Notes

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

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

-- (1908; Music by Albert von Tilzer, Words by Jack Norworth)

From the script for “An Indiana Bicentennial Celebration”:

Song Intro:

Harry von Tilzer’s younger brothers were so impressed by their sibling’s new surname that all of them eventually adopted it as well.  Albert, born in Indianapolis, later became a popular songwriter in his own right, penning such tunes as “I’m the Lonesomest Gal in Town,” “My Cutie’s Due at Two-to-Two,” “Put on Your Slippers and Fill Up Your Pipe, You're Not Going Bye-Bye Tonight,” and “Oh How She Could Yacki-Hacki, Wicki-Wacki, Woo.”  
[beat] And hundreds of others.

His most enduring hit, however, is the unofficial anthem of America’s national pastime.

 

Song Outro and Segue:

The most famous recording of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was performed by The Haydn Quartet as part of their contract with the Victor Talking Machine Company, and was voted in 2001 as the #8 Song of the Century. Although the group later went through several iterations for different record labels, the members who sang for this particular record were Harry Macdonough (from Hamilton, Ontario), John Bieling (of New York City), William F. Hooley (born in London), and SH Dudley (from [anticipatory pause before, triumphantly,] Greencastle, Indiana).

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.

 

One of my favorite aspects of barbershop music is that it covers so many well-known songs, and even more so, that it tends to cover whole songs.  That is, it gives the audience the chorus they already know by heart but then also includes the original verse(s) as well.  In most cases, the modern public has never heard this other half of the song and therefore loses out on the relevance of the chorus to the actual story of the piece.  This concept is present in a lot of our holiday music, for example, and I’ve previously discussed it in my Notes on Back Home Again in Indiana, whose verse opens our Indiana Medley.

 

Outside of holiday music, again, there are probably three songs that one person can start singing and the majority of Americans, especially in a crowd where individual voice quality doesn’t matter so much, will feel compelled to join in because they know all the words to these rousing tunes: The Start-Spangled Banner, Happy Birthday, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game.  Come to think of it, all three of these could well be sung word-for-word by an entire stadium full of people during a single baseball game, all at full volume and enthusiasm!

 

To keep a concert audience engaged in a song that’s already so widely familiar, then, we have to add something unexpected, and that’s where the “missing” verse comes in.  In many of our pieces, this verse acts as an introduction before the song settles into “the part that everybody knows,” but in Ball Game, the verse comes between the chorus and its reprise.  Here are the full lyrics from our 1988 arrangement:

Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd;

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back;

Let me root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame,

For its one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.

 

Nelly Kelly loved baseball games, knew the players, knew all their names.

You could see her there ev’ry day, shout “Hurray! (Hurray!)” when they’d
          play (they’d play).

Her boyfriend, by the name of Joe, said, “To Coney Isle, dear, let’s go.”

Then Nellie started to fret and pout, and to him I heard her shout:

 

Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd;

Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack, I don’t care if I never get back;

Let me root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame,

For its one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ball game.

 

So in the story of the song, Joe and Nelly are discussing (arguing?) where to go on a date.  Wait a second.  Are these the same Joe and Nelly from Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie?!  Whether or not composer brothers Harry and Albert von Tilzer meant them to be, I haven’t been able to determine, but it’s probably a coincidence.  Harry’s Nellie was written in 1905, while Albert’s Ball Game came from 1908, and neither had the same lyricist.  Additionally, not only does Wikipedia’s printing of the lyrics from the first 1908 recording of Ball Game name the character Katie Casey instead of Nelly Kelly, but the rest of the text for the verse is only passingly similar.  Thus, I’ve wondered, myself, if this relation between the two songs might have come from the arranger instead; our Nellie was done by Warren “Buzz” Haeger, but the arranger for our Ball Game isn’t named on the music.  On the other hand, it only just hit me that the woman’s name isn’t spelled the same way in each song, so coincidence remains probably the best interpretation.

 

Regardless, to the chorus, the answer is yes, the characters are the same from one song to the next, and thus the Joe/Nelly story carries along down the program parallel to the Indiana connection segues.  Here, the two sweethearts are now definitely going steady as a couple and are discussing where to go on another date.  Joe proposes the amusement rides of Coney Island, but Nelly only has eyes for baseball.  In another notable similarity to Nellie, the iconic chorus is sung in the voice of one of the characters (last time, Joe; this time, Nelly), while the verse is presented by a third-person narrator, an observer outside of the couple.  The narrator is still a character in his own right, though, as evidenced by the verse’s last line: “And to him I heard her shout.”

 

Thus we perform the song in two primary modes.  In the choruses, we are Nelly, enthusiastic spectator the first time and pleadingly enamored with the sport the second.  In the verse, we step back to provide a voiceover description of the scene as if looking in through a window.  Or perhaps we’re a neighbor who can hear them shouting through the walls.  ;)

 

And again as with Nellie, Ball Game has a second printed verse that we chose not to sing in the concert.  It indicates that Nelly’s persistence won out this time, and her enthusiasm for the game leads back into a final round of the chorus from her in first person:

Nelly Kelly was some sure fan, she would root just like any man.

Told the Umpire he was wrong, all along, good and strong.

When the score was just two to two, Nelly Kelly knew what to do.

Just to cheer up the boys she knew, she made the gang sing this song:

 

Our printed arrangement also includes one spoken phrase at the very end of the piece, which we didn’t use in the concert, but which I’ll leave here in closing: Yer out!!

In harmony,

Andy

 

February 17, 2019