The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song


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The Voices that are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-century American Popular Song

John Canoe rituals enacted during the Christmas season by African-Americans included public song and dance. In these, parading bands of musicians requested gifts of food, money, or alcohol, taking African-derived song and dance culture to the broader communities amongst whom they lived. West and Central Africans made music as varied as the Europeans amongst whom those enslaved would eventually live in America.

They carried their local musical expectations to their new homes across the Atlantic, where they accessed multi-continental repertoires. They and their descendants built upon musical heritages both deep and broad. During this era, diverse African songs, dances, instruments, as well as rituals and festivals, remained significant to enslaved and free black populations. Congo Square in New Orleans, a place central to the survival and dissemination of African-derived performative traditions, persisted as a site where slaves from the city could go to socialize on Sunday afternoons. Some Catholic Congolese slaves performed sangamentos , the highly choreographed mock war dances accompanied with drums and bells crucial to later Mardi Gras practices.


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The persistence of practices such as sangamentos bound new communities together and provided cultural sustenance in the harsh new circumstances of slavery. Traders might expect the enslaved to sing and even fiddle while marching in the chained coffles to the growing western plantations.

Song organized regimented tasks and eased the burden of toil.

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The call-and-response style helped build and strengthen community. Particular songs might be appropriate for a certain labor activity, such as rowing, hoeing, or shucking corn. Work songs reinforced social bonds and hierarchies, although lyrics might challenge these with satirical rhetoric. Enslaved musicians had to master multiple genres as they performed for both the formal cotillions of elite white society and the livelier jigs, breakdowns, and reels popular with lower class white and black dancers.

These African-derived music ways gained poignancy under slavery. They could even function as political statements for people denied an officially sanctioned political voice. They did the same for impromptu public protests and even institutionally sanctioned civic parades. Although political music often took place in the street, taverns hosted politically infused music making as well.

Concerts and balls facilitated by amateur and professional musicians raised money for a cause or commemorated significant civic events. They did the same to honor the Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette on his — tour of the country. This shared musical commemorative culture helped knit the young nation together.

An Irish immigrant character might sing as a laughable bumpkin or a liberty-seeking republican refugee. Staged characters sung a combination of their old and newly forming national, ethnic, and racial identities during these decades when the traditional order had become increasingly unstable. Music was central to these performances that shaped the nation. An infinite array of locally created verses, mostly now lost to modern singers of the tune, reveal a proud articulation of American rusticity as well as the glorification of sexual adventures and drunken escapades.

Other popular early American songs borrowed heavily from British music culture, but were transformed with deep sarcasm to serve American ends. Sailors and boatmen played an essential role in this transition. Music was already crucial to the labors of these men who sang to keep time as they rowed, heaved, and pulled. The centrality of American seamen to securing the legitimacy of the new nation led to the development of maritime-themed patriotic songs in particular. They published songsters, organized bands, performed in orchestras, led educational efforts, and ran music-related businesses.

In addition, the growing American sheet-music industry facilitated domestic exposure to diverse immigrant sounds. Published songs denoted as Irish, Scottish, and Italian helped invent the idea of ethnicity in America, even if they were only loosely based on actual regional European styles. As such, it became a genre of music that bonded an Irish-American ethnic community together, introduced Irish culture to those unfamiliar with it, and entrenched stereotypes about the Irish.

Similarly, Americans held Scottish folksongs in high esteem as they imagined a disappearing Scottish primitivism.

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These not only helped keep German culture alive in America by the repetition of musical forms, but they also provided support systems though which immigrant communities could remain active and strong. These same immigrant musicians facilitated the development of formal European-style concert traditions in the United States.

In the earliest years of the century, no musical style or genre was reserved for a particular class of people. Concert halls welcomed all to their performances, although elites remained segregated in boxes from the messiness of the pit. Concert music had existed in East Coast urban centers for a century when in the s wealthy patrons financed via subscriptions the first professional orchestras.

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New Orleans was the first American city to support an opera company. French operas had been performed in the city from at least A decade later, in the span of four months, New Orleanians could witness twenty-one performances, which included sixteen different operas from nine composers. This town of only 12,, one third of who were enslaved and who attended performances on discounted tickets, clearly valued and invested in public music performances.

An evening listening to opera often ended with dancing at a ball. Though most of these dances were segregated by race, authorities could only enforce this rule with limited success. From the s through the s, the number of theater and concert performances grew, although not until the s did the United States develop the necessary infrastructure to support the performing arts broadly.

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Immigrant musicians made up the majority of these professionals and typically performed European composed pieces from the traditional European canon. Yet in these same settings, audiences demanded patriotic pieces. Bands formed from discharged military musicians honored such wishes. Most towns supported at least one band by the early nineteenth century whose members played in the streets as often as in the concert halls.

The hugely popular African American composer Frank Johnson led military bands and dance orchestras in the concert halls of Philadelphia and cities across Europe. These democratic assumptions about experiences with music changed by mid-century with the growing sense of moral uplift attached to certain types of music. As a result, musicians transformed from craftsmen to artists. By the s the elite had increasingly withdrawn into performances reserved purely for their own enjoyment such as Italian opera performed in the original language.

Blackface minstrelsy, which both adopted and parodied this now-segregated art music, filled the publicly available musical performance void. The decade of the s saw a marked shift in American music. By mid-century, music had become a commodity. The broader forces of the market revolution had thoroughly altered American music.


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They are performances that offer listeners and viewers a fantasy—a wish-fulfillment—of what wartime masculinity could be. Monroe reached the height of his fame during the war years fig. Although most famous for his big baritone voice, Monroe was a trained trumpet player and studied for a short time at the New England Conservatory.

His smile sends romantic, not musical, shivers down spines that are just beginning to harden. A more accurate comparison would have been to Bing Crosby, also a baritone, who in the mid- to late s remade his image, transforming himself from a crooner into an embodiment of normative masculinity.

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Despite sharing some very general characteristics, particularly slow tempos and romantic lyrics, popular ballads of the era came in many flavors. Monroe was most successful with a new subspecies of ballad, one that featured unusually slow tempos, elaborate orchestrations with strings, and irony-free lyrics. Cecilia Abbey, not in Sweden, but on the Isle of Wight. But like so many wartime ballads, the lyrics are ambiguous; the wartime references remain metaphorical and the song fits the lyrical and musical expectations for a Tin Pan Alley ballad.

This new lyrical fusion is presented at a strikingly slow tempo of only seventy-four beats per minute most sweet dance band jazz hovered around one hundred beats per minute. As I will argue later, this is a Tin Pan Alley love song infused with the historical concerns of nineteenth-century sentimentality. During the s it was the Tin Pan Alley ballad that occupied the commercial mainstream: taken at slow tempos, with a clear emphasis on the written melody, these recorded performances were based almost exclusively on music created in the large publishing houses that dominated the industry.

The lyrics of these tunes nearly always focused on heterosexual romance and love. Music critics, performers, and composers of the era frequently lambasted these commercial songs as sentimental, overwrought expressions of emotion. The rise of the ballad during these years disturbed many government officials, and they actively sought out classical and Tin Pan Alley composers to write stirring and martial songs. In the early s it was still permissible for songs, performers, and audiences to communicate through a stylistic language that was sentimental, even feminine.

The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song
The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song The Voices that Are Gone: Themes in Nineteenth-Century American Popular Song

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