Vintage Ukulele Sheet Music Finds: “Japansy Waltz Song” and “Barbara” – Every now and then, when I’m off collecting vintage music paraphernalia for our space, I come across boxes of old sheet music. Often times the songs I find are actually quite useful for our teachers. We’ve gathered some old dixieland tunes, classical scores, and piano exercises published from the turn of the 20th century. Of course most anything can be found online now, but there’s nothing like a chance run-in when you’re browsing through a physical library (in this case, our very own Philly Music Lessons library). Plus, when rummaging through troves of sheet music in second hand warehouses, one might uncover a truly obscure piece and encounter a unique and remarkable glimpse into the past.
If it’s not the anachronistic titles found in our collection that will pique your interest, it’ll be the art that catches your eye. Many of these newly acquired music editions are silk-screened prints. With Art Deco lettering and ornate scrolling to embellish the covers and edges of the faded sheets, these antiques will satisfy history buffs with their visual and linguistic displays of cross-cultural exchange. One such piece we’ve added to our library is a 1920’s Ukulele piece, its lyrics reading: “My tears will sprinkle your petals each day, my pansy of Japan. Thoughts of my love will keep winter away, Japansy of Japan.”
“Japansy Waltz Song”, with words by Alfred Bryan and music by John Klenner, was published after World War I and before World War II. Though it would take a music historian to infer exactly how this piece of music might have reflected the sentiments of the U.S. population in the 1920’s, there’s no doubt that relations with Japan were on the public’s mind at the time: When this song was published in 1927, our relationship with Japan had been becoming increasingly poor. Though once our allies during World War I, Japanese U.S. tensions were on the rise due to Japan’s economic distress and worsening U.S. attitudes towards Japan. The Exclusion Act was, only three years prior to the publication of “Japansy”, passed by Congress and prohibited further immigration from Japan. While our feelings toward Japan remained complicated, ranging from anti-war to discriminatory, Ukulele music from Hawaii was increasingly appearing in U.S. pop-culture. Its sounds had been trickling into the songs of Tin Pan Alley writers since the initial popularizing of the ukulele during the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Also to note during this period of Hawaiian musical influence, a large percentage of Japanese constituted the population of Hawaii at the time (43%). With the encounters (both positive and negative) that were taking place between the U.S. and the Pacific since the turn of the 19th century, it is apparent that culture was being traded between populations in the form of music. This little love song is a representation of that.
Our Ukulele lessons in Philly– Until more history is uncovered, we’ll be excited enough to have this ukulele piece in our archives. As we offer lessons to both kids and adults, our teachers will be able to reference and play ukulele pieces dating from a time when ukulele was first making its impressions on American culture. Short and sweet enough to be played by kids, this is a great beginner piece. We hope all of our ukulele students will enjoy deciphering this bit with our teachers.
Included in the edition was another Ukulele piece called “Barbara”. We’re posting a snippet of both songs here for you. Love the history of music? Check out more about the history of the ukulele here. The ukulele is a Hawaiian instrument derived from a Portuguese instrument called the machete. With a smaller neck and soft strings compared to the guitar, the ukulele is a great and manageable way to introduce fret fundamentals to very young children interested in learning guitar.