Listening to Charles Ives Sing Charles Ives Is One of the Most Charming Things You’ll Ever Hear

By Stephen Raskauskas |

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Composer Charles Ives gave us wonderful works for solo instruments, voice, band, chamber ensemble, and orchestra. He also gave us some wonderful recordings of himself performing his own work.

And while the composer was known for using polytonality and microtones, it seems that he may have introduced some of these things into performances of his vocal works accidentally.

A quick listen to Ives performing Ives reveals that the composer could compose better than he could sing.

He doesn’t exactly give Florence Foster Jenkins a run for her money. But depending on the day, he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Somehow, though, the composer’s natural singing voice only seems to add to his recorded performances, rather than detract from them.

David Bowie once described Bob Dylan’s voice as sounding like “sand and glue.” Dylan’s vocal qualities never stopped him from becoming one of the most influential musicians of the last 100 years.

Much in the same way, Ives had a voice that added character to his compositions when he performed them himself.

To appreciate the unique sound of his voice, try comparing three performances of his song “They Are There! (Fighting For The People’s New Free World).”

First, “enjoy” Ives performing the piece himself at the piano. (If understanding his diction is difficult, scroll to the bottom of this page to read the lyrics.)

Then, listen to a choral arrangement of the same song, accompanied by drum band and orchestra.

Finally, compare his version to an instrumental version of the piece arranged for military band.

After listening to the second two recordings, listen to Ives perform his own piece again.

Ives may not be pitch-perfect. But his voice is perfect just the way it is.


“They Are There! (Fighting For The People’s New Free World)”

There’s a time in many a life,
when it’s do though facing death
but our soldier boys will do their part
that people can live in a world where all will have a say.
They’re conscious always of their country’s aim,
which is Liberty for all.
Hip hip hooray you’ll hear them say
as they go to the fighting front.

Brave boys are now in action . (Hooray.)
They are there, they will help to free the world
They are fighting for the right
But when it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there,
As the Allies beat up all the warhogs,
The boys’ll be there fighting hard
a-a-and then the world will shout
the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting on a new camp ground.

For it’s rally around the flag,
of the people’s new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

When we’re through this cursed war,
All started by a sneaking gouger,
making slaves of men
(Goddam him!)
Then let all the people rise,
and stand together in brave, kind Humanity.
Most wars are made by small stupid
selfish bossing groups
while the people have no say.
But there’ll come a day
Hip hip Hooray
when they’ll smash all dictators to the wall.

Then it’s build a people’s world nation – Hooray
Ev’ry honest country free to live its own native life.
They will stand for the right,
but if it comes to might,
They are there, they are there, they are there.
As the people, not just politicians
will rule their own lands and lives.
And you’ll hear the whole universe
shouting the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting tonight on a new ground.

For it’s rally around the flag,
of the people’s new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Then it’s build a people’s world nation – Hooray
Ev’ry honest country free to live its own native life.
They will stand for the right,
but when it comes to might,
They’ll be there, they’ll be there, they’ll be there.
When the people, not just politicians
will rule their own lands and lives.
As you’ll hear the whole universe
shouting the battle cry of Freedom.

Tenting on a new camp ground.
Tenting tonight.
Tenting tonight on a new ground.

For it’s rally around the flag,
of the people’s new free world.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!


Lyrics to “They Are There!” have been reproduced from ARC Chicago.