A new tune for the Silver State
If “home” no longer “means Nevada,” the state song czar might be wise to engage the services of Jackie Maye for a new tune. It’s a safe bet few people know “Home Means Nevada” better than Maye, who recently retired after teaching music in Douglas County for 27 years.
“I am sure I taught it to a minimum of 5,000 children,” she said. “In fact, when I was a delegate, my very first motion at the Nevada State Education Association was that we sing it at the beginning of each convention to show support for the arts and our state. And now, the delegate assembly opens with ‘Home Means Nevada.'”
I was curious what Maye, who writes music as regularly as you or I would draw up a grocery list, thinks about the recent talk of retiring the state song, written in 1932 by Bertha Raffetto, a four-time Reno divorcee.
“I don’t think it’s particularly well-written,” Maye said. “But I think it has nice feel. When I was teaching it, I tried to make it very exciting, how she won a competition and that the state song was our story. The kids didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t their favorite.”
She agrees with critics who say the song is skewed in favor of Northern Nevada. But, in Bertha’s defense, Maye points out “she wrote from what she knew.”
Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt talked recently in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about a statewide contest to replace “Home Means Nevada.”
By her estimate, Maye has written close to 200 songs including a repertoire of musicals. She also is the author of the “Douglas County Anthem” which she was commissioned to write in the early 1980s for the dedication of the county’s Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.
Accompanying herself on the piano, Maye sang the first verse for me over the telephone:
“From the courthouse in Genoa,
To Tahoe’s shimmering blue,
Douglas County is a jewel;
Its history brave and true.
We’re mountains born from desert;
Spring forth the forest streams,
Life in Douglas County is peaceful and serene.”
Maye said she would love to enter a contest for a new state song. She thinks the piece needs to reflect Nevada’s Native American heritage, the state’s vastness and Basque-ness, desert and lakes, Hoover dam and tourism.
Roll over, Raffetto, and tell Lorraine the news.
“I am going to start mine, `We’re special in Nevada. We glow in the dark,'” she laughed, adding, “I’m a New Yorker and New Yorkers have a crazy sense of things.”
For her next project, Maye is working on an adaptation of Rapunzel in which the princess is from Nevada and has to face down a water witch. Over the course of the story, Rapunzel meets Mark Twain and Comstock miner John Mackey. Maye is using a fourth-grade Nevada history book as a resource.
“I usually do the whole thing simultaneously — words, melody and harmony. I wrote the ‘Douglas County Anthem’ when I was up at the beach at Lake Tahoe. That’s how music comes to me.”
Since she retired, Maye has kept busy with a Chautauqua-type characterization of Mozart. She has performed for such diverse groups as schoolchildren, Lutheran ladies and a convention of engineers.
“I think I loosened up a little since I retired,” she said. “I’m just having fun now.”
All this talk of state songs made me nostalgic for the places I have lived, Ohio and New Jersey. The Web is a great resource, providing words and music if you choose to sing along with your computer.
“Beautiful Ohio” dates back to 1969 and has kind of a waltzy melody. The lyrics extol the “golden grain, lovely flowers, summer rain, and make reference to “mighty factories that seem to hum in tune,” which any number of unemployed autoworkers would dispute.
Skipping over to New Jersey, I listened to “I’m From New Jersey,” written by (I am not making this up) Red Mascara, who has a vast repertoire of songs. I looked for rhythmic references to Jimmy Hoffa, cement overshoes, steaming landfills and sleeping with the fishes.
What I got was “fun-filled mountains, lakes and parks, and folks with hospitality.”
Oh, I reminded myself, that New Jersey.
Sheila Gardner is night desk editor of the Nevada Appeal.