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According to NPR, the version of the song we all know as “Happy Birthday to You” started out with a different title and different lyrics, and was known as “Good Morning to You”. But as with a lot of things we take for granted as just having exploded into existence in it’s original form (and which is rarely true), so it is with the tune to “Good Morning to You”.
Given it’s simplicity (and lack of an octave jump in the third line) it pretty much sounds exactly like a birthday song you’d expect to hear being sung by a bunch of less-than-twelve-year-olds in Primary on a Sunday morning.
Click the link to NPR above to hear the alternate version sung in its entirety by Naomi Oliphant.
I love theater organs. Had I never seen one, it’s doubtful I’d be playing the organ today. So I find this story regarding New Zealand’s one and only Wurlitzer organ to be at risk of being dismantled for parts a bit discouraging.
Iconic Wurlitzer organ at risk (click the link to see a photo of the mighty Wurlitzer in question)
Unlike my old Conn theaterette organ, you don’t just put one of these Wurlitzers on an organ dolly and cart it out of the building and then say you’re done.
Just another sad-making example of how our historic musical culture is slipping away.
I note that it’s becoming more frequent that one can attend live screenings of popular movies (“Star Wars”, for example) where a live orchestra is there to play the score to the film as you watch and listen. I wonder if the same kind of thing could be done, but substituting a theater organist for the orchestra during the screening. Back in their heyday, theater organs would be used to provide the musical soundtrack for silent films, and the organist didn’t have to worry about stepping on the dialogue of a film. So there would be some challenges for the organist using a modern “talkie” film. And I have no idea what the average lenght of a movie was, time-wise, for the silent films, but I’m willing to bet that it was a good deal shorter than the two-plus or even three-plus hours that blockbuster films typically run for today. The organist would have quite a challenge rewriting an orchestral score and turning it into a theater organ score as well, and maybe there just aren’t that many organists out there that are even capable of pulling off something like that. I imagine that obtaining the rights to do so might be costly.
But it would sure be fun to be in attendance at one of these performances, no doubt about it.
Can the building’s new owner be persuaded to keep the organ and movie performances intact? I’m sure that the new owner is buying the building because he has other ideas and priorities for it, but still, it’s a bit sad.
Progress ain’t always fun.
The second organ I managed to talk my parents into buying back when I was in high school was a Conn theaterette style; the actual model number of the thing is now lost somewhere in my memory. Unlike the salesman who sold us the first organ (a Lowrey), the Conn salesguy convinced my parents that splurging on some external speakers for the thing would be a good idea for getting a decent theater organ sound out of it (and I’m sure it didn’t hurt his commissions on the sale, either). There were two big boxes that sat on the floor on either side of the organ, and some additional speakers that were dressed up to look like pipes that sat atop the big boxes. The reeds, strings and diapasons came through one of the large floor box speakers as well as the pipes, and the tibias (flutes) came out of the other large box which contained a Leslie speaker.
You know how sometimes you just accept the name of an object without ever questioning why they’re named the way they are? Well, that’s exactly how I was when it came to the Leslie speaker. That’s what they said it was — a Leslie speaker — and it never ever occurred to me that there was a reason or a story behind the name. Only today did I learn that story.
My first step towards Leslie enlightenment came today when I found this story at wired.com about how certain sound effects in music are obtained. This paragraph gives away the secrets of the tremolo:
His tremolo piece works by hooking up an instrument input to a red speaker that spins like a weathervane. The sound is fed into Boock’s design and piped out of this rotating hornlike opening. As it spins in circles, our ears hear the sound take on a pulsating effect because of the fluctuating volume levels. It’s the same effect speaker builder Donald Leslie pioneered in the 1930s.
The link at the end of the paragraph takes you to a wikipedia entry about Leslie speakers, and says this:
The speaker is named after its inventor, Donald Leslie. Leslie began working in the late 1930s to get a speaker for a Hammond organ that had a closer emulation of a pipe or theatre organ, and discovered that rotating sound gave the best effect. Hammond was not interested in marketing or selling the speakers, so Leslie sold them himself as an add-on, targeting other organs as well as Hammond. Leslie made the first speaker in 1941. The sound of the organ being played through his speakers received national radio exposure across the US, and it became a commercial and critical success. It soon became an essential tool for most jazz organists. In 1965, Leslie sold his business to CBS who, in 1980, sold it to Hammond. Today, Suzuki Musical Instrument Corporation owns the Hammond and Leslie brands.
So, some 40-years-plus after taking up the organ, I’ve learned something new about it that I should have questioned or at least wondered about way back when, but never did.
I don’t know why this makes me laugh, but it just does.
I once played the distinctive and immediately recognizeable ten-note bass line from “In-a-gadda-da-vida” as part of the intro to the closing hymn (“Choose the Right”) in Sacrament Meeting, and while there’s probably a long list of bass lines that are as immediately as recognizeable, there probably aren’t very many as high on that scale as the fuzz-guitar lead-in to the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.
According to an interesting story at TheAtlantic.com, Keith Richards work up in the middle of the night to record that intro on a low-tech (well, maybe it seemed high-tech at the time) little portable tape recorder, then promptly fell back asleep and didn’t know what he had created until the next morning when he saw that he had recorded something but didn’t know what it was. But we apparently have that little recording device to thank for what some have called “the greatest rock-and-roll song of all time”. I’m not sure I’d agree with that assessment myself, but I’d be unwilling to make an argument against the idea that it’s probably pretty close.
Anyway: musical inspiration is a darned interesting thing. Did God put those notes into his head? Would God write lyrics containing a double-negative?
The mind boggles at the possibilities.
Behold Jack Russell Memorial Stadium in Clearwater, Florida:
They’ve been playing baseball here since 1955, back when it was built. Marty McFly could have visited it when he made his original trip back to 1955, if only Marty had gone to school in Florida and not California.
Why do I bring up Jack Russell Memorial Stadium here? Well, I came across an interesting fact about the stadium in the book “10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything: A collection of fascinating historical, scientific, and cultural facts about people, places, and things”, and is composed of some of the columns from the feature titled “10 Things You Might Not Know” that are published in the Chicago Tribune, written by Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer.
A gentleman by the name of Wilbur Snapp (who passed away in 2003, at the age of 83, his NYT obituary can be found here) was playing the organ (aha! here’s the link) at said stadium one day in 1985 (another important year in the grand scheme of all things “Back to the Future”) and found himself disagreeing with a call made by an umpire at the game on that day.
Wilber Snapp, organist extraordinaire
Well, Wilbur was apparently not one to let this kind of thing slide, and let his feelings about the umpire’s call be known to one and all at the park that day via the organ: he started playing “Three Blind Mice”.
The umpire was also not one to let this kind of thing slide, and ejected Wilbur from the game.
So I guess when it comes to organist/umpire confrontations, the fact that the organist is not on the field but is up in the stands somewhere making musical commentary on the game doesn’t mean he’s not subject to the umpire’s powers of ejection.
Let that be a lesson to us all.
The biggest tragedy with regard to Mr. Snapp’s career as ballpark organist is that in 1997 the stadium switched over to using recorded music to accompany the ball games (boo! hiss!), thus ejecting him from his job one final time. Mr. Snapp, being a true baseball fan however, continued to attend the games as just another face in the crowd.
So, this year marks the 30th anniversary of Mr. Snapp’s ejection from the game of baseball for having the temerity to challenge the ump at his job, long may his baseball pennants wave.
And, for what it’s worth, the wikipedia has an informative article about the origins of the “Three Blind Mice” poem and it’s influence in popular culture here. Mr. Snapp gets a mention therein as well.
UPDATE: According to this obituary from the St. Petersberg Times, Mr. Snapp’s loss of his ballpark organist position was only temporary. It says that “the Phillies had a change of heart and rehired him, returning him and his organ console to the park. He missed six games.”
Good to know.