The Music That Shaped Colonial America

Yankee Doodle: This well-known revolutionary folk song is associated with the American Independence movement, yet significantly predates the American Revolution. It was originally written as an English battle song during the French and Indian War in the North American colonies. The song’s lyrics have been changed over time. Leading up to the Revolution and even today, it has been turned into a patriotic anthem by Americans.

Moccasin Game Songs: Some Amerindian musical songs served ceremonial or social purposes and were played or sung at specific times to connect the natural and supernatural world to a certain positive end. Some songs served as “game songs” that mixed drums and chants to help bring luck to players.

Springfield Mountain: Outside of Amerindian musical culture, most songs were imported from the British Isles and Africa. This is a rare folk song written in the United States. It may have been written around 1761, which would make it one of the only pre-Revolutionary folk songs written for and by American colonists still known today.

Barbara Allen: Settlers to the “New World” brought popular folk songs like this ballad with them. The song was popular in Scotland and England as early as 1666. Ballads were rarely written down, since they were meant to be sung by memory.

Psalm 23 and the Bay Psalm book: The Bay Psalm Book is a key artifact in understanding the beliefs and practices of Pilgrims and the importance of music for them. This collection of psalm texts was the first book produced in the New World. Scholars believe it is the work of Christian reformers seeking a collection of worship materials that strictly supported Puritan values.

How long, Dear Saviour, O how long: This is a contemporary example of a “fuguing tune,” a Scottish-American psalm tradition from New England. This choral musical style features four singers “imitating” one another, a cappella style. The emotionally charged fugue tunes were not universally approved as proper church music. The style gained in both popularity and criticism by the 19th century.

Boston Harbour: Smithsonian Folkways dates this sea shanty to the period of 1765-1775. Written by a common seaman, this song is one of the only shanties that can be conclusively dated to colonial times. Despite the rarity of this song’s survival, it is part of what was likely a very strong maritime musical subculture.

Source: The Music That Shaped Colonial America
© Shauna Vert

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