Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bonds of Freedom

[“Friends, Romans, and countrymen, lend me your ears; the evil that men do lives after them. To be or not to be, that is the question: whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and so be done with them.”]

If President Obama were in an orchestra, to paraphrase the Georg Von Trapp character in the movie, The Sound of Music, he’d be “the entire trumpet section.” He’s busy ad-libbing legislation, policy, and history, and appointing Supreme Court nominees who will do his bidding to essentially destroy our founding legal document.

The way the U.S. Constitution is being hacked up and re-written almost qualifies for copyright infringement. The Founding Fathers ought to sue.

Years ago, I wrote a newsletter for my community band. This was in the days before the Internet. I had a computer and could even do some limited design work on the newsletter, but that was about it.

Our band director at the time had just purchased a copy machine. He was already down in the basement when I arrived. His wife and I could hear him industriously copying away. She and I looked at each other and laughed. She opened the basement door for me and I went down.

He was copying parts for some march or other, the chief reason for having the machine. He apologized and said he’d been finished in a few minutes. But the project was taking longer than he anticipated. I offered to help him. He was doing some sort of cut and paste job.

“What I need you to do is cut the top of this piece and glue it to the bottom of that one,” he said, “while I finish copying the parts.”

We were taking the first two strains of one march and melding it to the end of the other?!

“Yes.”

He had copied two marches, "Free World" and "Bonds of Unity", both Karl King marches. King was a prolific march composer universally revered among marching band musicians. We play many of King’s more sedate – by comparison – street marches, but to average Americans, he’s best known for his “screamers”, wild and crazy circus marches, a blast to play and hear.

There were other famous circus march composers, chief among whom is Henry Fillmore, a name better known to the general public (“Rolling Thunder”). You may not recognize King’s name or the title of his most famous “screamer” – Robinson’s Grand Entrée – but if you’ve ever been to a circus, you’ll know it as soon as you hear this most popular of circus marches.

Karl Lawrence King, a native of Paintersville, Ohio, grew up as a self-taught musician with very little schooling of any kind. At eighteen, he began a career playing in and directing circus bands, including those of Barnum and Bailey, Robinson Famous Shows, the Sells-Floto Circus, and Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. King settled down in Fort Dodge, Iowa in 1920 and for the next fifty-one years conducted the city's municipal band, which featured future ABA president Joseph Hermann on clarinet.

King the composer published more than 300 works: galops, waltzes, overtures, serenades, rags, and 188 marches and screamers. He seemed to like composing under pressure and often composed in tight spots (such as by oil lamp in cramped circus tents). His name appeared on the sheet music as Karl King, K. L. King, and sometimes Carl Lawrence.

(If you want a great sampling of circus marches, get “Screamers: Circus Marches” put out by Mercury Living Presence.)

Anyway, our director then took the trio (that is, the third and last section) of Bonds of Unity, and attached it to the main portion of Free World march to create a hybrid march.

I was Dr. Frankenstein's assistant.  All that was missing were the eerie bolts of lightning.

“You can’t do that!!” I exclaimed. “You can’t just go around inventing your own marches!”

“Why not?” he responded mildly.

“What about the copyright?”

“What about it? It’s on there. I haven’t put my name on it or anything [he might as well have]. No one will know the difference.”

He kept the title of the one march, "Free World". He should have changed it to “Bonds of Freedom” or “Free Unity” or something. The next Tuesday, he passed his Dr. Normalstein creation out to the band.

Spectators on the street, the kids waving American Flags and so forth, don’t care what the marching band is playing. But musicians know their music the way literature majors know their Shakespeare. Some musical sections, like the clarinets, will play anything put in front of them, one run being pretty much like another.

Percussionists don’t even bother to read street march music. The lower brass, particularly the tubas, keep their ears open to everything going on because they have to be able to blend in.

The trumpets, though. You can’t fool a trumpet player, whose business is the melody line.

Taking the first part of one march and pasting it onto the trio of another is like piecing together Marc Antony’s eulogy of Caesar and Hamlet’s soliloquy. The trumpets got to the trio of the march and their lips spluttered on their mouthpieces. Meanwhile, Dr. Normalstein stood at his podium, waiting patiently.

“What the-?” one trumpet player exclaimed.

“This isn’t Free World!” another observed.

“What is this?” They looked back and forth to one another, trying to solve the enigma. Musicians don’t necessarily need to play the music to know what something sounds like. Some can “sight-read”, hearing what the music sounds like simply by reading the notes in their heads.

One trumpet player who was a music teacher studied the music for a moment.

“What trio is it?” they asked him. “National Emblem? No, wrong structure and wrong composer. The Alamo? Queen City?”

“No, no, no,” the music teacher said. “I recognize it. I’ll get it in a moment.” Indeed, a second or two later, he had the answer.

“Bonds of Unity!” he exclaimed. “It’s the trio to Bonds of Unity.”

“But what’s it doing in Free World?” They looked to Dr. N. for the answer. His lips were firmly sealed, though. Watching with amusement from my bell station at the back of the room, I told them the tale of the night this musical monstrosity (actually, it sounded pretty good) came to life.

Although Dr. N. has gone on to other things, the legend of Bonds of Freedom lives on. It’s still in our street march folder and still baffles musicians new to our band and music-lovers alike.

Even parade spectators know something is wrong. Marching bands have their favorite marches, the way teenagers have their favorite rock bands, and sometimes tend to play some of the same marches.

A band ahead of us would play Bonds of Unity. Then we would come along, playing this “obamanation” of Free World and spectators scratched their heads. At one parade, we were at parade rest and I caught a conversation between two guys:

“Didn’t that other band just5 play the same march? No – this was different. Yeah, but it sounded the same. I’m sure it was the same song. At least it was in the beginning. No – the last part was different. Well, I didn’t see them switch their music.  Look - they've still got it up.”

Dr. Obamastein and the Liberals/Progressives/Communists are busy reconstructing our U.S. Constitution in much the same manner and leaving Americans scratching their heads in confusion, too.

It’s not simply a case of them tearing it up, destroying it. That would be bad enough.  They’re cutting and pasting from the constitutions of other governments, laws that would outrage any freedom-loving American, and slapping the title of “U.S. Constitution” at the top of this monstrosity. Making things up from the Supreme Court as they go along and tacking it on.

My favorite has always been the “separation of church and state.” The Liberals cite many authorities for this restrictive law, even some Founding Fathers, and amazingly, the Russian Constitution. There was no consensus about it, however, and it never made it into the Constitution.

Another “edit” reserved more of states’ rights for the federal government. Yet another Congressional amendment overturned earlier wisdom to limit the number of immigrants into the country, lest we be overwhelmed by a swarm of welfare-hungry parasites.

Legal? Technically, yes. Fair? Not on your tintype.

It was the Supreme Court, not Congress, that declared prayers in school were “unconstitutional,” that abortion was legal, and some lower court that decided a cemetery out West couldn’t erect a cross on its grounds.

The American people may not be Constitutional scholars, any more than they are musicologists. They may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know when something doesn’t sound right to their ears.

Still, if we don’t want to find ourselves marching to Obama’s tune for years to come after he’s stepped down from his podium, we have to do something. Fortunately, we have constitutional scholars and lawyers like Mark Levin to let us know when something’s amiss.

If we don’t pay attention, we could find “Bonds of Freedom” (just think about that very apt and ironic title for a moment and what it imports) a permanent part of our canon.

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As a note to a friend who reads this blog: I even found a definition for this - it’s called colligation – bringing isolated (or seemingly unrelated) observations together by an explanation or hypothesis that applies to them all. I was searching yesterday for an alliterative companion to “compliance” and stumbled across this word instead. Hey – wait. I guess I also found what I was supposed to be looking for… which means my blog just indirectly helped me with my paying job… and I guess vice versa – “The Quarterly Compliance Companion."

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