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Thread: Continue to see post-1900 string bands associated with reenactments

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
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    Default Continue to see post-1900 string bands associated with reenactments

    A little disappointed that at this late date, with all we know now about CW period music, that the common mode of music in the camps, in the public and sutler areas and at period balls are post-1900 style string bands. Not only in the style of the music but in the instruments used, often mandolins, lap and hammered dulcimers, large-bodied steel-string guitars strummed or plectrum, and steel-string fretted banjos, stand-up bass, not to mention harmonic harmonicas.

    It's not so much that the above takes place, but that the bands make no effort to explain how period music actually was: in America primarily and nearly exclusively no mandolins, no lap or hammered duclimers, only small-bodied (actually standard size at the time) gut stringed guitars played finger style (not plectrum and not strummed) and only gut-stringed fretless banjos, and bass was not used in string band setting, and harmonicas did not come as harmonic or with side key. The popular music of the time came from Minstrel shows or travelling singing groups, and of course Tom Dooley hadn't happened yet, let alone being sung about.

    Why not as much interest in preserving and playing period music and style on period style instruments as there is for wearing proper uniforms etc.?

    I realize that the venues who hire bands do it out of ignorance, and hire hillbilly or even bluegrass bands out of ignorance, but for camp musicians it can only be out of spite -- convenience over authenticity (mandolins and dulcimers existed at the time, and Tom Dooley was a Reb soldier during the war so its ok).

    Is it really to much to ask to at least explain that the string band thing was not the style or instrumentation of the time?

  2. #2

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    There just may not be that many period bands that can travel to the whole spectrum of events. Truth be told, there's not much money in music, and the narrower you make your audience, the less there is. Also, musicians tend to see the music first and the history second. For instance, it's traditional to start a piano recital with a Bach number, even though he never wrote for a modern piano. While there are chamber orchestras that specialize in baroque sound, that's not going to keep the local Philharmonic from playing Handel. (I like to play 18th century murder ballads on an electric guitar too, but that's just pushing it )
    Rob Weaver
    Pine River Boys, Co I, 7th Wisconsin
    "We're... Christians, what read the Bible and foller what it says about lovin' your enemies and carin' for them what despitefully use you -- that is, after you've downed 'em good and hard."
    -Si Klegg and His Pard Shorty

  3. #3
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    It really is quite annoying.

    I especially take offense when being brought on as civilian coordinator of an event as an event as an afterthought (rather than as part of the initial planning team). I usually find that some Bubba Bluegrass calling early 20th century dances has already been employed as the Best Most Aw-Then-Tick thing ever.

    While I don't agree that 'formal balls' were ever held in hayfields after battles, let's at least do these country hops to the right music with the right dance forms.
    Terre Hood Biederman
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  4. #4

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    I agree with you there; it would be better to dance with recorded authentic music than live inauthentic music. In that case, the music isn't soundtrack, nor the band trying to sell a few cds, but is an integral part of the historical activity.
    Rob Weaver
    Pine River Boys, Co I, 7th Wisconsin
    "We're... Christians, what read the Bible and foller what it says about lovin' your enemies and carin' for them what despitefully use you -- that is, after you've downed 'em good and hard."
    -Si Klegg and His Pard Shorty

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
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    I know it's naive to to expect the venue, announcer or band to at least make a short disclaimer at the sutler area stage presentation or at the evening ball, but it would totally settle my concerns about what onlookers should walk away with:

    "Welcome all. Just so you know, near the camps back in the day they didn't have big guitars yet, nor steel-string banjos nor did they use mandolins or dulcimers, and they didn't strum a big lead rhythm ...but they knew how to have fun and we're here to copy that. For those staying to the end, we may come back after the break with a sample of an authentic set, but for now grab a body and let's kick it off!"

    Presumably this has not been a concern or issue at campaign or EBUFU events.

  6. #6

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    Interesting points. What is really humorous to me are the so-called "Balls" held under a tent on hard uneven ground. Those are not Balls, especially when the music is being performed by a fiddle and guitars instead of a brass band. Just call it a dance. And how about dancing without caps on for a change? Large event promoters can at least put down a parquet floor so that nobody twists an ankle and can also dance smoothly. Securing a real brass band, even with only half a dozen players, is far superior to a hoe-down scenario. I am sure they could afford it. But let's face it: Balls and dances are really an afterthought in the planning. More care is taken with the field and how it looks for a battle and the logistical set-up for sutlers than for any civilian activities. Another separate issue is the total lack of appreciation and understanding of the role of field musicians by these so-called officers. Early in my reenacting experience, I was a drummer in the field with other musicians standing in the middle behind a company front of probably 100 men. The high ranking officer on a horse ("Hey, this is MY army") gave the order "right face, forward march" before the musicians could come to the front of the column. But, of course, he was a big shot that day and felt compelled to harangue the field musicians for not being at the head of the column when the march started, some of whom were quite young and couldn't run fast enough to get there before he said "forward march." Some of these guys also have no appreciation of artillery, they will order a charge on a cannon right up to the muzzle, unmindful that the weapon could be loaded. I was in an artillery unit once and we had a problem with a gun. The crew crossed their implements to signify a problem. That did not deter a lieutenant from ordering a charge on the position. Where do they get these people? There's more to be a leader than knowing Hardee's or Casey's manual. You have to have to have some common sense and know the rules of reenacting protocol.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by Byron Ed View Post
    I know it's naive to to expect the venue, announcer or band to at least make a short disclaimer at the sutler area stage presentation or at the evening ball, but it would totally settle my concerns about what onlookers should walk away with:

    "Welcome all. Just so you know, near the camps back in the day they didn't have big guitars yet, nor steel-string banjos nor did they use mandolins or dulcimers, and they didn't strum a big lead rhythm ...but they knew how to have fun and we're here to copy that. For those staying to the end, we may come back after the break with a sample of an authentic set, but for now grab a body and let's kick it off!"

    Presumably this has not been a concern or issue at campaign or EBUFU events.
    Yeah. That I can agree with too. Won't ever happen, but a disclaimer would be nice.
    Rob Weaver
    Pine River Boys, Co I, 7th Wisconsin
    "We're... Christians, what read the Bible and foller what it says about lovin' your enemies and carin' for them what despitefully use you -- that is, after you've downed 'em good and hard."
    -Si Klegg and His Pard Shorty

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bytherightflank View Post
    ...Those are not Balls, especially when the music is being performed by a fiddle and guitars instead of a brass band...Just call it a dance...
    and
    Quote Originally Posted by Bytherightflank View Post
    ...I was in an artillery unit once and we had a problem with a gun. The crew crossed their implements to signify a problem. That did not deter a lieutenant from ordering a charge on the position. Where do they get these people?...You have to have to have some common sense and know the rules of reenacting protocol.
    I agree that such dances should not be considered formal Balls per se, but back in the day a brass band was not necessary to make it a Ball. If they chose to call it a Ball, fiddle and guitars would fulfill the purpose just fine, tho perhaps not in NY, Washington or Richmond. So from an authenticity viewpoint I don't have a problem with a string band providing ball music at a reenactment.

    On not understanding the visual cues for artillery, amen to that. This is an out-and-out safety issue that goes beyond the purpose of any fake battle, and any cavalry or infantry charge into crossed implements is totally inexcusable and ignorant. Warm powder picks its own condition and moment to explode. With crossed implements the artillerymen have done everything possible in that case and are blameless should the **** thing go off into a charging soldier's face.

    But this is not about blame, being right, or pride. The unit command and venue are responsible to ensure everyone understands crossed implements, in the same way everyone understands no rifle rammers on the field. If there is a failure of the kind you describle, it is the artillery battery's commanders duty to report the incident quickly and follow it up aggressively with the charging unit's command and with the venue. This has to be to the point of being a pain in the ass (even offending a friend) if necessary. It's zero tolerance. Was that done?
    Last edited by Byron Ed; 01-08-2017 at 07:33 PM.

  9. #9

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    Well we tried, for over 20 years with the Camptown Shakers, to bring a more history informed performance to reenacments in the mid-Atlantic region but unfortunately we have lost two of our quartet to the angel band. I'm hoping that after retiring from my day job this summer I can grow the band a bit and return to bringing good music to the camp. Dave

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