I read with bemusement Paul Farhi's July 4 Style article "Washington, O Washington: A Capitol Unsung," in which he laments our esteemed city's utter lack of a hometown song that captures "the beauty of the Tidal Basin, the grandeur of the Capitol dome, the pageant of democracy." He mentions many near-misses and goofball attempts at D.C. songs but leaves one really good piece that well-represented our town off the list. No surprise; it has sadly fallen right out of the public consciousness. I am talking about the Riggs Bank Theme.
In 1984, back when then-respectable Riggs Bank was "the most important bank in the most important city in the world" (its tag line), it commissioned a guy named Carlos Chafin to write a piece of music to use in radio commercials. The result was "Washington Celebration," an absolutely gorgeous little neo-classical melody built on layered synthesized voices that conveyed a mood optimistic, triumphant and delightful. It was a surprise hit. When radio stations started playing the ad with 30 seconds of "Washington Celebration" behind the dialogue, people loved the melody so much they called in to request the commercial. That was the spring that some joker put a few needles and razor blades in some local Girl Scout cookies, causing that year's whole batch to be recalled and depriving the Girl Scouts of their biggest annual source of funds. Riggs Bank stepped in, produced the full-length version of "Washington Celebration" on a 45 rpm single and gave it to the scouts to sell in lieu of cookies.
The record's combined melody and history spoke to me so much of Washington and its people's spirit in happier times that it was the music I most longed to hear in the dark days following Sept. 11, 2001. If there is a way to get this recording back into circulation I am sure many would find it a worthy candidate for Washington's song.
MICHELE M. MACOMBER
I appreciated Paul Farhi's plea for a municipal anthem for Washington.
Growing up in Baltimore, I loved singing "Baltimore, Our Baltimore" with my schoolmates. The stirring anthem was the result of a competition in the early years of the 20th century, and its lyrics cover everything from Francis Scott Key to Edgar Allan Poe and Johns Hopkins. It received a copyright in 1916.
Folger McKinsey, known as the "Benztown Bard" from his Baltimore newspaper writings, wrote the words for the four stanzas; Emma Hemberger composed the music.
The result is a winner. I have a copy of the sheet music, which sold for 5 cents, and I enjoy playing it.
With the talent in this capital, we should be able to come up with something first-rate. Perhaps we should have a competition.