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Seeing and Hearing History

Seeing And Hearing History

May 2024
4min read

Musical Americana

Songs and ballads closely connected with American history bring the past to life on recent long-playing recordings. Three new releases from Folkways (117 West 46th Street, N.Y. 36) continue the series of historic music started with Ballads of the American Revolution .

Military and political events between 1791 and 1836 are harmonized in the collection, War of 1812 (FP-48-3 and FP-48-4, one 10-inch recording each; or FP-5002, two 10-inch discs boxed). Starting with “On the Eighth Day of November,” the date of an Indian attack on troops under General St. Clair in 1791, the 25 selections conclude with “The Soldiers’ Song,” a tune from the Aroostook War. In between are fourteen titles relating to the war, most of which were inspired by events on the high seas—such as “The Constitution and the Guerriere ,” “The Hornet and the Peacock ” and “The Shannon and the Chesapeake .”

Political events are recalled in “Jefferson and Liberty,” “The Hunters of Kentucky,” “Andrew Jackson,” and “The Harrison Song.” Along with “Hail, Columbia” and “Star-Spangled Banner” are pieces of a lighter quality—“Benny Havens,” “The Yankee Volunteer,” “The Battle of Stonington,” and others. Wallace House, with lute accompaniment, gives a lively—perhaps in some numbers even too lively—performance. But his style seems highly appropriate for the music of the young nation.

By the time of the Civil War musical styles had been altered by improvements in communication and the participation of the general population in warfare. Songs about events of the war were replaced by sentimental and emotional ditties. The Folkways recording of Ballads of the Civil War (FP-48-7 and FP-48-8 or FP-5004) clearly indicates the changes in popular music of the period. All but two titles—“Davy Crockett” and “Santa Anna”—in this musical survey of the years from 1831 to 1865 bear on the conflict.

The battlefield brought forth few musical documents, however; here, only “General Patterson,” “The Cumberland’s Crew,” “Cumberland Gap,” and “Longstreet’s Rangers” had such origins. But these selections are not so prominent or telling as the sentimental melodies: “Lorena,” “When the Cruel War Is Over,” “Charleston Jail,” and “All Quiet Along the Potomac.” The rest of the cross section consists of patriotic and good-humored comments. Texan Hermes Nye sings with vigor as well as impartiality the music of a divided nation.

Historically important and musically significant, these collections enrich our contacts with history. It is unfortunate that the music was not so well documented as the historic subjects. It is equally distressing that the booklet illustrations and decorations could not have been reproduced with greater clarity.

Frontier Ballads , the last of the current Folkways recordings of musical Americana (FP-48-5 and FP-48-6 or FP-5003), furnishes an impression of a restless, growing nation. As examples of our heritage of folk music, the twenty varied titles provide an extremely broad view of frontier experiences.

Listeners will be interested in the musical illustrations of the “Immigrants,” “The Trek,” and “The Settlers.” Farmer, cowboy, canalman, lumberman, miner, railroader, and drover are all subjects of this collection. There is excitement, humor, despair, pride, and exaggeration in these tunes. They are performed with understanding and exuberance.

Pictorial Americana

A brilliant panorama of mid-Nineteenth Century America comes to view in the Museum Extension Service (10 East 43rd Street, N.Y. 17) 35mm filmstrip, Currier and Ives America . This filmstrip reproduces forty typical lithographs of the “Printmakers to the American People.” Once again, the whole pattern of Americans at home, at work, and at play are displayed in the familiar style.

These scenes of colorful surroundings and lively activities are attractive views of American life from 1845 to 1883. Most of the pictures date from the 1860’s. They show everyday pursuits—subjects Currier and Ives turned out in faithful detail and fascinating appeal.

Another notable portrayal of the American scene is also available in filmstrip form from the same producer. Audubon’s Birds and Audubon’s Animals concentrate on the natural surroundings of the United States a century ago. Each of these strips consists of representative Audubon portraits of birds and animals.

Early America

Three recent filmstrips supply a visual record of the American experience from the first colonial settlements to the time of the War of 1812.

The American Colonies illustrates the main aspects of colonial life. Social history predominates in these views while the concluding portion lays the foundation for the independence movement. The Years of Revolution does not attempt to treat the military history of the war; instead, the pictorial account deals with the daily activities and the emergence of new political, social, and economic ideas. Military subjects are not overlooked, however, and a valuable sequence on American uniforms should help to clarify concepts about this subject. Under a New Government traces our national history from the close of the Revolution to our participation in the next conflict. Various scenes indicate the important political, economic and diplomatic developments of this eventful period.

The producers of this filmstrip series, Museum Extension Service, designed them for classroom teaching where they can be put to good use in high school courses in American history. The picture stories are well organized, thoughtfully presented, and admirably illustrated. The full-color pictorial material consists of illustrations, paintings, portraits, murals, decorations, advertisements, cartoons, and photographs.

Two Wars

California, Texas and the Mexican War is Unit XIV of The Pageant of America Filmstrips produced by the Yale University Press Film Service (386 Fourth Avenue, N.Y. 16). Pictures and prints explain the causes and principal events of the Mexican War. Of the 36 picture frames, nine are ofbattle scenes of the war. The remaining portions describe the rounding out of the national borders and the growth of California following the Gold Rush. This excellent strip meets a definite need and can be unreservedly recommended for American history classes in the higher grades.

A motion picture survey of the Civil War scans the main events of that conflict. This 16mm sound film is a color production from Encyclopaedia Britannica Films (Wilmette, Ill., regional distributors). Patterned after the earlier, successful study of the American Revolution, this also is a skillful effort. With animated maps to explain strategy and on-the-spot views of places where the decisive events occurred, the film can serve as a practical introduction or review.

Economic Growth

The Pageant of America Filmstrip series also explores American economic history. Early Americans on the High Seas (Unit XII) and Farmer, Rancher and Cowboy (Unit XVIII) cover the subjects in a comprehensive and stimulating manner. The first of these 35mm filmstrips follows the adventures of American seamen from colonial times to the coming of the Civil War. It clearly brings out the activities and importance of fishermen, whalers and foreign traders in distant ports.

The second of the filmstrips observes agrarian life from the crude methods of the early settlers to the mechanized farmer of the present. This valuable survey deals with the farmer and cattle rancher without further reference to specialized forms of agriculture. Both strips are uncommonly valuable surveys. The picture material has been well selected and superbly reproduced in black and white.

Another aspect of economic development is considered in The Age of Reform , Unit XVII of the Pageant of America Filmstrips. Photographs and prints disclose the impact of Big Business and the consequent complaints and regulations. Adhering to a chronological presentation, the strip is a straightforward report of the course of political and economic reform from 1880 to 1912.

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