Have you ever considered or wondered about where music comes from, those tunes we love to hear or to hum or to whistle? Have you considered there are only seven named notes or tones, repeated as you move to higher or lower sounds?
For example, to begin with an A and move up the scale to higher sounds, we go through the alphabet until we reach another A. By the way, the A is A because the A strings on a piano or a violin or other instruments vibrate at 440 times per second. An octave consists of eight notes, as, for example, from an A to the next one higher, another A. On the piano, there are also the black keys which are called "sharps" or "flats.
I am not trying to theorize, only to say that all of the melodies we hear are combinations of these tones. The creater or composer of our melodies have put together these notes into a melody that pleases him or her.
Think of Irving Berlin, for example, who created songs like "White Christmas," "Easter Parade," "Always," and many more. Think of John Philip Sousa and his "Stars and Stripes Forever" and many more marches. And there are also the classical composers like Tchaikovsky, Haydn, Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart and others.
This article will deal with something many do not know. You who like the music of the big bands might not know that there are a number of melodies that were our favorites that were actually first composed by these "classic" names. There are quite a number of these melodies that were used by the big band leaders, changed only by using different rhythms and adding words.
You will likely remember "Till the End of Time." It was based on a song by Chopin, who lived from 1809 until l849. He was born in Poland and was a real prodigy. He was playing the piano by age 9 and composing when he was 20 years old. His instrument was the piano, which he was widely recognized as being a master of, both in his playing and his composing.
The melody that became "Till the End of Time" with contemporary words became a favorite in the 1940s. Perry Como, in particular, made it his first hit. It came from Chopin's "Heroic Polonaise."
You will remember "Baubles, Bangles and Beads." It became a hit for Peggy Lee in 1953. This melody came from the String Quartet No. 2 by a composer who had a fantastic name: Alexander Porphyrievich Borodin, obviously a Russian. He lived from 1833 to 1887 and had an interesting life. He was already attempting to compose music at age 9 but his mother wanted him to have a medical career.
He enjoyed his medical work, but his interest in music led him to associate with several composers so he actually had a double career. His first composition was a concerto for flute and piano at age 13, and he continued throughout his life, providing a number of great pieces of music.
Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu" is another of his compositions that was used for popular music in the 194Os. You will recognize it today as "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." It is basically the same melody as originally written by Chopin, but the words are contemporary. Como used this melody and words to provide another hit in 1946.
If you are a fan of Tommy Dorsey and his trombone, you will remember his "Song of India." It came from symphonic poem titled "Sadko" written by a Russian composer, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. His was an interesting story. He was born of an aristocratic family, never having to face the hardships others were subjected to, but the standing of his family required him to serve in the navy as an officer.
It was after his naval career that he was able to spend his time with his music. He associated with several noted musicians to continually improve his skills. His first symphony was composed during a three-year cruise in the navy under great difficulties and was sent in sections to another Russian composer for correction.
He left a number of beautiful musical compositions, among them "Scheherazade," from which Lawrence Welks' orchestra recorded "The Young Prince and Princess Theme."
Another Russian, Sergei Vassilievitch Rachmaninoff, who lived from 1873 until 1943, was also a prolific composer. From his composition Piano Concerto No. 2, the First Movement theme, came "I Think of You." It became a l941 hit recording by Frank Sinatra while singing with Tommy Dorsey's orchestra.
Rachmaninoff was born of a wealthy family, and the first nine years of his life were spent in seclusion in a very remote and "Russian" part of Russia, His boyhood was spent as a typical youngster of his class.
He had demonstrated considerable interest in and talent for music, but no great attention was paid to this side of his personality until a change in family fortunes made it impossible to send him to the aristocratic school his parents had planned for him.
He was sent to the Conservatory at St. Petersburg. From there, and his association with noted musicians in this and other schooling, he became recognized. In 1909-10, he made a visit to America. He was hesitant in coming to America, feeling that he was not known.
He found that, upon arriving here, he was well-known because of his famous C-Sharp Minor Prelude. Following World War I, he came to America and made it his home.
Piotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who lived from l840 to l893, led an unusual life.
It was said that those who were closest to him never really understood him. He was sent to a school at age 10 to prepare to study law and at 19, took a job in government clerkship.
He soon discovered that a life of law was not for him and that music was for him. He became acquainted with Anton Rubinstein, a fine musician, who came to be his model. He is known for many of his great compositions, such as "Romeo and Juliet," "The Nutcracker Suite," "The l8l2 Overture," "Sleeping Beauty," his six symphonies, and many others.
Here are six of his compositions that were used by American big bands: "Tonight We Love," "Moon Love" "None But The Lonely Heart," "On The Isle of May," "Our Love," and "The Story of a Starry Night."
Did you know that the theme songs for a number of radio shows came from the classics? For example. The "Lone Ranger" theme is from "William Tell" by Rossini; "The Green Hornet" theme is from "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakov; "The Phillip Morris Show" theme is from Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite"; "The FBI in Peace and War" from Prokofiev's March from "Love for Three Oranges"; "The Bell Telephone Hour" theme is from Voorhees' "Bell Waltz," "The Goldbergs" theme from Toselli's "Serenade," the "Masterpiece Theater" theme from Mouret's "Rondeau"; "Alfred Hitchcok Presents" theme is from Gounod's "Funeral March of a Marionette," and "Hallmark Hall of Fame" theme fron William's "Dream of Olwen."
I could name more than 50 more melodies that came from sources such as those presented above but, obviously, room won't let me.
I hope this has given you a new view of where some of "our songs" originated. It also tells me that the music written by those classic composers was first-rate since it is as good today as it was when first written.
Yes, it's true that the big-band arrangements don't sound the same as a classical orchestra, but the music melody is still there. It sounds good both ways.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.