Liner notes for the Eight Hand String Band – Civil War era music
"I would beg to remind you that music is a very useful art."
Abraham Lincoln, 11/16/60
Entering the 19th century, the United States was a young country just beginning to develop its own cultural identity. The nation was on the move. Agricultural interests vied with growing urban areas, and the industrial revolution was altering the face of the work force. Through this turbulent time music and song provided the cultural exchange that kept people together and gave them a common language.
Beginning in the 1840s, sheet music sold like records and CDs. Lyrics were printed in sheet folios, newspapers, and broadsides. A good song could cross the country as fast as the news. And, as is true today, a timely tune could capture the spirit of a people better than a speech or a headline.
All of this growth and change came with a cost, however, and by mid-century the country had descended into civil war. Ironically, the American Civil War was a boon for composers, with 2000 songs published in the first year of the war alone. Whether in camp or at home, on the march or in the field, everybody sang or played. Brass bands, string quartets, soldiers on picket, and sewing bees performed martial airs, patriotic choruses, and sentimental melodies.
“I don’t know what we would have done without our band,” wrote a member of the 24th Massachusetts in 1862. “Every night about sun down Gilmore gives us a splendid concert, playing selections from the operas and some pretty good marches, quicksteps, waltzes and the like.”
It is often thought that the old South had the best tunes, but there was nothing in the Southern songbook to compare with the great Northern marching songs. “Good martial music is one of the advantages we have over the rebels,” proclaimed an editorial in the New York Herald, January 11, 1862.
After the war, at a gathering in Richmond, a Confederate major agreed: “Gentleman, if we had your songs, we’d have licked you out of your boots.”
The recordings on this CD are a reflection of the moods that moved America in the formative years of our nation. In interpreting this 19th century music, the Eight Hand String Band has taken our historic folk songs and rendered them into classics. They’ve made a synthesis of songs readily familiar to us, yet individually distinct in their voices, and have presented them as a pastiche of our national character.
Children will recognize nursery rhymes while their grandparents will recall old hymns. Everyone will tap their feet. Whether showcasing the pop songs of Stephen Foster, or show-boating their bluegrass chops on reels like “Old Joe Clark,” the Eight Hand String Band plays in a loose style, inviting inspiration and invention, giving the listener the feel of how this music is meant to be heard – live.
So, stick this relic of bygone days into your digital listening device of choice, step back, and enjoy yourself some old-style.