Warning: Tune May Be Hazardous for Dulcimer Players, “And the Band Played On”

Here’s another upbeat “sing along” tune which I really like — the chorus has a lovely melody. It is entitled, “And The Band Played On.” The song’s chorus is in waltz time and has a nice lilt, making it feel as if you are waltzing across the room along with the characters in the song. Although I have always associated the tune with summertime and baseball games, I am totally “off base.” Rather, the tune has somewhat humorous lyrics about a man who can’t stop dancing with the strawberry blonde as the band played on and on and on. The challenge for dulcimer players is that this tune does not stick totally to the diatonic scale usually played in fiddle and folk tunes. With the 1-1/2 fret in DAD tuning, playing most of the chorus is manageable. It is challenging to play and requires alot of interpretation; it definitely is for intermediate players. On the positive side, my arrangement does not go past the 3rd fret, although some melody notes are played on the middle string. (More about the waltzing couple later in this blog post.)

Playing “Singing Songs” on the Dulcimer

When playing a musical program for the public, I have decided that many audiences appreciate listening to songs and music which they are familiar with. Although the “Millennium Generation” (those born between 1981 and 1996) and those born afterwards, “Generation Z,” may not know the songs of the “Gay Nineties,” the elder public remembers these tunes. I challenged my 98-year-old mother-in-law and found that she can still sing the entire lyrics to this song. Amazing! These old, classic tunes make great “sing along” numbers when playing at retirement communities, adult church groups. Although these tunes are familiar, they are not always easy to play on the dulcimer. I don’t mind making accommodations.

About the “Gay Nineties”

The tune, “The Band Played On,” is in the same genre of music as the tune in my last month’s blog post, “Bicycle Built for Two.” The “Gay Nineties” generally went from 1890 to 1910. The period was full of new developments in transportation and communication with telephones, telegraphs, roller pianos, early phonographs, flicker movies, vaudeville. The end of the 20-year period brought “gang singing” and close-harmony barbershop quartets. These years produced lots of popular songs which we still sing to day. The song book, “The American Song Treasury — 100 Favorites,” includes words and singing arrangements on the piano along with stories of all of these songs. It is a great resources for these and other songs as the book spans music from the early revolutionary war time period to modern years. This song book was published in 1964. This is a particularly good reference book — I love the background stories of the songs; I’m sure there of plenty of other music books available.

Tin Pan Alley

“And The Band Played On” dates from the 1890’s, the Tin Pan Alley and the early years of vaudeville. In fact, one source states that “the inventor of vaudeville, Tony Pastor, made the song a trademark of his own stage features.” (www.bebopified.com/2008/01/and-band-played-on.html). This was the era of roller pianos and the popular song was often played on these pianos.

Tin Pan Alley refers to a genre of American popular music, dating to the late 1800’s that arose from the American song-publishing industry centered in New York City and the street location of these publishers. The term, “tin pan” refers to “the sound of pianos furiously pounded by the so-called song pluggers, who demonstrated tunes to publishers. ” One of the results of this musical period was that sheet music became widely available for the general public to use at home. (www.britannica.com/art/Tin-Pan-Alley-musical-history)

About the Song

The song was composed by James F. Palmer. During the late 1800’s, there was a large influx of immigrants into the New York City area. German street bands were common. Palmer was sitting in his house one night and heard yet another German street band. This inspired him to write a song about “the band playing on and on.” However, he couldn’t get his song published and so he sold it to Charles B. Ward. Ward changed the song somewhat and pitched it to publishers. The song was even published in the newspaper, the New York World. Ward’s efforts were a success and the song became extremely popular during this time period and was a standard tune on roller pianos. On printed sheet music, Ward is usually given credit for the tune and Palmer for the lyrics.

The lyrics of the tune are some what humorous. Matt Casey loved to dance and so he formed a social club. He was the grand marshal and led the parade of dancers onto the dance floor on Saturday nights (dressed in Sunday clothes). Casey adored the “strawberry blonde” and danced the night away with her. The lyrics include, “But his brain was so loaded it nearly exploded, the poor girl would shake with alarm.” This is interpreted to mean that dancing with his “strawberry blonde” gave Casey so many ideas that his brain nearly exploded. (John Kenrick, musicals101.com/) The song ends happily and Casey marries his girl.

I can imagine this lovely couple waltzing the night away on a dance floor. And the couple is actually doing just that. They are Holly Hatleberg and Christopher Affonso. Holly is the granddaughter of dulcimer players Lori and Dave Lineweaver of Bridgewater, Virginia. The teenagers (yes, teenagers) are wowing the crowd with their waltz on their way to taking first place at the USA Dance National Championship (in Pittsburgh in April 2022). When you look at this photo, you begin to see what an athletic event ballroom dancing is in addition to grace, poise and talent. Congratulations to the couple and the proud grandparents!

Arranging the Tune for the Dulcimer Not a typical dulcimer tune

The tune, “And the Band Played On,” is atypical because the verses are written in a 2/2 time signature and the chorus is in the 3/4 time signature or “waltz time.” However, the verses are not often sung and so I arranged only the chorus for the dulcimer. Making an arrangement of the verses is a more complicated project which I will save for another time.

I wrote tablature for this tune in DAD tuning and the Key of D. You need a 1-1/2 fret to play this tune. At one point, the tune does not follow the diatonic scale on the dulcimer. The melody uses the 1-1/2 fret on the middle string. In this tune, the notes and chords extend beyond the usual D, G and A chords with A7, E7 and Ddim chords. To make the song sound authentic, your really need to play all these chords. In measure #25, the melody includes an A# note — definitely not on a traditional dulcimer’s scale in DAD tuning. To manage, you can either skip playing this note, or bend the string at the 4th fret on the bass string. Your choice.

To play this tune, I like to fingerpick the arrangement using a brush stroke across the strings with my index finger when appropriate. If you can flatpick this tune, then congratulations. All the melody and harmony notes to this tune are played on the first three frets. In that respect, the tune if fairly easy to play. Once you get your left hand set on the frets, it is easy enough to move your left hand-fingers around to reach the frets needed. I use my thumb extensively to reach and play the melody notes.

In my arrangement, there are lots of blank places in the tablature. The melody crosses between the middle and melody strings. Adding all the “zero” fret numbers and repeating fret numbers obscures the melody of the song and makes it hard to see what is a melody note and what is a harmony note. Since this is an “intermediate” level tune, I’m leaving it up to the dulcimer player to decide when to strum and when to pick. This requires alot of interpretation by the player, but that’s what this arrangement is all about.

This is definitely not a “jam” tune and I would not expect a room of dulcimer players to attempt to play this song together. It is meant for individuals and small groups to play and for singing. I might suggest that one person playing the melody and another play the chords as a duet.

After all these “hazard” alerts, the song has a beautiful melody. It is one of those mesmerizing tunes which I can play over and over. And as I said in the intro, my arrangement doesn’t go past the third fret. But it does go beyond “typical” dulcimer tunes. If you are interesting in exploring music beyond the usual dulcimer genre of songs, I suggest playing some of these “Gay Nineties” tunes. Enjoy!

Where is my strawberry blond? Still waiting for a photo.

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