PHOTO: Monmouth County Library Director Judy Tolchin, and Programming COordinator Donna Mansfield with Lehigh University Professor and pianist Helen Beedle at Music Muster.
MANALAPAN, NJ – From Irish ballads to Negro spirituals, from Chopin to minstrels, it was all on stage for five hours Saturday as the Monmouth County Library Commission presented the Civil War in Song at the headquarters complex, Symmes Ave.
Funded by the N J Council for the Humanities and Civil War association partners, the program attracted over 100 spectators throughout the day, and featured Dr. David Martin as the keynote speaker, as well as musical groups from both New Jersey and several other states. The event celebrated the end of the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States observances, and highlighted the importance and impact of music in wartime.
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Helen Beedle, a music professor at Lehigh University, and a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, presented a variety of tunes from a ‘gallop,’ a quick dance tune from the 19th century, to waltz, polkas, and schottisches. A highlight of her performance was a selection of Chopin pieces, popular in private homes during the Civil War.
Beedle, who teaches music theory and piano at Lehigh, was outfitted in Southern style dress, and at the request of the audience, showed the three layers of skirts and hoop skirt that made up a Southern lady’s formal dress. She first became interested in Civil War music when researching Chopin and Louis Moreau Gottschalk and has performed at several Civil War balls and observances. Gottschalk, a child prodigy and a contemporary of Chopin, was the first American pianist to achieve international recognition, and was, like Chopin, a pianist as well as composer. He met Chopin at Wheatland, the Pennsylvania home of President Buchanan.
Others on stage throughout the day included the Susquehanna Travellers, The Irish Volunteers, Jed Marum, Steve Ball and Lisa Williams, the Libby Prison Minstrels and Joe Becton.
The Irish Volunteers, from Buffalo, NY, played numerous instruments from the dulcimer and banjo to the guitar and tin whistle, and delighted the crowd with favorites such as “Oh, them Golden Slippers,” to “Shortening Bread.”
Martin pointed out how all cultures express themselves in music, and the history of the country could well be taught through song. He noted how the war had brought numerous cultures together, each bringing its own flavor of music to create a new genre.
Among some of the other still well-known tunes from the Civil War presented at the music muster were “Darling Nelly Gray,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “Laurena,” three different versions of “Dixie,” as played by both sides in the war, and “Yankee Doodle.”
One guest in the audience was William Gert, though not part of the program, dressed as a Southern officer during the war. Gert, of Bergen County, portrays a surgeon from the First Army of Northern Virginia in re-enactments of the Civil War, and said he came for the musical presentation because of his interest in promoting the important aspects of the War as well as for his love of music from that era.
“This was a most unusual display of musical talent and American history,” said Renee B. Swartz, chairperson of the Library Commission, “I am thrilled we could partner with the NJ Council for the Humanities to make it possible to bring this to our stage at the headquarters facility. The response from the public who attended showed how popular this type of program is and how people of all ages can benefit from history being taught in such a unique and entertaining manner.”