STUDY GUIDE FOR
"MUSIC OF COLONIAL MARYLAND" PROGRAM
by David & Ginger Hildebrand
General points concerning colonial times
Social Class and Education
The best way to prepare students for this program is to refresh their sense of history. When did Leonardo da Vinci live? (1452–1519); Henry VIII? (1491–1547); Columbus? (1451?–1506); George Washington? (1732–1799); Lincoln? (1809–1865). How different was the average person’s daily life 25 years ago? 75 years ago? 175 years ago? Music history is most believable when it reflects more general historical truths. For this program we examine colonial British America (original 13 colonies); we don't address native American, colonial Spanish, or the French music.Created and published September 18, 2001
GENERAL POINTS CONCERNING COLONIAL TIMES:
—How long ago? It started nearly 400 years ago in Jamestown (1607), ended over 200 years ago, effectively with British surrender at Yorktown (1781), but politically on July 4, 1776 in America (Declaration of Independence) and September 3, 1783 in Great Britain (Treaty of Paris).
—The obvious stuff: no TV's, radios, shopping malls, cars, etc. What does this really mean about the way people amused themselves?
—Fancy things, like big houses, nice clothes, and special food were restricted to the few wealthy people; these folks made up perhaps 5% of the population, yet most of recorded history concerns them. What about all the other people?
—Life expectancy was short; sickness was widespread; there were no “miracle medicines” then. Medical treatment was crude.
AGRICULTURE dominated people's lives; most were farmers:
—Crops varied by region, as did settlement patterns; Marylanders grew mostly tobacco, which meant they lived on their land throughout the countryside, rather than close together in towns.
—Cultivation cycles determined living cycles for many people, which in turn determined festivities and times for socializing and court/legislative meetings. Planting and harvesting seasons were busiest; winter was quietest.
SOCIAL CLASS and EDUCATION were related:
—There was much variation in life-style. People lived very differently whether rich or poor, living in a city or in the country. They brought customs from their homelands: England, Scotland, Europe, or Africa.
—Only the richest young people received any kind of education. Not having to go to school may sound like fun, but most children worked hard in the fields or at home. There was little awareness/sensitivity to their needs and education besides
the very basic, practical stuff.
—Though some could read and write, society functioned mostly on a spoken basis; neighbors knew neighbors, and reputation was paramount; upward mobility not so relevant yet.
—The pace of normal life was much slower and quieter, so people generally looked forward to seeing new faces, new things—visiting actors and musicians were welcomed.
—Dancing was the chief social activity, among whites of all classes as well as African-Americans (slave and free). The minuet and country dance were the favored dance of the wealthy, while middle class and poor people enjoyed more vigorous and lively dance forms like jigs and reels.
—Common instruments included violin (fiddle), two types of guitars, recorders and transverse flutes, drums, banjos; harpsichords and hammered dulcimers were less common. Few pianos before 1800. Nearly all imported, certain instruments
were appropriate for men, for women, for the wealthy or less wealthy, for whites or African-Americans.
—Much of the music was “folk” in the sense that many people of different classes and backgrounds learned many of the same tunes by ear. Lyrics circulated on single sheets or in newspapers. There were few professional musicians.
For more details, read the liner notes to our sound recordings: Over the Hills and Far Away, Music of the Charles Carroll Family, 1785-1832, and George Washington: Music for the First President.
Copyright 2001 David & Ginger Hildebrand, 276 Oak Court, Severna Park, MD 21146