March 23 in Music History

today

. 1731 ~ Johann Sebastian Bach‘s first performance of the St. Mark Passion.  It was Good Friday that year.

. 1743 ~ It was the first London performance of Handel’s “Messiah”, and King King George II was in the audience. In the middle of the “Hallelujah Chorus, the King rose to his feet in appreciation of the great piece! The entire audience followed suit out of respect for the King. And so began the custom of standing during the singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus”.
More about Handel’s Messiah

. 1750 ~ Johann Matthias Sperger, Austrian contrabassist and composer.

. 1878 ~ Franz Schreker, Austrian composer and conductor

. 1887 ~ Anthony von Hoboken, Dutch music bibliographer; cataloguer of the works of Haydn

. 1917 ~ Johnny Guarnieri, Pianist, played with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw; played at the Tail O’ The Cock in LA for a decade

. 1926 ~ Martha Wright (Wiederrecht), Singer on The Martha Wright Show

. 1927 ~ Régine Crespin, French soprano

. 1949 ~ Ric Ocasek (Richard Otcasek), Guitarist, singer with The Cars

. 1950 ~ Aaron Copland won an Oscar for his score to the movie The Heiress

. 1953 ~ Chaka Khan (Yvette Marie Stevens), Singer

. 1966 ~ Marti Pellow (Mark McLoughlin), Singer with Wet, Wet, Wet

. 1974 ~ Cher reached the top of the music charts as Dark Lady reached the #1 spot for a one-week stay. Other artists who shared the pop music spotlight during that time included: Terry Jacks, John Denver, Blue Swede, Elton John and MFSB.

. 1985 ~ Singer Billy Joel married supermodel Christie Brinkley in private ceremonies held in New York City.

. 1985 ~ Zoot (John Haley) Sims passed away.  He was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor and soprano.

. 1985 ~ We Are the World, by USA for Africa, a group of 46 pop stars, entered the music charts for the first time at number 21.

. 2000 ~ Ed McCurdy, a leading 1950s folk music figure whose songs were recorded by Johnny Cash, Arlo Guthrie and Joan Baez, in Halifax, Novia Scotia. He was 81.

March 19 in Music History

today

. 1872 ~ Sergei Diaghilev, Russian impresario; founder of the Ballets Russes
More information about Diaghilev

. 1873 ~ Max Reger, German composer
Read quotes by and about Reger
More information about Reger

. 1900 ~ Charles-Louis Hanon, French piano pedagogue and composer, died
More about Hanon’s exercises

. 1917 ~ Dinu Lipatti, Rumanian pianist and composer
More information about Lipatti

. 1923 ~ Janine Dacosta, French pianist

. 1930 ~ Ornette Coleman, American jazz alto saxophonist and composer
More information about Coleman

. 1941 ~ Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra recorded one of their biggest musical successes. It became one of Decca Records’ all-time greats. Green Eyes featured vocalists Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly.

. 1946 ~ Ruth Pointer, Singer from The Pointer Sisters

. 2001 ~ Cuba-born entertainer Tony Alvarez of “El Show de Olga y Tony” died at age 85. Alvarez was best known for the television and radio programs he hosted with his wife, singer Olga Chorens. He began his career in Cuba in the 1940s as a singer and model, starring in a tango program on Channel Azul. In the 1960s, Alvarez and Chorens moved to Puerto Rico, where they began “El Show de Olga y Tony.” They later moved to New York, where they performed on WABC-TV, WPIX-TV and WNJU-TV from 1965 to 1972.

. 2001 ~ Elena Del Rubio, whose 60-year singing career with her sisters as the Del Rubio Triplets got a boost with campy covers of 1980s tunes, died of cancer. She was believed to be in her 70s. “It was a terrible blow to me,” said Milly, the only surviving sister. “Now I’m left alone.” Another triplet, Eadie, died in 1996. The sisters lived together in a mobile home overlooking the ocean. The trio that promoted itself as “3 Gals 3 Guitars 1 Birthday” performed for six decades in showcases ranging from television comedy to retirement homes. The three were in their 60s when they hit the Hollywood scene, dressed in identical miniskirts, go-go boots and big blonde hairdos. Calling themselves “song stylists,” the sisters’ diverse acts included mariachi strolling, country western music, Hawaiian-Calypso and holiday theme music.

. 2001 ~ Randall Hylton, a bluegrass performer who wrote Room at the Top of the Stairs, died in St. Thomas Hospital after suffering an aneurysm. He was 55. Hylton, who played guitar in the fingerpicking style of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, was known for his ability to instantly write songs to fit any occasion. The 6-foot-6-inch performer also told jokes, did impersonations and could do guitar tricks, such as playing a song backward or two songs at once. Hylton’s songs were performed by more than 150 singers, including Ralph Stanley, Vern Gosdin, Mac Wiseman, Leo Kottke and Lester Flatt.

. 2001 ~ Herbie Jones, a jazz musician who worked with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, died of complications from diabetes. He was 74. Jones, a jazz trumpeter, composer, arranger and educator, toured five continents with the Ellington band. His recorded arrangements for the band were El Busto, Cootie’s Caravan, The Prowling Cat and The Opener, and he contributed to Ellington’s first and second Sacred Concerts. After leaving the Ellington band, Jones became the first director of Arts and Culture Inc., a New York City alternative school, and as a volunteer directed the Bugle Corps of the Police Athletic League in Harlem. In Ellington’s 1973 memoir, “Music Is My Mistress,” he called Jones “a great asset” to his orchestra in the 1960s. Jones often played first trumpet but rarely soloed.

. 2015 ~ Peter Katin died.  He was a British classical pianist and pedagogue.

March 17 in Music History

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

 

 

. 1884 ~ Joseph Bonnet, French organist and composer.  He founded the organ department at the Eastman School of Music during his time in the U.S.

. 1901 ~ Alfred Newman, Conductor
More information about Newman

. 1917 ~ Nat “King” Cole, American jazz singer and pianist
More information about Cole

. 1930 ~ Paul Horn, American jazz flutist, saxophonist, clarinetist and composer
More information about Horn

. 1938 ~ Rudolf Nureyev, Dancer
More information about Nureyev

. 1944 ~ John Lill CBE, English classical pianist

. 1944 ~ John Sebastian, American pop-rock singer-songwriter and guitarist, His group, The Lovin’ Spoonful performed Do You Believe In Magic, Summer In The CityDaydream, You Didn’t Have to be So Nice, Nashville Cats His solos include Darling Be Home Soon and Welcome Back

 

Musical Presidents

presidents-day

 

Presidents’ Day (celebrated on the third Monday in February), was originally established in 1885 in recognition of George Washington. The holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was moved as part of the 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday Act, an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s workers. Presidents’ Day is now popularly viewed as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

Wondering how many U.S. Presidents played musical instruments?

Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826) Third president of the United States, drafted the Declaration of Independence, and played the violin and cello.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848) The sixth president of the United States formulated the Monroe Doctrine, and played the flute.

John Tyler (1790-1862) The tenth president of the United States was the first Vice President to become President by the death of his predecessor.  He played the violin.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) The sixteenth president of the United States issued the Emancipation Proclamation and played the violin.

Ulysses S. Grant (1822- 1884) The eighteenth president of the United States certainly scrapes the bottom of the list. He was tone deaf and famously commented, “I only know two tunes. One of them is Yankee Doodle and the other isn’t.”

Chester Alan Arthur (1829 – 1886) Became the 21st president of the United States following the assassination of President James A. Garfield. He played the banjo.

Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) The 32nd President of the United States and the fifth cousin to President Theodore Roosevelt, played the piano and sang soprano in his school choir.

Woodrow Wilson (1856 – 1924) The 28th president of the United States and creator of the League of Nations, played the violin and sang tenor in his college glee club.

Warren Harding (1865-1923) The 29th president of the United States organized the Citizen’s Cornet Band, available for both Republican and Democratic rallies. He once remarked that, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.”

Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) The 30th president of the United States was determined to preserve old moral and economic precepts amid American prosperity. He played the harmonica.

Harry Truman (1884 – 1972) The 33rd president of the United States who served during the conclusion of World War II, played the piano.

Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) The 37th president of the United States, who ended American fighting in Vietnam and later resigned from office in the aftermath of the Watergate Scandal, was a classically-trained pianist and also played the accordion. He composed and played this piece, set to concerto form with “15 Democratic violinists.”  Nixon takes a dig at Harry Truman just before playing.:

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) The 40th president of the United States implemented the Reagan Revolution, which aimed to reinvigorate the American people and reduce their reliance upon Government. He played the harmonica.

Bill Clinton (born 1946) The 42nd president of the United States and the first Democratic president since Franklin D. Roosevelt to win a second term, plays the saxophone.

Barack Obama (born 1961) The 44th president of the United States and first African American president has broken into song on several recent occasions. President Obama sang Amazing Grace at the funeral for South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney:

December 29 ~ This Day in Music History

today

• 1876 ~ Pablo Casals, Spanish cellist and conductor
More information about Casals

• 1912 ~ Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Australian composer and music critic

• 1922 ~ Rose Lee Maphis, Entertainer, half of the team: Mr. and Mrs. Country Music with husband Joe, Hee Haw regular

• 1942 ~ Ray Thomas, Flute, saxophone, harmonica, singer with The Moody Blues

• 1943 ~ San Fernando Valley was recorded by Bing Crosby. He chose the tune because he felt it would be a big hit. He was right. Within a week after its release, the song became a popular favorite everywhere, including the San Fernando Valley in California.

• 1945 ~ Sheb Wooley recorded the first commercial record made in Nashville, TN. The song was recorded on the Bullet label; but it was 13 years before Wooley would finally score with a big hit (The Purple People Eater was #1 for six weeks in June and July, 1958). Wooley (whose first name is Shelby) played the part of Pete Nolan on TV’s Rawhide, recorded novelty tunes under the name, Ben Colder, and acted in High Noon, Rocky Mountain, Giant and Hoosiers.The Country Music Association honored him with the title of Comedian of the Year in 1968. If you remember the TV show Hee Haw, with Buck Owens and Roy Clark, it was Sheb Wooley who wrote the theme song.

• 1951 ~ Yvonne Elliman, Actress, singer joined Eric Clapton in his 1974 comeback tour

• 1952 ~ Gelsey Kirkland, Dancer, ballerina, author of Dancing on My Grave: An Autobiography, Shape of Love

• 1957 ~ Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were married. They became popular singers on the The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, and as Las Vegas showroom regulars and recording artists. They are still together in one of Hollywood’s most enduring marriages.

• 1961 ~ Mark Day, Guitarist with Happy Mondays

• 1963 ~ Much to the chagrin of the disc jockeys at 50,000-watt WABC in New York, the 5,000-watt blowtorch known as WMCA and its famed ‘Good Guys’ became the first New York radio station to play The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand. It didn’t take long for WABC to get revenge. It started calling itself the ‘official’ Beatles station (W-A-Beatle-C).

• 1967 ~ Orchestra leader Paul Whiteman passed away at the age of 76. Known as the King of Jazz, Whiteman had 28 #1 hits between 1920 and 1934 including Three O’Clock in the Morning, My Blue Heaven, All of Me and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

• 1980 ~ American singer, songwriter Tim Hardin died of a heroin overdose. Hardin wrote the songs ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (covered by Bobby Darin, Johnny Cash and June Carter, The Four Tops, Leon Russell, Small Faces, Robert Plant and Bob Seger,) and ‘Reason To Believe’, (covered by Rod Stewart). Hardin appeared at the 1969 Woodstock Festival.

• 2001 ~ Cassia Eller, one of the most irreverent singers of Brazilian rock music, died at the age of 39. Eller’s fame peaked in 2001 with the sale of about 250,000 copies of her “MTV Unplugged” album and a performance in January’s Rock in Rio festival in front of hundreds of thousands of fans, singing along with one of her hits, I just ask God for a little indecency.

• 2001 ~ Jazz pianist Ralph Sutton, a leading practitioner of the stride piano, died at the age of 79. Born in St. Charles, Mo., in 1922, Sutton made his professional debut at age  11 with his father’s band. He later signed on with trombone great Jack Teagarden, and played at several clubs along New York’s famed 52nd Street. To create his eclectic style, Sutton drew from the jazz piano, from ragtime and the blues to stride, in the style made famous by James P. Johnson, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and Fats Waller. Critics hailed Sutton as one of the best contemporary jazz pianists with a mastery of his instrument. He was a founding member of the 1968 World’s Greatest Jazz Band, which performed at Elitch Gardens in Denver.

• 2003 ~ Manny Dworman, who owned a Greenwich Village nightspot where comedians including Jerry Seinfeld, Ray Romano and Jon Stewart performed, died. He was 73. Dworman, a musician who played the oud, guitar and mandolin, owned the Comedy Cellar and the Olive Tree Cafe upstairs. The club was previously the site of Cafe Feenjon, a Middle Eastern nightclub that originally opened as a coffeehouse in 1960. Dworman performed at Cafe Feenjon with his band, the Feenjon Group, which recorded five albums, performed at Carnegie Hall and inspired the radio show “Music From Around the World.” Comedy Cellar, which opened in 1980, also hosted performances by Chris Rock and Colin Quinn. Discussions at the club inspired the Comedy Central show “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.” Dworman was featured in the 2002 documentary “Comedian” by Jerry Seinfeld.

• 2004 ~ Jerry Orbach, American singer and actor for the musical theater and longtime star of the “Law & Order” television series, died at 69. Orbach, a lanky actor with a deep voice and a slicked mop of black hair, first made his name on Broadway, winning a Tony for “Promises, Promises.” He was also in the original cast of “Chicago” and “42nd Street.”

 

December 28 ~ This Day in Music History

today

• 1812 ~ Julius Rietz, German composer, conductor and cellist

• 1896 ~ Roger Sessions, American composer

• 1905 ~ Earl “Fatha” Hines, American jazz pianist and bandleader, a classic duet with Louis Armstrong was Weather Bird, songwriter

• 1911 ~ San Francisco established its own symphony orchestra as part of its comeback from a disastrous earthquake.

• 1921 ~ Johnny Otis (Veliotes), ‘Inventor of R&B’, composer, songwriter, drummer vibes with The Johnny Otis Show

• 1930 ~ Edmund Thigpen, Jazz Drummer

• 1932 ~ Dorsey Burnette, Singer, brother of singer Johnny Burnette

• 1938 ~ Charles Neville, Saxophone, flute, percussion with The Neville Brothers

• 1937 ~ Anniversary of Maurice Ravel’s death.

• 1943 ~ Bobby Comstock, Singer

• 1944 ~ The musical, On the Town, opened in New York City for a run of 462 performances. It was Leonard Bernstein’s first big Broadway success. The show’s hit song, New York, New York, continues to be successful.

• 1946 ~ Edgar Winter, American rock vocalist, saxophonist, guitarist and keyboardist

• 1946 ~ Carrie Jacobs Bond passed away.  She was an American singer, pianist, and songwriter who composed some 175 pieces of popular music from the 1890s through the early 1940s

• 1947 ~ Dick Diamonde (Dingeman Van Der Sluys), Bass with The Easybeats

• 1950 ~ Alex Chilton, Guitarist, singer

• 1953 ~ Richard Clayderman, Pianist

• 1953 ~ Joe Diffie, Country Singer

• 1957 ~ At The Hop, by Danny and The Juniors, hit #1 on the music charts. It stayed at the top spot for seven weeks. The title of the tune was originally Do the Bop, but was changed at the suggestion of ‘America’s Oldest Living Teenager’ Dick Clark. Trivia: Danny and The Juniors filled in for a group that failed to appear on Clark’s American Bandstand show in Philadelphia. He called The Juniors to come into the studio immediately. They did and lip-synced At The Hop (written by Junior, Dave White and a friend, John Medora). It took off like a rocket to number one. (A few years later, Danny and The Juniors handed stardom to Chubby Checker when they failed to appear on Clark’s show.)

• 1963 ~ Paul Hindemith passed away
More information about Hindemith

• 1964 ~ Principal filming of the movie classic, Dr. Zhivago, began on location near Madrid, Spain. When completed, the film was 197 minutes long and so spectacular that it received ten Oscar nominations, winning five of the Academy Awards, including Best Original Score. Lara’s Theme was first heard in this movie.

• 1981 ~ WEA Records (Warner-Elektra-Atlantic) raised the price of its 45 rpm records from $1.68 to $1.98 this day. The company was the leader of the pack with other labels soon boosting their prices. Within a few years, the 45 rpm record was boosted right out of existence.

• 2001 ~ Frankie Gaye, whose combat experience during the Vietnam War was credited with influencing his older brother Marvin’s legendary Motown album “What’s Going On,” died of complications following a heart attack. He was 60. Gaye was a radio operator stationed in Vietnam in the 1960s when he wrote letters to his brother expressing his dissatisfaction with the war. His experiences influenced several songs on his brother’s 1971 album, including Save The Children, Inner City Blues and Mercy Mercy Me, according to Ralph Tee in the book “Soul Music Who’s Who.” Gaye, like his brother, had begun singing in church as a youngster. He went on to work with several Motown artists, including Mary Wells and Kim Weston and provided background vocals on many of his brother’s albums, including “What’s Going On” and 1977’s “Marvin Gaye, Live at the London Palladium.” On his own, Gaye composed the soundtrack to the 1972 film “Penitentiary 1” and toured extensively, both in the United States and England. He also released the singles Extraordinary Girl in 1989 and My Brother in 1990.

• 2016 ~ Debbie Reynolds, 84, died one day after the death of her daughter Carrie Fisher. She was an American actress, singer, businesswoman, film historian, and humanitarian.

More about Reynolds.

 

Will You Be Going to the Circus This Spring?

A small break from Christmas music since we been to the Big Apple Circus several times both here and in New York.  The Big Apple is bringing its one-ring circus show to National Harbor March 8 through April 1, 2018.

 

big-apple

In New York:  Back on the subway to the Lincoln Center for the Big Apple Circus.  We’d seen them a couple times here but Michael had never seen them.  On the grounds of the Lincoln Center, everything is under the tents where here, much is outside.

We found that Michael had bought tickets in the VIP Seating & Lounge.  This included:

  • The best seats in the tent! First row, center ringside
  • Private Concierge
  • Complimentary Circus Meal – includes hot dog, soda and choice of popcorn or cotton candy
  • Cheese, vegetable and fruit crudite
  • Juice, water, wine, and beer
  • Dessert
  • Souvenir Book (We didn’t get this!)
  • Private restrooms (They called this the Golden Restroom)
  • Coat rack
  • Photo ops as you try on our circus costumes and hats
  • Close-up magician who did card tricks with us

THE GRAND TOUR is a circus extravaganza set in the 1920s and featuring acts from the four corners of the globe. Ships, trains, automobiles, and airplanes will serve as the backdrop for breathtaking acts of wonder, accompanied by the seven-piece Big Apple Circus Band playing live at each of more than 100 performances. Acts will include clowns, jugglers, acrobats, and aerialists, from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America, as well as domestic and rescue animals, all creating performances that will leave audiences smiling and cheering. The show runs 1 hour and 50 minutes including a 20-minute intermission.

I was glad to see the ringmaster, John Kennedy Kane, was back.  The last time we went here at home, there had been a female ringmaster.

There were so many neat acts and we were right there, front and center, to see them.  Some of the acts seemed like they would land in our laps.

This is one of the clown acts:

A sample of some of the other acts.  I loved the Wheel of Wonder, about 1:20:

And, a short TV interview:

This video is so cool – “Our performers give a bird’s eye view of what it’s like to perform under the Big Top! Get your tickets today and see the joy and wonder of this season’s show for yourself!

WINDJAMMERS

Circus marches are called “screamers” because they are traditionally so high, loud & fast!! Circus Band members are often called “windjammers” because they jam so much wind into their instruments in the process of playing these screamers. Playing the circus requires incredible endurance & skills on your instrument. The windjammers play almost none stop and much of the music is really difficult!

The greatest circus bands were about 100 years ago in the heyday of the circus. At that time the big top band could be 25 or so, plus there were often sideshow musicians as well. Cowboy bands, women’s bands and bands of Blacks were often part of the sideshows.

Contemporary circuses are much smaller all the way around, and some don’t use live musicians at all, just “canned” music (recordings). Others carry 3 musicians, a drummer, a trumpet player and a keyboard (synthesizer) player. A few, like the Big Apple Circus, still have bands. The Big Apple Circus has 8 musicians on its bandstand: a conductor/trumpet, a person who plays alto sax and clarinet, one who plays tenor sax and flute, a violin, a trombone, a bass player, a keyboard player and a drummer.

In the “old days,” being a circus musician was one of the most strenuous jobs a musician could have. In the days before musicians’ unions, the windjammer would be expected to play for the circus parade, play a pre-show free concert for the townspeople, ballyhoo around the grounds before the big top show, play the show itself (nonstop for two or three hours!), play post show concerts on the grounds or play sideshows. Then after everyone left, they helped take down the tents or do other chores around the grounds. It was a busy day and the pay was not very good, but it was an exciting life with lots of great music, and many musicians loved it!

THE MUSIC

Entry of the Gladiators (Thunder and Blazes) was written in 1897 by, the Czechoslovakian composer, Julius Fucik (1872-1916). This march is a classic circus march & one that just about everyone will think, “Ah, circus!” when they hear it. Thunder and Blazes (as it is most frequently called) and Fucik’s Florentiner March are probably his most well known marches.

Most circus marches follow the standard American military march form, but often abbreviated (no repeats in the second half):

  • Introduction (a bit longer than military marches)
  • First strain (repeated)
  • Second strain (repeated)
  • Trio (more mellow and the key changes)
  • Breakup strain (often called the dogfight in military marches)
  • Last strain

In a circus march, the last strain is often the same as the trio, but louder, and often the trio, breakup strain and last strain are not repeated like they are in a military march (in military marches, the trio and breakup strain are often reversed & the way they repeat may vary).

The music sets the scene for the performer’s act. Different music is needed for different kinds of acts: the bareback riders galloping around the hippodrome need a lively tune, the trapeze artists want something more peaceful, and of course the clowns need music that sounds humorous (like trombone smears!).

In the early days of the circus, the band masters would take some of the European classical music and arrange it for the circus band. “The most obvious example would be the beautiful, flowing waltz music that is essential to the trapeze artists (‘flyers’ and ‘catchers’). The bandmaster and musicians must be precise in coordinating the music and the timing of the artists, requiring rehearsal with the artists and the musicians.  Similarly, it may be interesting to note that the bareback riders perform in a smaller ring because of the gait of the horses. The centrifugal effect requires a ring of a certain diameter for timing. Thus, the conductor must follow the gait of the horses, whereas the aerialists depend on the tempo of the music for timing their act.”

Modern circuses also play a lot of popular tunes, jazz and other songs that people will recognize. You will likely hear fewer of the standard circus marches at a circus today.

The drummer has a particularly challenging and important role in the circus music. He/she must “play the tricks.” Usually the drummer is situated so that he can see the ring because it is his job to accent and intensify what is happening in the ring. This was true 100 years ago, and it is true today. If the act is getting tense, the drummer will get intense. If someone slides down a rope or vaults off the trampoline, there will be a cymbal crash or drum hit when the performer reaches the floor. Sometimes the cues come from the conductor or from the ringmaster, but sometimes it is the drummer who is really in charge!

Circus bands occasionally play a John Philip Sousa composition during the traditional Center Ring Concert, but his melodic marches are not the right structure for most circus acts.

Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever is never part of the regular program. It is reserved for emergency use – sometimes called the “Disaster March”. If a major problems happens — an animal gets loose, a high wind threatens the tent, or a fire breaks out — the band plays the march as warning signal to every worker on the circus lot that something is wrong.

(Click here for information on the Hartford fire of 1944)

For lesser problems, the 12th Street Rag was played to alert the clowns to come out and divert attention during the more common mishaps.

Edward F. Shevlin describes what goes on in the circus band as follows:

“Our music is usually by Karl King,  Alexander, Fred Jewell, C. E. Duble and other old time circus bandmasters and musicians.  Much of the music by these circus musician-composers is amenable to quick cut-offs and tempo changes as necessary to fit particular acts. Hence, Windjammers usually play two musicians to a stand so that when the conductor cuts to a new piece and tempo, one musician can quickly move the music to expose the next piece while the other continues without skipping a beat! We might quickly go from a march to a Samba or rhumba or galop; or from a waltz to an up-tempo march or galop for the “come down” when the aerialists quickly descend into the net or slide down a rope at the conclusion of their act . . .followed by that ubiquitous B-flat chord! The old circus bands would play anything from Ragtime to a Polonaise or a tone poem!”

*Information from an email from Edward F. Shevlin, a Windjammer who happened upon this page! Many thanks, Mr. Shevlin!

THE BANDWAGON

ParadeWagon

When the circus came to town, there was always a circus parade — the parade served to get the wagons filled with people, equipment, baggage, tents and animals to the location of the circus, but it also provided some free advertisement. The wagons were very elaborate & were intended to get people interested in the circus so they would come and see the acts. The band road on top of a bandwagon and inside the bandwagon was luggage, tents and other necessities.

Hey, have you ever heard the term, “jump on the bandwagon”? Here’s the story. In 1848, when Zachary Taylor won the Whig party nomination for president, Dan Rice, a famous clown whose attire inspired the image of Uncle Sam, invited Mr. Taylor to ride on the bandwagon that Dan Rice had. When the bandwagon arrived at the center of town, Dan Rice stopped his parade and made a very emotional speech supporting Zachary Taylor’s candidacy. Someone noted that Dan Rice was on Mr. Taylor’s bandwagon and the term stuck, so that to jump on the bandwagon means to get involved with whatever the issue is. “He jumped on the ecology bandwagon.” “She is definitely on the civil rights bandwagon.”

Below you will find some links to pictures of bandwagons.

PT Barnum’s Bandwagon http://www.vintageviews.org/vv-3/t_land/pages/trl02_002.html

Windjammers in a Bandwagon http://www.circusparade.com/album/albmusic.htm

Pawnee Bill Bandwagon No. 80 http://www.circusparade.com/wagons/w_pawnee.htm

The Columbia Bandwagon– purchased by James Bailey for the Barnum & Bailey Circus — and see this wagon hitched to FORTY horses!!! The picture including the wagon & the band is at the bottom of the page.

The Mirror Bandwagon http://www.circusmodelbuilders.org/twohemis.htm

A clown marching band (Baraboo, WI High School) http://www.circusparade.com/album/albpic22.htm

THE CALLIOPE

Most people pronounce this instrument “cal eye’ o pee”. Circus people pronounce it “cal’ ee ope” (last syllable like “rope”). What is a calliope?? It is a huge instrument made of whistles with a steam engine that blows steam through the whistles when you press the key. Most calliopes are played with a keyboard like a piano keyboard & each key controls one whistle. It is LOUD!!!! Some can be heard up to 3 – 5 miles! Don’t stand too close to one!

The calliope traditionally brought up the rear in a circus parade.

Here is a picture of an early calliope – this one is not on wheels like a circus instrument would be. http://mmd.foxtail.com/Calliope/index.html

Go to this site to see an instrument built recently and see how it works. http://mmd.foxtail.com/Calliope/davis.html

 

SUPERSTITIONS!

Most performing entities have some superstitions. One of the superstition in circus bands is that you can not play Franz von Suppe’s Light Cavalry March. Quoting from Mr. Beal’s book:

“To play it on the circus lot means disaster and sudden death.”You may not believe this but most circus folks do, at least those who know the facts. Played once in Oklahoma, a train wreck followed and sixteen were killed. Played again, this time while [Merle] Evans was on tour with Miller Bros. 101 Ranch Wild West, a blowdown followed and 38 fatalities resulted. [A blow down is a wind that destroys all or part of the tents.]

“And the last time Merle played it a cornet player died immediately after the performance. That was enough for Evans. He collected the parts, tied them up in a neat bundle, and dropped them over the nearest bridge…

“From that day to this the music of Suppe’s Light Cavalry march is taboo. Even its presence in the music trunk would be considered a serious menace to the life and safety of the circus musicians.”

A second superstition about the music played, is that the only time you can play Home Sweet Home is during the very last performance of the season, the very last song. Otherwise it could mean the immediate closing of the show.

Information from:
Beal, George Brinton. Through the Back Door of the Circus with George Brinton Beal. Springfield, Massachusetts: McLoughlin Bros., Inc., 1938. p. 1-20.

Some important Windjammers and composers of circus music

Links to other Circus Band Websites

Definitions & Explanations

Screamers – Circus marches are called screamers because they are so loud, fast & often very high!

Windjammers – Circus musicians are often called windjammers because they jam so much wind into their instruments in the process of playing these screamers.

Ballyhooing – The dictionary defines the verb “ballyhoo” as a vigorous attempt to win customers. When not playing, the musicians went around the grounds & the town shouting about the circus & trying to get people to come see it. Ex: “Come to the circus tonight! See flying trapeze artists and the ….”

Hippodrome – The hippodrome is the track around the inside of the ring where the horses were run.

Trombone Smears – Smear refers both to a trombone technique and to a type of music. The technique (officially called a glissando) where the trombonist pulls the slide in or out without tonguing and you get a smearing sound as the notes move up or down, rather than a distinct set of individual notes. Smear also refers a type of music that includes and features these smear techniques. These pieces are often used as clown music. Henry Fillmore wrote many trombone smears and they had an African-American minstrel sound to them.

Adapted from http://bandnotes.info/tidbits/circus.htm