expedition to the top of Pike's Peak, making the ascent by the only method then available for people not vigorous enough to achieve the climb on foot nor adventurous enough for burro-riding. Prairie wagons, their tail-boards emblazoned with the traditional slogan, "Pike's Peak or Bust," were pulled by horses up to the half-way house, where the horses were relieved by mules. We were hoping for half and hour on the summit, but two of our party became so faint in the rarified air that we were bundled into the wagons again and started on our downward plunge so speedily that our sojourn on the peak remains in memory hardly more than one ecstatic gaze. It was then and there, as I was looking out over the sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies, that the opening lines of the hymn floated into my mind."

On July 4, 1895, Bates' poem first appeared in The Congregationalist, a weekly newspaper. Bates revised her lyrics in 1904, a version published that year in The Boston Evening Transcript, and made some final additions to the poem in 1913.

For several years "America the Beautiful" was sung to almost any popular air or folk tune with which the lyrics fit: "Auld Lang Syne" was one of the most common. Today it is sung to a melody written in 1882 by Samuel Augustus Ward, a Newark, New Jersey, church organist and choirmaster. Ward originally composed the melody (also titled "Materna") to accompany the words of the sixteenth century hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem." When the National Federation of Music Clubs sponsored a 1926 contest to elicit new music for Bates' poem but failed to find a winner, Ward's music prevailed.

"America the Beautiful" has been called "an expression of patriotism at its finest." It conveys an attitude of appreciation and gratitude for the nation's extraordinary physical beauty and abundance, without triumphalism. It has also been incorporated into a number of films including The Sandlot and The Pentagon Wars. Its lyricist, Katharine Lee Bates, died March 28, 1929, and is buried in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and its composer, Samuel A. Ward, died on September 28, 1903, in Newark, New Jersey.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Teaching Children to Sing

I love to sing. I have sung since I was a very little child. My fourth grade teacher used to have me lead any song we sang because she lacked confidence. God just blessed me with the gift of singing and I never really had to work at it. Even when I began voice lessons to develop my voice, it seemed as though my teachers would suggest something and I would magically be able to produce the sound they wanted. (You may be wondering, ok, then why isn't she singing at the Met by now, right?).

Although it is not so unusual to be able to sing well, many people struggle with being able to sing, sometimes not even being able to match pitch well. An older man I knew was told as a child by his classroom teacher, "You can't sing, you play the drum." Until the day he died, he was convinced that he could not sing.

That is tragic.

One of the things I love to do the most is to teach children to sing. Although I have been very successful with this, I am forever on the lookout for resources to help me improve. I never want to stop learning and growing as a musician and teacher.

Last summer I have found three new resources, all DVD's, that promise to help me in this work.

1. Creating Artistry Through Movement
Dalcroze Eurhythmics in the Choral Setting
2. Singing FUNamentals
Toys that Teach
3. Sing Together, Children
Developing Young Singers through Vocal Exploration, Warm-ups, Rounds, Songs, and Singing Games

If your work involves teaching music and singing to children, you might want to check out these resources!

Happy Independence Day

I love this holiday! Summertime, family, picnics, fireworks! How can you beat such a combination! Our town started a town-wide celebration over the 4th of July many, many years ago in order to keep people (and their money!) in town over the holiday. We have enjoyed the almost week-long festivities for years. The festival is called SummerFair. So far, we have attended a parade, enjoyed an Ice Cream Social, and free miniature golfing. Tonight we will attend a homeschool drama troup's production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (read about it here in our local paper) starring two of my (talented) children, a band concert tomorrow morning(with another of my talented children playing trumpet), fireworks tomorrow night and on Sunday night, a free symphony concert with the very wonderful Stuart Malina and the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra.

Although fun and games are certainly on our agenda, I like to take some time over this holiday to remember why we celebrate it. Have you ever actually read the Declaration of Independence? Do you know the great sacrifices the signers made for our freedom? One of the signers was Benjamin Rush. On Sunday evening our family will sit on Rush campus at Dickinson College and enjoy the symphony. I am grateful that we can sit in freedom together with friends, enjoying a picnic supper while visiting and listening to beautiful music.

Take a moment to read the Declaration of Independence and reflect on what our Founding Fathers gave us 232 years ago.

Happy 4th!