Saturday, February 1, 2014

America: Another Alternative Anthem and a Disneyland Attraction

Almost Home

Part 1 Of A Series Of 6

Highway 101 Crossing The Border:

Hello and welcome back to Old Highway Notes. We are getting pretty close to crossing the border back into the USA from Tijuana, Mexico so that we can resume our musical virtual journey up Highway 101. We now and have gotten to the point where the cars in the other lanes can't cut us off because there are lane dividers this close to the checkpoint. Only a car or two ahead of us! We still have a little more on the subject of American anthems to consider to wrap up our wait in border traffic.

America The Beautiful is another song that often gets serious consideration as a suggested improvement over "The Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem. The history of the song fits in well with the greater theme of this blog because the song was inspired by a road trip. It was a railroad trip, but still I would say it counts. Here is the 1904 version of the lyrics from Wikipedia:
    O beautiful for spacious skies,
    For amber waves of grain,
    For purple mountain majesties
    Above the fruited plain!

    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea!

    O beautiful for pilgrim feet
    Whose stern impassioned stress
    A thoroughfare for freedom beat
    Across the wilderness.

    America! America!
    God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law.

    O beautiful for glorious tale
    Of liberating strife,
    When valiantly for man's avail
    Men lavish precious life.

    America! America!
    May God thy gold refine
    Till all success be nobleness,
    And ev'ry gain divine.

    O beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears.

    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea.

The song began its life as a poem. In 1893, a 36 year old college instructor named Katherine Lee Bates took a train trip from Wellesley College in Massachusetts to Colorado Springs, Colorado where she was to teach a summer session. Along the way she saw the sights and the sites that would later figure into her poem. Among the sights she saw, were "the purple mountains majesty" as she took in the view from Pikes Peak in Colorado. She saw the "amber waves of grain" as her train rolled across the great plains. The " alabaster cities" mentioned towards the end of the lyrics were inspired by the famous "White City" of the 1893 Columbia Exposition in Chicago, which she visited on her return trip to Massachusetts.

In 1895, in celebration of The 4th of July, she had the poem published in The Congregationalist, a religious publication of the era. The poem would catch the public's fancy and would be republished with amended verses in 1904 and 1913.

In 1882, before Katherine Lee Bates would see America and write her poem, Samuel A. Ward was inspired to write a church Hymn as he rode the ferry boat home from Coney Island to New York City. He composed the tune for the old hymn "O Mother Dear, Jerusalem", retitling the work "Materna". Its melody seemed to fit well with the poem and by 1910 the lyrics and melody were popularly being used together.

Numerous  attempts have been made to make "America The Beautiful" the National Anthem or at least the National Hymn. Its easier melody and it's flexibility to orchestrate for various arrangements, are often cited as reasons to adopt the song. There are also a lot of people who prefer its imagery to the more war-oriented imagery of the "Star Spangled Banner". So far these attempts have been unsuccessful.

My music collection features an assortment of versions of the song that will now become part of our Old Highway Notes  Highway 101 playlist. As always download links are provided where available, and relevent videos are provided for comparison and entertainments sake.

The first version is likely from China.  In my post about the "Star Spangled Banner", I told you about this album. As I said, my wife found this CD in the dollar bin at Target. It has no marking other than a track listing and a clip art American Flag on it the with the words "Music CD".  Several of the albums from that first anthem post make the list again today.
  • America The Beautiful    Music CD    Music CD    3:04
This version, also from the first anthem post,is the song played on the Spreckles Outdoor Organ. It offers a certain magesty.  Unfortunately you need to visit the organ to get the CD. The You tube link should give you an idea though.
  • America The Beautiful    For The Fun Of It-Spreckles Outdoor Organ    Robert Plimpton    1:46

Moving on, next is a classic choral symphony version from a hard to find Readers Digest collection.
This Mannnheim Steamroller version is another classic choral take on the song. The video also contains Home on the Range. America the Beautiful starts at the 4:15 mark.

For my money, Ray Charles does one of the best versions. Its soulful and heartfelt and strong. Interestingly, the song is very visual, yet a blind man may perform it best. Unfortunately, Amazon does not offer the single for download. My version is from the 5CD box set Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles.

The next rendition is from a Oregon folk music group called Misty River. They have received a fair amount of acclaim in the world of folk music. They pursue the song with almost barbershop quartet harmonies that remind me a bit of the Roches. 

The next version of the song in my collection is a particularly touching one. Following 9/11, everyone in America wanted to do something to help. The entertainment community stepped forward with a benefit concert called America: A Tribute To Heroes that featured a veritable who's who of film and music superstars. To close out the concert,Willie Nelson sang America The Beautiful and was joined by the other performers in the concert as his back ups. There is a lot of star power on this stage. Honestly, recalling it as I type this brings a bit of a tear to my eye. Sadly, I could not find an official release of this on mp3.

From harsh reality, lets move to escapist fantasy. The architect of the fantasy I am talking about was Walt Disney. In July of 1955 he opened Disneyland. In 2005, the park celebrated it's 50th Anniversary. To commemorate the event, Disney released a 6 disc set, A Musical History of Disneyland. It is an outstanding collection of attraction soundtracks and ambient music from throughout the parks history. At the same, time a fan compiled 13 disc collection was being widely circulated on Disney message boards. Both are available, but I can only offer a link to the official release, but if you were to search, there seem to be several questionable download sites that offer the larger set. The fan who compiled the collection, Gary "Hitchhiking Ghost" Lesher, has since passed away, so his official link is no longer online. Anyway, it is from those collections that we get the final versions of "America The Beautiful" to make it onto our playlist.

As you likely know, Disneyland was built as park composed of several themed "lands". One of those lands was Tomorrowland, which was intended to be a showcase of the future. One of the original attractions in Tomorrowland was a short film shown in a "circarama" theater. A circarama theater is a movie theater that is circular with screen that goes all the way around the wall of the circle while the viewer stands in the middle. A series of breaks in the screens allow for projectors to be placed to show an image on the opposing wall. When the projectors play a synchronized film, it provides a fairly unique viewing experience, Perhaps this picture could help explain. Thanks to Walt Dated World for posting it.

Circarama Theater

The first circarama film to appear at Disneyland was titled a A Tour of the West and was sponsored by American Motors and it's appliance division, Kelvinator. While Disneyland was showing that film, Walt Disney was asked to provide a show for the American Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. The film he created was patchwork of Americana entitled America The Beautiful. After a successful showing that gained rave reviews, the film was next re-dubbed into Russian and displayed at the 1959 American National Exposition in Moscow Russia,. Then , in 1960, the film began to be shown at Disneyland, presented by The Bell System phone company.
  • America the Beautiful - Circlevision    A Musical History of Disneyland   Disney    17:52

New Theater, New Film, New Sponsor-Same Title
The problem with a land of Tomorrow, is that tomorrow never comes and the dreams of the future are always changing. In 1966, Tommorowland was redesigned and modernized so that it could reflect the newer views of the future. When the land was reopened, with it came a new film, America The Beautiful! Keeping the same name they produced a whole new movie, with a new script and an apparent disregard for the confusion it might cause future historians (ahem). The new theater was larger with better projection. It was sponsored by AT&T and had a pre-show area that I remember quite fondly from my youth. The area featured such features as phones that would let you "talk" to the characters. They also had free rooms where your whole family could sit and make one free phone call to anywhere in the US! And everyone in the family could be on the family could be on the "speaker-phone"! The film continued to be played with a few changes of sponsorship as well as a few revisions to stay current with the times. As sponsors went from AT&T to Pacific Southwest Airlines and then to Delta Airlines before being shuttered in 1997 to make way for another rework of Tomorrowland. The theater was re-used to house the ride queue for a short lived "Rocket Rods" ride that seemed to be cursed from its opening day. For a short time after September 11, 2001, Disney resumed showing the film in its old theater before once again shuttering the theater. Rumors abound that a new version of the film will be coming back, and other parks still have theaters that employ the same technique, but so far no dates have been announced for Disneyland.

I have 2 tracks from this later incarnation of the attraction. The first is the overture music that would play as people filed into the theater, while the other is the soundtrack of the new film. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a good download link or film clip to share.
  • Circle-Vision - America The Beautiful Symphonic (ATT)    Disneyland : The First 50 Years - A Retrospective  Disneyland    1:32
  • Circle-Vision - America The Beautiful (1967) (ATT)    Disneyland : The First 50 Years - A Retrospective   Disneyland    18:51    
Thank you for joining me for this weeks Old Highway Notes. Next week we will begin to explore a third highway in our series, I'd tell you which one but I am trying to let the suspense build. After that we will be returning to Route 66 for some more Chicago music before coming back here to finish crossing the border from Tijuana Mexico to old Highway 101. Join us to then, won't you?

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