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Like anyone of my age, my encounter with the song "Auld Lang Syne" can be traced to some New Year's Eve when I was a little kid and awakened by the revelers counting down to the drop of the ball in Times Square. The most popular show to watch on TV on New Year's Eve starred Canadian-born Guy Lombardo and his orchestra the Royal Canadiens. Lombardo came to be known as "Mr. New Year's Eve" because he and his band performed live every New Year's Eve from 1929-1976, mostly from a ballroom in the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, topping off the night's festivities by playing "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight. When Lombardo was a young man, he had heard the traditional Scots melody somewhere in Ontario, and he figured the song's plaintive sound and reflective lyrics were perfect for saying goodbye to the old year and welcome to the new one. He was not the first to think this, as he well knew from his youth, but he was the one to popularize it. It led to staggering success. Lombardo and the Royal Canadiens sold more than 450,000,000 records! Below is an excerpt from the band's last New Year's concert. It's really terrible, but it'll give you an idea of what passed for entertainment in 1977. Following that is a typical Lombardo version of "Auld Lang Syne".

Truth be told, the song, if well done, is a beautiful, melancholy reflection of the wistful pain brought on by memories of those one has lost or expectations that have been dashed, or plans that have faltered during the last 365 days. The lyrics are from famed poet Robert "Bobby" Burns, based on an older version of the song. Technically, the title translates from the Scots tongue as "Old Long Since", meaning approximately "for old times' sake". Two friends are reflecting over a drink. The lyrics changed when Burns composed them in the late 18th Century. The melody changed as well. Some of the lyrics as well as the melody first appeared in earlier works, but shortly after Burns died in 1796, his lyrics and that melody were finally paired forever. Below are the lyrics in English:

English version

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 of 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. We two have run about the slopes, And picked the daisies fine; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, Since auld lang syne. We two have paddled in the stream, From morning sun till dine; But seas between us broad have roared Since auld lang syne. And there’s a hand my trusty friend! And give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, For auld lang syne.

Below: Robert Burns

Today, the song emphasizes the melancholic element with a stately rhythm, unlike the festive tempo the song once boasted. It makes sense, though, as the lyrics ask us to consider whether we should forget those in our past and move on. "Should old acquaintances be forgotten?" the first line asks. In Scots tradition, when the song is played everyone joins hands in cross-handed fashion and forms a circle around the dance floor. A good example of it can be seen in the remake of Charlie Chaplin's classic 1925 version of The Gold Rush. In 1942, Chaplin added sound. It is painful to see Charlie watching the ceremonies from a distance because his true love and her friends have stood him up after he had prepared an elaborate party for them. He, too, must be thinking about "what might have been", as we do so often when the years change. Following that clip is one of the Choral Scholars from University College in Dublin giving a lovely, moving rendition of this timeless melody.


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