But music is a living art form. Composers do their best to set on pages what they hear in their heads, and people try to sing what composers write . . . but people also like to add their own touches, to change the music they are handed so that it is their own, to improvise, and so on. There is the danger of losing good songs, when we take such freedoms, however. Indeed, we can take freedoms to such extremes as to insult the composers, I believe.
Lou Perry taught me that when arranging a song, two things are not to be changed: the Melody and the Lyrics. Everything else is up for grabs! (It must be added that essentially insignificant but relatively obvious fixes are sometimes needed and are acceptable.)
But when I started to work at digitizing some of my favorite Amherst songs, I discovered that the songs in the books are not quite the songs that we sang in the 1959-1963 period! In fact, I found pencil marks in Dad's book that indicated things had been changed for "Lord Jeffery Amherst" at least as early as 1927. Incidentally, the song was first printed in 1907, as
"Lord Geoffrey Amherst"
(Please do CLICK HERE!!)
And how's that spelling for a surprise?
Once I thought about it all, I realized that I had noticed discrepancies between the songs in the books and what we were singing even when I was in college and at the time had dismissed the problem as insignificant. But I had not realized back then just how different some of these songs had become from what their composers originally wrote. I no longer think that these problems ought to be ignored; but I have no intention, either, of telling anybody which version of any song to sing!
I think that it is only fair to consider that the early 1900s was the time of Vaudeville, early Barbershopping, and the Roaring 20s. It was a great time for improvising and for changing music on the fly.
I don't really blame anybody for changing melodies and lyrics, but I do wonder who did what when; and, whether or not the composers themselves may at times have instigated changes to their own original works, whether they sometimes authorized changes suggested by others, or whether sometimes such changes were made even despite their loud protestations!
For me, the history of these songs and of the changes made to them begs for some academically rigorous elucidation. I now live happily in Arizona; but far from in Amherst, Massachusetts. I must therefore rely on whatever help I can get from interested people who live closer to Amherst College and its Music Archives. Perhaps with some teamwork we can shed some light on the histories of these songs.
Not only would I like to discover dated manuscripts with changes in them attributed to whoever changed the songs; I'd also like to find any correspondence that could shed light on the more familiar (and therefore more important) of these pieces. (However, the majority of the songs in the ©1926 book are simply not worth working on, in my opinion.)
Furthermore, I would like to know the dates of birth and death for such people as Henry G. Mishkin and Janet B. Morgan. Such information about composers, lyricists, arrangers, and so on, really belongs on every score. [Note in addition: Those dates now appear on the scores in question. I thank Dr. Rockne H. Johnson for showing me where to find them. --SL, 3 March 2005.]
All suggestions for improvements to any aspect of this ongoing effort will be gratefully received and carefully considered.
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