excerpt from 'Recollections of an old musician' pp. 151-152 (380 words)

excerpt from 'Recollections of an old musician' pp. 151-152 (380 words)

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Recollections of an old musician

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It is to be remembered that the Civil War had just begun, and calls were made through the newspapers for a national song; it was said that we could no more dispense with it than we could with a flag. A group of patriots in New York City had offered a prize for such a hymn. Dr. Holmes thought we ought to try for the prize. I was eager to do my share. To collaborate with such a man was an honor and a personal delight

Our modus operandi was first to select a strongly marked march-rhythm, then he was to write a few verses to fit it, and when that was satisfactorily done I was to write an original melody to his words. The plan was good and practical. For the rhythm I selected Washington's March. Then Dr. Holmes began work.

He was a “ chain-lightning ” poet in his rapid invention of verses. Furnished with pencil and paper, he sat at the table and I sang with a good lusty voice the melody of the march; singing it alternately slow or quick, soft or loud. After a few trials, he “ caught on ” to the rhythm and quickly found the corresponding poetical measure. From that moment he went on making verses; and the rapidity with which he changed words, ideas, and poetic figures, transposed lines, dropped certain trains of ideas and brought out stronger ones, was extraordinary to me. The verses grew under his fingers as rapidly as one might write an ordinary epistle,—the Doctor singing or humming the melody, or beating the rhythm on the table.  We spent perhaps an hour in these researches or exercises till the Doctor had covered perhaps two pages of foolscap with his rough drafts. He then left me, taking them with him, and in a few days he brought me a pencilled copy (which I have kept) of the first verse and chorus that he had finally “whipped into shape,” and which, he said, satisfied his judgment Later on, he brought the entire hymn written with ink (which I now have), five verses in all, entitled Union and Liberty. Under that caption, the hymn was printed later, and afterward included in a collection of his poems.

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excerpt from 'Recollections of an old musician' pp. 151-152 (380 words)


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