Monday, January 27, 2014

One Hundred Years of American Musical Nostalgia for Living Historians

I am a lover and collector of music, mostly the older stuff. By older I mean 1900's ragtime, 1910's popular, 1920's jazz, 1930's swing, 1940's big band, 1950's early rock & roll and pop, 1960's everything, 1970's classic rock, and the punk & new wave of the70's and the early 80's.
Yes, I've been collecting music for literally decades.
I also love the old-time hillbilly music. You know, the tear in my beer-type twang.
And even the 'greatest hits' of classical music.
Wait----what? You want to hear about something a bit more contemporary AND popular that I listen to?
Okay: I really think Green Day is pretty great, and I do like most of Kid Rock's stuff (though I can do without much of the %&*#$ language), and I even will listen to some of the more poppy stuff my daughter will play on the radio, including "All About That Bass" (yes, I love that fun song!).
But some of the most unique and interesting music I have in my collection and enjoy are the pre-1900 tunes that were once popular when our 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and even older great grandparents were alive.
I've written before about bringing the past to life by utilizing our senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste) to every degree possible, and period music done in an authentic style certainly falls into the category of sound. Just as hearing The Beatles "I Want To Hold Your Hand" or, even further back, Glenn Miller's "In The Mood," for instance, will invoke a thousand memories for you, your parents, or grandparents. the same can happen with music of a much earlier time. Kind of like a sort of nostalgia.
And no matter what era music comes from, I believe, for living historians, it can emit a nostalgic feeling. An example of what I mean is if you listen to Civil War era music every time you travel to your Civil War or mid-19th century reenactments, that music will be associated with the 1860's, will it not?
The same for Rev War, WWII, War of 1812, or whatever period in time you reenact.
(See Is Nostalgia Portable? for my thoughts on nostalgia)
And understanding a tiny bit about music's history will also give you an idea of its place in early American society:
During the early years of America's history (as well as in Europe), all well-educated people were expected to be able to play an instrument or sing, both because, well, there was no music if people didn't make it themselves. Singing work songs helped to pass the time at menial tasks for workers, and music gave young people a chance to meet and court.
"Ladies generally did not play wind instruments, their garments being too restrictive and the necessary distortions of facial muscles considered in poor taste. They could sing or play the harpsichord, clavichord, organ, and the pianoforte." (from The Writers Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America).
And, just like now, people had their favorite musical style to listen (or dance) to. For instance, during a performance of a 'high brow' musician in the White House, President Tyler interrupted him with the request that he play some good old Virginia music instead. Regional music was the most popular of all and people never tired of its patriotic and sentimental themes such as "Home Sweet Home," "My Old Kentucky Home," and that most beautiful patriotic number from 1831 "America" (also known as My Country 'tis of Thee). 
There are many musical historians that have put out fine collections of this very old music - many times done on period instruments. I search for this wonderful music in hopes of accomplishing more mind-travel and nostalgia.
And also because I enjoy the sounds!
To help give you a better overview of some of my favorite period music CD's, I copied the liner notes from two of my favorite period CD's and then wrote my own personal review for a third one, and I included links for purchasing:

George Washington: Music for the First President by David and Ginger Hildebrand
This recording contains music that George Washington knew or might have heard in his home or in the streets, in taverns and theaters, on the parade ground, the battlefield, or in ballrooms and concert halls.
Washington loved music and valued it for its practical as well as its emotional impact. When he arrived in Boston to take control of the Continental Army, among his first orders were directives ordering the fifers and drummers who played the camp duty music and the field signals. In Valley Forge in 1778 he gave 15 shillings to members of Proctor's band of music who trudged through the snow to serenade him on his birthday.
When he became an officer and a landowner, Washington had occasion to visit the colonial capitols of Williamsburg, Annapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York to meet with governors and leading citizens. Balls, assemblies, private parties, and clubs were an important part of his social life. The flavor of these times is reflected in the music composed or or arranged to amuse members of the Tuesday Club in Annapolis, several of whom were acquaintances of Washington. This was a group of local gentlemen who met regularly between 1745 and 1756 to share a meal, sing rowdy songs, and tell stories.
When Washington went on trips, he brought home music books as gifts for his step-daughter, Patsy. Later in life he listened with joy as his step-granddaughter Nelly played his favorite songs on the harpsichord and pianoforte for her beloved grandpapa.
Kate VanWinkle Kelleris the author of numerous books on colonial era music and contra-dances.
David Hildebrande is a recognized scholar of early American music history, including colonial, Revolutionary War, Federal, and the War of 1812 periods.
Would you like to hear some of the music herein? Check this out:

Davy Crockett's Fiddle by Dean Shostak
"I first learned about Davy Crockett's fiddle when I saw its picture in the April 2001 issue of USA Today; an old well-worn violin. That was the beginning of a wonderful musical adventure. I contacted the good folks at the Witte Museum, who owned the fiddle, and proposed that we have it restored. I wanted to make a recording of music of Davy Crockett's time on his very own fiddle accompanied by period instruments.
They enthusiastically agreed and we embarked on a remarkable historical journey; restoring the violin, researching and learning the music Davy Crockett would have played, and recording it right in San Antonio where he spent his final, heroic days.
When I returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, I assembled some of my favorite early American musicians together to create musical scenes from Davy's life using his own fiddle.
It was a thrill for me from beginning to end...
Dean Shostak
Dean is one of the musicians who performs at Colonial Williamsburg.
Sorry, but I could find no selections from this CD to link to here. I suppose you'll just have to trust me on this one!

Hard Times - Stephen Foster Remembered by Amy Miller and Carson Hudson
It is 1864 and, after a busy work-week running the gristmill, a few of us are relaxing on a Saturday evening. A piano and a pump organ are there, awaiting to be played. One friend brings his banjo, and another has bones. And still another brought the most special of instruments, her sweet voice. It helps that she can also play said keyboard instruments as well. That's where this CD takes me when I listen to it. I came across it on a fluke search and ordered it after only listening to a few samples. The kind folks at CD Baby ensured my copy was in my hands inside of three days and I have played this more than any other of my 30+ mid-19th century music CD's. As a citizen/civilian Civil War re-enactor, as well as a social historian of the 19th century, I simply cannot get enough of this disc. This is highly recommended for any lover of authentic sounding parlor music of the middle class.
And, the CD Baby folks said of this CD:
Amy Miller and Carson Hudson have also tried to replicate the way that Americans would have actually heard these works in the 1840s, '50s and '60s, hoping that you enjoy their attempt at a musical time machine to mid-19th century America.
not of the Linda Ronstadt caliber, Amy's voice is beautiful nonetheless, and it fits this music perfectly. Upon listening it can make one feel as if they were in a parlor, enjoying a family and friends get together. It definitely adds to the authenticity of our weekly time-travel experiences as we make our way to reenactments (yes, yes, I know it's recorded music on a compact disc - we're talking effect here, a mind-travel through time).
I think my particular favorites are when she sings with the pump organ - a true time-travel experience.
And a finer version of "Some Folks" you will never hear!

Here's their version of "Hard Times Come Again No More":

So there you have it - one hundred years of some very authentic-sounding period music. You would do yourself a great favor in adding them to your collection. They can really give you that prep you may need before diving into your next reenactment.



Betsy said...

I'll add to your must-listen to list, since you're reading the Little House books: Fiddler Bruce Hoffman played Pa's actual fiddle and recorded many songs mentioned in the series.....even cooler was that the CD was recorded in Laura and Almanzo's actual house in Mansfield, MO (with permission from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum, of course).

There are several different CD compilations of the songs mentioned in the series (Happy Land is a good one), but this CD is the only one that uses Pa's actual fiddle, which makes it better, in my opinion.

Historical Ken said...

Thanks for the info. I plan to check it out!