Images in the above collage are original art plus bird images
from this month's featured sheet music covers.
Birds of a Feather
Tin Pan Alley Sings About Birds
It's springtime again and the birds are singing. As the ice and
snow (in the Northern Hemisphere) give way to April showers and early Jonquils,
the songbirds return and emerge to sing their joyous, if not occasionally annoying
songs. Birds have long been a staple subject for the composers of Tin Pan Alley
and beyond. In just about every country, you'll find popular songs about birds
and this month we even feature one by one of the worlds greatest classical composers.
It was not difficult to find songs for this month's feature. It
was more difficult deciding which ones to NOT use. As a result, and we hope
for your enjoyment, we have more songs featured this month than usual because
I simply could not lay some of these gems aside. In the end I had to sacrifice
simply because I did not have the time to produce more for your listening pleasure
and did not have time to research and write about them all.
Most of the more well known songs about birds don't appear here.
Songs such as When The Red. Red, Robin, or Bye-bye Black Bird
are not yet in the public domain and others simply are so well known that they
can be found on many sites. As always, we like to present lesser known or remembered
works to "revive" works that have been forgotten and present you with
what we feel are musical treasures that deserve hearing and preservation in
Several of the works this month have no words, they are instead
piano solo expressions of birds and in one case, a fabulous fantasia on the
theme of Septimus Winner's Listen to the Mocking Bird. We are also reprising
the most popular of all of our sheet music reproductions, The Robin's Return.
We've updated the notation and improved the performance by upping the tempo
and coupled it with its companion piece, The Robin's Departure. All in
all, I think that this issue offers some of the best music we've published on
our site. I also want to mention that several of the works published this month
are from a major new collection donated to Parlor Songs by Dick and Jean Tillinghast.
We will be doing a separate feature on this new acquisition soon.
If you are new to us, to enjoy the full musical experience, we
recommend that you get the Scorch plug in from our friends at Sibelius software.
The Scorch player allows you to not only listen to the music but to view the
sheet music as the music plays and see the lyrics as well. Each month we also
allow printing of some of the sheet music featured so for those of you who play
the piano (or other instruments) you'll be able to play some of the music yourself.
It's a complete musical experience! Get the Sibelius
Scorch player now.
Words and Music by: Edgar Selden
Cover artist: Unknown
There is a song for just about every bird known to man. Usually the
bird is set in a romantic venue but sometimes it is comedic. This month
we'll look at both styles. We begin with the oldest edition (not the oldest
song), this very unique piece from 1885. In some respects this work is
both romantic and comedic and quite curious in that the chorus is actually
built around yodeling, This song carries an engraving of Miss Laura E.
Burt and the headline, "Laura Burt's Popular Song.' Regrettably,
Miss Burt is lost at least in my library and I could find nothing about
The music is in waltz time and is definitely in the Polka style. Polkas
were quite popular during this period and we've seen many examples. The
melody is a bit simple but pleasurable. You'll hear some definite imitations
of the cuckoo's call in the verse. Many of the songs about birds attempt
imitation of their namesake bird. The chorus of this song is where the
surprise was. Apparently Miss Burt had a talent for yodeling as the chorus
is mainly a yodel. It's very short but very entertaining and even made
me laugh with some delight when I first heard it. This work appears to
be a very early work from Selden as most of his more popular works were
published 20 years later.
Edgar Selden (Dates unknown) wrote a number of songs for early
Broadway shows including The Ziegfeld Follies of 1907 & 1908
and a 1900 farce, A Hot Old Time for which Selden wrote the book,
music and lyrics. A terrific poster from that show can be seen at: http://www.rainfall.com/theatrical_posters/tp_2105.htm
That show only ran for 28 performances at the Victoria Theater in New
York. He also wrote The Taxicab which ran from June to September
of 1908. Among the few other individual Selden titles I've found are;
All That I Ask Is Love (1910) and The Old Village Bell
Music by: Joe Nathan
Words by: Maurice Stonehill
Cover artist: H. B. Eddy
Even the lowly old crow has songs that were written for it, mostly humorous
ones. Here we have an example that was published Sunday, May 7, 1905 as
a music supplement to the New York American and Journal. The cover
art is by H. B. Eddy who created hundreds of covers for the NYA&J
over a period of about five years. The cover depicts what must be two
mutant crows as they have both human and bird characteristics. If you
look at the upper right, Miss Wina Zaza Rogers has her face plastered
on the side of a barn. Hardly a respectful place for a portrait but clever
at the same time.
At first, I was not particularly impressed with this song, the verse
struck me as simplistic and forgettable. It is pleasant and as with many
of the newspaper supplements the music is not too complicated, presumably
arranged at a level where most average players could enjoy it. The chorus
on the other hand is a little denser, not much mind you but it is the
melody that shines. The chorus melody is memorable and conveys a lightness
and warmth that very nicely supports the lyrics. Despite the somewhat
crude cover, this is a very nice song that makes a crow seem lovable and
Maurice Stonehill Very little seems to be in print about Stonehill
or his works. Besides Caw, Caw, Caw!, he did write a song for the
production of The Girl From Kay's (1903) titled My Little Love
Bird. Joe Nathan does not fare much better as all I've found
is two other titles that also appeared as newspaper supplements; The
Girl on the Automobile (1905) and For His Mother's Sake (1904).
Words and Music by: John Barnes Wells
Cover artist: Unknown
Our second humorous crow song also includes a chicken as a bonus. This
work is a very humorous and somewhat wacky song that goes 'round and 'round
on word plays. The cover is rather stark but the music and lyrics within
are outstanding. When I first heard this one, I had to double check the
publication date for it sounded much more modern than its contemporaneous
works. It is definitely a very forward looking piece.
The song is through composed with no clearly defined verse or chorus.
It is in a straightforward A-B-A structure. After a short vivace introduction,
the first section is quite up tempo marked Allegro capriccioso and in
common time. The lyrics are a bit nonsensical and it seems to be cut from
the same cloth as The Lunatic's Lullaby (1926) a very famous nonsense
novelty song. As we move into section B, the tempo changes substantially
and is a slower waltz that seems more serious but still the absurd lyrics
continue. The final section returns to the A theme and wraps up the story.
We build to a short coda with an accelerando and crescendos and end with
a fast flourish.
John Barnes Wells (1880 - 1935) was more an author than composer,
at least as far as I can determine. I did locate one other song by him
titled simply, Why? published by John Church in 1914.
Music by: Otto Bonnell
Cover artist: E. H. Pfeiffer
The origins of Turkey In The Straw are often confusing and muddied
up by countless arrangements over a period of over a century. The melody
and original lyrics seem to have first been published around 1834. The
quick time and jaunty melody lends itself to barn dances and country fiddles
so it really caught on and is still very much in the standard repertoire.
It's simplicity and memorable tune made it easy to play and easy to remember.
Many versions of lyrics have appeared over the decades so it's difficult
to sort out the original. The entry in Wikipedia (the on-line free encyclopedia)
succinctly outlines the songs origins:
"The song's tune was first popularized in the late 1820s
and early 1830s by blackface performers, notably George Washington Dixon,
Bob Farrell and George Nichols. The tune was sung to different lyrics,
and was called "Zip Coon". This version was first published
between 1829 and 1834 in either New York or Baltimore. All three of the
above performers claimed to have written the song, and this dispute is
The version we provide this month is a piano only "ragtime"
version arranged by Otto Bunnell. It is one of the most delightful arrangements
I've heard. This particular arrangement is well known and often mentioned
in many web sites and books on the subject of ragtime. It begins with
a short introduction based on the familiar theme, then proceeds through
a more or less standard presentation of the theme. There follows a wonderful
staccato passage and then a more developed presentation of the theme to
Otto Bonnell though mentioned often in musical contexts, it is
almost always in the context of his writing of this arrangement of Turkey
in the Straw. It seems that most of his lasting works were arrangements
rather than outright original composition. He arranged The Cat Came
Back in 1893 for Harry S. Miller and that same year, Divorced
with Charles Moreland. We found at least two songs he wrote that were
published. In 1891 Bonnell wrote the music for She's More Than 7
with W.C. Robey's lyrics. In 1892, he wrote The Man In The Moon May
Be Looking with John A. Fraser Jr. I've been unable to find any biographical
data on Bonnell.
Music by: J. Fred Helf
Words by: C. M. Dennison
Cover artist: Starmer
I'm not exactly sure why a bird would sing "marguerite" but
hopefully this one will. In researching this title, I at first thought
that Marguerite may have been a popular song that preceded this one. There
were a few songs published in the 19th century titled Marguerite that
may have qualified. The story behind this song is somewhat enigmatic.
The lyrics tell the story of a man whose love parts from him and tells
him she will return "when the whippoorwill sings Marguerite."
The man waits and waits and needless to say, she never does return. It
strikes me that the idea of the bird singing Marguerite was equivalent
to telling him that she'd be back when hell freezes over. Having heard
whip-poor-wills as a child I can attest to it's inability to sing anything
other than it's own unique song. Listen to Caprimulgus vociferus' song
as presented on the USGS site through this mp3
recording of the Whip-poor-will's call.. To hear many of America's
bird calls, visit the USGS site at: http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/songlist.html
it's pretty fascinating! By the way, the photo inset on the cover is of
J. Aldrich Libby, the man who first introduced After The Ball in
Having established that the whippoorwill is unlikely to sing any popular
song, we must conclude that the poor cuckold in this song was duped by
the pretty lady who had no intention of returning! In spite of that Helf
and Denison have given us a typically tuneful Tin Pan Alley song that
is enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy except for the lyrical story.
The introduction and verse are pleasant and have a definite period sound.
The chorus is excellent with a nice melody and harmony.
J. Fred Helf was a popular composer during the first two decades
of the twentieth century who, like many other successful composers, formed
his own publishing company. His company did quite well for several years
and published for a number of popular songwriters as well as for his own
works. Helf's firm's demise shows the fragility of many of the businesses
of that period. In 1910 Helf published Play That Barbershop Chord,
by Lewis Muir and William Tracey, or at least that is how Helf published
it. Songwriter Ballard MacDonald had begun work on the song and had written
dummy lyrics before leaving the song behind. The piece was finished by
Lewis Muir and William Tracey, and MacDonald was incensed that Helf left
his name off the sheet music. He sued Helf successfully, and the award
of $37,500 forced Helf into bankruptcy thus ending his foray into publishing.
Helf also wrote Every Race Has a Flag but the Coon (1900, also
with Heelan); Texas Tommy's Dance (1911); The Fatal Rose of
Red (1900) and perhaps his greatest title, If Money Talks, It Ain't
On Speaking Terms With Me ( 1902).
Arrangement by: F. W. Meacham
Cover artist: unknown
Probably the best known "bird" song in American music is Listen
To The Mocking Bird, published by Alice Hawthorne under the pseudonym
of Septimus Winner in 1855. I can recall learning the song in grade school
and though it may not still be a staple of childhood musical learning,
it certainly was for many years before and after my experience. The original
song tells the sad story of a lost love who has died. Most of us are only
aware of the chorus but the entire song is well worth hearing. The song
carried at least three verses and the memorable chorus. Here is the first
verse and chorus:
I'm dreaming now of Hally, sweet Hally, sweet Hally;
I'm dreaming now of Hally,
For the thought of her is one that never dies:
She's sleeping in the valley, the valley, the valley
She's sleeping in the valley,
And the mocking bird is singing where she lies.
Listen to the mocking bird,
Listen to the mocking bird,
The mocking bird still singing o'er her grave;
Listen to the mocking bird,
Listen to the mocking bird,
Still singing where the weeping willows wave.
That said, this particular work is a masterpiece of arrangement. The
Mocking Bird has been written and rewritten in arrangements many times
over the century and a half since it first appeared. The arrangement is
without words and as you listen you will see why. It is titled as a grand
fantasia on the theme and it is a pianistic tour de force, in my humble
opinion. The arranger, Meacham has written a piece that fascinates me
in it's complexity and creativeness. Written in the form of a theme and
variations, the work begins with a fast and furious introduction followed
by a fairly straightforward arrangement of Auld Lang Syne and becomes
ever more complex and daring as it moves finally into the "mocking
bird." He treats this theme in the same manner; easy at first then
ever more complex. The repeat of the verse is fabulous. Marked marcato
il canto, Meacham takes it up an octave and has interjected birdlike ornaments
between the phrases. Then the repeat of the chorus is handled completely
in triplets with emphasis on the melodic notes. I've listened to this
over and over and love it each time I hear it. You must view and listen
to this work using the Scorch plug-in to fully appreciate it's mastery.
We have made this available in printable format for those of you advanced
enough to dare tackle it.
F. W. Meacham was born around 1850 in
Buffalo New York and his death occurred sometime after 1895. Meacham's
primary fame came with the famous American
Patrol (Scorch version) but he composed other works, among them
There Is No Place Like New York After All in 1895 and obviously
many, many other works as American Patrol carries Opus number 92.
Music by: Jacob Henry Ellis & Benjamin Richmond
Words by: Charles E. Casey
Cover artist: E. H. Pfeiffer
The ubiquitous robin is one bird that seems to have received more than
it's share of fame regarding songs or piano solo works. In our experience
the most famous and requested piano solo title is The Robin's Return
(featured below) but there have been many others, some well known, most
not. In our collection, I had several to choose from and have included
three in this feature. I probably could have done an entire article just
about "robin" songs. A quick search yields at least 100 songs
about or mentioning the robin just from the Tin Pan Alley era alone! Maybe
I'll do that separate feature someday in the future.
This work is a fine example of the 1910s period in American music. Full
of sentiment and pureness of heart and relatively simple and straightforward
in its harmonies. The harmonies of this period were dominated by intervals
of sixths and octaves. Those intervals seem to lend themselves to this
type song and to the ear are distinctively dated and of the early 20th
century. The verse of this song is lovely but thinly scored. So too is
the chorus. The lyrics are perhaps the strongest suit in this work by
a team of relatively unknown composers today. I selected it simply because
of its exemplar structure and period sentiment. It's a nice song.
Charles E. Casey wrote lyrics for at least two songs other than
When the Robin Calls His Mate. He co-authored a song with the famed
Chauncy Olcott in 1907 titled Every Star Falls In Love With Its Mate
and wrote the lyrics for On a Dreary Summers Night in 1916.
Jacob H. Ellis is credited with several works; Autumn Leaves
(1905), Charge (1913), When the Robin Calls His Mate (1912)
and The Spirit of the U. S. A. in 1927.
Benjamin J. Richmond also wrote at least two other published works
including; The Dance of The Song Birds (1902) and Falling Star
Music by: Peter Ijitch Tshaikowsky
Cover artist: Unknown, photo
Of course, all birds must die and pet birds are no exception. Even the
great Tshaikowsky could not resist a bird song. Spelling of the composer's
name included here is as given in this work. Since that time his name
has appeared in a variety of spellings to the point where one would wonder
what his name really was. This piece includes a wonderful commentary on
the composer's life (very short) and on this work. Rather than attempt
to better it, I'll leave it to this 1913 publication to speak for itself.
" BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH-PETER ILJITCH TSCHAIKOWSKY
Born at Votinsk, Russia, 1840.
Died at St. Petersburg, Russia, 1893.
One of the modern masters of music, he commenced life by studying law
at St. Petersburg, but after several years of government service he
gave himself up entirely to the pursuit of his passionately loved art.
At the age of 22 he entered as a pupil in the St. Petersburg Conservatory,
and immediately upon graduation he was appointed teacher in the Moscow
Conservatory, where he was soon advanced to the position of a professor.
He died of cholera in St. Petersburg, in 1893, and was one of the greatest
composers of recent times.
His work is characterized by a complete mastery of all the resources
of musical art, and a spirit of melancholy pervades his music. Among
his works may be mentioned his piano pieces, Op. 1 to 37; his songs
and symphonies, his overture "Francesca da Rimini" and several
Operas, among which is the "Maid of Orleans." Much of his
music is written on Russian folk-song themes, original and full of national
and racial feeling.
He was a man of sensitive temperament, quiet, gentle and reserved. His
genius finds its best expression in orchestral music. His Sixth Symphony,
called the "Pathetic Symphony," is a melancholy masterpiece
and enormously popular.
THE POETIC IDEA-He was only a little bird and he died in a little cage,
hanging in the room of the maiden who was his mistress and friend. The
little bird was a personage in his way, on terms of close friendship
with the maiden, who kept him prisoner because she loved him so well,
but now the sweet song is forever stilled; the cage is empty, and the
heart of the little mistress is desolate. Such is the story which the
The movement is in the slow step of a funeral march; the rate being
about 65 steps a minute (or 65 by metronome for quarter-notes). It is
the beat of a pendulum (a string with a weight) 34 inches long. Each
swing is the time of a quarter note. Or you can get it by imagining
the occasion and marching slowly across the room, in the same measured
step you have noticed in a military company in a dead march. Be sure
it is not too fast, nor yet so slow as to be impossible walking.
FORM AND STRUCTURE-The march is in three verses or melodies. Melody
A, measures 1 to 16; melody B, measures 17 to 32; melody C, the same
as melody A, measures 33 to 48. The signature is three flats, but if
you listen to the first chord you will hear that it is in the Minor
mode, the key of C Minor, in token of which you have always B marked
natural, q, which is one sign of C Minor.
The harmonies (chords and succession of chords) are very beautiful;
much more beautiful than can be found in any other piece so short and
so simple, known to the present writer."
It's a fabulous piece and we've made it printable for those of you who
would like to play it. It is amazing how such a simple piece can rise
to the level of a masterpiece.
Music by: Bert Grant
Words by: George Graff Jr.
Cover artist: Barbelle
Though the Grand Fantasia on The Mocking Bird wins the masterpiece
award this month , this song is my "discovery of the month"
as far as melody and lyrics go. It is simply an outstanding work that
deserves to be heard over and over. With a short introduction, this waltz
song moves to a verse that is so melodic, it is like having a bonus chorus.
With the use of silence (rests) that punctuate the lyrics the composer
brings interest and life to the song. The verse ends with a slowing and
expressive descending melody. The chorus is a soaring melody with wonderful
harmony that floats through the air and caresses the ears ever so gently.
The blending of music and lyrics and the use of rests makes this song
flow as if it were a conversation. It's a great song.
George Graff Jr. (b. 1886 - d. 1973) Graff was a prominent lyricist
during the early years of Tin Pan Alley. He wrote lyrics for individual
songs as well as entire shows (Isle O' Dreams, 1912 with Ernest
R. Ball). Chauncy Olcott, the famed "Irish" singer asked Graff
to write another song for the show and Graff responded with what is arguable
the best "Irish" song of all time, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.
Though he was a successful songwriter, Graff later became an investment
counselor and later retired to live in the Poconos. (Claghorn, p. 180).
Among Graff's works are; Till The Sands of the Desert Grow Cold
(1911), I Love The Name of Mary (1910), Good-by My Love, Good-Bye
(1911), While the Rivers of Love Flow On (1913), Wake
Up America! (Scorch format) (1916) and Blue Bird Bring Back My
Music by:Vincent Rose
Words by: Richard Coburn
Cover artist: Frederic Manning
This is the only "bird" song this month besides "Funeral
March" whose cover does not carry a bird or nature image and I wondered
at first if the song was more about a person than a bird. The cover is
without doubt absolutely stunning. The painting is by Frederick Manning
who painted some of the most beautiful "woman" covers of the
era. Despite the cover. The song inside is indeed about the nightingale
(bird). Indirectly it implies a woman is involved but the lyrics are mostly
directed to the nightingale and her "song of love."
The style of this song is reflective of the changes taking place as American
music moved into the jazz age and the cultural revolutions that the 1920's
fostered. Music became bolder, more daring. Dissonance that would never
have played to the ears of earlier decades flourished and somber keys
with haunting melodies became a rule rather than an exception. This song
is really very good and it is musically interesting. Be sure to listen
and view the music using the Scorch player to fully appreciate this piece.
Vincent Rose (b. 1880 - d. 1944) Rose's primary fame revolved
around his bandleading and many recordings made in the 1930's. Rose moved
to the US at age 17 in 1897 having received his musical education in Italy.
He settled in Chicago and there worked in orchestras as a pianist and
violinist. He formed his own orchestra there in 1904. Though he did not
compose many songs most of his songs were successes. He also collaborated
on several stage shows including BOMBO (1921) Earl Carroll's
Sketch Book (1929) and Earl Carroll's Vanities of 1931. Among
his greatest works are; Avalon
(Scorch format), (1920), Linger A While (1923), Fascinating
You (1929), Tonight or Never (2931), The Umbrella Man
(1938) and Blueberry Hill (1940).
Words and Music by: Jack Mc Gowan and Edgar Moran
Cover artist: Unknown
A terrific cover with an art deco subject livens up this otherwise nearly
monochromatic sheet. This piece has a definite Broadway feel and swing
to it. It has a very happy and lilting melody both in the verse and the
chorus. The song is not about "flocking together" but rather
is a very pleasant allegorical tale of two birds looking for happiness
and the friendship, love and support two like minds can find in a partnership.
This song came in a close second for "discovery of the month"
and as with many of the songs we feature, is well deserving of hearing
again and again.
Jack McGowan (b. 1894 - d. 1977) started his career in Broadway
primarily as a performer and writer. His first few years from about 1919
to 19276 were as a performer in such shows as Take it From Me (1919),
The Blue Devil (1920), George White's Scandals (1922) and
The Rise of Rosie O'Reilly (1923). In 1926, McGowan began writing
shows and continued to write, direct and produce Broadway shows up till
his last, Say When in 1935. His other Broadway credits include;
Mama Loves Papa (1926), The Lady Lies (1928), Heads Up
(1929) and Girl Crazy (1930).
In 1933 McGowan began writing screenplays for Hollywood. "After
collaborating on the script of Paramount's Sitting Pretty (1933),
he moved to MGM, where he'd spend the rest of his movie career. He contributed
gags and storylines to such big-budget MGM musicals as Born to Dance
(1936), Babes in Arms (1939), Little Nellie Kelly (1940),
Girl Crazy (1943) and Broadway Rhythm (1944). Jack McGowan
also co-wrote the 1936, 1938 and 1940 editions of MGM's Broadway Melody
series." (Quote demarked information by Hal Erickson,
All Movie Guide as found on Yahoo!
I found one other song attributed to Mc Gowan; I Have To Laugh,
from 1931. As for Moran, this appears to be his only published composition.
We end this month with a companion pair of works that are works of musical
art appreciated by countless piano teachers and students for almost 150
years. Leander Fisher wrote both of these and though this first one is
not as well known as the other (below, The Robin's Return) it is
an equal as far as melody and value as a teaching or parlor piece. We
first published this work in July of 1999 and with the help of a reader
in Wisconsin who provided us with a copy of the sheet music and the results
of some of his research about the composer. Here is what we wrote then:
"Fisher was quite prolific in composing a number of fine
works that are in the British Library. Rob was kind enough to share with
me a copy of the Fisher catalog from that library. Among them are these
works and others including The Meadow Lark and The Swallows
Return. It seems he favored birds as theme material.
Through his research, Rob discovered that the Robin's Return
and this work were actually first published as early as 1876 making
them much older than I first thought.
Musically, Fisher has created a pair of artistic works more in the
vein of classical piano than popular song. . Thanks to Rob and Debbie
for taking the time to submit this great work to us for inclusion in
We first featured this work on our site back in 1999 and it has been
a favorite for visitors to our site ever since. At that time I said"
As a child growing up in the "snowbelt" of Northeastern Ohio,
no other event heralded the arrival of spring more than the return of
the ubiquitous Robin. I always knew that when I heard that first Robin's
song that spring would be soon upon us. Leander Fisher celebrated that
arrival for us with this wonderful composition for piano that is timeless
in it's style and has retained it's freshness for well over 100 years."
No other piece in our collection has received more comments, inquiries
and sales of sheet music than this work. It was a staple for piano teachers
for many decades and many of the writers we hear from tell us that they
can remember their mother, or grandmother playing it when they were a
child. It is one of the greatest such pieces I've encountered and I have
listened to it over and over for many years and never tire of it. For
this republication I've upped the tempo in response to many writers' comments
and cleaned up the score so that it is a more accurate reproduction of
the original. You can purchase a hard copy reproduction of this work and
the Robins Departure or any of the other works featured this month
from us for $8 postage included (to the US, more to other countries).These
two are $8 due to length, the other titles are $7. Just
write to us and we'll give you more details.
For several years I've searched for biographical information on Fisher
but have been unsuccessful except for the much appreciated information
provided by a reader as outlined in the previous work.
Thanks for visiting us and be sure to come back again next month to see our
new feature or to read some or all of our over 120 articles about America's
music. See our resources
page for a complete bibliography of our own library resources used to research
this and other articles in our series.
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your help and contribution. The "rules"
for submissions can be found here, we'd love to have submissions by any
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