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chapter three Intermission The Sounds of Civil War B rass bands, civic and military, performed not only dance music but also public ceremonial music and commercial music of various sorts in antebellum Maryland. People heard bands play on steamship cruises along the Chesapeake, at private resorts like Old Point Comfort and Betterton, and even on trains that employed excursion bands to attract pleasure riders. In addition to concerts, bands performed at public fairs, taverns, circuses, horse races, and Fourth of July celebrations, to which admission was either free or priced to suit the leanest pocketbook. The sounds were bright, energetic, and flashy, as by the 1850s bands had dropped most woodwind instruments and were made up mostly of brass and percussion instruments. Home of the Brave All Americans knew of such music, but in Maryland as in a few other places it had special distinction because it reminded people of local military glory. In September 1814, besides providing the backdrop for Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner,” Baltimore had equipped regimental bands, including one led by Captain Jacob Deems. Sponsors later sent Captain Deems’s son, James, born in Baltimore in 1818, to Europe to study music. The younger Deems became an excellent player of the cornet-à-piston and for a long time served as director of the Independent Blues Band. After 1848 he spent ten years as an instructor in music at the University of Virginia. He was “a theorist of the highest order, and has composed many heavy works; some of his lighter productions have been given to the public,” recalled Hewitt. Another longtime leader of the Independent Blues Band was Albert Holland, a native Baltimorean who taught music from about 1845 to 1887. Holland arranged and composed military music for his own group to perform, such as the “Fillmore Quick Step” (1856) and “The Blues Band Reels” (1858), both published by Miller & Beacham. He also wrote a “Sun Quickstep” (Henry McCaffrey , 1854), dedicated to the readers of the Baltimore newspaper. Holland’s wife often sang with him, to much acclaim.1 Intermission 75 Patriotic melodies and march tunes resounded at Maryland public events, as had become American custom. Familiar titles included “Hail, Columbia!,” “Washington’s March,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “Yankee Doodle.” George Willig Jr. issued Charles Grobe’s “The Battle of Buena Vista” during the Mexican War, in 1847, perhaps one of the pieces a brass band played in Cumberland when the C&O Canal opened for traffic between the Queen City and Washington in 1850. Ironically, the Baltimore musicians arrived by railroad , the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad having begun their race to reach that city back in 1828. When full military bands were not available, smaller groups of fifes and drums brought these tunes to life. Indeed, upon establishment of the Naval Academy at Fort Severn, Annapolis, in 1845, a single fifer and drummer constituted its band. The two men signaled daily commands, impervious to the existence of the Rohrersville owes much of its musical fame to an early employee of the C&O Canal, Washington McCoy, who organized McCoy’s Cornet Band in 1837 and then opened a marble business in Rohrersville. He became the band’s first director and arranger. McCoy would send away for a single-cornet melody line of music and then score the necessary parts for others in the band. He gave both vocal and instrumental instruction, often without charge. The town rewarded him with warm appreciation, which surfaced in a steamy report in a local paper in late 1858: “The Ladies’ Fair, for the benefit of McCoy’s Cornet Band opened on Christmas Eve,”the male reporter wrote, as has been previously announced. Early had the throng assembled, anxiously awaiting the salutatory, which was displayed by Prof. McCoy ’s Band in soul-stirring strains of Graffullar , which passed along with eager gaze, when my attention was drawn by the fascinating smiles of a fair damsel. . . . [The orchestra] is composed of flutes, violins, guitar and violincello , under the direction of Prof. McCoy, whose delight it is to instruct all who desire a knowledge of music. He is a gentleman who elicits the highest encomiums for the position he has attained in the science. The music was delightful. The plaintive sounds of the flutes harmonizing with the shrill chords of the violins , mingling with the vibrations of the guitar and deep toned bass, form[ed] one sublime strain of melody. (Hagerstown Herald and Torch, January 20, 1858) McCoy, so fondly remembered, seems to have founded...


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