In Music

This Downtown melody is meant to bring you "Smiles."

What song is written in those musical notes on the I-794 ramp?

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This story first appeared in January 2018. Because you just may see these musical notes on your way to and from Summerfest this week, we're sharing it again.

Recently, my friend Meaghan Heinrich – who is chair of the Woodwind, Brass & Percussion Department at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music – asked if I knew what the song was engraved into the concrete wall at the I-794 ramp just outside the Summerfest grounds, built as part of the Lakefront Gateway Project (discussed here).

"I think about this every time I take the Lincoln Memorial exit ramp from 794," she said. "It seems too detailed to be random notes. I've sung it in my head and can't figure it out for the life of me. Something meaningful to Milwaukee?"

I said, I didn't know it, but maybe if she hummed a few bars for me ...

So, Heinrich and WCM Percussion Coordinator – and great jazz pianist, according to Heinrich – Mitch Shiner did just that ...

Thanks to a tip from someone at the City of Milwaukee's Department of City Development, we thought that perhaps the notes are the melody of "Smile," co-written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 movie "Modern Times."

Close, but no cigar, according to Michael Pyritz, Wisconsin Department of Transportation's regional communication manager.

"The musical notes are the chorus to the song "Smiles" and was written by Lee S. Roberts in 1917. Judy Garland and a number of other singers have sung it at various times," Pyritz told me in an email.

So, why not "On Wisconsin" or late Mayor Henry Maier's Summerfest song?

"During the development of the Lakefront Gateway project, a group gathered with representatives from City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee World Festivals, Discovery World, and other local entities," Pyritz said.

"During the meetings, many options were considered for the design of the wall along the northbound exit from the Hoan Bridge. The group supported the idea of combining the ideas of water and music bringing together the themes that represent this area of the lakefront."

Shiner suggested "Smiles" is certainly appropriate as a reference to the Summerfest logo.

As an aside, Pyrtiz added that, "the oscillation of the staff and chord lines are meant to represents the waves of Lake Michigan."


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