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Music in History

It's amazing how much history is recorded in music. It's more amazing how much of it is nearly forgotten!

Did you realize that, in the evenings, the opposing armies of the American Civil War would sing across the picket lines? Often going back and forth, ending with "Home, Sweet Home".And yet, all that most people know of that once-popular song is the title, cross-stitched on an old piece of cloth.

The songs sung then were more than the battle anthems we preserve through patiotism. They sang of loved ones at home and of the dead on the field. They sang about poor food and politics. Music was published in great scores, even finding itself in ladies' fashion magazines of the time, like Godey's.

The style of the songs was influenced greatly by a recent development in classical music, specifically by the development of the art song. An art song is a style in which the melody is independant from the accompaniment, both intricate and interresting. As a result, the common songs of the Civil War were often complex. Not because there were many notes or frequent runs, but because the melody lines would rise and fall through a great range. They were songs meant for the parlour room yet being sung on tomorrow's battle fields.

The songs of the American Revolution are no less interresting. We are familiar with the tune, "Yankee Doodle", but few know all of the verses, nor how many variations on the song there were. Likewise, we recognize "Chester" and "Road to Boston" from fife and drum corps marching my in parades, but when was the last time you heard the words?

And like the Civil War, the Revolutoin's music did not limit itself to anthems. Men carried with them the songs of their taverns. And these were not all about drink (although several were)! The songs included themes about work (like weaving), about love found and lost, about death, and about fun. Several tunes, in fact, are comedies! (And not all "clean" comedies, either!)

The style of these songs was simplistic compared to the later Civil War. The melodies were intended to me learned quickly, with little or no accompaniment. Choruses often mimicked or repeated the melody of the verses. Their function was to get a roomful of people singing, not a soloist with an appreciative audience.

For more information, or to search for lyrics, or to find recordings, I suggest the following links...

The Contemplator's Folk Music Site

Mudcat Cafe

Wooden Ships Music

Folk Info

Cantaria