Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Free Birthday Song

Today marks the birthday of my beloved, sunnyside d. How best to celebrate? The kids and I will of course offer her presents, serve up cake and ice cream, and sing her some sort of birthday song. But we will not, if all goes to plan, sing "Happy Birthday to You." Why not? Because she deserves better.

"Happy Birthday to You," has its fans, of course. Indeed, it allegedly ranks as the most popular song in the English language. But it remains subject to limitations imposed by copyright law. Those would not bar me and the kids from singing "Happy Birthday to You" in the privacy of our home, of course, because that would not constitute a public performance of the work. Still, though, it just doesn't seem proper to celebrate the birthday of so unique and freedom-loving a woman with so tired and constrained a song.

This kids and I thus plan to sing d an entirely new birthday song, one dedicated to her but freed into the public domain. Coming up with a fair substitute for "Happy Birthday to You" has not proven easy, however. That song has succeeded not merely by dint of good luck, after all. Consider it carefully, and you will see that it satisfies many criteria for a popular birthday tune:
  • a catchy and easily sung melody;
  • simple and thematically appropriate words; and
  • customizable lyrics that accommodate almost any name.

Compare, by way of example, "Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary," from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It looks rather unlikely to unseat the current birthday favorite. The Polish song, "Sto Lat," looks like more of a contender. Its English lyrics remain, however, somewhat vague and even, for someone celebrating their 99th birthday, potentially offensive.

I'm not sure that I've done any better, I grant. If the thought counts, though, I'll at least get credit for trying. Here's my try at a new birthday song:
"We Celebrate Your Birthday"

We celebrate your birthday! [clap]
We wish you life, love, and play! [clap]
We celebrate your birthday! [clap]
For you, dear ___, we say, "Hooray!"

The tune, for each line, runs in 4/4 time thusly: D for 1/16th; G for 3/16ths; A for 1/16th; G for 3/16ths; F for 1/4; A for 1/16th; and B flat for 3/16ths. Those notes put it in the key of B flat major, but you can transpose it however you see fit.

This song offers a melody even more simple than that of "Happy Birthday to You," while adding fun percussive effects. The claps at the end of each of the first three lines should suit a party setting nicely, while the final "Hooray!" affords an appropriate crescendo. Granted, the lyrics of "We Celebrate Your Birthday" prove a slight bit more complicated than those of "Happy Birthday to You." So goes the price—a fair one, I think—of clarifying why we wish happy birthdays to our loved ones and what we wish for them.

So goes a theoretical comparison of "Happy Birthday to You" and "We Celebrate Your Birthday, at least. The proof of a song lies in its singing, though. I thus offer you a recording of me and the kids singing "We Celebrate Your Birthday" for d, in MP3 and AIF (iTunes) formats.

As I said, I intend to cast "We Celebrate Your Birthday" into the public domain. Please feel free to sing it to your own loved ones. I think my own birthday girl would love that.


Caliban said...

Haha, when I started reading this, I was hoping you'd reference Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Thank you!

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