The capacity to produce music has never been my forte. I am one of those who could not carry a tune even if you bolted a handle onto it.
    I was 11 when my musical abilities reached their crescendo. That was the year when Mrs. Gaspar, our elementary music teacher, took it upon herself to give our class of sixth graders an appreciation for music – whether we liked it or not.
    Mrs. Gaspar held forth every day during music class, oblivious to the fact that her lectures were mostly background noise to us boys. Mrs. Gaspar even attempted to teach us how to read and write music. All I learned from that is that written music is a mishmash of bizarre symbols that are as indecipherable as any super-secret spy code.     
    One day, Mrs. Gaspar was struggling to teach us our state song, “Hail, South Dakota,” when she became aware of the boys’ unmitigated musical apathy. Her first hint was that only the girls were singing.
    Mrs. Gaspar quietly placed her autoharp on the desk and sat down. A hush fell over the classroom. She said that she could hardly blame us for our lack of enthusiasm as this song was not befitting of our great state.
    Mrs. Gaspar then made a startling announcement: Someone in this room would produce our new state song. Each of us was to write the lyrics and compose the melody of the new song. She gave us music writing pointers, saying our songs should include positive messages about South Dakota’s geography, flora and fauna. She also mentioned our wide-open spaces, which is a nice way of saying “hardly anybody lives out here.”     
    This assignment posed problems bigger than Mount Rushmore. For instance, our state flower is a prairie native called the pasque flower. In all my years of tromping across the prairie, I have yet to encounter a single pasque flower. We must live in a no pasqueing zone.
    There were numerous other hurdles besides finding a word to rhyme with pasque (all songs are poems and federal law dictates that all poems must rhyme). Our state bird, the Chinese ring-necked pheasant, is a prime example.     
    Aside from the obvious – that our state bird is a cheap foreign import – how do you convey the message regarding its intended use? How do you say, “Hey all you hunters, come to South Dakota and blast away at our state bird. And yes, they taste just like chicken.”
    And how do you deal with the awful truth, namely, that our real state bird is actually the mosquito?     
    I swiftly scribbled some timeless poetry that incorporated many of these themes, making sure every other line rhymed. Then came the mission impossible part, which was writing a melody.     
    I stumbled along like a blind man in a field of fresh cow pies. It was not long before I began to ignore the copyright notice of my music book. After an hour of herculean effort, I managed to produce a respectable treble cleft and a score that was comprised of notes scrawled indiscriminately across the preprinted music scale.
    I would randomly give notes cute little flags like those I saw in my music book. I peeked at a classmate’s music writing and saw she had used notes that looked a lot like the letter O. She explained that this was a whole note and that one of them was equal to four quarter notes. In the interest of expediency, I began to use large numbers of whole notes.     
    Peering at another classmate’s paper, I noticed she had made some odd squiggles that she said were rests. I was getting tired of the entire business, so I began to include a lot of rests in my musical score.     
    I turned in my song, confident I would soon be hailed as a child prodigy. People would point at me and say, “There goes the next Beethoven. And why does that kid have such a weird haircut?”
    Mrs. Gaspar bundled up our songs and sent them off to South Dakota Gov. Nils Boe.     
    A few weeks later, our class received a courteous letter from Gov. Boe. He said he had reviewed our materials and thanked us for our efforts, adding he would keep them on file. I suspect the file was circular and sat at the end of his desk.
    I was indignant that Gov. Boe had not immediately recommended the legislature adopt my new state song, “It Never Hails In South Dakota.”     
    It was a wonderful little ditty. Especially the part where “pasque-a” rhymes with “located right above Nebraska.”
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.