When I think about Mother’s Day, of course I remember my own mother who would have turned 100-years-old this year. She spend the last years of her life in good health and living in a nursing home in Virginia. Although her memory was impaired, she continued to sing. When I visited her, we would sing some of her favorite songs and I would either play the song on the dulcimer or just play chords. One of her favorite tunes was “Bicycle Built for Two.” It is written in waltz time, or 3/4 time signature and definitely has a melodic, swaying rhythm. I tabbed it out for mountain dulcimer and also made an arrangement of the chords which can be played as a person sang. Although this song also has verses, typically we sang only the chorus.
If you have ever ridden a tandem bicycle, or “bicycle built for two”, then you know that it is not easy. I couldn’t find several photos that I have of tandem bicycles. However, I did find the above photo of my two kids on one bike when they were young. Not sure how they balanced on this improvised tandem bike as they rode around the neighborhood. It is one of my favorite photos of the two of them together when they were young.
About “Bicycle Built for Two”
This tune is actually entitled “Daisy Bell.” It was written by an Englishman, Harry Dacre. He came to this country in 1891 looking for better opportunities. On arriving, he was charged a duty on his bicycle which apparently annoyed him greatly. A friend quipped that he was lucky that he hadn’t brought a bicycle for two — then he would have been charged double the fee. That comment stuck with him and he used it as a theme for his new song as bicycling was very popular during the 1890’s and Tin Pan Alley years. Unfortunately, as Dacre made the rounds of publishers, no one would accept it. He showed it to a popular American singer, Kate Lawrence. Kate liked the song and premiered it at one of her London shows while on tour there. (London was the home of hard core bicyclists.) The crowd loved it and the tune became an immediate hit in England. It was reported that guests danced to the tune at the wedding of the Duke of York. Now the song returned to America where it also became popular across the states. It was published here in 1892. It became a popular “gang” song, played at bicycling parties and numerous social events.
To set the stage for this song, here’s a photo taken most likely in 1890. It shows my grandmother, Sue Rinehart, (third from left) and her sisters at a formal portrait sitting. I can’t imagine riding a bicycle in such an outfit. I remember my mother remarking that she never liked silk stockings because they had no stretch and never stayed in place. Bicycles were changing throughout those years. For example, pneumatic tires became available 1889 which led to the real national craze for bicycle riding. (Remember, there were no autos back then.)
Playing the Tune on the Dulcimer
I tabbed this tune for the dulcimer in DAD tuning. It is played in 3/4 time and definitely has an “om-pah-pah” feel. I like to use a bum-ditty-bum strum. The tune is written in “phrases” of four measures. Strum louder on the first beat of every fourth measure to get the feel of a swaying bicycle. On the “Easy Melody” page, the chords and suggested tab numbers are written above the top staff. Of course, substitute other fingerings for chords as you like. On the “Easy Chord Harmony” page, different notes (tab numbers) are used at the first beat of each measure helping create a feeling that you are pushing bicycle petals. (Use your imagination.) Pick the first note of each measure, then strum the other two beats. This piece also works well for those who like to fingerpick, using a pick-pluck-pluck rhythm.
Mother’s Day is such an sentimental holiday these days. Hard to believe that time passes so quickly. I always think of “Bicycle Built for Two” when I think of my mother and singing. Here’s my mother at a young age. Any resemblance to the young girl in the first photo? I actually think my daughter more resembles her fraternal great-grandmother in the 1890 photo. Same stare!
Here’s the Jpeg images of both songs followed by PDF files which you can download. Enjoy!