Category: Art Mob Music

A Herd of Cats and a Hoard of Music

The Things We Sing: “I Had a Dream Just Now, Mother”

Art Mob treasurer, arranger, and bass Dean Rainey tells the story behind this Victorian exemplar:

Our Spring 2018 “Keep a Lid On It” program includes this spooky 1854 lament, representing a genre that dates from a time when infant mortality was far too common.

I Had a Dream sheet music

The original sheet music in Helen’s book.

The popular music industry of the day took advantage of this tragedy as an opportunity to pull on consumers’ heartstrings, which are reliably connected to their purse-strings.

In the case of this song, publisher W. C. Peters & Sons, of Cincinnati, sold a copy to the Thibault family. Helen E. Thibault, perhaps a musical daughter, included it in a bound collection of her sheet music, with her name engraved on the front. You can barely read it now.

Helen's book

Helen’s book

Time passed, and we don’t know exactly what became of Helen E. and the rest of the Thibaults. Her sheet music collection survived, though, and fell into the hands of an eccentric great-uncle of mine. I don’t recall ever meeting him; he lived in Southern California, where he worked, for decades, at a bookstore. A recluse in his later years and apparently a hoarder (he never let anyone into his house, so we have only the word of the people who cleaned it up after he died), he left no heirs, but his will divided his estate among three relatives, including my mother. His many books and his other property—of which there seems to have been very little other than a herd of cats—were sold off and the proceeds doled out as directed.

But there were some things that nobody wanted. Besides Helen’s volume of music, damaged by time, mildew, and cats, there were a hefty stack of loose sheet music, dating from the teens through the thirties; a boxful of Hollywood movie magazines; and miscellaneous movie star photos. All this was shipped to my mother’s address, where I pounced on the music. I have mined the loose sheets for many an Art Mob arrangement, but I always felt most emotionally attached to Helen’s book, since it connects me with a real person: a person who, judging from its contents, sang sentimental duets (“Our Wild Woodland Home,” “Gently Sighs the Breeze”) and played salon pieces for piano four hands (Overture to “Le Cheval de Bronze” by D. F. E Auber) and solo (“Le Carnevale de Venise” by Th. Oesten) when she was not singing about departed children. She also, charmingly, believed in fairies: the Mob sang “Tell Me Where Do Fairies Dwell,” one of several such songs in her book, in 2011 for our “Dwelling On It” program.

Music cover with Jenny Lind

19th-century musical superstars Jenny Lind and Marietta Alboni

I arranged “I Had a Dream Just Now, Mother” in 2010 for the Mob’s “Out of Our Element” concerts. The rationale for reprising it this time is—well, the real reason is that I had been haunted by a desire to sing it again and was looking for any excuse. The fig leaf of legitimacy is the “wreath of golden hair” with which the angel is bedecked. His lid.

I can find no trace of this song on the famously comprehensive Internet. Solon Nourse, the composer, is there, but as a hymnodist. The lyricist, A. J. Shively, has been totally eclipsed by a young Broadway actor of the same name. Helen is gone for good, and the baby left with the angel, but we can make the music come back to life. Come to the concert and enjoy this Art Mob hyper-exclusive.

 

 

 

 

Keep a Lid on It!

Hats and rabbits; sex and secrets; whistles and wails–Shhh!

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Things We Sing: We’re Nutty about Tutty!

Old King Tut sheet music

In Old King Tutty’s Day– Hip Hooray!

Such Tut Fun!
The year 1923 was a big one for all things Egyptian—not because Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered—that happened in 1922—but because no fewer than five hit songs came out of Tin Pan Alley to celebrate those fun, fun feelings we all get when we think of Old King Tut.

OK, he wasn’t old. (He died at age 19.) And he probably didn’t cut a rug. (He had a clubfoot and scoliosis, and used a cane.) But Tutankhamen inspired our singing, dancing grandparents with tunes like this:

Now Old King Tut was just a nut as you can see
Still proud was Tut about his nutty ancestry
His daddy was a Pharoah too
His mom an Ashkenazi Jew
In old King Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut Tut—King Tut-ty’s day!

and many others. We’ll be giving it our best, tutting away and doing that two-dimensional dance, in “Keep a Lid on It,” our May concert series.


Where Did You Find That Song?

The Art Mob has a particular fondness for overlooked or forgotten (sometimes justly), music of past eras. These rescued gems aren’t usually just lying around; we have to hunt for them. Here’s how Dean found one of our favorite entries for the December 2017 concert, “Hook, Wine, and Thinker”:

Yard Sale Treasure

Dean’s yard sale treasure

“Yard sales are a huge source of material for the Art Mob. That’s where several of us have gotten old songbooks that we mine for our obscure repertoire. The usual scenario is that a family is selling off an aged or deceased ancestor’s personal stuff, and that not infrequently includes sheet music. A couple of generations ago, it was as common for a family to own a piano and have at least one person who could play it as it is now for us to subscribe to a music streaming service. (I almost wrote, “to own a CD player,” but those are being dumped in the yard sale pile now, too.)

In 2014 I found, at such a sale in Rhinebeck, NY, a little book called “Jewish Folk Songs for the Young Pianist.” As the title suggests, it’s pitched to keyboard beginners, and the arrangements are very spare, just a melody and one or two notes in the left hand. All the songs have words, in Yiddish with a brief translation. And there are some great songs: the book has so far yielded up “Amol Is Geven a Mayse” (“Once Upon a Time”), which we sang in our “For Better or Voice” concerts, and now “Di Alte Kashe” (“The Old Question”) on our upcoming “Hook, Wine, and Thinker” program.

The melodies are hauntingly beautiful, and the minimal piano parts give the vocal arranger (me) maximum freedom. Besides, the songs are a healthy antidote to the overload of explicitly Christian pieces that end up in our repertoire simply because they are so common in the literature.”

Come hear us sing “Di Alte Kashe” in December and find out what the old question is that the world keeps asking us, but we can’t answer.

Hook, Wine, and Thinker! Fall Concerts

Bad puns, low humor, sweet spiritualism, all in one evening!