The behind-the-scenes "making of" documentary essay series about preparing songs for performance.
Indiana Medley (2017 Presentation)
-- Back Home Again in Indiana (1917; Music: James F. Hanley; Lyrics: Ballard MacDonald)
+ On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away (1897; M+L: Paul Dresser)
From the script for “An Indiana Bicentennial Celebration”:
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining us in this bicentennial celebration of the Hoosier State’s enduring musical history. Indiana celebrated its two-hundredth birthday last year, and so we begin tonight all the way back at the turn of the last century...
(The show happens.)
From the literal barbershops and ragtime halls of the 1800's to the international concert stages of the 2000's, Bloomington’s musicians have created themselves an enduring place in our state’s 200-year history.
Through the decades, dozens of Hoosier composers, lyricists, and performers have spread their influence around the country and the world, yet their roots all connect them back to a single place: here.
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. This style was repeated for “The Travel Show” in 2018, and is planned for “The 2018 Holiday Show” as well.
In “The Indiana Show,” as the narrations above indicate, we explored songs by composers or performers born in, or groups formed in, our home state, ranging from the 1890s to more recent decades. The Music Team (with me as VP at that time) chose to end the show, naturally, with the Indiana State Song.
Now, the Indiana State Song is not “Back Home Again in Indiana,” as the general population may think. That particular song’s ubiquity in the public mind arose in largest part from its annual performance at the start of the Indy 500, where it was most commonly sung by Jim Nabors over a period of more than forty years (1972-2014). In fact, however, “Back Home Again” is a more-than-coincidental rip-off of another song about the Hoosier State that preceded it by twenty years.
“On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” was written by Paul Dresser and originally published in 1897, and the Indiana General Assembly adopted it as the state song in 1913. Wikipedia tells us this about the piece’s legacy: “The ambiguity of United States copyright laws at the time and the poor management of Dresser's estate left the song vulnerable to plagiarism. The 1917 song ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’ borrowed heavily from Dresser's song, both lyrically and musically, and led to a dispute with Dresser's estate that was never resolved.”
Nevertheless, these two together are almost certainly the most famous songs about Indiana. The medley used by SoI that melds the two into one was created by prolific barbershop arranger Ed Waesche in 1994, noted “As sung by Yesteryear.” (This quartet won bronze at that year’s barbershop international contest, but I haven’t been able to discern if they did it with this song.) The piece is comprised of the seldom-heard verse to “Back Home Again” as an introduction, followed by the chorus of each song. Here are the lyrics (punctuated and capitalized as printed):
I have always been a wand’rer
Over land and Sea.
And yet a moon beam on the water
casts a spell over me,
A vision fair I see
Again I seem to be:
Back home again in Indiana
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight still shining bright
Thru the Sycamores for me (For me),
The new mown hay sends all its fragrance
From the fields I used to roam.
When I dream about the moonlight on the wabash,
Then I long for my Indiana home (My home).
Oh, The moonlight’s fair tonight along the Wabash,
From the fields there comes the breath of new mown hay.
Through the sycamores the candlelights are gleaming,
On the banks of the Wabash far away (far away).
Back home again (back home again) in Indiana!,
How I long for my Indiana home (my home).
Be it ever my home.
Throughout 2017, SoI’s new presentation technique that we used in rehearsals was “emotion mapping.” We dissected most of our songs line by line to attach a particular emotion to an individual phrase, and let it thus govern our presentation of that part of our story.
For Indiana Medley, for example, we talked about feelings like pride, nostalgia, and enchantment, which are all indicated by the lyrics. But for me, this piece never quite gelled in our presentation of it. “Ah, my good old Indiana home. How great it was, and how much I miss it.” We could perform it that way, but the song seemed to lack direction, focus, a target.
Then one night at rehearsal, our assistant director, Daniel, said, “Let’s do something different with this. Sing it softer than you usually do. Sing it [beat] like a lullaby.” So we did. And as for me, I suddenly felt it click brilliantly. I had an unexpectedly eye-opening experience with this piece that we had been working on for at least six months by that point, and could hardly wait to get home to write down my thoughts and share them with the rest of the Music Team.
My excitement from that night was an important part of that message, so here’s what I wrote, not touched up since then except for two notes for privacy and clarification:
Imagine this: You're singing to a child, your child, your child (or perhaps grandchild) who has never been to Indiana and who likely never will be. (Or at least not until they’re rather older, maybe because you now live in Hawaii or something.) So for now, to them, this way you’re telling about this place —kind of like a bedtime story: “I’ve wandered over land and sea; seen just about everything, you know. But there’s one special place that still casts a spell on me whenever I think about it.”— makes it sound like something almost fantastical. Maybe because, instead of Hawaii, you actually live in a city where a kid nowadays can hardly encounter candlelight gleaming through sycamores and moonbeams on the water and the breath of new-mown hay.
Yet you still have such fond memories of this place, your own boyhood home and experiences, that as you tell this story, you’re transported back to the same age again as that child in the bed in front of you. And they’re taken on that mental journey with you, until finally, at the end, you’ve let out your longing that's you didn’t realize has been building up for so long, and the child has felt it with you. But now at last they’re asleep, and you give them one last kiss on the forehead before leaving the room.
This is the mood I was into when we sang tonight: intense longing for a return to a faraway time and place, yet softly spoken enough to lull a child to sleep. ...Until [one of the Lead’s] solo “Back home again!” in the reprise leading into the tag, which was suddenly back at our usual excited volume [as we had, admittedly, been practicing it up to that point]. I was honestly so into my description, plus standing right next to him, that at that moment I nearly physically jumped away, thinking, “Well, now the kid's awake again! All of a sudden you yelled for some reason and now the magic is gone.” (No offense meant, just an instant reaction!)
I don't know if anyone else experienced anything similar, but this particular story worked so well for me personally that I couldn’t not share my thoughts with you all, and I’m eager to hear any further comments or ideas.
To my email, the assistant director commented simply “Right on the money, Andy!” Two weeks later, I shared this text with the rest of the chorus at rehearsal and it completely flipped the way we performed the song thereafter. And that kind of in-depth exploration into the feelings and meanings behind the notes and words is a perfect example of what I plan to do with the rest of this writing series, so I’m excited to share my thoughts with you, too.
October 28, 2018