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February 2009 · Bimonthly

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The tune Girando Sempre was composed and published in the 1910’s by a certain  “G. Leone” at 165 Stone Avenue, Brooklyn, N.Y.  The title means “turning always” or “by continually turning.”  Given that the subtitle of the piece is quadriglia (quadrille), that may refer to some dance movement, or does it perhaps aim to be more profound?
The sunflower or girasole in Italian, was often used to symbolize love.  It can be found depicted in emblem books as far back as the 1600’s, for instance in the anonymous Emblemata Amatoria, you find this etch and an explanatory caption :


Verso il mio sole.

Segue i raggi del sol questo bel fiore,
Girando sempre; e drizza anchor l'amante,
A suoi amori il cor, l'occhio, e le piante,
L'Amata é il chiaro sol del Amatore.

This beautiful flower follows the rays of the sun by continually turning, like the lover directs his heart, his eye, and his feet to his love; the beloved one is the bright shining sun of the lover (my translation).

You can see the –rather pudgy- Cupid with his wings and arrows sitting by the sunflower that leans towards the sun.

On the Naxos label  there is a recent recording (2006) of mandolin music from the Ragtime Era, called “Spaghetti Rag”.  In the liner notes an interesting suggestion is made: that George Lyons, who co-wrote the title tune, may be an Americanized version of Giorgio Leoni.

Spaghetti Rag was composed in 1910 by the Italianborn mandolinist Rocco Giuseppe Iosco (Castelmezzano, Potenza, 1874 - New York, 1942) (Bob Yosco - Robert Joseph Yosco) and harpist George Lyons. It was one of the biggest hits of their vaudeville shows. The most famous recording is that of an arrangement for harp, tenor banjo and tuba from the 1950s, but it was recorded several other times, by artists such as Beatrice Kay, Jack Fina and Frankie Carle. On this CD we hear the "classic", Joplinesque version, whereas a contemporary recording from the day (harp-banjo duo and tuba) shows how ragtime had been "contaminated" by swing; on the other hand, as a vaudeville act, Lyons and Yosco may have felt they had to modernise the form. George Lyons (Giorgio Leoni?) may well have come, like Yosco, from the Italian region of Basilicata: his skill as a harpist suggests a link with the town of Viggiano, still known today for its century-old tradition of producing talented harpists. Emigration from the area to the United States in the late nineteenth century is well documented (indeed, so many people left as to endanger that tradition), and as the new century began nearly all the harpists playing in American symphony orchestras had originally come from Viggiano.

If that identification is true, we may actually have pictures of the composers.  Check out the coversheet of this other composition of theirs (from the Levy Sheet music collection of the Johns Hopkins University1)

The song says farewell to an Italian-American barber who has to go fight against the German Kaiser in Europe in World War I:

Macaroni Joe, Good – a bye
and good-a luck to you, Joe.
Uncle Sam you know, wants-a you to go,
Just lock up your barbershop
and show that you’re a Yankee Wop,
So just-a  you be wise, and show-a to the Kise,
That you’re-a one-a big-ga tough-a guy
To the  tune of Yankee Doodle,
 just a-bust him in the noodle
Macaroni Joe, goodbye!


Quite a unique mandolin Bob Yosco (Roberto Iosco) is playing, a flatback precursor to the Rigel.
In another song cover sheet he does use the traditional Italian bowl back.2

I guess these musicians could play a lot of traditional Italian tunes when they played at the local barber shop or the family get togethers, but they also knew how to be succesful in the vaudeville circuit by adapting their looks, names, instruments and repertoires to the vaudeville circuit that payed them better wages.  And when they weren’t touring, there was the music publishing business to fall back on.  Not so different from many of today’s performers.

I would not make heavy bets on the identification of Giorgio Leone with George Lyons as the composer of Girando Sempre, but as the Italian saying goes: se non è vero, è ben trovato! (it may not be true, but it’s a good explanation).

About the Author

Paul Oorts started his musical career in his native Belgium playing the flügelhorn in the village band of the small town in which he grew up. During the late seventies he learned to play guitar, bass, and 5-string banjo in the vibrant folk scene of Antwerp, then a magnet for buskers of all feathers. He first picked up a mandolin while living in Italy and got his first decent instrument just before he moved to the US in 86 and traded in his upright (which was rather hard to take on the plane…).

During graduate school in PA he started playing for contradances, and got interested in the hammered dulcimer, which would lead him to a lifetime friendship and collaboration with Steve Schneider (with whom he recorded an album called "Momentum") and to a marriage and musical partnership with Karen Ashbrook. Their "Celtic Café" is an exploration of the connections between Celtic and Continental music, and they perform at festivals across the country.

Moving to the DC area allowed him to explore the world of the mandolin orchestras and to become a semi-professional musician, playing in a variety of dance bands and teaching mandolin, cittern, and guitar privately. He has been on faculty at the Augusta Heritage Center (WV) the Swannanoa Gathering (NC), Common Ground on the Hill (MD), Pinewoods (MA), Hill County Acoustic Music Camp (TX), and the Volksmuziekstage in Gooik (Belgium). His most regular gig is teaching French and Italian at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

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