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Music Review: Stephen Foster

Music Review: Stephen Foster
In the wake of Hurricane Hermine and
her uproar that hit most of the Florida Gulf Coast last weekend, we
are trying to recoup and rebuild. Many were hard hit by devastating
storm surges, wind, water, and rain, even inland areas such as White
Springs, Florida. Thousands upon thousands were without power for
days, but slowly, some normalcy has been restored. Today, September
11, 2016, also marks the 15th anniversary of one of the
most violent terrorist attacks on American soil to date. Many still
mourn the tragic loss of family, dear friends, and strangers, we
don’t even know, who were murdered that day in history. We have
recovered, yet WE WILL NEVER FORGET. So I decided I would report on,
Stephen Foster, “America’s Troubadour”, the
very first American music troubadour who pioneered and laid the
foundation for the “form or art-form” of what we call the
American popular song, even still, today, and on the one of the
grandest instruments ever built in America, The Carillon Tower.
Beautiful White Springs, Florida,
nestled on the muddy banks of the Suwannee River, hosts the Stephen
Foster Folk Culture State Park
: The
park opened
in
1950
to
celebrate and honor one of America’s best and influential musical
composers of all time,

Stephen Foster: With
a
Museum
exhibiting
ten
lifelike dioramas
that
accurately
illustrate
s
the words to ten of
his
songs, “
the cream of the
crop”,
that
he wrote and is most well known for.
The
Carillon Tower which
opened in 1958 and houses the 97-bell carillon
is
one of the largest musical instruments ever produced in America and
the Western Hemisphere. It has the largest tubular bells and number
of carillon bells installed
within
it’s massive tower.

These musical and majestic
ally
constructed tubular 97 carillon

bells
provide
for a more efficient design for the production of musical tone than
the cast bell of the old world tone
.
Stephen Foster‘s
magnificent music
and
pioneered melodies
ring
thr
ough
three
full sets of 32 bells with a scale range of C to G, chromatic, plus a
fourth high G bell. These

bells
were
constructed
with
five-point harmony tuning with no trace of dissonance. Th
ree
bells sound in perfect unison for each note to produce a strong,
resonant response. The largest, low C bells weigh in at only 426
pounds each and are 12.5 feet long, 5 inches in diameter, and has
heavy ¾ inch walls; the smallest high G bells weigh in at 69 pounds
each.
The Carillon Tower houses
all 27 tons of the 97 carillon bells that
rings
it’s melodious bellls every quarter hour on the hour while
set
in
the
life-like
setting
of
the song

that made him most famous:
(Down
Upon
the
)
Swanee
River. Two
of Fosters songs were later adopted as State Songs:

Old Folks Home –
Florida,
and
My Old Kentucky
Home
was
adopted by Kentucky.
Stephen
Collins Foster, was born in a little white cottage overlooking the
Allegheny River of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1826. He was
very literate, and well educated at private academies in Pittsburgh.
Although Foster never completed a college education, he was very
musically literate as well. One of his influences and some form of
musical training could be attributed to his German immigrant friend,
Henry Kieber; an accomplished composer and teacher, and music
merchant, who made a huge impact and impression on the young Stephen.
He self-taught himself to
play the piano and self educated musically; he learned to play by
ear and listened
Foster
was a musical pioneer; a true
innovator,
and the 1st
American Musical Troubadour.
More
than 150 years ago Stephen Foster laid the “form” for every song
we hear played these days; be it Rock, Pop, Country, Blues, Folk, or
Americana. He pioneered and got down to the roots of the

verse/chorus (ABAB)
and
verse/bridge (AABA) song
forms:
the who, what,
when, where, why, and the all the ups and downs between, and how it
is presented in song form. He got to the root of his music producing
realistic lyrics that
tap into fundamental issues and every day life:

He created
an art form all songwriters still use today. Foster composed over 200
songs in his short 37 years and before his untimely death in 1864.
His touching melodies and
simple harmonies about the life and music on the plantation are
displayed and exhibited in the dioramas in White Springs, Florida.
Most
memorable of Stephen Foster’s
illustrated
songs and dioramas exhibited at the
Stephen Foster Folk
Culture Center
are: the time
honored,
OH!
Susanna
, (Way
Down Upon the) Swanne River
,
Old Dog Troy,
Camptown Races,
Jeannie With The
Light Brown Hair,
My Old Kentucky Home,
Open Thy Lattice, Love,
Old Black Joe,
Old Folks At Home,
and
De Glendy Burk.
Many modern movie song notables include
Beautiful
Dreamer
in a BATMAN
movie, and
Katie Bell,
Louisianna Belle,
My Old
Kentucky Home
, and Massa’s
in De Cold Cold Ground
were
in the soundtrack of
GONE
WITH THE WIND.
Foster’s
songs, of which he wrote all his own lyrics, were mostly written and
composed the last 10 years of his life, between 185-1860, and are
among the most popular songs ever written by an American. In the days
before
ASCAP, BMI,
The Library of Congress
and copyrighting,
etc, there
was no such thing as the “Music Business” as we know it now.
Sound recording wasn’t invented until 13 years after Stephen Foster’s
death. It was only 66 years later that radio even existed! There were
no “performing rights” or “royalty fees” back then. There was
no way to of earning money for his songs like we know it today. Only
through a 5-10% royalty was offered for the outright purchase of his
songs by
a publisher.
In today’s music industry Foster would be worth million$ of dollar$
every year!
At his untimely
death, and suffering from a persistent fever, he died in poverty at
the charity ward in Bellevue Hospital at the age of 37 with only 37
cents in his pocket.
Foster’s
ancestral home has been restored and preserved by the city of
Pittsburgh, and the University of Pittsburgh houses an extensive
collection of First Editions of many of Stephen Foster’s songs and
material relating to his life. Never a Southerner, and
having
only once ever traveled south
of the Mason-Dixon line to New Orleans. Foster composed
Way
Down Upon the) Swanee River
,
now Florida’s State Song.
One
New York editor once eloquently describes the Suwannee River as more
than a stream that flows from Georgia, through Florida, and down to
empty in the Gulf of Mexico. He wrote, “
The Real
Suwannee River rises in the highest mountains of the human soul and
is fed by the deepest springs in the human heart. It flows through
the pleasant, sunny lands of memory; it empties into the glorious
ocean of unfilled dreams…..”.
So
there you have it
,
Stephen Foster: musical pioneer and
appropriately
titled, “
American Troubadour”;
and the largest man made musical instrument in this great land we
call America.
Next
week I’ll be reporting from the mud boggs on the epic event we
Georgia peeps call Lactember Fest, formally known as Lactober Fest!
Y’all have a great week!
Over
and out….. Penney.
Cc:
Penney Holley, Country Music News International, September 12, 2016

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