Archive for the ‘General Music History’ Category

Rise Up Shepherd and Follow Blues on Piano and Violin



Rise up Shepherds and Follow also known as There’s a Star in the East is a popular American Negro Spiritual Christmas Carol. It first appeared in print in the 1867 publication Slave Songs of the United States under the title of A Christmas Plantation Song. The tune most likely originated in plantations on islands off the coast of Georgia and North Carolina. The songs from this region were usually sung as a call and response with plenty of handclapping and foot patting to hold down the rhythm.

The American Spirituals lend themselves very well to jazz and blues arrangements. This, of course, is largely because both The Blues and Jazz originated, in part, from the southern spiritual music. The version performed in the above video features piano and violin in a blues style without vocals. However, the original performers of this song probably would not have used any instrumentation at all as they sang the lyrics:

There’s a star in the East on Christmas morn,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
It will lead to the place where the Christ was born,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.


Follow, follow, rise up, shepherd, and follow.
Follow the Star of Bethlehem,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.

If you take good heed to the angel’s words,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.
You’ll forget your flocks, you’ll forget your herds,
Rise up, shepherd, and follow.


The Grateful Dead, Scarlet Begonias and Grosvenor Square

Wedding party in front of September 11th Memorial

Wedding portraits are taken in front of the September 11 Memorial in Grosvenor Square. An inscription on the memorial reads, "Grief is the price we pay for love."

The lyrics of the Grateful Dead are often ambiguous and open to interpretation. However, Robert Hunter’s poetry in the song Scarlet Begonias is fairly easy to interpret. The songs first stanza begins with “As I was walking ‘Round Grosvenor Square, Not a chill to the wind but a nip to the air.” I had always wondered just where exactly Grosvenor Square was. I always imagined it to be somewhere in San Francisco or some other United States Location. By Saint of Circumstance I discovered its geographic location while traveling from The Handel House to Hyde Park in London, England.

After a long day on our feet we decided that a rest was in order. So we looked for a public park to take a break. Low and behold, the closest park just so happened to be Grosvenor Square. Upon our arrival, much to our disbelief, we discovered Grosvenor Square is actually a hot spot for wedding photography.

Bike Rider on FDR sculpture in Grosvenors Square

A freestyle bike rider performs stunts at the base of a statue of former Hyde Park, New York, resident Franklin Delano Roosevelt in London's Grosvenor Square

Those suffering from the U.S. Blues will find themselves right at home in Grosevenor Square. The park has been the site of The United States’ military headquarters and Embassy since World War II. As a result there are monuments to Franklin D. Roosevelt,  and Dwight D. Eisenhower along with a memorial to the September 11th attacks on New York.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Sculpture infront of U.S. Embassy

Sculpture of West Point Graduate, Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of the U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square

Robert Hunter, The Grateful Dead’s lyricist, most likely became familiar with Grosvenors Square on the Europe ’72 tour. The Dead finished their famous tour with performances at The Strand Lyceum Theatre on May 23-26. The Strand Lyceum is actually remarkably close to Grosvenor Square. The two sites are only about a 30 minute walk from each other. Therefore, it is a safe assumption that hunter probably relaxed himself in the exclusive May Fair neighborhood park. One can only imagine that hunter actually did meet someone, with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes, with scarlet begonias tucked into her curls.

The music of The Grateful dead is always a great Deal of fun to perform. The following arrangement of Scarlet Begonias performed on piano and violin can make for some great entertainment during cocktail hours or dinner parties.

So if you Need a Miracle because you want both a hi-class event and some good chilling vibes at the same time, relax, Harmonious Music has The Grateful Dead covered.

From Our Hudson House to The Handel House

Front of the Handel House

The Front of the Handel House Museum located at 23 and 25 Brook Street in London England. The white building on the left is #23 where Jimi Hendrix lived and the gray building on the right is #25 where George Frideric Handel Lived from 1723 - 1759 Photo: Eric Ortner

When brides request specific music for their wedding ceremony in the Hudson Valley they often choose the compositions of George Frideric Handel. So when Harmonious Music decided to take a trip to London it was thought that the voyage would not be complete without a visit to the Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street. Anyone with an interest in music history should make a concerted effort to visit this wonderful treasure.

G. F. Handel moved into the home in 1723 shortly after his appointment as Composer to The Chapel Royal. Prior to  this he had lived as a guest in the homes of some prominent Londoners after immigrating to England in 1712. The Chapel Royal Appointment and its hefty salary of  £400 must have certainly made Handel feel secure enough to find a place of his own.

Handel’s Chapel Royal appointment and overall success in London was largely a result of England’s cultural inferiority complex. At the time many well to do Englishmen went on “Grand Tours” of continental Europe. They brought back artwork and an appreciation of contemporary music along with the belief that England’s artists did not compare to those from abroad. As a result foreign musicians and artisans were given access to greater opportunities in London than they could find on the mainland.

Handel moved into 25 Brook Street soon after it was built. It was constructed by George Barnes along with five other units. The Brook Street neighborhood near Hanover Square was a new hot spot for a growing upper middle class elite. Surprisingly, Handel did not purchase the home outright. Instead he opted to lease the property. This is likely because musicians and composers of the 18th century often needed to remain mobile so that they could move from opera house to opera house.

Visitors to the Handel House Museum are first ushered up to the third floor where they are treated to an informative film over-viewing Handel’s life and achievements. They are then free to wander the painstakingly restored residence starting with a wonderful hearth room, the museum calls the “London Room.” Handel would have used The London Room as a dressing room. You quickly notice the amazing wide plank flooring that appears as if Handel himself certainly must have traversed.

Visitors then meander into Handel’s bedroom complete with a period canopy bed. Although, none of the Handel’s original furniture remains, the Handel House Trust exhaustively researched the records of Handel’s estate to recreate the original appearance as closely as possible.

Nearby visitors find an exhibition room complete with a beautiful reproduction harpsichord. Signs indicate that visitors are forbidden to use it. But it certainly beckoned to our resident keyboard expert. The exhibition room also contained some original manuscripts behind glass. One of which was in the hand of Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart. A sign nearby explained that one of Mozart’s best clients, Baron Gottfried van Swietenwas, an admirer of Handel and requested that Mozart perform his work regularly. Mozart wrote of Handel:

Handel Knows best what produces effect. Where he wants it he strikes like a thunderbolt.

The Handel House Museum clearly made a great effort to make the exhibit interesting for children. There is a computer setup with a keyboard for guests to compose their own music. There are also period costumes sized for children of all ages to adorn. There are also “fun trails” throughout the museum and quizzes to help keep the kids interested in the museum.

Sarah poses next to a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum

Sarah Lawlor poses in period fashion near a reproduction harpsichord in the Handel House Museum.

Treading down the stairs from the third floor to the second, one quickly notices the amazing wood railings and paneling. The Handel House trust pealed back 28 layers of paint to determine the original appearance of the Georgian era home. A great deal of effort was needed in restoration in part due to the arrogance of CJ Charles who was an art dealer. He chose to turn the residence into a shop and greatly altered the former homes appearance including the removal of the Façade on the first and second floors. The Handel House Trust also holds a lease for neighboring 23 Brook Street, which was the residence of the 20th century musical genius Jimi Hendrix. 23 Brook Street managed to maintain its integrity from the Georgian Era and as a result was used as a model for the restoration of #25.

Because Handel never married and remained celibate for most of his life it is safe to say that the first floor of the home is where the action took place. It was here that Hadel received guests, held closed door rehearsals, and composed his masterpieces. He also used the first floor of his house to sell subscriptions  to his performances and he also sold some of his published music there. Today the area is still used for modern performances of Handel’s Music on another reproduction harpsichord. However, the real treasures of the first floor are the authentic harpsichord from the period of Handel’s lifetime, along with a wonderful painting of Handel.

Handel was actually a serious art collector in his own right as were most of the elite from the Georgian Era. His estate listed hundreds of pieces and it is, believed that his walls would have been covered in artwork. Handel’s collection was auctioned off in 1760, but the contents of the auction sale catalog weren’t published until 1985. His art collection contained 64 engravings, which were reproductions of topographical views, landscapes and famous paintings.  Another 87 pieces of Handel’s collection were paintings. Of those, almost half were landscapes. The rest of his art collection encompassed genre paintings, history paintings, erotica, and biblical histories. There were very few portraits documented in the auction, which leads authorities to believe that the collection may have been incomplete at the time of auction. This is due to the fact that portraits were the most popular form of painting during the Hanoverian period. Unfortunately we only know what happened to a handful of works from Handel’s collection because he did not label it in anyway. Because of this the Handel House Trust has adorned 25 Brook Street’s walls with portraits of Handel’s associates as well as prints that depict the major influences in Handel’s works.

The first floor of 25 Brook street is where Handel composed many of his masterpieces including the three operas Giulio Cesare, Tamerlano and Rodelinda. He also worked in the study to write Music for the Coronation of King George II including Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at every British Royal’s Coronation henceforth. Other manuscripts that poured out of 25 Brook Street’s study included Music for the Royal Fireworks and a slew of Oratorios. Handel is largely credited as being the original master of English Oratorio or in other words  instrumental music with vocals set to religious text. Perhaps Handel’s most famous work written in 25 Brook Street’s study was the Oratorio Messiah.

Harmonious Music regularly performs portions of Water Music at weddings in The Hudson Valley. While wandering the halls of Handel’s personal study we could not shake the sense that Handel’s spirit was emanating from the walls around us and that this visit to his private residence would carry through in our performance of his work back in the United States. The following is a recording of Handel’s Hornpipe from Water Music arranged by Harmonious Music for Piano and Violin.

Handel actually wrote Water Music prior to his tenure on Brook Street. Yet the piece was certainly partly responsible for his ability to naturalize in England in 1727 along with his appointment to the Chapel Royal. King George I was so pleased with the inaugural performance of Water Music that he requested it be performed a second time in its entirety.

When Handel first immigrated to England he was largely known for his mastery of Italian Opera. The first floor of the Museum described in detail Handel’s sometimes turbulent relationships with his male Castrate tenors and the original Prima Donna performers. These star’s prominence did not diminish, even as London’s taste for Italian Opera began to move towards English Oratorio following John Gay’s masterpiece The Beggar’s Opera.

Handel is sometimes remembered for his fiery temperament. However, in order for him to maintain a leadership role with talent such as the diva sopranos Francesa Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni he would have needed a strong explosive will himself. A visit to the Handel House Museum enlightens the patron that many of Handel’s vocal pieces were written for specific performers, and that he needed to take the star performer’s vocal range into account during a work’s initial composition.

Towards the end of his life Handel began to lose his eyesight and thus became dependent on his copyist John C. Smith’s assistance in composition. To correct the problem with his vision Handel sought the expertise of oculist John Taylor. Interestingly Taylor was the same doctor who conducted eye surgery on J.S. Bach. The doctor’s hand left both composers completely blind. Handel survived for eight years following his botched surgery, but Bach was not so lucky.

Due to John Smith’s devotion to Handel in the composer’s twilight years he was bestowed over 100 volumes of Handel’s manuscripts. Smith in turn presented them to King George III and as a result they are still maintained by the British Library. King George III was one of Handel’s biggest fans, and it is safe to say that Handel’s continued popularity can be partially attributed to the King’s musical appreciation.

George Frideric Handel passed away on April 14, 1759. The lease of 25 Brook street was given to Handel’s servant John Du Burk. Records indicate that Du Burk subsequently turned the residence into a boarding house.

Saint Georges Hanover Square

Saint Georges Hanover Square Church in England was the parish that Handel attended regularly. Handel actually helped to fund the installation of the original organ in this church and it is likely that he played it on ocasion. The organ and church are both currently being restored. Photo: Eric Ortner

While at the Handel House we learned that the chapel that Handel attended regularly was located near by. So we decided to stroll over to Saint George’s Hanover Square and see the pipe organ that Handel likely performed on and perhaps even helped fund the creation of. Unfortunately the chapel was closed when we arrived. However a sign made it clear that the structure and organ inside were being extensively renovated. So it has been decided that a return trip to both the Handel House Museum and St. George’s Hanover Square is required.

The museum is well worth a visit for anyone with an appreciation of Baroque music or British history in general. As a musician who routinely performs the work of Handel in New York’s Hudson Valley, I can’t help but believe that I am more inspired to perform a heartfelt rendition of his works now that I’ve visited the master composer’s home.


Handel House Museum Companion
Jacqueline Riding

Early Music:
Handel as art collector: art, connoisseurshipand taste in Hanoverian Britain

Thomas McGeary

Bach And Handel (Their Influence On Future Composers)
Jeffrey Langlois

Musician’s and Music Lovers
William Foster Apthorp

Bandstand in Norwich England is a Tribute to Swing Era Great

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Bandstand

Monkey Puzzle Tree and Victorian Bandstand in Norwich, England where Glenn Miller performed on August 18, 1944. Photo: Eric Ortner

Recently, we had the opportunity to attend a wedding near Norwich, England. While there we stumbled upon a very interesting park called Chapelfield Gardens. In the center of this quant park stands a nicely appointed Victorian era bandstand.

At the time, I was primarily captivated by a young Monkey Puzzle tree growing near the pavilion. Later, I discovered that the bandstand behind it was of great interest to those with an appreciation for Big Band and Swing Music. You see it was there on Friday, August 18, 1944 that Glenn Miller and members of his band put on what seems to be an impromptu performance for the residents of Norwich.

Official U.S. Military records indicate that the set took place sometime after 9 p.m. Glenn Miller and the American Band of the AEF were the entertainment at a 100th mission celebration in a B-24 base in Attlebridge until 9 p.m.  They then made the short ten mile trip to the bandstand in the center of Norwich. It seems following the performance in Chapelfield Gardens, they moved onto play a set at Samson and Hercules Ballroom downtown.  Samson and Hercules was a popular haunt for enlisted men during World War II and the building it was in still stands today. The band then returned to Attlebridge where they stayed the night due to inclement weather.

These performances in Norwich were only two sets out of six that took place on August 18th. It is also interesting to note that Miller received the promotion to Major the day prior. Apparently the band gave Major Miller a promotion party and they stayed up late as a result. Therefore, they must have been pretty exhausted by the end of their set at Samson and Hercules.

Glenn Miller played around 800 sets in England between July 8th and his disappearance on December 15th 1944. It was common for this group to work grueling 18 hour days. It’s very difficult to fathom modern American pop-stars maintaining a schedule that packed.

Although the Norwich bandstand performance took place more than sixty-five years ago, Glenn Miller’s sophisticated sounds seem to be enduring the test of time. Glenn Miller Orchestra’s songs are still performed routinely today by events musicians. Songs like In the Mood, Moonlight Serenade, Tuxedo Junction, String of Pearls, Pensylvania 6-5000, and American Patrol can make for great atmosphere at any formal event. This is especially true for cocktail hours and wedding receptions. The next time you hear them, be sure to remember that the composer/bandleader was a dedicated patriot in addition to a talented performance artist.


The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band
Sustineo Alas / I Sustain the Wind

Volume One by Edward F. Polic 1989

Serendipitous Player Piano

A Player Piano, or more accurately an Orchestrion, tucked away in a corner in Shartlesville, PA

A Player Piano, or more accurately an Orchestrion, tucked away in a corner in Shartlesville, PA

Sometimes you find enthralling historic music in the most unexpected places. Take for example this player piano made by the Western Electric Piano Company.

We were traveling back to the New York City area from a performance at Utz Terrace in Hanover, PA when we decided to make an unscheduled stop. At the time, we were traveling down Interstate 78 and saw a sign for Roadside America promoting a miniature village and railroad in Shartlesville, PA. We were actually ahead of schedule and a little bored with the drive so we said, “Let’s check it out.”

Having grown up near Niagara Falls, I’ve seen a great many disappointing tourist traps so I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would be mildly entertaining at best. The miniature village itself was surprisingly cool and we actually spent a good deal of time there. However, after wandering around the gift shop we were astonished to find what we deemed to be the most amazing looking machine ever made. It was a working player piano complete with a percussion section hidden away in a corner near the restrooms.

A little white sign read, “50 cents 1 Play Quarters Only.” I dug through my pockets and found two quarters then proceeded to drop them in an old coin slot. Immediately following the drop of the first quarter the machine began to whirr and shortly there after, the music started. It was like stepping back into time as the mechanized sounds started to loft out of the vintage wood and glass.

This machine was way more than just your standard mechanized piano. Its rhythm section was complete with a bass drum, snare drum, cymbal, triangle, tambourine, 12 bells and a xylophone. These cool features earn the player piano a more accurate title of  Orchestrion. The piano strings seemed to have two sounds. Those being the standard pianoforte sound and what I’ll call a saloon piano sound for lack of a better term.

Western Electric

Western Electric

Upon a closer inspection of the piano we noticed a maker’s mark saying Western Electric Piano Co., Chicago Ill. Some quick research uncovered the Western Electric Piano Co. as being secretly owned by the J.P. Seeburg Piano Co. The Western Electric Piano Co. name was really a marketing ploy to inspire competition between retailers. Surprisingly Seeburg actually went so far as to patent some of the mechanisms in these models to keep retailers and the public from realizing that they were really being produced by the same company.

The Western Electric pianos were only produced from 1924 until 1928 and were generally considered to be of good quality. The most popular models produced by the company were a cabinet style, which did not feature a functioning keyboard. The orchestrion models like the one we saw were not as widely purchased, and most likely cost prohibitive.

Most of Western Electric’s models used the standard “A” sized piano rolls, which featured ten songs. We only listened to two of the tunes on the mechanical masterpiece, and both were unfamiliar to us. The Orchestrion at Miniature Village had been retrofitted to accept quarters. In the instrument’s heyday it would have only cost 1 nickel per play. Player pianos actually are often times called nickelodeons due to the association of their cost. The popularity of nickelodeons started to falter in the 1920s as a result of the emergence of broadcast radio. Suddenly people weren’t required to pay for their entertainment and as a result the player piano’s weren’t really needed anymore.

It’s interesting to consider the parallels between the advent of the radio and the current evolution of the internet. Today the music industry is once again struggling to remain viable as MP3 files are being freely traded online. Technology may come and go while tastes and styles change, but the importance of trained, adaptable and soulful live musicians has remained a constant since the first caveman kept a beat by banging two  stones together.

Renaissance Wedding Music

Two Newlyweds dance to the sounds of a Violinist during a wedding</br> from the time of the renaissance.

Two Newlyweds dance to the sounds of a Violinist during a wedding from the time of the renaissance.

There were several factors influencing the music that was being performed for weddings in England during the mid to late 1500s and early 1600s. The first major influences were the Protestant Reformation and Puritanical beliefs. Another driving force was the newly emerging educated middle class and its quest to follow the fashions of nobility. All the while newly invented musical instruments were improving sound quality and versatility allowing for more complicated and intricate instrumental music. These conditions set the stage for music to manifest itself in every walk of life during the Renaissance. Therefore, music was certainly an important element for a memorable Renaissance wedding.

By the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the church had become an important part of any marriage. In fact, for a marriage to be legal, the pending union needed to be announced in church on three consecutive Sundays. It is important to understand, though, that in England the church was in a tremendous period of transition. This was a result of Henry VIII’s excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church and his subsequent creation of the Anglican Church. When Queen Elizabeth I rose to power she made a concerted effort to maintain peace in the potentially volatile struggles between Catholics and Protestants. As a result, a group of highly educated Protestants became extremely critical of the Queen’s religious compromises. This group became known as Puritans because they wanted to purify the Anglican Church of Catholicism. Since Marriage was so intrinsically tied to the church, the Puritan’s religious principles managed to manifest itself into most aspects of wedding music.

Once the intention to marry was made public in church through Crying the Banns it was possible to hold a wedding ceremony. Then as now, the first part of a wedding ceremony was the procession. In the time of Renaissance England the procession was a noisy and raucous affair. It began at the bride’s house where the bride would prepare for the ceremony with her bridesmaids. The groom and his family would often meet at the bride’s home and commence the procession following the bride’s family. The procession would then travel to the local church accompanied by musicians who performed on flutes, viols, drums and other “haut” (loud) instruments. Through the first half of the 16th century Bagpipes were also used in processionals and there is documentation of ministers performing on them during the procession. However, by the end of the century the popularity of bagpipes had waned significantly. There are records that indicate that the Puritans objected to the processionals and even brought the matter before Parliament.

The procession would eventually arrive at a Christian worship service that was quite a bit different compared with the customs of today. One of the most noticeable differences would have been the lack of seating. There were no pews, and the congregation stood for the duration of the service.

The Renaissance wedding ceremony was a very solemn service. There would have been little to no music performed during most ceremonies. If music was performed it would have most likely been Madrigal or vocal. The sparse presence of music resulted from the Puritan’s believe that most of the traditional religious music should be discarded. This was largely because the Anglican Church service was to be held entirely in English as opposed to Latin. Unfortunately this has resulted in a great deal of early English sacred music performed in Latin being lost to the sands of time.

The Puritans were also quite vocal about the style of music used in religious services especially when it regarded Polyphony and instrumentation. Polyphony is music with two or more independent melodic parts sounded together. This counterpoint had become the mainstream in music throughout Europe during the Renaissance. The Puritans believed that the gospel sung in polyphony interfered with the congregation’s ability to comprehend the word of God. The Puritans also believed that the use of musical instruments during a church service was an element of Popery. They deemed instrumental music in worship services to be profane leaving the worshipers more interested in the musical performance than in the word of God. This mindset resulted in the removal of 100s of organs from churches by the over zealous reformers throughout England and much of the rest of reformed Europe. Interestingly, though, many smaller organs created by the same craftsman who had previously built instruments for churches began appearing in private homes.

During the Renaissance the chief benefactor to the arts was the Church. Unfortunately, the Puritans pious and hard-nosed stance on sacred music created a great void in the labor market for instrumental musicians. Many of the most talented musicians were forced to work abroad or even gave up the trade entirely. The performers that managed to scrape by found work performing in weddings for wealthy and middle class families with enough status to ignore the Puritan’s creeds. A select few musicians were lucky, or perhaps talented enough to gain patronage from the extremely wealthy nobility in private chapels. One example of a private house of worship was Queen Elizabeth’s own Chapel Royal. Chapel Royal was the primary venue for several famed Elizabethan era composers including William Byrd.

William Byrd became one of the most renowned composers of the renaissance in England and specialized in music utilizing polyphony. Some of Byrd’s Hymns are still favorites of the Anglican Church today. Although it is unclear whether any of Byrd’s work was actually performed during weddings of the Elizabethan Era, some of his compositions used subject matter directly related to marriage. Two prime examples The Match That’s Made and La Verginella were contained in his 1588 volume Psalms, Sonnets & Songs of Sadness and Piety.

Eight pieces for Virginal by William Byrd were also published in Parthenia, a wedding gift for Elizabeth Stuart who was the daughter of King James I. Parthenia was published between 1611 and 1613 and has the added distinction of being the first published collection of English keyboard music.

Composition II by William Byrd from the Virginal Work, Parthenia. This is an excellent example of the pricksong of the time. Notice the extra number of  lines on the staff and the interesting rythmic markings.

Composition II by William Byrd from the Virginal Work, Parthenia. This is an excellent example of the pricksong of the time. Notice the extra number of lines on the staff and the interesting rythmic markings.

There may have been little or no music performed during Renaissance wedding ceremonies, however, melody filled the air during wedding feasts. The music performed at a feast would have varied widely depending on the social class of the newlyweds.

The newly emerging middle class had an extremely strong appreciation of music. Most nobleman and merchants were able to read pricksong or sheet music. In lieu of video games and television, Elizabethan families would sing and play instruments following dinner in their newly found leisure time. Lutes were by far the most popular instrument and at least one could be found in most middle and upper class homes. Music was so important that if it was found that a dinner guest could not sing pricksong at sight, (sight read) he would be looked at in disdain in many circles and considered to be of unsavory character. With an appreciative audience like this it is easy to understand the importance there would have been in hiring the best professional musicians during a wedding feast.

Any wedding feast, regardless of class, would have included dancing. Dance was a popular form of social exercise. Queen Elizabeth herself would dance every morning. During the English Renaissance dances would be set to a variety of instrumentation including a cappella, instrumental or a combination of both. The Dancers would follow the periods “pop” music, which tended to be Broadside Ballads. One of the period’s most popular broadside dances was called Turkeylony. The following lyrics were printed in 1557 or 1558 and are believed to have been sung along with the Turkeylony melody.

If ever I marry, I’ll marry a maid
To marry a widow I’m sorely afraid;
For maids they are simple, and never will grutch, (grudge)
But widows full oft, as they say, know too much

The dances at wedding feasts for all classes would have most likely been stepped in circles or in rows that could support an unlimited number of participants. However, There were other popular dances of the time that included a fixed number of dancers such as two or three couples.

Although the upper and middle classes did partake in the dances of the commoners, they also had a long list of specialized dances known as Court Dances. Court Dances could be divided into two categories basse which were slower dances or Haute or fast dances. A dance party during the Elizabethan Renaissance would begin with basse dances. Basse Dances were considered “low” dances because the dancers would stay on the ground. As the wedding feast progressed, the music’s tempo would increase to tempos suitable for haute dances. Haute Dances were considered “high” because the dancers would actually skip, hop and jump during them.

The slower basse dances included the Allemagne which was considered the most sentimental court dance, and would have certainly been suitable as the first dance for a pair of newlyweds. The couples partaking in Allemagne or Alman held each others hands through the entire dance. The beauty of this dance didn’t come from fancy steps and flourishes, but rather from its grace and tenderness.

A consort performs on viols at an outdoor renaissance wedding for reveling dancers. Puritan's look on in disdain in the background. Painting by Joris Hoefnagel Fete 1859

A consort performs on viols at an outdoor renaissance wedding for reveling dancers. Puritan's look on in disdain in the background. Painting by Joris Hoefnagel Fete in 1859

At a racier wedding, the married couple might dance a Lavolta, which were written for two people. This haute waltz was one of the most difficult dances because men would lift their dance partner into the air. The leap often caused the lady’s skirt to lift. In some circles this would be far too obscene. The more conservative members of the court were dismayed that a lady’s knees would be shown and in some cases their garter would be revealed. A Fashionable woman who planned to dance the Lavolta would be sure to pick a garter that was adorned with gold or silver. Onlookers would laugh as the newlywed’s grasped and bumped parts of the anatomy that were considered taboo by most. The groom would place his right hand on the bride’s back and his left hand just under her bosom. The groom would then use his thigh to push the bride’s hindquarters further into the air as she twirled. Many preachers and Puritans condemned the Lavolta because it could lead to much debauchery, and at a wedding feast this would certainly be the case.

The peasant or servant class during the time of the Renaissance also was very fond of dancing. There isn’t a great deal known about the daily lives of the peasant class, however, their dances eventually became popular with the nobility as well. As a result there is a fair amount of documentation regarding the peasant “country dances.” Some of the dances that found their way into noble society included Brawls, Gavottes, Jigs, hornpipes and reels.

Many of the peasant wedding customs were passed down from pagan traditions. One key example of this would be Morris Dance. Morris Dances were especially associated with May Day or May 1st, but they were also common at country wedding feasts. The May Day celebration originated in England as far back as the time of the Druids. The tradition continued with the Roman occupation of England as it became a time of praise for the God of Spring, Flora. The May Day tradition had further evolved by the time of the renaissance due to many centuries of European conflation and conflict. As a result a new set of characters was associated with Morris dance. They included the Queen or Lady of May, a Jester, A Piper, and up to six Morris Dancers.

The Piper in a Morris Dance would have most likely been a Pipe and Tabor player. The pipe and tabor was perhaps the earliest version of the “one man band.” The “pipe” in this case was a home made three holed whistle or flute played using the thumb, index and middle fingers. While the performer blew away on the pipe, he would pound out a lively beat using a stick on a drum slung over his shoulder called a tabor. It also wasn’t uncommon for other percussionists, fiddlers, harpists and bagpipers to perform during Morris Dances. Although still popular in the lower class during the time of Elizabeth I, the pipe and tabor was quickly being replaced by more modern woodwind instruments in more affluent circles.

Harmonious Music actually still regularly includes a Morris Dance in their wedding ceremony set. The name of the tune is English Country Gardens. Although the ensemble does not include vocals for the performance they are as follows:

How many kinds of sweet flowers grow
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Daffodils, heart’s ease and phlox
Meadowsweet and lady smocks
Gentian, lupin and tall hollyhocks
Roses, foxgloves, snowdrops, forget-me-nots
In an English country garden

How many insects come here and go
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Fireflies, moths and bees
Spiders climbing in the trees
Butterflies drift in the gentle breeze
There are snakes, ants that sting
And other creeping things
In an English country garden

How many songbirds fly to and fro
In an English country garden?
We’ll tell you now of some that we know
Those we miss you’ll surely pardon
Bobolink, cuckoo and quail
Tanager and cardinal
Bluebird, lark, thrush and nightingale
There is joy in the spring
When the birds begin to sing
In an English country garden

Other variations of Morris Dances would include the use of a “Hobby Horse.” A Hobby Horse was a man wearing a wicker frame in the shape of a horse. He would prance around and mimic the movements of an actual horse. In some versions another person would wear a similar costume intended to resemble a dragon. The Hobby Horse Knight would then slay the Dragon reenacting the story of St. George.

The Morris Dancing at spring wedding feasts took place around the May Pole. The May Pole was another relic of England’s pagan past and most likely originated in Germany. It was a large tree of varying sizes sunk into the ground. This giant post would be painted and adorned with flowers and wreathes. The May Pole was considered a phallic symbol, and dancing around it was actually a fertility right. Visitors to modern renaissance fairs will watch dancers weave ribbons around the May Pole. However, this tradition did not start until the 19th century as England reexamined its “Merry-Old” past. Puritans despised the May Pole believing May Pole dancing to be a form of idol worship. As a result, it was banned in England by the Mid-Sixteen hundreds.


Although, the customs were somewhat different, there are still many parallels between music that was performed in religious and wedding ceremonies from the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the contemporary United States. Currently, as houses of worship struggle to maintain membership many are stripping away the more traditional music in favor of more contemporary sounds. However, customs and traditions still remain varied in the United States, often depending on socio-economic conditions and religious and cultural differences. Meanwhile, the innovations of electricity and the resulting modern instruments such as electric guitars and MIDI keyboards continue to push the use of music in wedding ceremonies to new heights.


Music from the Age of Shakespeare: A Cultural History
by Suzanne Lord

William Byrd’s Fall From Grace and his First Solo Publication of 1588: A Shostakovian “Response to Just Criticism”?
By Jeremy L. Smith

William Byrd: The Collected Works of William Byrd.
Edited by Edmund. H. Fellowes

The lute in Britain: a history of the instrument and its music
By Matthew Spring

Courtly Dance of the Renaissance: A New Translation and Edition of the Nobilitá di Dame (1600)
By Fabrito Caroso, Julia Sutton, F. Marian Walker

The Lute Books of Ballet and Dallis Music and Letters Journal
by H. Macaulay FitzGibbon

Popular Music of the Olden Time Vol. 1
by William Chappell

Shakespeare’s Songbook Vol. 1
by Ross W. Duffin

Adolphe Sax, his Saxhorn and the People Who Made It Popular During The War Between The States

Adolphe Sax at the Age of 40 Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Adolphe Sax at the Age of 40 Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Written and Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Originally Published in The Civil War Courier

Some of the most important social activities in the mid 19th Century were performances from community music ensembles. Around the time of the American Civil War the ensembles were more often than not brass bands. The great popularity of the brass band was a result of many individual’s contributions to the improvement of brass instruments.

There have been thousands of instrument manufactures through the ages. Yet in the minds of most people today, there are really only two names associated with the title instrument maker. The first is obvious, Stradivarius. The second is equally well known, but seldom thought of; Adolphe Sax. Sax was the inventor of the saxophone and more importantly for those interested in the history of the Civil War, the Saxhorn.

Adolphe Sax was born in Brussles on November 6, 1814. His father, Charles Sax, was a joiner and cabinetmaker. Charles eventually worked in a factory and later began to produce woodwind  instruments like serpents and flutes. Charles was self-trained, and his work became so well regarded that King William I appointed him Instrument Maker to the Court of the Netherlands. This required Charles to supply the Belgian military bands with instruments. What Charles Sax learned in the creation of his acclaimed instruments was, that variations in tones were created by the proportions of an instrument’s bore. The sound further depended on whether the instrument was cylindrical, conical or a combination of both. He also noticed the importance of the method by which the source of the sound was created. He closely studied the oboe’s double reed, the clarinet’s single reed, the trumpet’s cup mouthpiece and the flute’s open hole. Charles Sax was one of the first people to conduct thorough research in this field. Charles’ eldest son, Adolphe, was there to assist him with all of his work, and in the process, Adolphe learned a great deal.

There is not a whole lot written about Adolphe’s mother. She bore 11 children, few of whom survived into adulthood. The only quote that she is known to have said is, “The child is doomed to suffer; he won’t live.”

She said this of Adolphe after he nearly drowned in a river. He had numerous other mishaps that consisted of several poisonings, a serious fall down stairs, a close call with a gunpowder explosion, which badly burned him, a hot frying pan falling on him along with a roof stone hitting him in the head leaving a scar that remained long into adulthood. This sort of bad luck can almost be seen as an omen of the sort of life that lay ahead for young Adolphe.

Adolphe’s misfortunes did not hinder him in becoming a skilled instrument manufacturer though. Before he was even in his teens, Adolphe Sax had learned how to drill the pieces of a clarinet to perfection. He was even able to create the involved key work of these instruments. At the age of 14 Adolphe began to study music at the Royal School of Singing. He started studying flute, but later took up the clarinet under the instruction of Valentine Vender, who was a famous Belgian bandmaster. He learned quickly from Vender, and in 1834 Joseph Küffner, a German bandmaster and composer dedicated a work for two clarinets to Adolphe.

Although Adolphe Sax gradually drifted back to producing instruments in his father’s shop, what led to his career as an instrument maker was his vast improvements to the bass clarinet which were made public in June of 1838. After a successful trip to Paris with the instrument, Adolphe returned to Brussels where he met great disappointment in the Brussels Exhibition of 1841. Sax was encouraged by Jacques Halévy, whom he had met in his trip to Paris, to return there and continue to create his family of instruments. Against his father’s objections, Adolphe left Brussels for Paris with only 30 Francs to his name.

Sax’s arrival in Paris bordered on disaster. His father had warned him when he left that the French manufacturers did not take kindly to foreign competition on their own soil. He was loaned 4,000 francs by Halévy and other friends. Sax then set up a shop on Rue St. Georges and began to advertise his instruments. When a local conductor tried to write parts for them, the orchestra members refused to use them because they were not French. Shortly after, almost all of the loaned 4,000 francs were stolen. It is believed that the offender was most likely one of Sax’s competitors.

Upright Family of saxhorns

Upright Family of saxhorns

There was a call for support from King Leopold of Belgium to sponsor the work of Sax. Initially the King was uninterested, but General Rumigny was able to convince him that Sax’s instruments were optimal for military style music. As a result of the King’s new-found interest, stock in the company was made available on the Paris Stock Exchange. Sax’s rivals bought out all of the stock and sold it for half the price. His competition once again succeeded in ruining his business.

Adolphe Sax had many powerful connections, though, and as a result his competitors were never completely able to keep him down. As a third chance to rebound from his economic woes, a concert was arranged. It was a competition between bands using traditional instrumentation and instruments produced by Sax. The commission and huge audience that was in attendance supported Sax. He believed that his financial problems would finally be over, but this was not the case. Adolphe’s competitor’s bribed his employees to get the plans for his instruments and then promptly sued him saying that Sax had stolen their instruments. As a result, Sax sold the factory for four thousand Francs.

He traveled to England promoting his saxophones with limited success in small concerts. He then returned to France in the fall of 1845 and bought back his factory. The French government, which was convinced of the Sax instruments superior quality due to the contest, ordered hundreds of instruments for the official military bands. Upon General Rumigny’s suggestion, prison labor was used to produce these instruments. This was only because Sax could still not afford to pay skilled employees.

This new success was still very short lived. In 1848 the French government was in upheaval due to revolution. The turmoil which ensued lead to the revocation of Sax’s military contract. His banker went bankrupt as a result of Sax’s inability to pay his loan. Adolphe was thus thrown into debtor’s prison. He was released shortly after because of his friend’s support.

When President Louis Napoleon appointed himself Emperor Napoleon III, opportunity once again arose for Sax, and once again Sax’s powerful military connections saved the day. The Emperor’s Aide-de-camp Colonel Fleury, was a friend of Adolphe, and introduced him to the Emperor. With strong urging on Fleury’s part, Napoleon III agreed to give Sax payment of 20,000 Francs per month to build the instruments for military bands. Unfortunately for Sax, this arrangement did not last long. He lost a similar opportunity in 1859 when the French government replaced all of their military instruments.

In the area of brass instruments it is difficult to call Sax an inventor. It would be much more accurate to call him a perfectionist. Adolphe Sax’s principals were gained primarily from the work of his father. Sax was interested in the study of acoustics. He was concerned with correct proportions such as measurements of bore size, tube length, valve placement, and mouthpiece construction. He realized that by paying close attention to such details, the discrepancies in intonation between instruments could be eliminated. What his efforts resulted in, were the creation of homogenous families of instruments.

Prior to the work of Sax, military brass instruments came from many manufacturers in a wide variety of shapes. These deviations resulted in a discrepancy of tuning. These problems were further amplified due to the fact that many bands had both keyed and valved brass instruments intermixed.

The complete family of brass instruments, although vastly improved was not even Sax’s invention. Previously, a French manufacturer, Danays, created a family of valved bugles called Clavicors. What made Sax’s work significant was the overall quality of his instruments. By 1849, Adolphe Sax had unveiled three of his greatest contributions to the brass world. Sax adopted an upright tuba shape for all of these instruments. Originally, even the highest pitched instruments in his family of five were positioned upright. However, his quest for acoustic perfection later caused Sax to use horizontal patterns that resemble the modern cornet.

All the Sax families utilized the same bore size regardless of whether they were conical or cylindrical. The saxhorn was a conical family, which used the same fingerings for notes, and the same basic mouthpiece shape for all its members.

Cutaway Diagram of a Berliner Pumpen Valve Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Cutaway Diagram of a Berliner Pumpen Valve Illustrated by Eric Ortner

Sax took existing ideas in valve design, and improved them. He borrowed some of his valve designs heavily from the instrument maker Moriz in Berlin. Adolphe became skilled at making Moritz’s Berliner-Pumpen valve, and even was able to make an improvement to it. He did so by smoothing out the nine sharp angles that were integral to the valve system. These sharp bends in the wind passage of brass instruments were often the cause of poor tone. He did some similar work with rotary valves.

Adolph’s efforts in the creation of a valved instrument with great tone resulted in the creation of the saxhorn. The Saxhorn family was patented in October of 1845 and utilized a wide coned, deep cupped mouthpiece which resembles a modern French Horn’s. There were numerous lawsuits filed against Adolphe by his competition in regards to this popular instrument. However, none of the cases were successful.

Saxhorns had a larger bore than that of a trumpet. The bore’s conical shape produced a mellow tone. This warm sound was preferred by the nineteenth century audience, both in the United States and in Europe  over the bright tone of a cylindrical trumpet. These preferences most likely resulted from the lack of mellow sounding woodwinds in an all brass band. The bright tone of an ensemble made up entirely of cylindrical brasses would have been very overwhelming.

The complete saxhorn family, was designed to perform in military as well as orchestral functions. The instruments intended for military use were tuned in E-flat and B-flat, while instruments designed for use in the orchestra were in the keys of C and F. The complete set of Saxhorns consists of seven members. The soprano in E-flat and the soprano in B-flat were identical in pitch to the standard cornet. The alto member of the family was tuned in E-flat, while the baritone was in B-flat. The bass was built in the key of B-flat. The bass also had a big brother tuned to BB-flat. Sax completed the family a couple years after he unveiled the original 5 instruments with a tuba in E-flat. The differences in baritone and B-flat bass Saxhorns are subtle. The bass members of the family have larger bores and as a result are able to produce fuller low notes with less effort.

Saxhorns gained more favorable attention from military bands than they did in orchestras. This is partially because they blended too well with string instruments and the desired contrast in tonal quality between the two families is absent. This reason was in addition to orchestra member’s dislike for the instruments. Their distaste was not simply due to Sax’s nationality, but also because the orchestra members would be forced to purchase and learn how to perform on new instruments. However, a few composers did find a place for the saxhorn in their arrangements.

Even with great critical acclaim and powerful connections in France and abroad during his life, Sax died on February 4, 1894 a penniless man. He was forced to sell off his valuable collection of 467 instruments in 1877 to repay his debts. His debts were of course a direct result of poor business skills. This weakness caused Sax to fall victim to the greed of his unscrupulous competitors. So with all of Sax’s misfortunes, how was he able to earn a name on instruments in the United States? This question is easily answered with another family name.

The Distin family were an English quintet. The leader, and father, John Distin was a member of King George IV’s Household Band. At this point, John was playing slide-trumpet on which he was considered to be the second best performer in Great Brittain. He was the first trumpet in the orchestra that triumphed the coronation of Queen Victoria.

John’s children were encouraged to take after their father. The Distin family toured Great Britain as a miniature brass band, and were immensely popular with all who had heard them. With their success, the family decided to try their luck on the rest of the continent. It was on this tour that they made the acquaintance of Adolphe Sax.

The Distin family did not achieve the same critical acceptance in the rest of Europe that they had previously been used to in England. This was especially true in Vienne. There they performed terribly in an audition. Their shoddy execution was a direct result of their crude instruments. On February 4, 1844 they met Sax at the Rue-Saint-Georges workshop after hearing the saxhorn for the first time the night before.

Sax was eager to present the Distin’s with his creations, according to Henry Distin’s recollections. Success for the Distins followed with the receipt of their new instruments. Although the new found friendship between Sax and the Distins was mutually beneficial, it almost certainly did more for the promotion of Sax’s instruments. The instruments were taken back to England where they earned a great deal more notoriety. In 1846 the family took saxhorns across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States of America where many heard the instrument for the first time.

It is believed that the first band to purchase saxhorns in the United States was the Stonewall Brigade Band of Staunton, Virginia. In fact before they joined the 5th Virginia Infantry, the performers called themselves the Mountain Saxhorn Band of Staunton. They carried these instruments throughout the Civil War. They were by no means the only southern band to do so.

The 26th Regimental Band from Salem, North Carolina also carried them. Brass instruments were far superior to their woodwind counterparts in the conditions of war. That is, of course, one of the reasons that brass bands gained popularity during the Civil War. However, brass instruments could also fall prey to the trials of military life. The Salem band’s instruments were no exception. In April of 1864 the band members requested that Governor Vance attempt to run the blockade and trade cotton for a new set of Saxhorns. The governor’s aide responded by saying, “He (Vance) directs me to say he will ship the cotton for that purpose if you will furnish it, provided the steamers continue to run.”

That was an unfeasible proposition for almost any Confederate soldier in that late month of the war. To add insult to injury, the 26th Regimental Band was forced to give most of their battered instruments up to Union Troops in the last days of the war, when they were captured by the Yankee army. Julius Augustus Leinbach wrote of his capture, “We walked up to them and were taken in charge. Our instruments were taken from us and that seemed to be the bitterest experience of all…”

Some of the Instruments played by various North Carolina Bands, including an E flat bass over the shoulder saxhorn played by Leinbach in the early part of the war, can be seen publicly. These are in the Wachovia Museum of Old Salem. There are other strong collections of Civil War period instruments on public display throughout the country. The Smithsonian and the Henry Ford Museum both have extensive displays. However, there are no public exhibits of a complete set of 7 saxhorns in the United States.

Performing positions of upright verses over the shoulder instruments

Performing positions of upright verses over the shoulder instruments

True upright saxhorns were not widely used by Union and Confederate troops during the war. Instead, they preferred the over the shoulder instruments patented in 1838 by Allen Dodworth and manufactured in Austria. The name Saxhorn is more often than not used to describe over the shoulder instruments as well as the upright style. This is an inaccurate title. However, it is an inaccuracy, which was not started anytime recently. The nomenclature was even used in the wrong context during the time of the War Between the States. However, for the interest of this article, the over the shoulder instruments will be discussed as well.

It is important to note that for the most part, over the shoulder instruments were also made in matching families. Therefore, they at least held true to the principals of Sax. Over the shoulder instruments were made of the same length of tubing. However they had tighter coils which created a longer neck than upright instruments. Therefore they appear longer. Another big difference between the two instruments was that over the shoulder versions utilized rotary valves for the most part, as apposed to the Berliner-Pumpen Valves preferred by Adolphe Sax. (See Coronet Article For Complete Description)

Illustration of a Family of Over-the-Shoulder Saxhorns

Illustration of a Family of Over-the-Shoulder Saxhorns

Allen Dodworth was a strong supporter of Sax’s creation. In 1849 he described them as being, far superior to any other class of instruments in use. Allen Dodworth designed over the shoulder instruments specifically for marching. He wrote a very influential instruction book called, Dodworth’s Brass Band School, published in 1853. It helped to inform small community bands how to start and maintain a successful organization. It is important to note that most of the bands that enlisted in the Civil War were originally amateur community bands that performed with local militias. In Dodworth’s Brass Band School, he suggested, “In selecting the instruments, attention should be paid to the use intended; if for military purposes only, those with bells behind, over the shoulder, are preferable, as they throw all the tone to those who are marching to it, but for any other purpose are not so good ….For general purposes, those with the bell upward, like the Sax Horn, are most convenient, and should be adopted by all whose business is not exclusively military; care should be taken to have all the bells one way.”

Many amateur bands of the day used instrumentation combining over the shoulder instruments, up right saxhorns and bell front instruments. This mixture caused significant problems with intonation. This sort of instrumentation was often partially the result of the cost of instruments, or in many cases simply an ignorance of acoustic science.

Allen Dodworth was very influential as a band leader and as an instrument inventor. One of his most widely known protégés was Patrick Gilmore, the famed cornet player of the Boston Brigade Band. Like Gilmore’s ensemble, The Dodworth Band participated in the Civil War. At this point in time it was lead by Allen’s Brother Harvey.

Harvey Dodworth took over the directorship of the band in 1860. In 1862 Harvey was selected by the war department to serve on an advisory board to suggest a policy for military bands. Naturally, Dodworth’s selection for instrumentation of regimental bands included over-the-shoulder saxhorns.

The band enlisted for three months as part of the 71st New York Militia Regiment. The band was not just an excellent relief from the drudgery of military service. They earned their pay at the First Manassas by serving and rescuing the wounded on the battlefield. Although enlisted for only a short period, the Dodworth Band later aided the Union’s war effort by performing benefit concerts.

The disparity between the two armies is also evident in regards to their bands. While the 71st was gallivanting around in New York’s high society, the 26th Regimental Band from Salem, North Carolina had its own version of benefit concerts. These were solely performed in the interest of putting food in their own stomachs.

Over the shoulder instruments were by no means exclusively made in Europe. This increasingly became the case after 1850. There were many manufacturers in the United States who were quite successful as a direct result of the War Between the States. Some of the manufacturers set up shop in the Boston area. Graves and Company, J. Lanthrop Allen, E.G. Wright were just a few Boston area manufacturers.

There were other instrument makers who constructed Sax style instruments in New York City. C.A. Zoebisch and Sons were one such manufacturer. Harvey Dodworth from New York also has his name imprinted on some over the shoulder instruments. These were not actually manufactured by the Dodworth family, but by John F. Stratton another New York City instrument maker. Harvey’s endorsement was as much required to save the family name, as it was to earn a little extra money. Instrument manufacturers at the time were claiming to produce instruments endorsed by the Dodworths. Many of these endorsed instruments were of poor construction. Therefore, the H.B. Dodworth seal on John F. Stratton’s instruments had a great deal of meaning when it came to quality.

Stratton was also one of the first manufacturers to mass produce instruments. His first factory in New York was established in 1860. In 1861 Stratton was filling government contracts and producing an unprecedented 100 instruments a day. These were for the most part field trumpets and bugles though, not saxhorns. Still his contributions in the area of mass production made sets of instruments readily available at reasonable cost by the end of the war.

One manufacturer who learned a great deal from Stratton’s efforts was Henry Distin. Henry, who was a famed member of the Distin family, worked for a brief time in Philadelphia with the J. W. Pepper Company in 1877.  After working with them he set up his own factory in Williamsport, Pennsylvania in 1887.

Although over the shoulder saxhorns were very popular during the Civil War, they began to fall out of favor by 1870. The 24 member brass marching band lost its popularity as grand concert bands with mixed winds received the most critical acclaim. With the exception of the baritone, saxhorns are no longer used in most American bands. However, to this day in England, community brass bands still use the saxhorn family. Musical tastes change though. Today in the United States it is painful to watch the attendance of concerts put on by community bands in local parks dwindle in some areas. As fewer and fewer people show up to these community performances, one of the last vestiges of 19th century social life becomes another memory.


The Instruments of Adolphe Sax, Gerald Loren Welker

A Johny Reb Band From Salem The Pride of Tarheela,  Barry H. Hall

Adolphe Sax 1814-1898, Wally Harwood

Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy, Editors of Time Life Books

Music And Musket, Kenneth Olson

A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands,

Mark Elrod Robert Garofalo

Bands of the Confederacy, Benny Pryor Ferguson

Bands and Drummer Boys of the Civil War, Francis A. Lord and Arthur Wise

Early American Brass Makers, Robert E. Eliason

The Music Men, By Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen

American Musical Instruments, Laurence Libin

The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments, Trevor Herbert and John Wallace

A History of Military Music in America, William Carter White

Bands of America, H.W. Schwartz

Brass Instruments Their History and Development,  Anthoney Baines

The Keyed Bugel, Ralph T. Dedgeon

Military Music, Henry George Farmer

The Trumpet, Edward Tarr

The Trumpet and Trombone, Philip Bate

French Horn, Robin Gregory

The Cornet and its Civil War Virtuoso Patrick Gilmore

Written and Illustrated by Eric Ortner for The Civil War Courier in 1999

E flat Coronet with Rotary Valves

E flat Coronet with Rotary Valves

Music was an important part of the Civil War. It called the beginning and end of the day, and was a means for the commander to communicate with his troops in a heated battle. As well as a substantial communication tool, it was also a way for soldiers to overcome the boredom, and drudgery of everyday life. The sounds of a powerful marching band could lift the morale of one’s regiment or even frighten an opposing army. Robert E. Lee said at the onset of the war, “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.”

A wind band composed entirely of brass instruments quickly became the favorite and most practical form of an ensemble in America. However, the brass band was not originally an American idea. In 1836, the Bradley Old Reed Band performed an entertainment in Woodhouse Moore to honor the coronation of William IV. At this time the ensemble had a mixture of brass and woodwind instruments. A few days later the musicians in Bradley’s ensemble made the decision to do away with the woodwinds. With this decision they became the first brass band in history. Still extreme patriotism prior to the War Between the States along with the war itself pushed this new style of ensemble to greater heights.

The new brass band was made possible as a result of some great new technology relating to brass instruments. This included improvements in mining and refining the elements required to create brass. Another significant advancement in technology dates back to 1810 with the invention of the keyed bugle. Once again it was an Englishman who was responsible for this advancement. Joseph Halliday, who was the bandmaster of the Cavan Militia, cut tone holes into the common military bugle. Mr. Halliday then added woodwind like keys to cover the holes. The instrument that Halliday modified was half-moon shaped and called a Hanoverian Bugle. By 1814 the Hanoverian Bugle was the symbol of the English Light Infantry.

The advancement of the keyed bugle was significant because until its invention, brass instruments were very confined in terms of pitch and range. One such limited instrument was called the Natural Trumpet. The musician performing on these natural trumpets was confined to only a few of the twelve notes in western music theory. They were octaves, fifths, fourths, major thirds and minor thirds. These are the natural overtones in music, and all natural trumpets, no matter what their tuning, were limited to them.

The fundamental principle of all brass instruments, which started with natural trumpets, requires the performer to tighten the tension of the lips on the mouthpiece. This causes the variation in pitch. With this in mind, musicians in a section would specialize in mastering a specific range of notes.

The keyed bugle was a welcome improvement because it allowed the player to more easily achieve an entire chromatic series of notes. The keyed bugle’s keys were similar to that of a clarinet or modern day saxophone. The sound of these instruments can be described as mellow. This results from the acoustical phenomena associated with its vented (keyed) design, and from the instruments conical shape.

In brass instruments, there are generally two different shapes. The first is conical or cone shaped which represents the bugle family. The bore of the tubing in conical brass instruments continuously widens as it moves from the mouthpiece to the bell of the instrument. The other basic design of brass instruments is cylindrical. Trumpets are members of this family. The diameter of the tubing in a cylindrical instrument stays the same width all the way from the mouthpiece to the bell. This results in a much more brilliant sound than the conical style.

In the conical style, the keyed bugle is strongly linked to the cornet a pistons and was eventually replaced in popularity and functionality by this instrument. The keyed bugle’s major flaw was that over blowing could change its intonation. The invention of the valve changed all of that.


Berliner Pumpen Valve

Despite the success of the keyed bugle, by 1839 most Europeans had embraced the improvements to brass instruments that used valves. Thus, the prominence of the keyed bugle in both civilian and military bands in Europe began to wane. This had a little to do with the economic interests of the band leaders. That is because brass band leaders were often partners with instrument manufacturers. Therefore, when they took over an ensemble, it was in the leader’s financial interest to purchase their own company’s instruments and replace the existing ones. Although greed definitely did play into the leader’s decision, it was important to have a complete set of matching instruments. Every band leader had his own personal favorite. At this time there was no uniform tuning from manufacturer to manufacturer. Thus with a new leader and orchestration came the need for a complete set of 17 new instruments. Most brass bands in the mid 1800s had between 17 and 24 members. The valve for brass instruments is said to have been invented by two Berliner, Heinrich Stolzel, and Freiderch Bluhmel. They patented their design in 1818. However,  the invention was further  refined  by the French in 1825, and in 1829, the cornet a pistons was used in Paris for Rossini’s Guillaume Tell and this instrument quickly grew in popularity.

The 1830s saw numerous improvements to valve designs. Some of the more successful and long-lasting adaptations were the invention of the Vienna Twin-Piston valve patented by Leopold Uhlman in 1830; the Rad-Maschine, a rotary-action valve designed by Joseph Riedl and patented in 1832; the Berliner Pumpen Valve, a piston valve designed by Wilhelm Wieprecht and J.G. Moritz in Prussia 1835; and the Perinet Valve which earned its name in 1839 from its Parisian inventor.

Vienna Twin-Piston valve

Vienna Twin-Piston valve

Valve mechanisms can be grouped into two basic types; these are piston and rotary valves. Piston Valves have buttons which can be pressed down. They are easily associated with the modern day trumpet. When the button of piston valve is pressed, it reroutes the airflow through the pathway of additional tubing. It does this by sealing the main tube in an up and down motion forcing the airflow into the secondary tube which is inaccessible by the airflow otherwise. Once the air completes this long-cut, it is permitted to reenter the main tube. This creates a lower pitch by lengthening the tubing.

A rotary valve operates by a key or lever. When the performer presses this key a string, mechanical linkage or both (as is the case today), engages  the rotary valve which is a revolving cylinder. This revolving cylinder has a path which redirects the airflow through additional tubing. Revolving cylinders are common today on modern French Horns.

Cutaway diagram of a rotary valve

Cutaway diagram of a rotary valve

The significance of the valve was that it could redirect the passage of airflow in a brass instrument from the main tube into several smaller tubes. This could lengthen the instruments and thus change its key. For example, one valve is designed to lower the instrument by one semi tone or half step. This effectively lowers a B flat bugle to the key of A. If a second valve is added, it lowers the instrument by two semi-tones. This effectively changes the B flat bugle by three semi tones or 11/2 steps creating a G bugle. Combining these three valves one can lower the B flat bugle to a G flat, F or E bugle. The use of all three of these valves and their combinations fill in the missing notes in the natural bugle’s overtone series and thus makes it Cornet a Pistons.

Thomas D. Payne was an American inventor who significantly improve the rotary valve. The problem with earlier rotary valves was that they required a great amount of force to operate them. Paine identified the problem and came up with a solution. His ideas was to add another passage through the center of the rotor so that it would only need to turn an eight of the way around rather than the usual quarter turn. This made the valve larger, but Pain was able to reduce the size through further adjusting to the angles at which the tubing entered the valve. His valve systems were used on Cornets by many different manufacturers of that time both domestic and foreign. Payne’s basic system is still in use today on French Horns.

The Cornet a Pistons, or cornet as it is more commonly referred to, became widely implement during the 19th century and particularly popular during the Civil War. This is mostly because it is much easier to play than earlier instruments. Prior to this instrument’s use, high-pitched melodies were primarily performed by the woodwinds. The cornet changed all that. The use of valves made it much easier to play quickly and accurately. It reduced the danger of blunders while performing music in the high range. However, this insurance is at the sacrifice of the brilliant sound that one associates with the trumpet.

One of the reasons that the cornet was more popular for use in brass bands than the trumpet was the mouthpiece. The cornet mouthpiece was deeper and much more flexible than the trumpets. This enabled the members of brass bands to play for many hours at a time without fatiguing their embouchure. The mouthpiece for the cornet during the Civil War was different than the style utilized on cornets today. In the 1860s, cornet mouthpieces were much more conically shaped than those currently in use. They were narrow rimmed, thin walled, with an interior of up to 17 mm in depth. This would gradually taper down. They can be easily compared to a modern French horn mouthpiece. They were usually made of brass or ivory.

There are several different styles of cornets and they varied from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they wall utilized the same basic principles. The style most popular with bandleaders for the soprano part of a brass band during the Civil War era was the E flat cornet or soprano bugle. It had a length of approximately 3 feet. Another popular style was the B flat cornet, with a length of 4 and a half feet. The B flat cornet played at an octave lower than the E flat and was therefore often used as the Alto voice in a brass band.

The instrument makers of the time used a lead form to shape their creations. Most manufacturers made their instruments out of brass or German Silver. The metal used on instruments in the period of the Civil War was much thinner and more malleable than seen on instruments today. As a result, few cornets have survived from this period.

Coronetist and Band Leader Patrick Gilmore

Cornetist and Band Leader Patrick Gilmore

One of the people credited with bringing the cornet to its great popularity during the mid 19th century, is also considered to be the leader of one of the two best Civil War Brass bands in the Union. Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore, a talented cornet soloist and director of the Salem, Massachusetts Brass Band was renowned for his showmanship. In early December of 1856 Gilmore invited the popular keyed bugle virtuoso Edward (Ned) Kendall to perform as a soloist with the Salem band. The two were billed to perform a duel between the keyed bugle and the cornet as they performed the Wood Up Quickstep.

The performance was held in the drill hall of the Mechanic Light Infantry at a cost of 25 cents. The Salem  Brass Band, as was the  custom of the time, was made up of civilians but was part of the militia company. The only paid member of this sort of ensemble was the leader, in this case the leader was Gilmore.

After he directed a couple of tunes, Gilmore announced Kendall as, “The world’s most famous keyed-bugle soloist.” Kendall then proceeded to solo with the band for three numbers. These have been described in numerous sources as a triumph for Kendal. The performers then broke for intermission. When Ned and Patrick returned, they each sported an E flat version of their respective instruments. They soon began to perform the long anticipated Wood Up Quickstep. It was decided that Mr. Kendal would play the first passage on his keyed bugle and then Mr. Gilmore would answer him by repeating the same passage on the cornet. Both musicians played well. However, the residents of Salem who attended this concert seemed to believe that Gilmore out-played Kendal. This is easy to believe since by today’s standards, the Wood Up Quickstep is a simple piece to perform on a cornet. However, on the keyed bugle it was a whole different story. This performance is considered an example of the decline of the keyed bugle in the United States.

Sheet Music for Wood Up Quick Step written by John Halloway Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection, Box 161, Item 143

Sheet Music for Wood Up Quick Step written by John Holloway Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection, Box 161, Item 143


Sheet Music for Wood Up Quick Step written by John Holloway Courtesy of Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection, Box 161, Item 143

Three months after this vastly documented performance Gilmore won more critical acclaim as director of the Salem band. The Washington Post made special mention of this well disciplined organization. The Post commented on their excellent playing as they performed in James Buchanon’s inauguration parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The paper commented on the fact that this band managed to stay sober. Most bands of the period drink excessively when on the road (history repeats itself again).

The Salem band was so applauded that they became highly sought after in the Boston area making it next to impossible for the other bands to land a gig. The Salem band’s success struck such a dissonant chord with other Boston area bands, that they decided to take their competition out of the picture. The Boston Brigade Band conspired to attack the Salem Band on the way to a gig in downtown Boston. There was a plan to beat the Salem band’s lips in so badly that they would not be able to play for weeks. The plan also entailed smashing the Salem band’s instruments so terribly that they could never be played again. Gilmore’s notoriety also brought with it many social connections and he was made aware of Boston Brigade Band’s plan. He went to the docks in Salem and found the biggest, toughest crewmen available for hire. When the Boston Brigade Band made their move against the Salem band in the railway station, they were quite surprised to be confronted by brass knuckles, black jacks and belaying pins swung by seamen. They were so surprised that some of the band’s members were unable to run and they received a thrashing.

The Boston Brigade Band finally decided that competing with Gilmore was futile and negotiated a deal which Patrick could not refuse. In this deal, Mr. Gilmore took on all the costs of the band which included music, uniforms, rent and any other expenses which incurred. However, the band was to be known as the Gilmore Band all of its members worked for Patrick. Thus, Mr. Gilmore brought home all of the profits. To ensure the marketability of the band he purchased a great deal of music. He also formed different size and style ensembles so that a group could be provided for any occasion.

As the issues of state’s rights, slavery and finally secession took over public life in Boston, Patrick played patriotic numbers and performed in Fort Warren in The Boston Harbor. These performances were to entertain the glitzy Light Infantry Battalion that was stationed there. The Tigers, as the Light Infantry Battalion were called formed a glee club which sometimes accompanied Gilmore’s band. One of the Tigers favorite tunes was the song John Brown’s Body. This tune is not about Harper’s Ferry, but is significant to the Civil War because Gilmore wrote a popular arrangement for it. New words for this arrangement were later written by Julia Ward Howe, and with these, the tune became the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

As many private bands did during the War Between the States, Gilmore enlisted along with his band. Gilmore’s Band removed the gray uniforms which he supplied and donned the blue style supplied by the Massachusetts 24th Volunteer Regiment in late1861. Two things caused this enlistment. The first was a result of General Order Number 15 issued on May 4th 1861 it called for 39 regiments of volunteer infantry and one cavalry. Musician positions were required for all of these regiments and they included 39 brass bands of 24 bandsmen each. The second was that Patrick Gilmore feared that the ensemble would break up as a result of individual enlistments.

For the most part, the government did not supply these bands with instruments. The required instruments were paid for either by the individual band member or in some cases by the leader of the regiment. It is somewhat surprising then to see that the first proposal for sealed bids for Union army musical equipment included 150 trumpets. It is even more bewildering to know that during the War Between the States, conically bored instruments were much more popular than the cylindrical style trumpet. There probably wasn’t need for more than 20 trumpets in all 39 regiments. Perhaps the military powers simply did not know the difference between a trumpet and cornet.

It can be assured that despite the ignorance in the Union’s top brass, Gilmore’s leadership abilities prepared his band members well for military service. The bandsmen were assigned to General Burnside’s Corps which was already engaged in Virginia. The band spent most of its enlistment traveling the coast in North Carolina. The 24th infantry was very pleased with its luck of having Gilmore’s band assigned to their regiment. One private said, “I don’t know what we should have done without our band. It is acknowledged by everyone to be the best in the division. Every night about sun down Gilmore gives us a splendid concert, playing selections from their operas and some very pretty marches quickstep waltzes and the like. Most which are composed by himself or by Zohler, a member of his band… Thus you see we get a great deal of new music, not withstanding we are off here in the woods.”

During his enlistment, Gilmore’s key solo cornetist was Matthew Arbuckle. Mr. Arbuckle had also achieved fame by dueling with the infamous Edward Kendal. He had previously worked with an American instrument manufacturing company owned by Isaac Fiske. Arbuckle performed in Fiske’s Cornet Band where he, received wide spread critical acclaim.

Despite the immense popularity with troops, the regimental bands became targets for financial pruning by elected officials. In October of 1861 Benjamin F. Larned, Paymaster General responded to Henry Wilson of United States Senate by suggesting that $5,000,000 could be saved annually if regimental bands were taken out of service. In July of 1862, the adjutant general ordered that all bands of the volunteer regiments be mustered from the service, “so much of the aforesaid act… as authorizes each regiment of volunteers in the United States service to have twenty-four musicians for a band… is hereby repealed; and the men composing such bands shall be mustered out of the service within thirty days after the passage of this act.” In August of 1862 the band mustered out. The 24 th Massachusetts regimental commander called their leave, “ a great mistake.”

It is important to note that other regiments were glad to see their bands leave. This only further emphasizes the quality of Patrick Gilmore’s Band. Charles B Hayden of the 2nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry said, “The band has been discharged, right glad we were to be rid of the lazy loafers.”

When the 24th mustered out, Mr. Gilmore went on to support the war effort by performing benefit concerts for a while. However, in 1863, Governor Andrew of Massachusetts requested that Patrick regroup all of the state’s militia bands. He was later inspired by Monsieur Jullien and his large orchestra. Hearing this gave Gilmore the idea of putting on huge scale concerts.

The first of which was in 1864 in celebration of the inauguration of Governor Michael Hahn in “Free and Restored Louisiana.” For this occasion, Gilmore formed a chorus of 5,000 school children. He then organized what was at the time the largest brass band ever. Patrick assembled all of the area regimental bands into a group of 500 instrumentalist and 36 cannons. This included 120 cornets. Around this time, Gilmore also wrote the words and music to When Johnny Comes Marching Home under the pseudonym Louis Lambert.

Gilmore continued to be a prudent businessman. In the late 1860s he formed a partnership with the manufacturer E.G. Wright who supplied many brass instruments during the Civil War. In 1870, Wright, Gilmore and Co. later merged with Samuel Graves and Company to form the Boston Musical Instrument Manufactory.

After the war, the E flat cornet’s popularity was surpassed by that of the B flat cornet. By 1870 though, people’s tastes were changing and the sound of the total brass band was falling out of favor (especially in regards to over the shoulder instruments). In the years prior to the War Between the States, Gilmore]s Band had worked with mixed winds or woodwind and brass ensembles. As the all brass band began to fall out of favor, Gilmore’s band became the post war model for band masters such as John Phillip Sousa and John Duss. On September 24, 1892, Patrick Gilmore passed away. His death took place at approximately the same time as Sousa’s premier, and thus many musical historians feel that Sousa picked up where Gilmore left off.


Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy, Editors of Time Life Books

Music and Musket, Kenneth Olson

A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments & Military Bands,
Robert Garofalo

Bands of Confederacy, Benny Pryor Ferguson

Bands and Drummer Boys of the Civil War, by Francis A. Lord and Arthur Wise

Early American Brass Makers, Robert E. Eliason

American Musical Instruments, Laurence Libin

A History of Military Music in America, William Carter White

Bands of America, H.W. Schwartz

The Keyed Bugle, Ralph T. Dedgeon

Military Music, Henry George Farmer

The Trumpet, Edward Tarr

The Trumpet and Trombone, Philip Bate

French Horn, Robin Gregory