Friday, May 27, 2011

Music of the U.S. Military

In honor of Memorial Day, here's a brief history of the official songs of the five service branches of the United States military.

Each branch of the military has its own theme song or hymn, and several performing groups that perform within that branch of the service.  These groups attract some of the finest performers in the United States, and many of them consider their membership the crowning achievement of their musical careers.

The Music Collection owns many of the compact discs produced by U.S. military ensembles, which perform all kinds of music, not just military music.  Check out the fine performances by the United States Air Force Band, the United States Marine Band, the United States Navy Band, and the United States Coast Guard Band. Ball State users can also hear a medley of all the offial military songs performed by the Air Force band and chorus here, via Naxos Music Library (Ball State log-in required from off-campus).

"The U.S. Air Force" is, appropriately enough, the title of the official song of The U.S. Air Force. Better known as "Into the Wild Blue Yonder," the song by Robert MacArthur Crawford was originally written in 1939 titled as "The Army Air Corps."

When the Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, the lyrics were changed accordingly. The Air Force has several bands as well as Air National Guard bands, and vocal groups.  You can hear both vocal and instrumental versions of the Air Force song here.  The main vocal group in the Air Force is the Singing Sargeants.

    Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
    Climbing high into the sun;
    Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,
    At 'em boys, Give 'er the gun! (Give 'er the gun!)
    Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
    Off with one helluva roar!**
    We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
    Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!

The "Marine's Hymn" is the oldest of the service songs.  Legend credits the lyrics to a Marine on duty in Mexico during the Mexican-American War. The two famous opening lines, "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli," refer to the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War and the Battle of Derne in 1805 during the First Barbary War. The tune is taken from the "Gendarmes' Duet" from Jacques Offenbach's Gedevieve de Brabant. Additional verses commemorate later wars and battles the Marines have fought.

The U.S. Marine Band is nicknamed "The President's Own" because it is the official band for events at the White House.  You can hear the Marines' Hymn as well as former Marine Band conductor John Philip Sousa's Semper Fidelis  here.  The second verse contains the most well-known words (below):
From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli
We fight our country's battles
In the air, on land, and sea;
First to fight for right and freedom
And to keep our honor clean.
We are proud to claim the title
Of United States Marine.
"Anchors Aweigh" is the fight song of the United States Naval Academy and is also used as the Navy ceremonial song, though it is still unofficial. Written in 1906 by Lt. Charles A Zimmerman with lyrics by Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles, "Anchors Aweigh" was first played during the 1906 Army-Navy football game.  The original lyrics were later rewritten to reflect the entire Navy and not just the football team and their fans, including the famous third verse (below):
Anchors Aweigh my boys
Anchors Aweigh
Farewell to foreign shores
We sail at break of day 'ay 'ay 'ay
O'er our last night ashore
Drink to the foam
Until we meet once more
Here's wishing you a happy voyage home!
"The Army Goes Rolling Along" is based on field artillery First Lieutenant (later Brigadier General) Edmond L. Gruber's "The Caisson Song," composed as a morale booster for his field artillery unit while stationed in the Philippines in March, 1908.  A caisson is a two-wheeled, horse-drawn cart used to carry artillery ammunition, but now is used mainly in funerals.  Reworked lyrics, reflecting the whole Army and not just the field artillery, were written by Harold W. Arberg and dedicated on Veterans Day, 1956. 
First to fight for the right,
And to build the Nation’s might,
And The Army Goes Rolling Along
Proud of all we have done,
Fighting till the battle’s won,
And the Army Goes Rolling Along.

Then it's Hi! Hi! Hey!
The Army's on its way.
Count off the cadence loud and strong
* "Two! Three!" *
For where e’er we go,
You will always know
That The Army Goes Rolling Along.
"Semper Paratus" ("Always Ready") is both the name of the official Coast Guard song and also their motto. The original music lyrics were written by Captain Francis Saltus van Boskerck in the 1920s. The current lyrics were written by Homer Smith in 1943. In 1969, the first line of each verse was changed.

From Aztec Shore to Arctic Zone,
To Europe and Far East,
The Flag is carried by our ships
In times of war and peace;
And never have we struck it yet,
In spite of foemen's might,
Who cheered our crews and cheered again
For showing how to fight.

We're always ready for the call,
We place our trust in Thee.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be,
"Semper Paratus" is our guide,
Our fame, our glory, too.
To fight to save or fight and die!
Aye! Coast Guard, we are for you.

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