In honor of today’s festivities, I thought it only fitting that I provide some background and context for the music that brackets, at least in Boston, the annual 4th of July, Independence Day Celebration. In Boston, the center of the action is at the Esplanade, a green swath of park that lies along the Charles River and is separated from Beacon Street by Storrow Drive. At the end of the Esplanade is the Hatch Shell, where year after year first Arthur Fiedler and then John Williams, and now Keith Lockhart conduct the Boston Pops in an annual celebration of our Declaration of Independence.
Some say the popularity of the 1812 Overture as a staple of 4th of July concert programs traces back to Arthur Fiedler in 1974. Trying to pump up the program and gain attendance at the Hatch Shell, Fiedler contracted for cannons ( called for in the original score) and church bells. The bicentennial in 1976 was the crescendo performance, and the piece, composed by Tchaikovsky to commemorate Napolean’s retreat from Russia, as they say “stuck”. In Boston to the this day, the 1812 is played in entirety by the orchestra and A Battery, 101st Field Artillery of the US Army is pressed into service to fire the cannons (away from the crowd). Chimes stand in for church bells, but in my misty memory, I seem to remember that in 1976, live church bells in Boston were rung, and rung loudly.
Here’s what started it all:
I will not tell a shaggy dog story and tell you that I was there that nite. I was not, I was exhausted. I had worked a double shift at the hotel. However I will tell you that watching this now, almost 40 years on, I am struck by the lack of trumped up theatricality that we endure these days. No extra lighting, no change of costumes/suits, no crazy costumes in the audience,no soloists from Broadway, no late nite talk show hosts ( sorry Craig) as a host. Just music and fireworks.
I am a little chagrined to tell you that until very recently ( like today) I was under the impression that the words to
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” really were:
Be kind to your web footed friends,
For that duck may be somebody’s mother
She lives in a hole in a swamp
Where the weather is always damp
You may think that this is the end:
Well it is, but to prove that we’re all liars
We’re going to sing it again,
But only this time we will sing a little higher.
They don’t cover this in the movie version of John Philip Sousa’s life titled ” The Stars and Stripes Forever”,a nifty little gem of a movie, released in 1952. Look for it on AMC or TCM today along with “1776” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
Sousa was the March King, he managed to turn his music into popular dance music of the day. According to Sousa himself, the march was composed on an ocean liner, returning from Europe after learning of his band manager’s death.
Sousa said the song was about the feeling of coming home to America and how “in a foreign country the sight of the Stars and Stripes seems the most glorious in the world.”*
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” was an immediate hit. From 1897 until the band stopped touring, whenever they performed, the audience would expect to hear “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” When it was played, the audience would stand up as though it were the national anthem.*
And far be it from me not to provide a public service in honor of the occasion, so here are the real lyrics for “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa:
Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.
Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom’s nation.
Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
Cue the flag….Happy 4th!
* courtesy of http://www.americaslibrary.gov