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Eighty-six the "1812"

Today, July 2, the day on which the Continental Congress adopted the resolution for independence, was the day, not July 4, on which John Adams predicted that subsequent generations would commemorate with fireworks and other celebrations. (A point I had to fix in a staff story this week.)

I have been remiss in the months leading up to this year’s Independence Day, failing to follow up on last year’s exhortation to orchestras to consider incorporating Dudley Buck’s “Festival Ouverture on the Star-Spangled Banner” into the holiday concerts.

It is incongruous that the “1812 Overture,” a piece of schlock despised by its own composer, commemorating Russia’s triumph over Napoleon, and mainly an excuse for firing ordnance, should have become the signature piece for our national holiday. If we must include this monumental piece of kitsch every year, we might at least make an effort to include the work of an American composer quoting our national anthem.

And if artillery is required, by all means write some into the score.



Posted by John McIntyre at 11:06 AM | | Comments (29)


I was chucking up with the Library of Congress and they say that Richard Henry Lee's resolution to declare independence was done on July 2, 1776.

Sorry, it should be "checking."
I was checking up with the Library of Congress and they say that Richard Henry Lee's resolution to declare independence was done on July 2, 1776.

The 1812 overture may be schlock, but it's schlock that someow manages to bring a tear to my eye every time I hear it.

To my mind, there is nothing more suited to celebrating Independence Day than a rousing Sousa march, or three, or six.

"Stars and Stripes Forever," "Liberty Bell," "Washington Post," and "El Capitan" come to mind immediately, and either of the first two (even if "Liberty Bell" brings to mind Monty Python's Flying Circus) are much to be preferred over "1812 Overture."

And if one needs an excuse for cannonades, why not a simple 10- or 21-gun salute to these United States?

Today is my birthday.

Talking of 1812, how went the war of aggression against Canada? Pretty good City on a Hill stuff, was it?

The 1812 Overture serves one very useful purpose: it allows us to test and properly calibrate our subwoofers.

I think this happens to some extent. I'm most familiar w/ the Oregon Ridge concert and fireworks. They usually follow 1812 with a Sousa march w/ fireworks going off during both 1812 and Stars and Stripes.

Arnold Zwicky prefers "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," giving some examples of its complicated development:

Trouble with "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" is that the tune itself is so unimpressive. Fine for singing along to, but rather dismal to hear someone else singing. But there are oodles of variations and orchestral pieces from it. Beethoven is worth the money, certainly. Or the Bach ones?

Unfortunately, "1812" is not the only schlock by PIT.

From a more contemporary perspective, I always enjoyed country artist Lee Greenwood's self-penned, rousingly patriotic anthem, "God Bless the U.S.A".

For me it speaks fondly of family, faith, flag, and country------in sum, the many individual freedoms Americans continue to enjoy, yet should never take lightly, or for granted, particularly in this crazed post-9/11 world.

He highlights, in short, the importance of family, friends, The Stars & Stripes, the incredible vastness, and natural beauty which the U.S. has been endowed, while underlining the great sacrifices and steadfast service young (and older) Americans military personnel made, and continue to make, in defending democracy and personal liberties on the home front, and most importantly all over the globe.

I'm not even an official U.S. citizen, but as an expat Canadian, having spent almost half my life (31 years) living and working in this great country, I can say I'm, at least, exceedingly proud to be a Canadian living in the U.S.A. .

I only wish I had been born a natural tenor/ soprano like the talented Lee Greenwood (not a baritone), so I'd have the singing chops to hit those exalted high register notes in his "God Bless the U.S.A.". (Interestingly, I can sing the entire American National Anthem, fairly convincingly and on tune, without straining the old vocal cords.)

I realize from anecdotal evidence that many diehard Americans have come to regard Greenwood's patriotic athem-esque, "God Bless the U.S.A.', as a tad on the schmaltzy side----- a litany of homespun, corny, cliched sentiments that perhaps speak to a bygone era in this nation's history. I beg to disagree.

Even as a proud Canuck, I still have to admit that I get emotional chills when i hear that song sung well.......... especially by the original himself, Lee Greenwood. For schmaltzy old me, it never really gets too old.

HAPPY 4TH, y'all !


P.S.: Happened to have chatted a bit w/ the man himself, Lee Greenwood, back in the mid-'90s while waiting for a flight out of LAX just before Xmas, and got his autograph for an old art school buddy back in Toronto who was a huge fan. Greenwood seemed like just a real down-to-earth, humble, friendly gentleman. My memorable close encounter of the pleasant kind. HA!

For those who feel My Country Tis of Thee to be too bland, Charles Ives wrote "Variations on America" .

I don't have a problem with the 1812, but I like the irony of choreographing fireworks celebrating American independence to music written for a British king (G. F. Handel's "Music for the Royal Fireworks", written under contract to George II).

ANYTHING but that schlock by Lee Greenwood.

There is plenty of crowd-pleasing classical music of a suitably American bent, from Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue to Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite. You could devote a whole evening to Copland's Americana, from Fanfare for the Common Man to Billy the Kid, and from Lincoln Portrait to Rodeo. If militarism is required, there's always the music Richard Rodgers wrote for "Victory at Sea." Cannons could probably be added there.

Personally, I've spent the last several July 4ths listening to that most American of musics, jazz. That I've done so in Montréal, at the annual jazz festival there, is an irony I've cherished.


Doc (?), I just knew some naysayer would rise to my Lee Greenwood 'bait' in my earlier post, and get in a snide dig, or two.

It was for folk like yourself that I included my little caveat/ addendum to my general praise for Greenwood's, "God Bless the U.S.A". (Hmm.......... or maybe you didn't even read my previous post? Oh well.)

Might you be as critical of say country performer Carrie Underwood's early smash hit, "Jesus, Take the Wheel', putting it in the irredeemably schlocky category, as well? Perhaps not.

Admittedly, much of the country music ballad lyric form has traditionally bordered on what many credible critics would regard as the saccharine- sentimental, cliched, or schlocky, and yet the recent resurgence of the wide popularity of country/ crossover music, IMHO, reflects a continuum of the folksy, often schmaltzy, story-telling narrative that still resonates w/ millions of just-plain-folk in America's heartland, and beyond.

That's why I would argue Lee Greenwood's self-penned anthem, "God Bless the U.S.A.", continues to resonates so deeply w/ so many grassroots Americans, be it defined by many as pure schlock, or not.

But I can see, and accept your side of the 'issue'. I hope we can agree to disagree on this one.

Hope you-and-yours are having a great July 4th celebration. Stay safe.


In that fine future day when the borders are realigned at last, and the North American Federation waves its maple-leaf flag (with two blue bars, of course) from Washington City (no longer a capital) to Los Angeles and north to the Pole, the anthem will be "America the Beautiful" (verses 1, 2, 7, and 4 of the 1913 version), _a mari usque ad mare_, or in English, "from sea to shining sea". The Republic of American States can keep "The Star-Spangled Banner" and welcome to it. I'm sure Quebec will be happy with "Mon Pays".

I salute our new Canadian overlords.

Monsieurs Cowan & McIntyre,

Dream on MacDuff......... or should I say Cowan and McIntyre.

No-way-José are Canada and the U.S. of A. ever going to reconfigure into a future pan-North American "Republic of American States". Ain't ever going to happen, no how, no way, at least in our lifetime.

I realize you both are hypothesizing w/ tongues-firmly-planted-in-cheeks, but proud Canadian citizens who number a mere 35,000 million, or there abouts from- sea-to-shining-sea, would never concede to a new "North American Federation", even if we Canucks were deemed as "overlords", as you put it Prof. McI., and we would be calling the shots. Fat chance.

Even though those pesky Québeçois separatists (Bloc Québeçois) lost some political ground in this most recent general election where the charisma-challenged, but ploddingly effective PM Stephen Harper and his Conservatives managed to gain a clear Parliamentary majority, and the socialist-leaning NDP made surprisingly strong inroads in several key political precincts in Québec province, I would argue that most French-Canadians would rather continue the historically uneasy raproachment/ political dance w/ the majority Anglophone Canadians, than join in a haphazard, and much grander political union w/ you Yanks. Sorry.

And don't get me started on the Inuit, and other First Nations Peoples of our Great White North. HA!

John (Cowan), I must confess I did get a big chuckle out of your fantasy union of Canada and the U.S. . Maple leaf flag w/ two blue bars, indeed. (Why not throw in the Confederate cross somewhere for good measure, eh?)


Alex: The idea is that we end up with three countries: the NAF, which is all of Canada (except as noted) plus the blue states; the RAS, which is the red states plus Southern Alberta and San Diego; and Quebec.

The map is at ; the person who thought up the idea is in fact a Canadian, though the flag and anthem are my own contribution.

John Cowan,

Thanks for that clarification.

What was that Canadian revisionist smokin'? Some of that Vancouver Island Premium Gold? He's definitely come up w/ some pretty far-out gerrymandering. Southern Alberta and San Diego----- now that's a geographic stretch, for sure.

Might just as well throw in Orange County, CA for good measure, w/ neighboring San diego County, Southern Alberta and those diehard Bible-Belt red states.

Orange County has been a solid bastion of hardline Republican Party politics and conservative values since the mid-20th century, even though in recent decades the largely lilly-white population has given way to a steady influx of Latino, Middle-Eastern, and Southeast-Asian immigration----the latter largely of Vietnamese and Cambodian ancestry.

Interestingly, most of these refugees, once having settled into the Orange County way of life tend to ultimately vote along mostly politically conservative, Republican lines, resonating to the GOP's historically anti-communist rhetoric and its championing of individualism, less government, and the capitalist work ethic.

Curiously, that lady septuagenarian, member of the board of the Orange County Republican Action Committee (close enough), who a number of months back sent out that controversial pictorial e-mail to friends and political colleagues of Pres. Obama as a baby ape in an anthropomorphized chimpanzee family portrait was a longtime, and proud Orange County resident. Folks of that caliber likely need their own country. Just sayin'.

And good old Quebec gets to be its own sovereign nation, or most likely a Republic. Of course, that pretty much geographically cuts off the Maritime provinces from the rest of the proposed NAF, since I don't believe the New England states are politically a monolithically blue state block. New York State, particularly NYC and environs is historically a liberal, pro-Dems constituency, whilst upstate New York I would contend is a mixed bag of both liberal and conservative leaning folk. It's all very confusing.

John, I tried to follow up on that http address you noted in your last dispatch w/ the politically reconfigured map of North America, but couldn't seem to track it down. I know just one little minor typing omission, or miscue can muck things up royally. Likely my pudgy digits are the culprit.

Fun stuff, at any rate.

Always appreciate, and enjoy your input, and thoughtful take on things.

Hope you had a great holiday weekend.


Not, perhaps, the best of ideas. Apart from the naffness of the name NAF, think what politics will be like in the RAS: that diminution of prestige; that frightening population pressure from the south; that powerful Marxist People's Republic to the north: permanent government by the New Paranoia Party, I would think.

I like the 1812 Overture.

Personally, I find most of Copland schlocky or, as one of my offspring urges me to say, "derivative". (His explanation is that derivative actually has no useful meaning, but it is clearly not a good thing. Pretentious schlock, I guess.)

July 4, 1976, we were at the Friendswood, Texas High School Football field after a day of cooking out and drinking Lone Star with the neighbors. The musical ensemble, which consisted of a trumpet, and an accordian and I can't remember what that 3rd instrument was but it didn't bind the other 2 together, played The Star Spangled Banner and the fireworks started more or less on "...the rockets red glare..." After whoopin' and hollerin' and wavin' out hats along with everyone else, we turned to each other and said, "Toto, we're not in NJ anymore."

Happy belated Birthday, John Cowan. I wish you many adventures.


First off, old lad, welcome back to the fold. Even though your absence was relatively short, I for one, missed your erudition and dry wit.

Trust you had a jolly grand time on your little getaway trek up in the glorious Lake District. While you were happily traipsing over hill and dale, I happen to have caught a hilarious Brit faux documentary called "The Trip", starring veteran standup-style comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. (I'm sure you are keenly aware of their past work?)

What a marvelously entertaining start-to-finish hoot, as these two über-competitive mimic/ jokesters leisurely motor from one Lake District chi-chi, haute cuisine B&B restaurant to the next (seven in all); all the while getting increasingly on each others nerves. Brilliant vocal spoofs on Sir Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, Sir Richard Burton, Sir Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and even the stammering Woody Allen.

Coogan is supposed to be doing research for a travel/ cuisine review which would appear in a future edition of The Observer, although you don't really see him taking many notes, and most of the piece revolves around the humorous back-and-forth between these two very funny blokes. At one point in their travels they stop by for a bit (and a bite) at Coogan's parent's humble abode in Lincolnshire (?). I wouldn't be surprised if these charming, homey folk were his actual parents. They just seemed so down-to-earth genuine.(Great acting, otherwise.)

The cinematography in this film was first-rate, and did true justice to the serene beauty and vastness of that very special , most picturesque part of England. Frankly, i had no idea how scenically wonderful the Lake District really was, thinking those famed men and women of letters who wrote so glowingly of this region were perhaps just gilding the lily. Not so. But I digress.

Picky, i agree that that radical gerrymandering concept proposing to divvy up the North American continent is, "...... not, perhaps, the best of ideas.' ....... as you bluntly put it.

Yet the U.S. of A. seems to have functioned quite adequately w/ their two far-flung, late-comer states of Hawaii and Alaska, w/ Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands hanging in there as unincorporated island territories. So clearly, there are precedents for a kind of geographical hodgepodge of politically aligned territories,
on paper, at least, making a NAF/ RAS/ Quebec reconfiguration feasible, but I would argue utterly problematic, on so many levels.

Your mild concern about the NAF short-form for North American Federation, and the intrinsic "naffiness" of it all, I might suggest comes from that rather troublesome piece of legislation binding the U.S., Canada and Mexico trade relations, namely NAFTA.

This has been a chronically touchy subject in the continuing volatile U.S./ Canadian/ Mexican inter-continental trade and commerce relations since its official codification under then-President Bill Clinton back in Dec. of 1993, and its ultimately going into effect on Jan. 1 of 1994. But this is a whole other kettle of fish to fry, perhaps on another occasion.

Ta! Ta!


P.S.: Did read your "London Beckons" entry from earlier today. Thanks for the English robin salutations. I've never actually seen a Dipper in the wild, although they are quite abundant in the higher, wetter, mountainous elevations of California, hanging out along rushing river beds, and waterfalls, doing what Dippers generally do.

Here in Southern California, of late, we're having a rather extended stretch of scorchingly hot days, so our birding over the big holiday weekend was pretty dismal, for the most part. Weather frankly unfit for our fine feathered friends, mad dogs and Englishmen.

No, New England is as blue as it gets. True that Vermont Republicans stayed liberal long after the rest of the Republicans moved decisively to the right, but most of those Republicans are now Democrats, Independents (like Bernie Sanders today) or Socialists (like Bernie Sanders in the past). The Great Reconfiguration would in fact reunite New England and the Maritimes, where what was originally a single culture has been divided since 1783.

Indeed, Passamaquoddy in Nova Scotia sent letters to the First Continental Congress of 1774 asking for membership and military support against the Crown, but the Congress decided the effort, while desirable, was impracticable -- the British had locked up Halifax, the best deep-water harbor on the North American coast, beyond all hope of taking it. Quebec, St. John's Island (later PEI) and Nova Scotia (which included New Brunswick at the time) were invited to join the Second Continental Congress, but declined.

The URL is easier to type, and also leads to the map.

Lancashire rather than Lincolnshire, I suspect, Alex. And although I haven't seen the film, I think it covered the Yorkshire Dales as well as the Lake District. Of course the best bits will have been the Lake District, since that is the most beautiful place on earth (go on then - disprove it!) although I wouldn't call it vast. Of course the whole British Isles would fit easily into a Texan's navel. But don't try that at home.

The term "derivative" to describe classical (or "art music, " more appropiately) is not an insult. Most of the world's best (NOT popular)music is derived in some sense from something else. Even Plainsong is based on a variety of tunes: drinking, bawdy songs, etc. Copland did just fine, thank you, derivative or not.


Thanks for that English geography clarification. Indeed, actor Coogan's parent's home turf was more likely Lancashire. Always seem to get a wee bit discombobulated w/ your sundry "shires".

And those incredibly impressive elevated glacially-altered stony outcroppings in, "The Trip", were probably shot on the Yorkshire Dales, as you've suggested. Very beautiful, nonetheless, in their starkness, and ancient 'mien'. Dare I say vastness. HA!

I agree, a Texan's navel is an area of the anatomy one should definitely stay clear of at all costs. Never know what one might discover in that seemingly dark, bottomless abyss. (Other than copious amounts of lint, lost armadillos, cacti, and oozy Texas 'crude'. HA!)

Although technically the human umbilicus (the 'inny' version) may not be considered a legitimate bodily orifice, if a native Texan were able, he would undoubtedly put it to good use as a secondary mouthpiece, while boasting to the world from both upper and lower 'pie-holes' that , " EVERYTHING is BIGGER in TEXAS, PARDNER!". Including Lone Star State politicians' over-inflated egos. Are you listening Gov. Perry? (More pointedly, are you running for 'pres.' in 2012?)

@John Cowan. Thanks for the historical info re/ Canada's factoring into both the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses. A north/ south geographical axis, on paper at least, did appear, at that juncture, like a practicable resolution, but bottom-line, it appears that Maritime Canada's desire to still retain the British 'connection' was far more compelling, and expedient, than officially merging w/ those vehemently anti-British folk to the south, i.e., the nascent U.S. of A.

Oh, thanks, as well, for the more attenuated URL link to 'the map'. I'l give it a go.

@Patricia the Terse. I like your 'derivative' argument re/ the continuum of idioms and styles in music. Basically nothing creative occurs in a complete vacuum. Influences can be subtle, or blatant, but they always come into play, nevertheless. (Even the creative genius, Picasso, was influenced by his predecessors and contemporaries, from Cezanne, to Gauguin, to Japanese Edo period woodblock prints, to African Tribal art.)

Personally, I've always had a soft spot, and appreciation for Aaron Copland's work. For me he has this uncanny ability to capture in his lofty orchestral compositions the feeling of freedom, breadth, and natural beauty, and grandeur of America, hopefully sparking the listeners visual imagination, while essentially liftings one's spirit to another level. If that's derivative schlock, then I say, bring it on.

Hope you folks all had a memorable and enjoyable 4th.


Alex: It turns out that back in 1965, when the Canadian flag was being decided on, PM Pearson himself favored a maple leaf flag with blue bars, but this was rejected because blue was not a Canadian official color. Pereant qui ante nos nostra dixerunt.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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