December 22, 1917
Page 48

American Soldiers in France Hungry for Music Huddle in Crude, Dimly Lighted Huts to Hear Entertainers—Y. M. C. A. Calls for Easily Played Instruments
Somewhere In France, Nov. 17, 1917.

WE my wife, Roger Lyon and I—have had a busy time of it since we landed in France three or four weeks ago. During our first eight days ashore we gave ten concerts; then there was a comparative lull while we were in Paris; now we are averaging a concert a day in the American camps not many miles back from the fighting front.
I have taken part in musical entertainments of many kinds, ranging from grand opera to negro minstrels, but the conditions that surround us at the present time make our programs different from anything that I have ever heard of before. Let me describe to MUSICAL AMERICA one of our entertainments. As our party is traveling under the auspices of the Y. M. C. A., our performances take place in the “Y” huts, of which there are a great number scattered over France wherever our soldiers are stationed.
These huts are of wood about 100 feet long, 30 feet wide, 8 to 15 feet high. In one corner, usually near the entrance, is the canteen or counter where the soldiers may purchase cigarettes, chewing gum, chocolate, hot malted milk and a few simple comforts, like tooth-paste, razor blades, etc. This is presided over, as is the whole establishment, by a Y. M. C. A. secretary, who is usually of the male persuasion, though sometimes supplanted or aided by a female.
As a general thing, there is no floor except Mother Earth; what heat one may detect comes from two or three wood-burning stoves which give comfort to the half-dozen men who can find place within the radius of a few feet. Coal is much too expensive to be available. Electric lights may come in the future; for the present illumination is provided by candles attached to the tables and beams along the walls by a drop of their own parafine. Last night the scene was brightened by the rays of two kerosene lamps. The piano, an upright of French make, stands upon some planks, and locates the concert platform. The action of the instrument usually is a sufferer from rheumatism caused by the humid climate.
Such is the setting for our concerts—the same bears some resemblance to the shanties in the mining camps, so wonderfully described by Bret Harte. There isn’t much either of humor or of the picturesque, but it is a scene which I shall recall all my life with delight and gratitude. To complete the picture one must add the figures of from fifty to two hundred American soldiers, seated on benches or small chairs, the numbers varying with the size of the military group to which they belong, They are clad in well-worn khaki; their boots are covered with partially dry mud (mud and dampness are the chief symptoms of a French winter). I have never sung to audiences keener or more responsive than these men in brown. They never heard even the names of Brahms or Debussy, but give them a simple, straight forward melody, or bit of homely sentiment or humor, and they will derive as much pleasure from it as Mr. Finck of the Evening Post extracts from the performance of a piece by MacDowell or Grieg. Their taste is much like that of John McCormack’s audiences” Mother Machree,” “I Hear You Calling Me, “ “The Perfect Day,” “Mavourneen,” “The Nightingale” (from “Lonesome Tunes”) “Mother o’ Mine”—these are all prime favorites, some of which I sing on every program.
Poems of Home and Mother
Robert W. Service is unquestionably the poet of the American soldier, and his “Rhymes of a Red Cross Man” are well known and always enthusiastically received. No other poet seems half as popular with them as their Englishman. T. A. Daly’s Italian dialect poems are greatly liked. Mrs. Rogers recites a number of poems by Service and Daly on all her programs. However masculine and unsentimental our soldier may outwardly appear, he is at heart full of sentiment and most easily reached by recalling to him his home and his mother. Mrs. Rogers has had especial success in this regard with two original sketches” Now That My Boy Has Gone to France” and ’The Old Lady at the Information Bureau.” Outside of pieces like this, the boys are hungry for humorous yarns of all sorts. It is, after all, only the world-old delight in listening to tales of adventure and human nature.
After our program of solos, Roger Lyon asks for especial favorites, and perhaps some soloist or a quartet from among them does his little stunt. Finally, we sing “America,” all standing, and the meeting resolves itself into a general pow-wow and exchange of personal views and home news.
Many things the Y. M. C. A. has been able to supply, but it has not yet been able to supply the great demand for popular music in sheet form and for easily-played instruments like the mandolin, the ukelele, the harmonica, etc. I wish some of the many readers of MUSICAL AMERICA would interest themselves in this need. The Y. M. C. A. office, 124 East Twenty-eighth St., New York, will gladly forward all music and instruments entrusted to them for this purpose.
America should feel great pride in the soldiers it has sent across the sea to fight in the great cause—splendid, manly unselfish, patriotic boys. To my mind we non-combatants cannot do too much to lighten the burden they are carrying so courageously. They love music: let us musicians see to it that we provide them with the means to enjoy the art to which we have devoted our lives.


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