Henry Clay Work’s Civil War Songs

The son of an ardent abolitionist, Henry Clay Work was born in Connecticut in 1832. He trained as a printer and started a career setting musical type. Along the way, he taught himself music. By 1853, he had moved to Chicago and started writing his own songs. His first publication, “We Are Coming, Sister Mary,” became nationally famous after the Christy Minstrels started performing it regularly. After a fatal shipwreck on Lake Michigan, Work wrote the music to “Lost on the Lady Elgin,” and even that song was published in New York as well as Chicago. Not long after the … Continue reading

Tommy Dorsey, Thomas A. Dorsey: two different great musicians

Tommy Dorsey (1905-1956) had a rare blend of musical ability and business sense that enabled him to lead one of the most successful dance bands of his era. Famously hard to get along with, he started out with his brother Jimmy, broke with him, and then reconciled later in his life. Tommy Dorsey’s sumptuous cantabile on the trombone is one of the most recognizable sounds of the swing era. He was white, by the way. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993) is considered the father of (black) gospel music. He started his musical career as a blues and jazz band leader, much … Continue reading

Marches of the Civil War

It is my plan to publish something related to the Civil War every month until the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination four years from now. By that time, if I am even able to come close to finishing the project, I will become very familiar with the Library of Congress’ Civil War Sheet Music Collection. I have just looked through the list of the 412 marches in the collection (out of an entire collection of 2576 pieces of published sheet music. There are pieces written both by Northern and Southern sympathizers, although I have only glanced at the contents and have … Continue reading

Opera rocks: Jackie Evancho’s new album

As I was getting ready to leave the gym this morning, the TV news had a story that made me stay to watch it. Jackie Evancho, the 11-year-old soprano who captured the nation’s imagination on “America’s God Talent” last year, has a record out and it has outsold Lady GaGa. Since the record came out only yesterday, who knows how long it will continue to outsell Lady GaGa? And yet Evancho’s success a year after the buzz over her success on America’s Got Talent is great news for real music. Lady GaGa makes her reputation on outrageous costumes, outrageous public … Continue reading

South Pacific, by Rodgers and Hammerstein

South Pacific is the fourth Broadway musical produced by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.  It opened in 1949 following up the the success of Oklahoma and Carousel, and the painful failure of Allegro. Director Josh Logan had suggested that a story by James Michener called “Fo’ Dolla” would make a good subject. Rodgers read it and the entire Tales of the South Pacific while he was in the hospital and urged Hammerstein to read it, too. The story of South Pacific uses “Fo’ Dolla” and at least two other stories from that collection. One of the … Continue reading

The glissando: from bad trombone technique to a common performance idiom

Perhaps no technique more perfectly characterizes the idiom of the slide trombone as the glissando. Its first deliberate use in performance is fairly recent in the long history of the trombone, and its acceptance as a legitimate technique came somewhat later. Nowadays, we tend to think of glissando and portamento as synonyms. They are, indeed, played exactly the same way, so it seems odd that the portamento enjoyed early approval and that all manner of musicians, including trombonists, strongly disapproved of the glissando within living memory. Daniel Speer provides the earliest reference to the glissando I have found (1687), when … Continue reading

March forth! A brief look at American marches

March music has played a huge role in American popular culture. What’s a parade without marching bands? Or half time at a school football game? Would anyone want to listen to a Fourth of July concert, or a concert on any other patriotic occasion, without lots of marches? Is it even possible to imagine a band concert without at least one march? The modern wind band began at the time of the French Revolution. After that, European nations developed infantry bands and mounted cavalry bands. Some nations developed highly centralized policies for the instrumentation of these bands. In any case, … Continue reading

Willie Colón and salsa music

According to Gerald Sloan, Willie Colón “has done more than anyone since Tommy Dorsey to keep [the] trombone before the public eye.” Yet in comparison to jazz trombonists he seems little known in this country. He has been closely associated with a style of Latin music known as salsa. Some Latinos object to the term salsa, which means “sauce,” applied to a musical style. Colón embraces it. After all, it had plenty of idiomatic meanings before it was applied to music. Different Latin music traditions developed in various Latin American countries. They have certain things in common including a Spanish … Continue reading

Building an audience for symphony orchestra concerts — with video games?

According to stereotype, classical music in general and symphony orchestra concerts in particular appeal to an aging elite. That perception justifies cutting orchestras from schools, booking orchestras for school assemblies or college arts series much less frequently than in the recent past, and changing classical music radio stations to other formats. Orchestras must develop strategies for building an audience in order to survive. Here is a video about the kind of orchestral music used as the sound tracks to video games. Someone on an email list I follow sent it along. Several orchestras have presented entire concerts devoted to video … Continue reading

Popular song in America, part 10: The rock revolution

Tin Pan Alley songs appealed to a predominantly urban, white, affluent, and musically literate segment of the population. They remained unknown to much of the rest of the country, including most blacks and rural whites, who had their own music, learned and passed down orally. The advent of the recording industry and radio gave this music a wider reach within their respective niches. Consequently, when Billboard began to document record sales, it kept three charts, one for “popular music,” (Tin Pan Alley songs), one for Country-Western, and one for black music, labeled at various times Harlem Hit Parade, Race Records, … Continue reading