Top of the Ninth

April 06, 2018
 

Nobody seemed to notice. Nobody even mentioned it. Yet everybody was quick to report that this year marked the earliest opening day of the baseball season in history. That was on March 29.

What they overlooked was that March 29 also happened to be the 140th birthday anniversary of Albert Von Tilzer. No, he’s not a long-forgotten pitcher or batting champion. Albert Von Tilzer was a songwriter, who hit one out of the park back in 1908 with the tune he wrote for the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame! The lyrics were written by Jack Norworth.

While I was preparing to play an orchestral arrangement of the tune on Classic Mornings, I came across a 2008 article by Nat Newell at Indystar.com, written around the time of the centennial of the song’s first performance. He made reference to material presented in a book titled: Baseball’s Greatest Hit.

The song premiered not between innings of a baseball game, but between reels of a silent film. The story is told that single projectors were still being used in movie theatres back in 1908. To allow time for the projectionist to load and thread each additional reel of film, slides were shown on the screen to accompany songs that were performed live during those little “intermissions.” The slides complemented the music – like an early version of music videos. Then the lyrics to the songs were flashed onto the screen to encourage a little sing-along. Since the audience had to be able to read the words, I’m guessing that the tradition of standing during that song came later.

Von Tilzer was an Indianapolis native. Norworth was from Philadelphia, but was inspired by a sign that advertised an upcoming game at the Polo Grounds in Upper Manhatten. At the time, it would have been a New York Giants game. He wrote the lyrics that have been embraced by baseball fans for over a century in just 30 minutes while on a train.

Neither Norworth nor Von Tilzer had ever attended a baseball game when they wrote the song. And I understand it would be decades before either one of them stepped into a ballpark. The lyrics that are sung today are just the chorus of the original song, which is about a baseball fanatic by the name of Katie Casey, who was invited to go to a show. She replied to her “beau” that she’d prefer he take her “out to the ballgame…”

The first time the song was sung at a baseball game was in 1934. The first time it “found its way” into the overture to Verdi’s opera Il trovatore was in the 1935 Marx Brothers film: A Night at the Opera. And the first time the tune was performed in Odessa, Ukraine was by the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. We have their recording of the tune, played as an encore at a concert at Princeton University back in 1993. The orchestra presented us with a copy 20 years ago, when they performed in Urbana. I’ve always enjoyed playing that performance for listeners. Nobody sang along at the Princeton concert. But because it was an encore, I’m guessing they stood – at least before the music, if not during.

Tradition has it that the song is sung in the middle of the 7th inning. Classic Mornings has just gone into the top of the 9th – it’s 9th year, that is. And I hope it has sparked at least a bit of a tradition among WILL listeners to tune in each morning with as much enthusiasm as ballpark crowds. I don’t imagine there’s lots of cheering that goes on during the program or even the kind of applause that you hear in concert halls. But that doesn’t mean that the radio listeners are any less excited about the music.

The repertoire and roster of performers have expanded over the years along with the growth of the Friends of WILL Library. And it’s always fun to see which major celebrations will be a part of each new year of the program. Pianist Garrick Ohlsson led off the 9th with a 70th birthday celebration!

While baseball metaphors are still in the air, let me throw in a pitch for the 2nd WILL Marathon. Last year generous listeners helped us raise $130,000.00 in just 26.2 hours. That’s the money that would have taken an entire week to raise (with a week’s worth of program interruptions) during a traditional Spring pledge drive. We’re hoping to reach or even exceed last year’s total on April 10th. You can help by making a contribution at 217-244-9455 or online at willpledge.org. Thank you in advance for your support!


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