America: This melody is an old English air of undetermined origin. It first appeared in its present form in 1744. It was published in the colonies in 1761 and was adopted as an all-purpose tune for which a wide variety of patriotic texts were fitted.
Samuel Francis Smith, an early graduate of Harvard who went into the ministry in 1832, composed the lyrics (My Country Tis of Thee). While looking through some German song books he came across this simple melody, which he thought, would make a great patriotic song. Finding a scrap of paper he wrote a poem in less than a half an hour. He didn't know at the time that the tune was the British "God Save the King' nor did he consider his poem to have the potential for becoming a national hymn. Smith put his poem away for several months. However, his dear friend, Lowell Mason, a music teacher, who received a copy of it decided to surprise Smith by teaching the song to a chorus of children. He then invited Smith to hear it performed July 4, 1832 in Park Street Church, Boston. It became one of the most popular musical vehicles for conveying patriotic and political sentiments and emotions. It has been used by more countries as a patriotic air than any song ever written.
Chester: This was a highly popular song of the Revolutionary era. The composer of this catchy tune is William Billings who was a tanner by trade and half blind. As a great lover of music, he had a great desire to teach people how to sing. Although he lacked formal musical training, he was a prolific composer and during the colonial period was zealous for the cause of liberty. Having been rejected to serve in the militia for physical reasons, Billings used his gift and passion for music to contribute to the Revolutionary cause by writing patriotic tunes that would build morale and play a key role fueling the emotions for independence from Britain.
In 1770 William Billings published The New-England Psalm Singer, a collection of more than one hundred anthems, hymns, and psalms that he had written. This volume was the first tune book compiled by a single American composer, as well as the first published collection of exclusively American music. The New-England Psalm Singer provided tunes and instructions for training American singers.
His next book, The Singing Masterís Assistant (1778)), his most popular collection, owing partly to the patriotic character of its songs. Although a composer of sacred music, Billing chose texts more for their literary quality than their spiritual messages. Other composers included many of Billings songs in their song collections and his music was widely known and performed during the 1780ís.
As the revolution developed, some of these hymns became as much about patriotism as religion. A good example of this is "Chester" which Billing wrote as a hymn in 1778. It demonstrates how close the connections between religion and politics could be for many Americans. As soldiers sang it over and over, "Chester" became an unofficial anthem of the American Revolution.
In my arrangement of Chester, I have taken an approach that is reminiscent of a Renaissance lute piece in its lively melody and moving bass line. The spirit of conviction that lies within the music is even more reflected in its lyrics:
Chester / Lyrics
Let tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains.
We fear them not; we trust in God;
New Englandís God forever reigns.
When God inspired us for the fight
Their ranks were broke, their lines were forced;
Their ships were shattered in our sight
Or swiftly driven from our coast.
The foe comes on with haughty stride;
Our troops advance with martial noise.
Their veterans flee before our youth,
And generals yield to beardless boys.
What grateful offerings shall we bring?
What shall we render to the Lord?
Loud Hallelujah let us sing.
And praise his name on every chord.
America the Beautiful: In 1893 Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor a Wellesley College was teaching summer classes out in Colorado Springs. After a breathtaking mountain trip up to Pikes Peak, Bates experienced an exhilaration by the beauty, majesty, and immensity of the sight. When she got back to her hotel she captured her emotions in a poem which she later put away and forgot about until two summers later. Upon rediscovering her poem in the notebook, she decided to send it to a magazine. It was published on July 4,1895. In spite of numerous attempts by composers everywhere to put her poem to their music, she favored a hymn by Samuel A.Ward called "Materna" which is the Latin word for "motherly". By 1920, Ward's tune was universally accepted as the official melody.
Battle Hymn of the Republic: In 1853,William Steffe, a Southern composer of many Sunday School songs wrote this tune to accompany his sermons at camp meetings. It was originally called "Brothers will you meet us on Canaanís happy shore?" He was a southern composer of many popular Sunday School sing alongs. After the Harpers Ferry incident in 1859, the tune became popular among abolishionist groups who sang it under the title of "Johns Brown Body lies amouldering in his grave". The popularity of this catchy tune grew and it became a favorite around camp fires. Drifters carried the song up north to Boston and eventually it found its way into the Union army. The Union soldiers did not realize that the tune was a Sunday school song written by a southerner for a Georgia Camp meeting.
In 1861, while visiting some Union Army
Camps near Maryland, Julia Ward Howe was moved to pen a new version. She
wrote the words as she witnessed an unexpected personal exposure to the
realities of war when the enemy attacked an army review she was attending.
From her hotel room she could see the watch fires of circling camps and
she heard the call of the trumpet .She sold her poem to the Atlantic Monthly
for $5. The magazine printed it under the title "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
It became the great marching song of the North. This song was selected
at the funeral services for Sir Winston Churchill
The Amercian Treasures collection is dedicated to all the men and women who have paid the price for freedom with their willingness to sacrifice their lives for this country.
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