“THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED”
I’m not sure what day it was, or even whether it happened on a single day or not. But, somewhere, somehow, the music died.
My “Scouting career” spans more than 50 years – but there’s a “hole” in the middle of more than twenty years between when I joined as a fresh, new Cub Scout and today.
In our Pack, we sang. We sang at Pack meetings. We sang when we took our annual trips to the circus and to the rodeo. Silly songs, happy songs, and, yes, patriotic songs. Action songs, quiet songs, and sometimes even a song from the hymnal of the church that sponsored us. Of course, this was nothing unusual, because, in school, we sang “America,” or “America The Beautiful,” or (we called it) “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning following a Bible reading from Psalms and the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag.
When I became a Boy Scout, no campfire was complete if we hadn’t sung “The Grand Old Duke Of York” to warm us up, “The Paddle Song,” and “Scout Vespers” to bring the evening to a quiet close. We sang “We’re On The Upward Trail” and “Trail The Eagle.” We sang “The Quartermaster’s Store” – with the chorus in harmony. We sang “The Titanic” and “Hyro Gerum.” We sang rounds and “follow-me’s” and a host of others, and we learned them all without song books or copied pages or sheet music. We sang because we learned, in Scouts, to love singing. We sang when we hiked, and when we gathered in our Patrols around our Patrol campfires the first night out, and at our Troop campfire on the second night. We sang at our “Scout’s Own Service” regardless of our individual faiths or denominations.
Later as a summer camp staffer, we learned how to lead songs, and we sang after breakfast and after lunch, and two songs after dinner. And even when my fellow staffers and I took a day off to go to the beach with our dates for the day, we sang in the drive to the beach, and on the way home again. My wife, as a teenaged girl in the car with us while we sang, came to love me in part because I sang.
No, I haven’t an operatic voice, or even what’s called a “solo-quality” voice. I had enthusiasm, though, and a love of singing. Especially with other guys who considered this absolutely normal – this is what you do when you’re a Scout. This is one of those things that Scouting taught by simply doing, and being. Scouting was a place to sing, and no one ever felt like a sissy or weird in any way.
But, somewhere along the way, somehow, the music died.
Today, the best you’ll get at a campfire is some sort of rap-like chant, if you get anything at all. And these are mostly of the follow-me type, because Scouts simply don’t know the “standards” anymore. “Scout Vespers”? Gone. “Trail The Eagle”? Never heard of it! “The Titanic”? Ancient history… or just a movie.
The loss is greater than we can imagine, because we Scouts who sang learned life lessons through the songs we sang. “The Titanic” taught us – without a “classroom” – that, rich or poor, we need to pull together. The message in “Trail The Eagle” was to stay on the path to advancement. “The Paddle Song” showed us the dignity of the people who first filled this great land of ours. “Scout Vespers” asked us if we had “done and dared everything to Be Prepared.” “This Land Is Your Land” taught us just that. “The Happy Wanderer” affirmed our love of the outdoor life every time we sang it. And even “The Grand Old Duke Of York” taught us to follow our leaders.
What lessons or ideals do the songs Scouts sing – if they sing at all – affirm or teach or reinforce today? Patriotism? Loyalty? Improving oneself? Being Prepared? Love of the outdoors? The lessons have been lost with the words and the melodies. In their place, we have raucousness and nonsense. Or worse, nothing at all.
Little Leaguers don’t sing; neither do soccer teams, or swim clubs or outward bound or other groups purporting to develop our country’s youth. Grammar school classes no longer begin each day with an ode to America. Now Scouting has joined this silent majority.
And more is the pity.
Have a question or problem? Got an idea that will help others? Send an email to AskAndyBSA@yahoo.com – be sure to let me know your Scouting position, town, state, and council!
(Special Songs Issue 2003)