We interrupt the Holiday Music Fest currently in progress so that we my bring you this special posting. The Holiday Music Fest will return soon. This morning, though, we honor the State of Illinois on the 200th anniversary of it being admitted to the Union. Huzzah!
In honor of it as the true birthplace of America, or at least me, we do have music, so those of you who miss the latest installment of holiday songs at least have something to hold on to. It's the state song, "Illinois," quite an aptly-named title, I must say. It's also often know as "By Thy Rivers Gently Flowing," the song's first line, which adds a bit of grace to something otherwise more perfunctory. What it also tends to do is get people to sing the song (on those rare occasions when they do sing it) as if it was a religious hymn. Or, often, a dirge. For all I know, that's what they songwriters intended, rather than something to rouse the spirits -- or not. Hymn-like does make it lovely, albeit interminable. I have a feeling that it's all because of the word "Thy." When you put "Thy" in a song, people are going to sing it like a hymn. And if you give people a hymn and make it long-enough, there's a reasonable chance they'll turn it into a dirge.
(Not to worry, if you stick around, we'll rectify that in a moment...)
For now, here is that state song, with words by C.H. Chamberlain and music by Archibald Johnston, written sometime in the 1880s and adopted officially in 1925. (While one source says it was written in the 1890s, that seems unlikely since the composer died in 1887.) Although this version below is long and slow, it actually is a particularly-beautiful arrangement and lovingly sung. For reasons unknown, though, they acknowledge changing the order of the verses. Long and slow and out-of-order (and admittedly lovely) as it is, I'm including this video here for one reason only: because they put together an especially-good montage of images of the State of Illinois to run with it.
Why on earth this video says, "Illinois, Worth Fighting For," I have zero idea. I wasn't aware it was under attack. Not when the song was written, not in the intervening years and not now. (Unless you count by people from Wisconsin driving down on tractors wearing their cheeseheads. But that usually isn't legally considered an act of war.) But for those of you who want to sing along, I posted the lyrics below -- which I've matched to fit this group's inexplicably-changed order. And remember, after this at the end, I have another video that's worth sticking around for.
By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois,
O’er the prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois,
Comes an echo o’er the breeze.
Rustling through the leafy trees,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois, Illinois,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.
Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation’s glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years, Abraham Lincoln’s name appears,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.
Eighteen-eighteen saw your founding, Illinois, Illinois,
And your progress is unbounding, Illinois, Illinois,
Pioneers once cleared the lands,
Where great industries now stand.
World renown you do command, Illinois, Illinois,
World renown you do command, Illinois.
Let us pledge in final chorus, Illinois, Illinois
That in struggles still before us, Illinois, Illinois
To our heroes we’ll be true,
As their vision we pursue.
In abiding love for you, Illinois, Illinois.
In abiding love for you, Illinois.
And now the good news! After all the long, slow and hymn-and-dirge like versions of the song, here is a significantly shorter, 1-minute orchestral, rousing version played like a state's anthem should be played!
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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