Music was as important to the Corps of Discovery as it is to people today. In fact, without other entertainments such as movies and television, the telephone or the Internet, it was probably an even more beloved companion of an evening, especially on the lonely frontier. Even during the most grueling ordeals of the Expedition, the men found the energy to play and dance:
The party that returned this evening to the lower camp reached it in time to take one canoe on the plain and prepare their baggage for an early start in the morning after which such as were able to shake a foot amused themselves in dancing on the green to the music of the violin which Cruzatte plays extreemly well. – Meriwether Lewis, June 25, 1805
In this post, we continue with our look at some of the Lewis & Clark music that is out there to be discovered and enjoyed today.
Lewis & Clark: Sounds of Discovery
With this CD, producer David Swenson went all out to record authentic arrangements of the sounds that the Corps of Discovery really heard on the expedition. Recording on location, he captured fiddlers and other musicians playing early American tunes on period instruments, Native Americans singing ancient chants, and chirps and chortles of birds and animals of the trail. The result is a remarkable historical record … and a bit of a hodge-podge to actually listen to. I can’t say that this one is in my rotation very often, but I’m glad I can turn to it when I want to check out “the real thing.”
Recommended for: teachers and students of the Expedition
West for America, by David Walburn
David Walburn of Whitefish, Montana, is a singer-songwriter with a rich, masculine voice and a sense of the warmth and humanity behind the stories of history. In “West for America,” he presents a set of songs told from the points of view of various members of the Corps of Discovery. Walburn is especially strong on themes of loneliness that the Corps must have felt — the feeling of having fallen off the face of the earth. His “In All My Days,” a song told from Meriwether Lewis’s point of view, captures Lewis’s energy and exuberance tinged with melancholy and self-doubt. Walburn understands what makes Lewis such a compelling figure. Highly recommended!
Recommended for: Lovers of singer-songwriter, coffee-house style ballads
A Delightful Recreation: The Music of Thomas Jefferson, from The Governors’ Musick of Colonial Williamsburg
Thomas Jefferson was himself a gifted musician in an era in which the fine arts were highly valued (rather than a perpetual target for budget cuts). As a teenager, Jefferson’s ability with the violin got him invited to play in what we might call “jam” sessions with some of the most prominent men in colonial Virginia. As he took his place among those men, he began to collect musical scores and a library of books on music theory and practice. Jefferson was undoubtedly one of the best informed men in America on the fine arts, and music was no exception.
Jefferson broke his wrist in 1786 (evidently tripping over a bucket while trying to impress the beautiful French artist Maria Cosway), putting an end to his own musical career. However, his daughters were accomplished on the harpsichord, and undoubtedly Meriwether Lewis found Monticello filled with the finest music whenever he spent time with “the boss.” This CD, produced on period instruments by the meticulous Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, gives a beautiful sampling of the music played and loved by the high-minded Mr. Jefferson.
Recommended for: classical music lovers
Fiddle Tunes of the Lewis & Clark Era, from the New Columbia Fiddlers
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Mr. Jefferson’s parlor were the taverns, riverbanks, and army camps of the early American frontier. But in their own way, frontiersmen prized music just as much as the Sage of Monticello. Two of the men of the Lewis & Clark Expedition were fiddlers, and the captains write often of how the men danced all night when Pierre Cruzatte and George Gibson limbered up their bows.
I am excited to announced that later in the month, we will have a guest post from Dan Slosberg, a fiddle player who has spent years studying early American music and reenacting the part of Pierre Cruzatte. Besides Dan’s work, I also recommend this CD of early American folk tunes, many of which are still played today in bluegrass festivals and wherever lovers of good old-timey music gather. The four fiddle champions featured on this great CD are joined by other traditional musicians on the banjo, mandolin, and other traditional instruments for a down-home good time!
Recommended for: Fans of traditional Americana and roots music
More to come!