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chapter one Drawing Rooms, Taverns, Churches, and Tobacco Fields Music in Early Maryland M usic is integral to human experience. It may have been especially so during the colonial period in Maryland, when life was limited and difficult for many people regardless of their manner of living. Music expressed the colonists’ thoughts, feelings, fears, and hopes, but it also played a role in many other aspects of their lives. One must try to imagine the sounds to be heard in the mainland British colonies in, say, 1750. Philadelphia Quakers speak quietly and worship without music, while Anglicans in churches as far south as Savannah absorb the colorful sounds of fine organs. Indentured servants in Williamsburg sing old ballads while working; later they dance reels and jigs for pleasure. While a studious Moravian settler in North Carolina quietly copies the musical score for a Mozart string quartet, a French dance master in the city of New York fiddles minuets for wealthy young students. Georgia slaves craft homemade banjos and add African touches to Wesleyan hymns, airing a far more emotional plea than those expressed in the staid psalms that third-generation Puritans sang in Massachusetts churches. Such musical expressions flourished in the varied colonies of early British America. In Maryland, all sounded at once. African music came to Maryland along with slaves, German music through its Lutheran and Moravian colonists. French music arrived, as did Catholic settlers and dance masters, and of course British music came with the many immigrants who sang psalms and ballads in English. Wealthier colonists imported refined Italian compositions and collections of popular Scottish songs. Maryland’s musical history grew out of these varied streams as colonists adjusted and adapted to their new land. In microcosm one finds in Maryland nearly the whole scope of musical activity that characterized colonial British America, the British Isles, and much of western Europe. Early in the colonial period, Maryland became dependent upon tobacco and the associated plantation system. Perhaps a hundred years after the settlement at St. Mary’s City in 1634, a divergent culture emerged as farming communities in Maryland ’s piedmont region took root. In contrast to the tidewater region, with its older, 4 Musical Maryland slave-supported plantations, the piedmont attracted German settlers and British immigrants who could not afford the rising land prices near the Chesapeake. A more egalitarian society evolved inland, based on the labor of landowners and families rather than servants and slaves. So while the wealthy tidewater planters kept up with British fashion, following current tastes in theater, social dance, and amateur music-making, the austere piedmont farmers focused on work, family, church, and less refined sorts of entertainment. By 1750 one could almost consider Maryland two provinces, such were the differences between the tidewater and piedmont cultures. Constant change characterized Maryland’s colonial period, which lasted some 140 years. Musical practice reflected not just the colony’s growing population but the increased role played by evangelical religion and the economics of cash-based trade (as opposed to tobacco credit). The growth of cities like Baltimore and Frederick paved the way for the establishment of music as a business and the gradual erosion of homemade music, the staple of the colonial period. Overture: Toil and the Music to Lighten It For many decades after the establishment of St. Mary’s City, life in Maryland proved difficult and unstable. The first colonists, largely men from the southeast of England, laboriously cleared the forest in preparation for planting. Cultivation soon dispersed the population and kept many planters on the move, for the tobacco weed quickly depletes even the richest soils. Because Maryland’s economy hinged on the value of this single crop, which almost everyone planted, tobacco prices eventually declined. Some indentured servants who remained healthy and served out their time often found ways to rent land and grow enough tobacco and corn to climb into a small middle class of lesser landowners and even serve in public office. But the annual drudgery of growing, tending, packing, and selling tobacco denied seventeenth-century colonists much leisure time. Even so, music consoles the illiterate poor just as it ornaments the wealthy, and it is clear that tobacco planters and their families sang and danced. Firstgeneration immigrants came largely from poor villages in which traditional ballads and dance tunes flourished. Few who emigrated knew the refined music of the English court or cathedral; instead, they grew up in the English countryside hearing dance music played on fiddles...


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