top of page


The behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary essay series about preparing songs for performance.

Sweet Adeline and You Tell Me Your Dream

-- (1903; Music: Harry Armstrong; Lyrics: Richard H. Gerard)
    + (1899; Music: Charles N. Daniels; Lyrics: Seymour A. Rice and Albert H. Brown)

From the script for “An Indiana Bicentennial Celebration”:

Song Intros:

This ensemble {the previously-mentioned Haydn Quartet} became one of the most popular close harmony vocal quartets of the early 20th century, also recording such successes as “In the Good Old Summertime,” “By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon,” and this barbershop classic.



NARRATOR: The category “barbershop classic”, of course, includes many songs that were recorded by well-known artists decades after their original composition.  In the early 1930s, for example, the Ink Spots were founded in Indianapolis, the hometown of tenor Jerry Daniels.  The quartet’s unique musical style contributed to the development of the rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll genres, but they applied similar techniques to their covers of older songs as well, such as this one from 1899.


Recap: the Sounds of Indiana barbershop chorus presented what we call ‘The Indiana Show’ in 2017, one year late in celebrating the state’s bicentennial anniversary.  This was the official premier of what has become our “standard documentary format” concert: a mix of chorus and quartet songs set around a particular theme, interspersed with slides or short video clips each paired with Ken Burns-style voice-over narration to introduce and sometimes close out each song.  ‘The Indiana Show,’ in particular, explored songs by composers or performers born in, or groups formed in, our home state.


I apologize for not writing for you last week.  Suffice to say that life happened and my Sunday ran out of both time and energy.  So now I offer you two song analyses at once to get us back on track with the usual timeline!


Sweet Adeline and You Tell Me Your Dream are both definitively categorized as “barbershop classics” by their inclusion in the Polecat program and book.  As I explained in relation to Wait Til the Sun Shines, Nellie, the polecats are a collection of twelve songs published for every barbershopper to learn and thus be able to sing in harmony with any other quartet around the country or the world.  All but one are dated from the 1930s or earlier, with original releases from 1898 to 1910 being the most common.


(You’re the Flower of My Heart,) Sweet Adeline may be one of the songs most connected with barbershop in the public mind, i.e. to non-barbershoppers.  In fact, Wikipedia describes it as “a ballad best known as a barbershop standard,” and their page goes on to include a fairly robust list of the song’s use in popular culture, referenced in films and television shows from Monkey Business (by the Marx Brothers) and I Love Lucy to The Simpsons and the segment Elmo’s World from Sesame StreetThe title is also mentioned in a number of other songs, such as Down Our Way (another polecat) and I Love That Barbershop Style, which internally acknowledge the piece’s status as a “classic” of the genre and thereby evoke a nostalgia for those good old days.


First published in 1903, the piece didn’t become a hit until the following year, when it was performed by the Haydn Quartet.  Their recording with the Victor Talking Machine Company remained #1 for ten weeks, one of the company’s major commercial successes.


In the barbershop polecat version, the layout of the song is very simple: the leads sing a phrase and everyone else echoes it in harmony until every sings together for the last line.  But ours again goes back to add in a verse first, which starts in unison solo and then branches out to four parts, and to liven up the harmonies of the chorus.  For some reason, the sheet music for this piece isn’t posted in our online library, but, according to my own memory, the lyrics go something like this:

V: In the evening, as I sit alone a-dreaming

Of days gone by, love, to me so dear,

There’s a picture that in fancy oft appearing

Brings back the time, love, when you were near.


It is then I wonder where you are, my darling,

And if your heart to me is still the same.

For the sighing wind and nightingale a-singing

Are breathing only your own sweet name:


C: Sweet Adeline (sweet Adeline),

My Adeline (my Adeline).

At night, dear heart (at night, dear heart)

For you I pine (for you I pine).


In all my dreams (in all my dreams)

Your fair face beams (your fair face beams).

You’re the flower of my heart, sweet Adeline (sweet Adeline).

Sweet Adeline (sweet Adeline, my Adeline).


The original 1899 sheet music for You Tell Me Your Dream, meanwhile, is written for piano and voice, with three verses and a chorus.  Interestingly, it also includes an arrangement of just the chorus section for “Male Quartette,” with the parts labeled “1st TEN,” “2nd TEN,” and “BASS” for the last two bracketed together.  The quartet section is set up as if for barbershop, with the so-called “second tenor” having the melody, but the harmonies are not quite the same as the polecat arrangement created by Phil Embury sixty years later.


We didn’t sing either of those for ‘The Indiana Show,’ though!  Instead, our arrangement by C. Hine features what appears to be his own verse (at least, it’s completely unconnected with the words of the 1899 original) and expanded chorus, with additional lyrics and harmonies not found either other copy.  Here are the words as we performed them, with punctuation added for clarity of reading:

My heart has always dreamed of finding one like (finding one like you),

Always yearning for the girl who’d make my dream come true
     (dream come true).

How I long to tell you what you mean to me.

How I long to hear you say that you love me, too (say you love me ,too).


You tell me your dream; I’ll tell you mine.

My dreams are sweet, dear, with love divine.

Why keep me waiting?  Why let me (why let me) pine?

You tell me your dream, and I’ll tell you mine (I’ll tell you mine).

So come, sweetheart, tell me, now is the time.

You tell me your dream and I will tell you mine. (I’ll tell you mine.)

I will tell you (I’ll tell you) mine.


When the chorus sings polecats, we usually use them as warm-up exercises.  That is, we use them to stretch out our voices before we get into more technically and emotionally challenging material.  Using alternate arrangements for performing these two songs in concert however, helped us get away from the simple stand-and-sing mentality that is general connected with those selections and allowed us to become more invested in the lyrical content of each one.


One of our main tasks for interpreting both of these pieces, then, was what to do with all the echoes.  In general, in music, anytime anything is repeated, the second time should be different from the first.  This adds interest, for both the audience and performers, and keeps the song moving forward instead of dragging.  In our live performance, we emphasized these repetitions with movements in our faces and bodies.  We also decided to focus our interpretation by leaning on certain pronouns to differentiate emotional states and statements, such as “my Adeline” and “You tell me your dream; I’ll tell you mine.”


Finally, we considered the overarching saga of Joe and Nelly/Nellie.  Sweet Adeline has Joe contemplating his relationship with Nell.  While they’re apart for some reason (“I sit alone a-dreaming”), he’s quietly asking himself if she feels the same about him as he does about her, basically if they’re each other’s The One.  For his part, he decides “Yes”; the birds and the wind sing her name, and he longs to be with her so much that he dreams of her even when they’re only separated by sleep.  And so, in You Tell Me Your Dream, he’s finally decided to ask The Question.  Directly before or after the song (it works either way), he asks her to marry him, and the lyrics are his prompt for her response.


And just like Joe waiting for his answer, I’ll leave you with the same cliffhanger until next week.  ;)

In harmony,



March 3, 2019

bottom of page