When LeGrande Harvey played the song he wrote with his wife for a group of Nine Mile neighbors, he did not expect that it would become the official ballad of Montana within two years.
"It took on a life of its own," he said, after performing "Montana Melody" with Bonner School students at their winter concert Wednesday night.
That small, 1981 performance included a woman who was friends with the music teacher of Bonner School, who asked Harvey to record the song for her to share. The instructor loved it and asked Harvey to perform with her students. That school concert was recorded and soon appeared on Montana Public Radio's children's show, the Pea Green Boat.
A Helena fifth-grade teacher heard it and wrote a letter to Harvey addressed to a Missoula bar where she had seen an ad saying he would play.
"She asked if her class could take it on as a project to make it the state song," he said.
They took the case to Hal Harper, a longtime Helena legislator, who said he would consider a bill if students could make a strong enough case. They testified in front of him, teachers and parents at mock hearings. Harper introduced House Bill 31 in the 1983 session.
Students from Helena and Bonner came to the State Capitol to testify in support of the bill and to perform the piece. Legislators decided not to replace the state song, "Montana," but to name "Montana Melody" as the official state ballad. Helena's Jefferson High School students sang the song when Gov. Ted Schwinden signed the measure into law in March 1983.
Harvey has occasionally returned to Bonner School at the request of teachers to perform the piece, as he did Wednesday night.
The winter concert opened with second graders singing, "What's in that stocking?" Music Teacher Cory McAtee sat on the gym floor in front of the stage, mouthing words and demonstrating the coordinated hand movements to match the music. Most of the youngsters stared straight ahead as they sang and did not pretend to look in their imaginary stocking, although a few made the gestures with gusto. One girl raised her hand in the middle of a song to wave at family in the crowd.
A boy leaving the stage as the next grade came on to perform turned to his friend and said, "I hope you got through that as good as I hope I did."
Fourth-graders knew the routine. They enunciated every word of "Christmas night." All enthusiastically waved their arms and wiggled their fingers to imitate falling snow while keeping pace with a fast-paced piece aptly named "Snow." To end the song, they shouted the title, threw their arms wide and froze in a camera-ready pose. Many parents in the crowd caught the moment in cell phone videos.
Next, Harvey took the stage with the fourth grade while third- and second-grade students lined up on the floor in front of them. He sang the verses alone, strumming his guitar, but was joined by the kids for the chorus.
Yes, there's no place like Montana,
the Big Sky country, my home.
A place to set my spirit free,
a Rocky Mountain melody,
These things are a part of me,
Montana, Montana, my home.