Burn, Baby, Burn

The other day, in searching for some “piano news” to share with you all, we came across some rather disturbing updates. It seems that pianos are being burned – and that they’ve been being burned for quite some time now.

Why?

Well, to start, the burning made news as a portion of the UK’s Royal Air Force Centennial Celebration. The varied festivities included a cricket match, a picnic and….wait for it….the burning of a “rather unattractive upright piano” (World Piano News). The military tradition goes back to World War II, though its origin is widely debated between several influences.  It is first supposed that the act of burning a piano pays homage to those who died defending the nation. But let’s be honest – that alone doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense, does it?

The more relevant story dates back to the British military believing that their pilots ought to learn to play the piano – for a cultural appreciation of the arts, but also to improve their manual dexterity and their cognitive performance in combat. Hmm. Well, that sounds reasonable!

However, the pilots weren’t too happy about the new requirements….and soon enough mysterious fires were breaking out in the airbases’ Officer Clubs. After some time, officers began dragging the pianos out of the practice areas in an effort to preserve the buildings, but continuing to burn the instruments beyond repair.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

It’s said that piano burning became an “unspoken act of defiance when the pilots felt the bureaucracy was dealing them some unjustice” (Fighter Sweep). And is untimely death not the greatest injustice of all?Therefore it might make some sense that fighter pilots still honor their fallen brothers with the burning of a piano, even if the destruction seems a tad excessive.

Nevertheless, after just a little more research, we also learned about the completely non-militaristic Square Piano Pyre of 1904. Many of us know that a square piano is a rare sight – and this isn’t just a recent development. Production of these massive instruments pretty much stopped in the 1880s to make way for newer models, making replacement parts hard to find and the older instrument somewhat irrelevant. A couple decades later, the increasingly frustrated Society of American Piano Manufacturers actually asked dealers and members to bring their old squares to their Atlantic City convention.

While the number varies from 15 to 1000, it’s said that the pianos were stacked in a large pyramid and burned right there to proclaim the end of the antique style instrument. (News Tribune) So whether it was actually an influential act or not, the moral of the story seems to be that people just like a good excuse to have a big ole bonfire. Even if they’re sacrificing something beautiful rather than attempting to preserve its legacy.

I mean, a square grand isn’t the easiest piano we’ve ever had to tune….but burning one to the ground? That’s pretty hard-core. And also a little sad.

Now it’s become tradition for those whose pianos have lost the will to live to give them a proper dignified sendoff. It’s an excuse for a party, as well! Some piano burning events even allow pianists to play while the fire burns. Anyone wonder what song they choose to sing while it goes down?

For Auld Lang Syne

With the traditions of Christmas now several days past due and the impending New Year of 2018 sitting just on the horizon, our radio stations have stopped playing the carols we can’t get out of our heads and switched to the generic playlists they were playing a month ago. But there’s one more seasonal song to be heard, and to be quite honest most of us will only hear it once….if we make it til midnight on New Years’ Eve, that is.

“Auld Lang Syne” is the kind of song that we only know in theory. I’m guessing most of us know the chorus, while many probably know the first verse….and all of us know it’s the song the saxophone plays after the ball drops and Ryan Seacrest awkwardly hugs Jenny McCarthy like they’re actually friends. But what about the origin? I find myself asking time and time again. And what does it truly mean?

Well, a quick Google search can most certainly solve that problem! And here’s the long and short of what I found:

The song is Scottish in origin, heralded as a traditional folk song dating back to some time before December 1788, when the poet Robert Burns wrote a letter to his friend, citing the tune and including the lyrics on the back of the paper. In this version, he took the original and “polished and burnished till it shone like a gem,” according to Mr. Len Murray, Dean of the Guild of Robert Burns Speakers. Burns, himself, even commented:

“Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians.”

Way to live up to the stereotypical poetic drama, dude.

All attitude aside, Robert Burns went on to perfect this old folk song and sent it to his publisher, who didn’t bother to publish it until 6 months after Burns’ death in 1796. Nevertheless, he lives on through his words proclaiming “For Old Times’ Sake” and encourages us all to take a deep breath as we ease out of one year and into the other, always hoping for the best and yet never forgetting what we leave behind us. The song is about preserving old friendships and remembering where we’ve been – important things as we move away from a year of sheer turmoil.

But why do we still sing it now, on New Years’ Eve? Well apparently in 1929, Guy Lombardo took the Roosevelt Hotel stage in New York City for a NYE performance. The show was broadcast on radio before and after midnight Eastern-time, and so in a transition from CBS to NBC radio, his band played the old Scottish folk song in an opportune moment. Hollywood went on to popularize the tune in iconic scenes throughout the decades, as you can see here.

Now go ahead and delight in discovering all the verses you’ve never heard before! It’s even more fun to feign a Scottish accent as you try and pronounce the words just as they’re spelled. But truly, take some time to listen to the words. Hold a loved one tight. And try your best to love the people you’d rather forget. It’s a beautiful message.

 

(Go on, go on…No excuses! I know y’all know the melody!)

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

Chorus:

For auld lang syne, my jo *,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae run about the braes
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin auld lang syne.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right guid willy waught +,
For auld lang syne.

Chorus

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And long, long ago.

Chorus

And for long, long ago, my dear
For long, long ago,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago

And surely youll buy your pint-jug!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have run about the hills
And pulled the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered manys the weary foot
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since long, long ago.

Chorus

And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand of yours!
And we’ll take a deep draught of good-will
For long, long ago.

Chorus

*sweetheart or darling

+ “a hearty swig of ale”. Yes, friends, this is a drinking song.