“The pioneers carried only the clothes on their backs and the bare necessities in their wagons, yet they experienced a rich musical life in the wilderness… Each group wove their own thread of music into the colorful and diverse musical tapestry of the American West.” So begins Laura Dean’s historical account of the integral role music played in the Westward Expansion. Her new book explores the diplomatic, practical, and inspirational roles music played in connecting culturally diverse people groups including Native Americans, explorers, cowboys, and pioneers.
Joining me today from Seattle is Laura Dean. Laura is a pianist, music educator, and author. She’s originally from Montana and has just released a book titled, Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier. The book explores the role of music in the history and culture of the 1800s American West.
- Groups whose music the book explores, including Native Americans; members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; trailblazers (explorers, fur trappers, and missionaries); the real cowboys in the old west; pioneers.
- What WAS the allure of the West? What was it that motivated so many Easterners to give up their life and leave loved ones to take on the risk of The Oregon Trail?
- What kind of instruments did pioneers take with them?
- What is the difference between a “fiddle” and a “violin”?
- The kinds of music that were part of the pioneer experience, including genres, composers, specific song titles that were mentioned in journal entries.
- The book’s “Heart List” highlights the many roles that music played, including:
- Celebration, incl. July 4th
- Comfort for people (and restless cattle)
- Community connection/bond
- Creative outlet
- Diversion, entertainment
- Expression of cultural identity, friendship, joy, love, sorrow, remember loved ones
- Historical records of events that happened along the trail
- Memories of home
- Sense of place as they put down roots and settled
- Sustained spirits by providing an antidote to countless hardships of the trail; stress relief
- Worship, including impromptu church services along the trail
- Corollaries between frontier life and the pandemic life we’re emerging from.
- Resources in The Appendices include a representative song list for each chapter, a selection of sheet music, a suggested recordings list, a small collection of lead sheets, and Meaningful Musical Experiences: Ideas to Get You Started On Your Own Musical Journey (ideas appealing to a wide variety of budgets, tastes, and audiences).
- Laura’s website; sign up here for Laura’s mailing list to have her blog posts delivered directly to your in box.
- Laura’s Facebook page
- Laura’s book: Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier is available on Amazon and at McFarland (or ask for it at your favorite book seller).
Heidi Kay Begay and the Flute 360 Podcast https://heidikaybegay.com
Laura says: I love the hymn “Harvest Time,” known as “Brother Van’s Song” found on the blog – it is representative of the simple beauty inherent in so much of the music in the era of the Westward Expansion. The song is in the Public Domain, played here by me.
Thanks so much to Laura for sharing with us today. In case you didn’t notice, I LOVE this book! One thing we didn’t mention in our conversation is that the book is full of photos from the era that bring the content to life even more. Congratulations to Laura on the release of her book – it has just become available this week.
Get your hands on a copy of the book, Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier, by going to the show notes. All links from today’s episode – including a transcript of this episode – can be found in the show notes. A link to the page is also in the episode details right in your podcast app. If you enjoyed this episode, please spread the word to your friends and family and on social media! That is the best way to support the show and help us grow our audience as we share the power of music.
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Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next time, may your life be enhanced with music.
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