Thursday, February 16, 2012

An American Composer

We had a real change of pace in our composer study this week.  The first American composer in the study, and a very different style of composition as well.  Stephen C. Foster wrote songs that are usually considered folk music rather than romantic, but that was certainly a reflection of the United States at that time.  Foster grew up in a large family where the arts were considered to be an interesting hobby, but not something at which one could make a living.  He had obvious talent though, and tried his hand at composing.  His songs were not always well-received during his lifetime, but some became very popular, including "Oh Susanna!" which was much-loved by the forty-niners during the Gold Rush, and "Old Folks at Home" which became the state song of Florida.

I was a little surprised that Landon and Kennady claimed not to be familiar with either of those tunes before we listened to them! Turns out they did know Oh! Susanna! - of course!  At first, they weren't sure they knew Camptown Races either, but as soon as I sang the first line, they realized they knew the tune well.  (Probably courtesy of Looney Toons - I'm not gonna lie! LOL)  We found out that the song was a humorous tale of life in the "camp towns" - tent communities of workers, often on the railroads - where the men might pass leisure time by organizing races between the motley assortment of horses and mules.

We watched three different versions of Camptown Races on YouTube, but Kennady claimed to like this one the best.  Al Jolson plays the part of E.P. Christy, the minstrel singer that had somewhat of a partnership with Foster and made many of his songs popular.

Foster's life was not always happy or easy, and he died at only 38 years of age.  The songs he wrote are among the most memorable tunes in American folk music, and I can testify that we've been humming and singing Camptown Races and Oh! Susanna! all week after having learned a little about the man that wrote them.

This post is linked at ~a teaching heart~ where we are keeping each other accountable for making time for music in our homeschooling!

a teaching heart

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