WHAT IS PATRIOTIC MUSIC & MUSICAL THEATRE ABOUT?

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WHAT IS PATRIOTIC MUSIC & MUSICAL THEATRE ABOUT?

Authors typically look at popular sheet music, tracing American popular music to spirituals, minstrel shows and vaudeville or the patriotic songs from Revolution times to the present.   The music of the United States reflects the country’s multi-ethnic population through a diverse array of styles.

Rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, jazz, and hip hop are among the country’s most internationally renowned genres.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, popular recorded music from the United States has become increasingly known across the world, to the point where some forms of American popular music are listened to almost everywhere. When this music plays, we get tears in our eyes because we are proud of our country and what it enable us to do as well as what we have done for others! We saved the world for tyranny twice in the previous century. We ought to be proud!!

The patriotic songs of the American Revolution constituted the first kind of mainstream popular music. These included “The Liberty Tree”, by Thomas Paine. Cheaply printed as broadsheets, early patriotic songs spread across the colonies and were performed at home and at public meetings.   Fife songs were especially celebrated, and were performed on fields of battle during the American Revolution. The longest lasting of these fife songs is “Yankee Doodle”, still well known today. The melody dates back to 1755 and was sung by both American and British troops Patriotic songs were mostly based on English melodies, with new lyrics added to denounce British colonialism; others, however, used tunes from Ireland, Scotland or elsewhere, or did not utilize a familiar melody. The song “Hail Columbia” was a major work that remained an unofficial national anthem until the adoption of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Much of this early American music still survives in Sacred Harp.

Patriotism denotes positive and supportive attitudes to a, by individuals and groups. The ‘fatherland’ (or ‘motherland’) can be a region or a city, but patriotism usually applies to a nation and/or a nation-state. Patriotism covers such attitudes as: pride in its achievements and culture, the desire to preserve its character and the basis of the culture, and identification with other members of the nation. Patriotism is closely associated with nationalism, and is often used as a synonym for it. Strictly speaking, nationalism is an ideology – but it often promotes patriotic attitudes as desirable and appropriate.

Patriotism has ethical connotations: it implies that the ‘fatherland’ (however defined) is a moral standard or moral value in itself. The expression my country right or wrong – perhaps a misquotation of the American naval officer Stephen Decatur, but also attributed to Carl Schurz – is the extreme form of this belief. Patriotism also implies that the individual should place the interests of the nation above their personal and group interests. In wartime, the sacrifice may extend to their own life. Death in battle for the fatherland is the archetype of extreme patriotism

During the Civil War, when soldiers from across the country commingled, the multifarious strands of American music began to cross-fertilize each other, a process that was aided by the burgeoning railroad industry and other technological developments that made travel and communication easier. Army units included individuals from across the country, and they rapidly traded tunes, instruments and techniques. The war was an impetus for the creation of distinctly American songs that became and remained wildly popular. The most popular songs of the Civil War era included “Dixie”, written by Daniel Decatur Emmett. The song, originally titled “Dixie’s Land”, was made for the closing of a minstrel show; it spread to New Orleans first, where it was published and became “one of the great song successes of the pre-Civil War period”. In addition to popular patriotic songs, the Civil War era also produced a great body of brass band pieces.

Following the Civil War, minstrel shows became the first distinctively American form of music expression. The minstrel show was an indigenous form of American entertainment consisting of comic skits, variety acts, dancing, and music, usually performed by white people in blackface. Minstrel shows used African American elements in musical performances, but only in simplified ways; storylines in the shows depicted blacks as natural-born slaves and fools, before eventually becoming associated with abolitionism. The minstrel show was invented by Dan Emmett and the Virginia Minstrels. Minstrel shows produced the first well-remembered popular songwriters in American music history: Thomas D. Rice, Dan Emmett, and, most famously, Stephen Foster. After minstrel shows’ popularity faded, coon songs, a similar phenomenon, became popular.

The composer John Philip Sousa is closely associated with the most popular trend in American popular music just before the start of the 20th century. Formerly the bandmaster of the United States Marine Band, Sousa wrote military marches like “Stars and Stripes Forever” that reflected his “nostalgia for [his] home and country”, giving the melody a “stirring virile character”.

Musical theatre is a form of theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance. The story and emotional content of a musical – humor, pathos, love, anger – are communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an integrated whole. Although musical theatre overlaps with other theatrical forms like opera and dance, it may be distinguished by the equal importance given to the music as compared with the dialogue, movement and other elements. Since the early 20th century, musical theatre stage works have generally been called, simply, musicals

In the early 20th century, American musical theater was a major source for popular songs, many of which influenced blues, jazz, country, and other extant styles of popular music. The center of development for this style was in New York City, where the Broadway theatres became among the most renowned venues in the city. Theatrical composers and lyricists like the brothers George and Ira Gershwin created a uniquely American theatrical style that used American vernacular speech and music. Musicals featured popular songs and fast-paced plots that often revolved around love and romance.

Although music has been a part of dramatic presentations since ancient times, modern Western musical theatre emerged during the 19th century, with many structural elements established by the works of Gilbert and Sullivan in Britain and those of Harrigan and Hart in America. These were followed by the numerous Edwardian musical comedies and the musical theatre works of American creators like George M. Cohen. Some of the most famous and iconic musicals through the decades that followed include:   West Side Story (1957), The Fantasticks (1960), Hair (1967), A Chorus Line (1975), Les Miserables (1985), The Phantom of the Opera (1986), Rent (1996), The Producers (2001) and Wicked (2003).

Some works have received both “musical theatre” and “operatic” productions. Similarly, some older operettas or light operas (such as The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan) have had modern productions or adaptations that treat them as musicals. For some works, production styles are almost as important as the work’s musical or dramatic content in defining into which art form the piece falls. Sondheim said, “I really think that when something plays Broadway it’s a musical, and when it plays in an opera house because it’s opera. That’s it. It’s the terrain, the countryside, the expectations of the audience that make it one thing or another.” It is often difficult to distinguish among the various kinds of musical theatre, including “musical play”, “musical comedy”, “operetta” and “light opera”.

Musicals are performed around the world. They may be presented in large venues, such as big-budget Broadway or West End or productions in New York City or London. Alternatively, musicals may be staged in smaller fringe theatre, Off-Broadway or regional theatre productions, or on tour. Musicals are often presented by amateur and school groups, in churches, schools and other performance spaces. In addition to the United States and Britain, there are vibrant musical theatre scenes in continental Europe, Asia, Australasia, Canada and Latin America.

 Kathy Kiefer

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