Definitions

lang syne

Auld Lang Syne

[awld lang zahyn, sahyn]
"Auld Lang Syne" is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns in 1788 and set to the tune of a traditional folk song (Roud # 6294). It is well-known in many English-speaking countries, and it is often sung to celebrate the start of the new year at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day.

The song's (Scots) title may be translated into English literally as "old long since", or more idiomatically, "long long ago" or "days gone by". The phrase "Auld Lang Syne" is also used in similar poems by Robert Ayton (1570–1638), Allan Ramsay (1686-1757) and James Watson (1711) as well as older folk songs predating Burns. In his retelling of fairy tales in the Scots language, Matthew Fitt uses the phrase “In the days of auld lang syne” as the equivalent of “Once upon a time.” In Scots syne is pronounced like the English word sign — sain — not [zain] as many people pronounce it. The last line of the chorus is frequently mis-sung by crowds and untrained groups as "for the sake of Auld Lang Syne". This is partly because the words themselves are not understood, but also because it has become common practice. It is rarely, if ever, incorrectly performed by trained choirs.

History

Robert Burns forwarded a copy of the original song to the Scots Musical Museum with the remark, “The following song, an old song, of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man's singing, is enough to recommend any air.” At the time it was fashionable to claim one's own work was "traditional"; therefore, one should take Burns' statement with mild scepticism. Some of the lyrics were indeed "collected" rather than composed by the poet; the ballad "Old Long Syne" printed in 1711 by James Watson shows considerable similarity in the first verse and the chorus to Burns' later poem. It is a fair supposition to attribute the rest of the poem to Burns himself.

There is some doubt as to whether the melody used today is the same one Burns originally intended, but it is widely used both in Scotland and in the rest of the world. Links to the original and contemporary melodies can be found here

Singing the song on Hogmanay or New Year's Eve very quickly became a Scots custom that soon spread to other parts of the British Isles. As Scots (and other Britons) emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

Band leader Guy Lombardo is often credited with popularizing the use of the song at New Year’s celebrations in America, through his annual broadcasts on radio and TV, beginning in 1929. The song became his trademark; in addition to his live broadcasts, he recorded the song more than once, first in 1939, and at least once later, on September 29, 1947, in a record issued as a single by Decca Records as catalog #24260.

However, he neither invented nor introduced the custom, even there. The ProQuest newspaper archive has articles dated 1896 that describe revellers on both sides of the Atlantic singing the song to usher in the New Year. Two examples follow:

  • "Holiday Parties at Lenox" (Massachusetts, USA) (1896) – The company joined hands in the great music room at midnight and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as the last stroke of 12 sounded and the new year came in.
  • "New Year's Eve in London" (London, UK) (1910) – Usual Customs Observed by People of All Classes… The passing of the old year was celebrated in London much as usual. The Scottish residents gathered outside of St. Paul's Church and sang “Auld Lang Syne” as the last stroke of 12 sounded from the great bell.

Lyrics

As detailed above, auld lang syne literally means "old long since", but a more idiomatic English translation would be something like "long long ago", "days of long ago", "in olden days", or even "once upon a time". "For old time's sake" or "to the good old days" may be modern-day expressions, in common use as a toast, that capture the spirit of "for auld lang syne".

Complete lyrics
Burns’ original Scots verse. Scots pronunciation guide
(as Scots speakers would sound)
IPA English translation
(minimalist)
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?
CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stoup !
And surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pou’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
sin’ auld lang syne.
CHORUS
We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin’ auld lang syne.
CHORUS
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
And gives a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie-waught,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS
Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an nivir brocht ti mynd?
Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an ald lang syn?
CHORUS:
Fir ald lang syn, ma deer,
fir ald lang syn,
Wil tak a cup o kyndnes yet,
fir ald lang syn.
An sheerly yil bee yur pynt-staup!
an sheerly al bee myn!
An will tak a cup o kyndnes yet,
fir ald lang syn.
CHORUS
We twa hay rin aboot the braes,
an pood the gowans fyn;
Bit weev wandert monae a weery fet,
sin ald lang syn.
CHORUS
We twa hay pedilt in the burn,
fray mornin sun til dyn;
But seas between us bred hay roard
sin ald lang syn.
CHORUS
An thers a han, my trustee feer!
an gees a han o thyn!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie-waught,
fir ald lang syn.
CHORUS
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,
?
CHORUS:
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!
!
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CHORUS
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;
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CHORUS
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CHORUS
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CHORUS
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?
CHORUS:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
And surely I’ll buy mine !
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS
We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine ;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.
CHORUS
We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.
CHORUS
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.
CHORUS
dine = dinner time

Most common use of the song involves only the first verse and the chorus, with the last line often changed to "and days of auld lang syne".

Usage

"Auld Lang Syne" is usually sung each year at midnight on New Year's Day (Hogmanay in Scotland) in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, and English-speaking areas of India, Pakistan, and Canada, and signifies the start of a new year. In the United Kingdom, it is played at the close of the annual Congress (conference) of the Trades Union Congress. In many Burns Clubs, it is sung to end the Burns supper. The song is also sung at the end of the Last Night of the Proms by the audience (rather than the performers). As such it is never listed on the official programme. In Thailand the melody is used along with a similar lyrical sentiment at New Year and is commonly believed to be a Thai traditional song. In Scotland, it is often sung at the end of a céilidh or a dance. It is common practice that everyone joins hands with the person next to them to form a great circle around the dance floor. At the beginning of the last verse, everyone crosses their arms across their breast, so that the right hand reaches out to the neighbour on the left and vice versa. During the last chorus, people might start jumping up and down. When the tune ends, everyone rushes to the middle, while still holding hands. When the circle is re-established, everyone turns under the arms to end up facing outwards with hands still joined. This is commonly misconducted outside of Scotland and hands are often crossed from the beginning of the song; this practice is incorrect. The correct practice was demonstrated by the Queen at the Millennium Dome celebrations for the year 2000. The English press berated her for not "properly" crossing her arms, unaware that she was correct.

It is used as a graduation song and a funeral song in Taiwan and Hong Kong, symbolizing an end or a goodbye. In Japan and Hungary, too, it is used in graduation ceremonies, and many stores and restaurants play it to usher customers out at the end of a business day. Before the composition of Aegukga, the lyrics of Korea’s national anthem were sung to the tune of this song; now though, it is used in South Korea as a farewell song to friends or at funerals. In both the Indian Armed Forces and Pakistani Military, the band plays this song during the graduating parade of the recruits, while in Pakistan generally it is sung (or the melody played) at farewell events.

In the Philippines, it is well known and sung at celebrations like graduations, New Year and Christmas Day. Also, before 1972, it was the tune for the Gaumii salaam anthem of The Maldives (with the current words). In Thailand, it is used for Samakkkhi Chumnum (Together in unity), sung after sports.

In Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, and Germany this song is used to mark a farewell. It is also used in the Scout movement for the same purpose, but with somewhat different lyrics. A somewhat different use of the song as a farewell occurred in October 2000, when it was played as the body of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau left Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the last time, going to Montreal for the state funeral.

The song is also the official corps song for the Kilties drum and bugle corps.

It has been used in a number of films, with it's first use in the 1942 re-release of the Charlie Chaplin film The Gold Rush with added sound, the song is sung at a New Year's Eve party. It is not certain if the same song was sung when the original silent film was released in 1925.. The song has been used in the film Waterloo Bridge - under the name of The Farewell Waltz - (1940), starring Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor. It is arguably one of the most memorable and best-loved sequences of the film. It was also used in the Triad Trilogy Infernal Affairs uses the tune in the second film when a triad has finished killing a gang boss. The song is sung in many of the films produced by Frank Capra, including It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The W.S. Van Dyke film, I Take This Woman (1940), starring Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr uses the song at the film's finale, with the patients and staff of a clinic singing it a cappella; the finale of It's a Wonderful Life is a direct echo of this presentation. In the Samuel Fuller film The Steel Helmet, the film's main character, Sgt. Zack, requests that the song be played by "Fat Paul" on a portable organ. The group of American soldiers is shocked to find out, after a South Korean boy who has accompanied them recognizes and sings Korean lyrics to the tune, that the melody also serves as the South Korean national anthem. More recently, towards the end of Ghostbusters II, the people of New York City sing "Auld Lang Syne", which weakens the evil Viggo the Carpathian's power enough to be defeated. The song was played in When Harry Met Sally, the New Year's party in which Harry states he never fully understood what the song meant and says "I mean, 'Should old acquaintance be forgot'? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?". Sofie Fatale's cell phone ringtone is Auld Lang Syne in the film Kill Bill Volume 1. In the 2008 film Sex and the City, a recording by Scottish singer Mairi Campbell is used during a montage depicting the characters actions at New years. The recording is notable for its use of the original melody as opposed to the commonly performed melody sung today. It is also in contrast to the joyous and jubilant arrangements commonly heard on celebratory occasions, as it consists merely of an acoustic guitar and strings accompanying Campbell's vocals.

The song was used to signify the event of Hong Kong's transfer to China in 1997, with the fictional eradication of many gang bosses. The American PBS television series Great Performances 2006/7 program titled "Garrison Keillor’s New Year’s Eve Special" had the audience sing an adaptation of the lyrics with a humorous last verse: "I think of all the great, high hearts I had when I was young / And now who are these sad old farts I find myself among?"

The melody is also featured at the beginning of the Tom Waits song "A Sight For Sore Eyes", while Dan Fogelberg recorded a hit song called "Same Old Lang Syne", on his 1981 album The Innocent Age. The song was about encountering an old lover not on New Year's Eve, but on Christmas Eve. Cliff Richard sang the Lord's Prayer to the melody of Auld Lang Syne in his Christmas song "The Millennium Prayer". Other revisions and covers included one by Canadian band Barenaked Ladies who performed a rendition of the song "Auld Lang Syne" on their 2004 CD Barenaked for the Holidays. Bobby Darin recorded a Christmas version in 1960, titled "Christmas Auld Lang Syne", while the song You're a Grand Old Flag by George M. Cohan, the first line "Should auld acquaintance be forgot" is part of the song's chorus, and is also cited in the song's instrumental introduction. The Smiths song "Asleep" features an instrumental version of the song at the end, and during his solo concerts, Morrissey, the singer of The Smiths has included the song at the end of the song "Life is a Pigsty". On the 1977 recording Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! by legendary P-Funk affiliates Bootsy's Rubber Band, the end of the title track features a guitar solo of "Auld Lang Syne" by Bootsy Collins.

Every year, on his New Year television show, Jools Holland and his rhythm and blues orchestra play "Auld Lang Syne" on the bagpipes and the audience sings along.

Melody

The tune to which "Auld Lang Syne" is universally sung is a pentatonic Scots folk melody, probably originally a sprightly dance in a much quicker tempo.

English composer William Shield seems to quote the "Auld Lang Syne" melody briefly at the end of the overture to his opera Rosina, which may be its first recorded use. The contention that Burns borrowed the melody from Shield is for various reasons highly unlikely, although they may very well both have taken it from a common source, possibly a strathspey called The Miller's Wedding or The Miller's Daughter. The problem is that tunes based on the same set of dance steps necessarily have a similar rhythm, and even a superficial resemblance in melodic shape may cause a very strong apparent similarity in the tune as a whole. For instance, Burns' poem "Coming Through the Rye" is sung to a tune that might also be based on the Miller's Wedding. The origin of the tune of God Save the Queen (q.v.) presents a very similar problem, and for just the same reason, as it is also based on a dance measure. (See the note in the William Shield article on this subject.)

Whatever its source, the "Auld Lang Syne" tune has been used all over the world in various contexts, for example:

In Denmark, the song was translated in 1927 by the famous Danish poet Jeppe Aakjær. Much like Robert Burns' use of dialect, Aakjær translated the song into the Danish dialect sallingbomål, a dialect from the northern part of western Jutland, south of the Limfjord, often hard for other Danes to understand. The song Skuld gammel venskab rejn forgo ("Should auld acquantaince be forgot" - Scots / "Should old acquaintance be forgotten" - English), is an integral part of the Danish Højskole tradition, and often associated with more rural areas and old traditions. Also, the former Danish rock group Gasolin modernized the melody in 1974 with their pop ballad Stakkels Jim ("Poor Jim").

In Pakistan, the tune was played at the formal resignation of President Pervez Musharraf as the country's Chief of Army Staff.

In the United States, the song is used as a song of remembrance at 9-11 memorials and other memorial events. The University of Virginia's alma mater ("The Good Old Song"), the anthem of Alpha Kappa Psi, Beta Theta Pi's "Parting Song" and Phi Sigma Kappa's "Initiation Hymn" are all sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne".

In India, the melody was the direct inspiration for the popular Bengali song "Purano shei diner kotha" (About the old days) composed by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, and forms one of the more recognizable tunes in Rabindra Sangeet (Rabindra's Songs), a body of work of 2,230 songs and lyrical poems that form the backbone of Bengali music.

In Japan, the Japanese students' song Hotaru no hikari ("Glow of a Firefly") uses the "Auld Lang Syne" tune. The words are a series of images of hardships that the industrious student endures in his relentless quest for knowledge, starting with the firefly’s light, which the student uses to keep studying when he has no other light sources. As noted above (under Usage), the melody is also played in many stores shortly before closing time.

The tune is used for the Dutch football song, Wij houden van Oranje ("We love Orange").

In France, the melody is used with French words and the parting song is entitled Ce n’est qu’un au revoir ("This is only a goodbye" [i.e. a temporary parting, as opposed to a definitive "Farewell"]).

In Indonesia, the melody is used as a farewell song that is commonly sung during graduation or farewell parties.

In South Korea, the melody was used for the national anthem, Aegukga, until composer Ahn Eak-tai composed a new melody to the existing lyrics. Like Japan and Taiwan, it is now used in South Korea as a graduation song and a farewell song to friends or at funerals.

In Italy, this melody is very well known by Italian football supporters since the 1970s. It is often sung in stadiums during the matches, especially after the kick-off. Many Italian supporters of different regions and cities adopted this tune and arranged its lyrics according to their teams. These are the lyrics sung by A.S. Roma supporters: La nostra fede mai morrà/canteremo noì ultrà/e insieme a te saremo allor/forza Roma vinci ancor ("Our faith will never die/we, the ultrà, will sing/then we'll be with you/come on Roma, win again").

In Poland, this tune is used by the Scouts movement for their farewell song at the end of summer camps or just to say goodbye after big events. Polish song under other lyrics is entitled Ogniska już dogasa blask

Since 2007, the melody has been used as an introduction to the mass chorus of America the Beautiful that is played by the twelve finalist corps at the Finals Retreat at the Drum Corps International World Championships. Coincidentally, "Auld Lang Syne" and "America the Beautiful" have the same meter, and the lyrics can be sung interchangeably.

References

External links

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