Gene Logsdon: Oh What A Beautiful Morning


From GENE LOGSDON

It was 50 degrees and the sun shining here on New Year’s Day. That’s a beautiful morning for this time of year in Ohio, not as beautiful as the one in the musical, “Oklahoma!” when “the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it seems to be climbing right up to the sky,” but beautiful for January. So I went to the barn singing that song, reminding myself once again of why I like it so much. My father used to sing it in the barn where he thought no one could hear him and we used to break up laughing at his performances. He could not carry a tune in a bushel basket and “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” is a difficult song to sing. In the very first line, all sorts of sly half notes and flats and sharps lay waiting to catch the wariest of voices. If you direct church choirs, the perfect way to audition singers is to have them sing that line. Anyone who can do it without accompaniment and nail every note exactly right,  especially on the first syllable of the word ‘morning’, then he or she can sing in anyone’s choir.

But that’s not why this song is so special to me. Its lyrics and that of other songs in “Oklahoma!” are just so very reflective of the farming spirit.  (I write about this at some length in my book, “The Mother of All Arts” if you’re interested.)  In addition to the lines above, there are others just as culturally perfect: “The breeze is so busy, it don’t miss a tree, and that old weepin’ willow is laughing at me.” Even the incorrect grammar is just right. Can you imagine anyone coming up with lyrics like that today?  Especially in the refrain of the song, this line:  “I’ve got a wonderful feelin’, everything’s going my way.”  No one today could write a song that happy. What we hear today mostly in our cowering, fearful environment is: “Uh- uh, baby- baby, eff- word, baby- baby, uh- uh. ”

Whatever happened to joy in this country?

More to the point, how could Oscar Hammerstein II write farm-genuine lyrics like that when I doubt he ever walked on a farm long enough to kick a corn cob.  So I did some research, and sure enough he didn’t. The inspiration for “Oklahoma!” and especially the song “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” came from an earlier Broadway musical, “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs and Hammerstein readily gave Riggs credit. Why is that so significant?  Lynn Riggs grew up a real farmer on his father’s ranch. He knew what it was like to ride out on a lovely summer morning to see the cows grazing, the corn waving, the sun-sparkled dew on the grass.  In his own work, he knew just how to describe that wonderful feeling of joy that all of us sometimes feel because we live in the sun and in the fields. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein had the skill to make that feeling more poignant for  everyone, but the original art came lock, stock and barrel directly out of agrarian life itself, out of OUR lives, all of you who stand by me on this website.

Happy New Year to all of you and may you all have reason to sing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” all year long, even if you don’t hit all the notes quite square.
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