Friday, January 27, 2012

Over the Waves

“Over the Waves” by violinist/bandleader Juventino Rosas Cadenas – an Otomi Native American from Mexico – is one of the most popular waltzes in North America. This piece was published by Rosas in 1884 while he was in New Orleans performing with The Eighth Cavalry Mexican Band at the World Cotton Centennial World’s Fair. “Over the Waves” soon became a favorite in New Orleans and quickly found its way into the common jazz repertoire there. Rosas went on to become a well-known composer of Mexican salon music releasing a large number of sound recordings beginning as early as 1898.

This waltz was adapted to most every musical genre from Tejano to Italian accordion music. It became a popular ballroom dance tune and, in 1927, was recorded in St. Paul Minnesota as “The Moonshiner’s Dance.” Further incarnations of “Over the Waves” made this waltz tune even more well-known across the United States reaching millions of listeners. An arrangement by Kennedy & Finn with the title “Merry-Go-Round Waltz” and a cultural association with funfairs and trapeze artists added to its fame in the 1940s. It was also one of the featured tunes on the Wurlitzer line of fairground organs (calliopes). An MGM film from 1951 – “The Great Caruso” – featured actress Ann Blyth singing new lyrics to the melody as “It’s the Loveliest Night of the Year.” Television star Lawrence Welk featured the song for his national variety show.

Perhaps the waltz’s most substantial and long-lasting value, however, was established through the fiddling of southern and southwestern musicians such as Clark Kessinger (West Virginia) and Benny Thomasson (Texas). At the National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest in the 1970s, “Over the Waves” was heard as frequently as any other waltz in the competitions. It has been the fiddlers who have kept the tune alive to the present day.

Sadly, at the age of 26, while touring Cuba with an Italian-Mexican ensemble, Rosas contracted a serious illness and died there. This poor Native American-Mexican boy who had taught himself music, had fiddled for a living in the streets from age 7, who reportedly sold his waltzes for shoes and who died at such a tragically young age, nevertheless made a significant contribution to American violin music. The city where he was born in Mexico has been renamed in his honor: Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas.

From Book III of the O'Connor Method.

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