Showing posts with label World War I. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War I. Show all posts

Monday, January 30, 2012

The song remains the same

A little more than 97 years ago, a young man -- a noted American composer and pianist, in fact -- sat down at a keyboard instrument called a celesta and played a heavenly version of "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" . . . "Silent Night" to you and me.

The young man and his glockenspiel-sounding contraption were in a Victor Talking Machine Co., studio in Camden, N.J., and they sat in front of a large horn that would capture the music and funnel those vibrations to a diaphragm connected to a needle. The needle would cut grooves into a blank wax disc -- the master recording.

And that recording became a side of this record, released in December 1915. Someone bought it for 75 cents that Christmas, and it came down through generations until it landed in a box of old records Sunday at an Omaha estate sale.

I bought it and some others for 50 cents a piece, and what began in Camden when
the Great War wasn't yet "great" and America was still at peace, Sunday night spun on a record changer in my little studio in Omaha. Alas, this occurred many wars after "the war to end all wars."

THE YOUNG MAN, all of 25 at the time, was Felix Arndt. Around this time, Arndt, despite his own youth, was becoming a mentor to a teenager eager to make his mark in the music business.

A decade later, George Gershwin made quite the mark, indeed.

By the middle of October 1918, though, Felix Arndt would lose his life to the Spanish influenza epidemic. He was 29, survived by his wife, Nola, and his music.

That music, generations later, lives still within the grooves of an almost century-old record and emerges to touch a world that, in 1914, surely would have been almost unimaginable. A world whose music was changed by a certain young kid who hung out with, and was influenced by, Felix Arndt.

No man is an island. Neither is any man's music.

It's rather like the communion of saints, isn't it?
Just in the grooves of ancient 78s.

Sometimes, when I'm in an old church, if I try hard enough, I can visualize all the generations of believers who sat there before me, all of us present -- across time and defying the grave -- each generation singing a verse of a never-ending hymn. Likewise, when I find an ancient record and place the needle into a well-worn groove, I hear a long-ago verse of a song still sung, and I realize that I am not my own . . . and neither are you.

We stand upon the shoulders of our forebears, all of us bought and paid for with the blood of a long-dead savior Who lives still, conducting this symphony of the generations, world without end.

Felix Arndt's rendition of Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,

Victor 17842-B, as archived by the Library of Congress.
My copy actually might sound a little better than this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

War and gallant lies

The Hero

'Jack fell as he'd have wished,' the mother said,
And folded up the letter that she'd read.
'The Colonel writes so nicely.' Something broke
In the tired voice that quivered to a choke.
She half looked up. 'We mothers are so proud
Of our dead soldiers.' Then her face was bowed.

Quietly the Brother Officer went out.
He'd told the poor old dear some gallant lies
That she would nourish all her days, no doubt
For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes
Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,
Because he'd been so brave, her glorious boy.

He thought how 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,
Had panicked down the trench that night the mine
Went up at Wicked Corner; how he'd tried
To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,
Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care
Except that lonely woman with white hair.

-- Lt. Siegfried Sassoon,
British Army, 1917

Armistice Day + 90

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

-- John McCrae