Band brings Civil War music to life

Web_Heritage Brass BandThe musical history of the Civil War came to life on Sat., Jan. 11 in the Central Library Auditorium as The Heritage Brass Band of Dallas presented “Irving Chautauqua: The Rich Musical Legacy of the Civil War”–a special event, part of “Civil War 150,” a national program of remembrance for the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States.

The Heritage Brass Band is the largest historical re-enactment band in the Southwest and evokes military bands from the Civil War, the Indian Wars and World War II. In accordance with the theme, the 15 or so band members turned out in Confederate gray uniforms complete with campaign caps and belt buckles and played mostly period instruments or approximations of them.

Band conductor Larry Johnson enthusiastically introduced the modern audience to the “Irving Chautauqua” with a brief history of the Chautauqua Movement. The first Chautauqua was an experimental educational conference that convened at Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. in 1874. The event was a hit. In fact, it wasn’t long before entertainers and speakers were travelling across the United States and Canada as “circuit chautauquas” or “tent chautauquas.”

“What we’re going to do is approach this backwards. We’re going to talk about where a lot of American music today came from. As you know, some of the most widely performed patriotic music came out of the Civil War–The ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and ‘Dixie’ to name just two of them–but there are many others. The music that came out of the Civil War is still very much with us. You can go to a band concert today and you may hear some of those themes in concert music that they play, community bands, high school bands, those songs just keep popping up because they are Americana,” Johnson remarked.

Under the direction of Johnson’s baton, the band played for more than an hour to an auditorium full of appreciative listeners. Their repertoire included familiar music like “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” to obscure pieces like a march by Stephen Foster (known for “Camptown Races” and “Sewanee River”) called “Santa Anna’s Retreat from Buena Vista.”

Driving home the point that the music of the period is more familiar than most of us imagine, Johnson introduced and led the band in playing “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys are Marching.” The modern audience immediately recognized the tune as “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” The religious revival that followed the Civil War turned many of the old military songs into popular hymns.

With a brass band of Confederate re-enactors closing the performance, what would you expect to hear? Of course, brass horns led a slow, rich, heartfelt rendition of “Dixie.”