My father is 92, and has dementia. He’s physically healthy, but can’t remember how to play piano, or even that he wrote songs.
When my siblings and I play one of his songs back to him, and tell him he wrote it, he’s delighted to hear the news.
He wrote songs most of his life, and we sang most of them, around the house, on stages, at parties, and in homes of family and friends.
One song from his later years became a sort of soundtrack for his dementia - a song he knew he wrote, and, about two years ago, could still play and sing. It was recent enough that we hadn't become familiar with it yet. He spoke of it as if it were his final musical offering.
It’s called October Song.
Here are the words:
Why is there no October song
We can sing along
Under a new blue sky
Just take one whiff it’s in the air
Red and yellow leaves fly by
Some will tell the harvest moon to shine on
The hunter’s moon is coming soon
That’s what we pine on
In the evening chill
By the fire we’ll
Tell October gold good-bye
I had learned this song from Daddy about two years ago, and we often talked of it, and sang it together. But I never had the chance to record it until a few weeks ago. Here's a quick sample of the audio.
It’s only 46 seconds long. It may need an instrumental section. But at least the words and music have been recorded so other people can get a “whiff” of Daddy’s romantic musical soul.
For those who know older songs in the American Songbook, there’s a great one called “Shine On Harvest Moon.” It’s among the songs Daddy used to love to sing, so it’s part of my organic musical education. The opening words to that song are sung on two successive notes, one half step apart, with the chord underneath those notes giving the phrase a distinctive tang that fits the mood of the song. Daddy has taken his familiarity of that older song and incorporated it into his own song, during the bridge, which also contains the words “shine on.” He has deliberately put those words into the same phrase, and chords, to match the other, more familiar, song, triggering people’s memories with the reference. In looking at the way the bridge is constructed, one can almost sense that his entire agenda was to find a way to use the phrase “shine on” as a musical echo of the other song. It’s craftsmanship that maybe only a songwriter would appreciate, but it’s there, a little signature with a smile.
October is a great time for songs. The season reveals the burst of energy that happens to trees as chemical changes produce vibrant colors. The air becomes brisk, the sunlight slanting at a new angle.
I’m ready with new songs myself. I’m happy Daddy has written his October Song. My own songs continue with what he passed on to me, a gentle creative spirit.
BC 30 Sept 18