Thursday, September 17, 2015

Music and History

Ad from The Etude, Dec. 1915
Recently I have had many reasons to reflect on the role of music in our lives.  The most personal reason is that my piano had been in storage for 2 1/2 years, and having it available to play once again is wonderful.  It was on its side atop a piano mover's dolly, covered in packing blankets and a canvas drop cloth in our home during the construction, and as carefully as we protected it, I was worried.  I was also worried about the process of putting it back together and on its legs again.  It has been moved a few times before, but usually I hide during that process, afraid to watch.  This time I was needed to help with protecting the newly installed and finished floors, so I couldn't hide.  I even stayed to photograph the pivotal moment of attaching the third leg.  All went well, without a scratch to piano or man. The piano tuner concluded with the playing of Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor when he finished--a real treat!  (I do play, but not well enough to deserve this beautiful instrument.)

Setting up my piano
As the construction on our house nears completion, one of my tasks is sorting the things from our storage room into the "save" and "discard" piles.  This is a particularly difficult task for a genealogist and history researcher, but I am slowly making headway.  Among the things that made it into the "save" pile is the December 1915 issue of The Etude, from which the advertisements in this blog were taken.  The magazine includes not only articles but also music, and the editorial near the front of the 1915 Christmas issue read, "But the world is purging itself of the horror of war and the makers of war.  All the more reason why we should do our utmost here in America to proclaim the great message of peace."  (See "My Steadfast Tin Soldier, A Sequel," 10-2-2014 in the blog archives for a reminder of that era.) 
Ad from The Etude, Dec. 2015

Although the issue of The Etude that I found is not quite of the era in which Isaac B. Werner lived, it made me think of him nonetheless, for Isaac loved music.  His journal includes references to music in the churches of Rossville, IL, to spending evenings with friends who played musical instruments, and to the enjoyment of singing at Farmers' Alliance meetings.  (See "Music on the Prairie," 1-24-2013 and "Songs for Farmers' Gatherings," 11-5-2013 in the blog archives.)  The Etude magazine from 1915 contains advertisements for cabinets to hold sheet music, disk records, and player piano rolls, but for Isaac and most of his neighbors their musical entertainment had to be self produced.

Music is not just about entertainment.  I was recently reminded of that by folksinger, storyteller, and autoharp virtuoso Adam Miller, who performed at the library in St. John, KS.  As his brochure says, "Folksongs travel through History.  History travels through Folksongs."  
Adam Miller
Performing with autoharp and guitar, he sang one song using a version naming Texas rivers in its lyrics but told us that the same song is found in other regions includes the names of rivers from that locality; he also sang a traditional hobo song, a song about Amelia Earhart, and a song about a Kansas pioneer, among others.  He described American folksongs with their roots in English ballads.  There are folk songs about war, railroads, and sailing.  Folk songs were sung by cowboys, soldiers, sailors, and pioneers, and the lyrics tell of their lives.  It truly is history put to music, and Adam shared many examples.

An appreciative audience listens to Adam Miller

He especially enjoys singing folk music in schools, and if the young man in the audience at the St. John library is a typical example of how students relate to Adam's music, they must love it!  He calls his programs Singing Through History! and according to his brochure he has performed live for over 1.5 million American students in 48 states.  As someone who considers knowledge of history essential to the citizens of every nation, I especially appreciated the idea of bringing that history to young people through folk music!

Enjoying Adam Miller
If you want to learn more about Adam Miller or check out some videos of his performances, you may google Adam Miller folksinger.  You can also go to his website to sample some of his songs or buy CDs.

The next time you listen to a folksong, pause to consider the history it contains.  Remember:  "Folksongs travel through history.  History travels through folksongs." 

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