Civil War-era music returns to its roots in New Hampshire

Last modified: 5/24/2015 1:18:22 AM
Civil War-era music arranged for one of the Union Army’s best regimental bands is returning to its roots.

The Third Regiment Band of the New Hampshire Volunteers, largely recruited from Penacook, was one of hundreds of bands mustered during the war to entertain troops and carry stretchers as needed. Most of its members later ended up in the 2nd Brigade Band stationed at Port Royal Island in South Carolina, where their reputations as musicians grew under the direction of Concord’s Gustavus Ingalls.

The 136 pieces of music he compiled into handwritten books are considered some of the finest band arrangements of popular mid-19th century music. This weekend, a Pennsylvania-based band is bringing that music back to New Hampshire for a series of free concerts hosted by the Penacook Historical Society.

The Wildcat Regiment Band, which uses Civil War-era instruments, performs regularly for the National Park Service at historic Civil War battlegrounds. It has recorded selections from the Port Royal Band books in the past, but some of the pieces it is playing in New Hampshire haven’t been performed since 1878, said Althea Barton, a member of the historical society’s board of directors. That’s the year that a post-war band founded by one of the Third Regiment Band’s members broke up.

“These are priceless treasures,” Barton said.

Only a handful of band books from the Civil War have survived, including three from the Port Royal Band, said Rick McFerron, manager of the Wildcat Regiment Band. He said the Port Royal books are notable for their range of musical styles, from patriotic marches including “The Star-Spangled Banner” to polkas and opera excerpts, like a quickstep arrangement based on Charles Gournod’s Faust.

“We’ve been playing a couple of these tunes for years, but being able to bring it back to its home? That’s the whole reason we’re making a nine-hour bus tour to New Hampshire,” he said.

The weekend’s schedule included a riverside concert and picnic in Penacook yesterday and a more in-depth discussion about the music at the Penacook Historical Society yesterday afternoon. Today, there will be concerts in Hopkinton and Concord. Tomorrow, there will be a brief performance at the end of Concord’s Memorial Day parade.

Barton, who learned about the music while researching Penacook’s architecture, said she hopes the lively, invigorating music will convey a sense of the joy it brought to village residents after the war.

“I hope people will feel that spirit,” she said. “There’s a reason it was popular. It helped people after the war.”

She also hopes the music will help connect residents, particularly children, with their community’s history.

“History is often conveyed in a dry way,” she said. “Music is an inspiring way of feeling history.”

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