I’ve written about the magic of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” for my elderly listeners. I love the wave of soft singing that makes its way across the room and reaches me at the piano every time I play it. Here’s part of that earlier post:
“Battle Hymn” never fails to elicit a response. Part of its appeal is the beautiful melody and full, satisfying chords. And the song’s lower range makes it well suited to older singers, whose voices have deepened naturally with age. But there’s something else about the song that I’ve never been able to put my finger on. I’ve observed many patients from dementia units who slump mutely in wheelchairs seeming unaware of their surroundings, then raise their heads and begin singing when they hear the opening strains of “Battle Hymn.” The lyrics flow easily from their long-term memory, unlocked by the music. This occasionally happens when I play other songs, but it always happens when I play “Battle Hymn” in a memory-care setting.
Things are a little different in assisted-living, but audiences still enjoy the song. Len piped up to say that when he was in school the kids changed the lyrics:
Glory, glory hallelujah
Teacher hit me with a ruler…
I’d heard those lines before, but never the rest. So I asked Len and he obliged:
I bopped her on the bean
With a rotten tangerine
And she ain’t gonna teach no more.
Kids delight in these parodies—silly and often a bit cheeky.
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
You look like a monkey
And you smell like one, too
Or, to the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky”:
On top of spaghetti all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table, and onto the floor
And then my poor meatball, it rolled out the door…
Last Christmas, I played carols for a sing-along at a friend’s house. When we got to “We Three Kings,” both my husband and a woman in the group who grew up in the Philippines knew these lyrics:
We three kings of Orient are
Trying to smoke a rubber cigar
It was loaded, it exploded
Now we are seeing stars.
Here’s another one with a Christmas theme, familiar to those born after 1960:
Jingle bells, batman smells
Robin laid an egg,
Batmobile lost a wheel
And joker did ballet.
The amazing thing to me is that we remember these alternate lyrics decades later. For nonagenarian Phil, hearing me play the World War–II era ballad “I’ll Be Seeing You” brought back a memory he said hadn’t surfaced in years.
As a teenager, he and the boys he hung around with used to change the words to the song and serenade their girlfriends: “I’ll be seizing you, in all the old familiar places.”
When my daughter was little she occasionally did something she thought was entertaining, but I thought bordered on rude. On those rare occasions, I would say, “That’s not as funny as you think it is.”
I was reminded of this when my daughter, now grown, commented on Phil’s “seizing you” lyrics. Apparently she didn’t find those teenage boys of long ago as funny as they no doubt thought they were.
Her comment? “Haha, boys.”
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey