by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger
Maine Historical Society’s sheet music collection has a variety of connections to the state of Maine. Some connections are more obvious than others, such as appearing in the title or lyrics–When the silv’ry moon is shining o’er the hills of dear old Maine, as an example.
We collect other songs that were published in Maine towns, such as Bath, Dexter, and West Baldwin. Still others we collect because of their association with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, our resident poet. Hermann Kotzchmarr, a well-known organist and composer in the city of Portland, as well as other Maine musicians, composed some of the pieces.
The collection also contains high school fight songs or marches (Portland High School and Deering High School), songs related to Maine landmarks (Mansion House in Poland Spring) or ships (U.S.S. Castine), and songs related to Maine characters such as Rudy Vallee (Westbrook boy who made good in Hollywood), Mellie Dunham (fiddler from Norway, Maine), and Ken MacKenzie (Maine country music star).
Sometimes the association with Maine is as simple as featuring one of the symbols of Maine: lobster! Sheet music also illuminates the social issues of the day, such as unemployment, prohibition, the Ku Klux Klan, and war.
Here is a sampling of some of my favorite pieces of sheet music:
“There’s a green hill out in Flanders (there’s a green hill up in Maine)” by Allan J. Flynn (New York : Al Piantoadosi & Co., 1917) has the lyrics:
There’s a Green hill out in Flanders, There’s a Green hill up in Maine,
Under one lies a son, Neath the sod and the dew,
Sleeping where he fell for the Red White and Blue,
On the other there’s a mother, in a little cottage waiting all in vain;
So here’s a tear for a brave heart in Flanders,
and a cheer for a brave heart in Maine.
This song reaches out to both sides of the Atlantic during World War I’s Battle of Passchendaele, where the Belgian region of Flanders saw great devastation and casualties, including the American soldiers, 368 of whom are buried in the Flanders Field American Cemetery.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems were often set to music, many of which appear in our collections, such as “Deering’s Woods,” “The bedouin’s prayer,” “Stars of the summer night,” and the ever popular “The Rainy Day.” We also have a piece of music with Longfellow’s portrait on the cover, “Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Funeral March.” It’s actually a tune written by Frederic Chopin, who died about 35 years before Longfellow, so it appears that this march was not written for the poet, but was issued to commemorate the poet’s death in 1882.
The collection contains “Ken MacKenzie’s favorite songs of the range and hill country” (New York : Peer International Group, 1941-). Ken MacKenzie (1918-1993) was a long time Maine country music star. He was on the radio at WGAN (Portland, Maine, radio station), and later on television. This folio of 15 songs, including the familiar “You are my sunshine,” also contains photographs and information about Ken and his country music world.
The song of the Kennebec, with words and music by Alice E. Weston (New York : C & C Music Printing Corp., 1913) showcases a river in Maine: the Kennebec. Alice Weston grew up in Madison, Maine, and is represented in our Weston Farm Homestead collection (Coll. 2650), which includes letters, photographs, and school materials. Alice taught music before her marriage to Henry Todd, and also apparently composed. The song describes “My old home near and mirrored clear, By bonny Kennebec.” Indeed, the Kennebec River does flow right next to the Weston Homestead in Madison. MHS has a CD of her granddaughter, Irene Kirby, singing this song (CD 126).
A work published in Bath, Maine, highlights an issue of the day: unemployment. “Out of work : (new sensational ballad), song and chorus,” with words and music by Alice Hawthorne (Bath, Me. : Thos. P.I. Macoun & Co., 1877) has the following lyrics: “Out of work without a penny, Pleading help before thy door, / Without friends among the many, Look with pity on the poor.”
The chorus (and verses) of “Out of work” reflects the times – in 1877 more than three million people were unemployed. The composition was created by Septimus Winner, who used the pseudonym “Alice Hawthorne,” among many others, to write songs such as “Oh where, oh where, has my little dog gone?” and “Listen to the mockingbird.”
No Maine collection would be complete with the music of Rudy Vallee, including “Stein song : University of Maine,” with words by Lincoln Colcord ; music by E. A. Fenstad ; arranged by A.W. Sprague ; new arrangement by Rudy Vallee (New York : Carl Fischer, c1930). “Drink to Maine, our Alma Mater, The college of our hearts always.”
Rudy Vallee (1901-1986) figures prominently in our sheet music collection with at least five pieces of music that either have him on the cover, writing lyrics, and/or composing or arranging music. In this version of the well-known University of Maine “Stein song,” Rudy both appears on the cover and as the author of the new arrangement. Lincoln Colcord (1883-1947), who wrote the words, was known for many things beyond this song. He and his sister Joanna grew up on sailing ships captained by his father, Lincoln Alden Colcord, and later he founded the Penobscot Marine Museum. He also authored and compiled books and short stories, mostly about the sea. Lincoln and his fellow student Adelbert Sprague created this song while students at the University of Maine, ca. 1904-1905. Rudy Vallee graduated from the University of Maine in 1925.
And then there’s the famous symbol of Maine: a lobster. “Thanks for the lobster,” by Caddigan and Story (Boston, Mass.: O. E. Story, 1913) contains the words:
Thanks for the Lobster, the cute little Lobster that you handed over to me
I must confess you’re slow when you let that good thing go.
My father and mother, my brother and sister
Were never like he was to me
He’s a red hot, hard shell, rural creation
But his diamond pin saved me from starvation. …
Reading between the lines, this appears to be a nonsensical song about Mabel and Hiram and a courtship of sorts.
There are two works relating to Norway, Maine’s Mellie Dunham, the famous fiddler: “Rippling waves : waltz” by Mellie Dunham (New York : Carl Fischer Inc., c1926) and “My dear old Norway home” by A.B. Crosman (Portland, Me. : Crosman & Mitchell, 1926), which is dedicated to Mellie Dunham. Alanson Mellen “Mellie” Dunham (1853-1953) was born in Norway, Maine, and was known as “Maine’s champion fiddler.” (For more on Mellie, including other examples of his music, see Norway Historical Society’s Maine Memory exhibit, Remembering Mellie Dunham: Snowshoe Maker and Fiddler.)
Celebrating winter, we have “The snow train” with words by Jesse E. Richardson, and music by V. Bernice Richardson (Waterville, Me. : Mr. and Mrs. Jesse E. Richardson, 1946)
Let’s take a ride on the Snow Train … Where we’ll have fun to-day
Let’s take a ride on the Snow Train, to mountains far a-way
Let’s take a day to be hap-py … Where all the crowd is gay
We will go up where the snow-peaks, Will thrill us while we play …
Jesse E. Richardson, shown on the cover in the cab of a diesel locomotive, was a Maine Central Railroad engineer from Waterville, Maine. He wrote the song with his wife, V. Bernice Richardson. The back cover has an advertisement for the “Sunday snow trains to North Conway and Intervale,” including the schedule. “This sheet music was given to you with the compliments of the Boston and Maine Railroad.”
Other winter themed sheet music in the collection include “The Winter Waltz” (with a picture of Guy Lombardo on the cover), and “Those snow capped hills of Maine.”
A humorous take on prohibition can be found in “Where do they go when the row, row, row : three miles away from the shore” with lyric by Bert Kalmar and Geo. Jessel, and music by Harry Ruby (New York : Waterson, Berlin & Snyder Co., 1920)
Ever since they passed the prohibition law
I’ve puzzled over something that I saw
I’ve noticed lately where-ever I go
Most everybody is learning to row
This is what’s getting my goat
Everyone’s buying a boat.
Where do they go when they row, row, row
Three miles away from the shore?
Why do they go there and what do they get?
They go out dry and they come back so wet.
Why do they load up with dough, dough, dough?
They must have something in store,
Why do you see empty bottles afloat?
And why do they all come back rocking the boat?
Where do they go when they row, row, row,
Three miles away from shore?
While not necessarily Maine related, the theme could certainly apply to this coastal state in 1920. Maine was legally dry from 1851 until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Boats that were anchored three miles offshore were out of state jurisdiction, so they could legally carry liquor.
On a dark note (no pun intended) we find “It’s your land and my land” with words by F. Farnsworth, and music by Milton Charles Bennett (Portland, Me. : F. Eugene Farnsworth, 1923). Maine Ku Klux Klan King Kleagle F. Eugene Farnsworth (1868-1926) wrote the words and Milton Charles Bennett composed the music.
The sheet music, published in 1923, includes this dedication on the cover, “To the lovers of Law and Order, Peace and Justice, we send greetings and to the shades of the valiant, venerated Dead, we gratefully and affectionately — Dedicate this Song!” The last line of the chorus is, “We’ll fight to keep it our land, America the Free.”
The Klan was active in Maine and much of the rest of the country in the 1920s. The focus of the activity in Maine was Roman Catholics and immigrants, although the small African-American population was sometimes targeted.
Not all of our sheet music is thematic or social. Some are just pretty pieces that give us an escape from the reality of the day. The sheet music that will be showcased in the lecture hall at Maine Historical Society from November, 2013, through January, 2014, relates to the idea of Maine and New England as a place to come home to, a place of nostalgia – no matter how far one roams. Whether keeping warm inside by the hearth, or outside enjoying ice skating, skiing, and the winter scenery, Maine, for many, embodies the idea of winter being a time to return to family roots, and the familiar scenes and traditions of youth.
Whichever holidays you celebrate – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s Day — the winter season can generate complex emotions, happiness tinged with melancholy, hopefulness mingled with yearning. These themes are expressed in the lyrics are perfect for this time of year when many come home for the holidays, if only in their mind.
To see all of our catalogued sheet music collection search the Minerva catalog for “sheet music” as either a subject heading or call number.