The History


Table of Contents


Pioneer Days

 The University School of Music
  Early Statehood  The Indianist Movement
  Trans-Mississippi &International Exposition  Chautauqua
  Some Early Individuals of Note  The Temperance Movement
  The Pageants of Lincoln  World War I
  Ivy Day  Popular Music


The Pioneer Days

     Wherever humans have inhabited the earth, there has been music.  It seems to be an intrinsic need of the species.  Archeological evidence points to prehistoric human habitation in the area which was to become Nebraska.  It is a pretty safe bet that those people had music, although obviously we have no record of it.  Indeed, it was not until many centuries later that any attempt was made to preserve the songs and chants of the indigenous Nebraska tribes.

     The earliest historical records of music in this area are found in the writings of  European explorers. The Spanish, French, and English all brought their own music with them as they trekked across the plains.  Contemporary accounts from these travelers describe occasional performances of the music needed for religious events like masses and funerals.  On a less formal basis, the singing of familiar folk songs and campfire ditties may have helped keep the intrepid explorers connected to their roots and fight homesickness in the middle of what they perceived as a great wilderness.

     In the early 1840s several waves of migrations began along the Oregon Trail, also called the Platte River Route.  Possibly as many as a half million people traveled there between 1841 and 1866. They averaged 15 to 20 miles a day under arduous and dangerous conditions.  The contemporary guidebooks warned against overloading the wagons, but the advice was often ignored.  The weary travelers soon discovered their error and were forced to abandon items along the way.  Indeed, the trail was littered with furniture, clothing, books, and the occasional piano.  The Native Americans were sometimes seen parading around in the clothing; one can only wonder what they thought of the furniture and pianos. The diaries kept by women on their overland trek often spoke of music as a balm and a way to make the time on the trail more bearable.

     At first the Nebraska prairies were considered uninhabitable, but gradually people chose to stay at the invitation of the Homestead Act.  The lives of these early settlers were often bleak, but again, music helped to lighten their load.  The singing of church hymns gave them hope, and the occasional barn dance offered a much-needed social event for the isolated settlers. Music provided an alternative sound to the ever-present howling of the prairie winds.

     Gradually towns began to spring up, and the records indicate that one of the most important elements of early town history was the arrival of a piano or organ in a home or church.  The first piano in the state (other than those dumped along the Oregon Trail) was brought here in 1855 by Helena Ferguson, the wife of the first chief justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court.  Early in the Territory's history, singing schools were established, and private music teachers offered instruction.  In certain circles of society, the education of young ladies was not considered complete without painting and music lessons, and young men were expected to take their part in family after-dinner musical entertainments.  Amateur brass bands, singing societies, and various other kinds of music groups played a part in this early period of Nebraska history.


Early Statehood

     Nebraska struggled to statehood through the questions of slavery, prohibition, and the location of the state capital.  Lincoln won that last contest, though it was a bitter fight against Omaha.  Real musical activities in Lincoln began mainly in the late 1860s.  In 1869 F. W. Hohmann established the first exclusive music store in the state at 1140 O Street.  Other early music stores in Lincoln included N. P. Curtice & Co. and J. B. Ferguson's Music House.  By 1873 the city had an orchestra and a resident string quartet as well as the famous Great Cathedral Choir.  Recognizing the value of music, the public schools in Lincoln were the third in the United States to offer a course in music in connection with literary studies which would lead to graduation.  By 1875, the Academy of Music, a fine brick building, stood at 11th and O Streets, and Hallo's Opera House was located at 12th and O.  The latter burned down, as was often the case with early theatre buildings due to the candle flame footlights.  It was re-built and re-opened in 1876 as the Centennial.  In 1885 it became Funke's Opera House and over the years burned down three more times.  In 1891 it was called the Lansing Theatre, and eventually evolved through the Oliver, the Liberty, and the Varsity theatres.

     By 1890, thirty-seven Nebraska towns boasted their own opera houses.  Even the small town of Kearney built a $150,000 theatre in 1890.  It was the only place between Denver and Omaha that was large enough for major road company performances.  It drew such names as George M. Cohan, John Philip Sousa and his band, Blind Boone, and Madam Schumann-Heink, among others. In later years so august a writer as Willa Cather was moved to write about the importance of the opera houses in small Nebraska towns.

     Music also remained a part of the life of the rural citizens.  In 1886 Solomon Butcher took his famous series of photographs of sod houses.  One story goes that a woman in Custer County would not let him shoot pictures of her sod house because she was ashamed of how poor it was.  Instead, she gathered her family around her most prized possession, an ornate reed organ, and had their picture taken right out in the middle of a field.  (Nebraska State Historical Society Butcher Collection B983:3535)

     Amateur bands and choruses remained popular because they could perform at a variety of events.  One early example of this was the Lincoln Veterans Quartette which appeared at the G. A. R. Encampment in Lincoln in 1894.  Also in the 1890s, Nebraska was in the throes of the Farmers' Alliance Movement, which later developed into the Populist Party.  Vast open-air political meetings were held to make people aware of the new social and industrial movements going on in the country.  Orators whipped the crowds into frenzied cheering and, of course, there were musical numbers as part of the proceedings.  The most noted group of singers on these occasions was the Cat Creek Glee Club of Custer County.  Louise Pound, professor of English at the University of Nebraska, wrote, "...the club possessed fresh strong voices, ready wit, and soon became general favorites at all the early Farmers' Alliance and Populist gatherings.  They sang during the campaigns of 1890 to 1896 and appeared at the National Populist Convention held at Omaha in 1892."



The Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition

     Though Omaha had lost its bid for becoming the state capital, it continued to grow and flourish.  It rapidly attained the stature of a leading metropolitan center, with such attractions as the Boyd"s Opera House which opened in 1881.  The ladies of Omaha society formed the Tuesday Musical Club and spent large sums of money to sponsor performances by the leading entertainment figures of the day.  A fair number of European musicians were attracted to Omaha and made their home there.  Among them was Dr. Charles Baetens who directed string ensembles such as the Stryk-en-Blasslust German orchestra, gave music lessons, performed extensively throughout Nebraska and toured with the famous Theodore Thomas Orchestra.

     Alfred Sorenson, an early Omaha historian, wrote about the city's music in the 1880s and 1890s.  "Omaha was a singing town in those days.  Women wearing lots of clothes sang with all their hearts, and men sent forth rousing cadences through honest beards and mustaches."  This obvious attempt to put a good face on things was probably necessary in view of the contemporary conditions in Omaha.  It was a lawless, licentious city with an enormous number of saloons and houses of ill repute as well as innumerable gambling dens.  Mob bosses ruled the day, and the police force was paid to look the other way.  In spite of this unsavory reputation, and because it was considered a Gate City to the West, it was chosen as the site for the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898.

     The Exposition was envisioned as a means of advertising the growth of the West and improving the economic situation in the area after the financial panic of 1893.  It was built on a 184-acre area immediately north of Omaha and included exhibits from many states as well as a number of foreign countries.  During its four months, over 2,600,000 people attended, including President William McKinley.  It was hugely successful, and served to enhance Omaha's reputation in a positive way.  Of course this kind of extravaganza called for lots of music.  Accordingly, famous orchestras, bands, and vocalists performed nightly; most of the music presented was by American composers.  The organizers of the Exposition claimed, "It rests with Omaha to disprove the fallacy existing abroad that America has no music."

     Initially the managers of the Exposition hired Professor Willard Kimball of the University of Nebraska to be the musical director for the event.  From the beginning this appointment met with opposition among the ranks of Omaha musicians.  Their argument was that Kimball, an "outsider", would use his position to further the interests of the University and Lincoln rather than those of Omaha.  Kimball's quite public response was that the Exposition was designed to demonstrate the artistic and cultural achievements of all areas west of the Mississippi and not just those of Omaha. He made heroic efforts to secure contracts with some of the best performing groups of the day including the Theodore Thomas Orchestra and the United States Marine Band.  He also invited amateur singers from Omaha, Council Bluffs, South Omaha and other surrounding areas to audition for the Exposition Chorus which was to be conducted by Thomas J. Kelly.  Kimball met with continuing resistance from certain Omaha individuals, and finally resigned his position one month into the event.  It was reported in newspapers that "he was made director only in name apparently, for his plans were continuously interfered with in every way."  Many people felt the quality of the music at the Exposition deteriorated considerably after he left.


Some Early Individuals of Note

     Nebraska produced some outstanding politicians, teachers, and businessmen during its fledgling years as a state.  Among these were Nathan K. Griggs, James Asher Parks, and Hartley Burr Alexander.  It was often true (and, alas, remains so) that people with musical or poetic talent found it necessary to make a living in areas unrelated to their artistic abilities.  This was the case with Griggs and Alexander, although Parks, a singer and composer, also ran a music publishing company in York, Nebraska.

     Nathan Griggs was a highly respected politician and statesman in the early history of Nebraska.  He was a pioneer lawyer in Beatrice and Gage County beginning in 1867 and served as president of the Nebraska State Senate in 1875.  He was being considered for more powerful national political offices, but was viewed as incorruptible and therefore unsuited for such.  In order to eliminate his presence in the political arena, he was sent to Chemnitz, Saxony (Germany) as a consul.  He took this in his stride and made good use of his time while he was in Europe.  He amassed an enormous personal library and discovered that he had real talent as a poet and composer.  Upon returning to the United States, he chose to continue his work as a lawyer, this time for the Burlington Railroad.  He was often out of town on railroad business, and it was on these road trips that he found the time to compose most of the music found in this collection.

     James Asher Parks was born in Pennsylvania but came to Nebraska as a young man.  He was first a student and then on the faculty of the Nebraska Conservatory of Music at 13th and L Streets in Lincoln.  He was head of the Voice Department there from 1887 to 1889.  He also maintained a private music studio in York, Nebraska, and was the owner and operator of the J. A. Parks Publishing Company in that town.  He was a prolific composer and arranger who published many sheet music titles, more than 90 books, and some 1,700 octavo choral pieces.  His works were internationally known and translated into several foreign languages.  Many of his songs were very popular during World War I.  On his 75th birthday in May, 1938 he was honored by a nationally -broadcast radio program presented by the York Male Chorus.

     Hartley Burr Alexander grew up in Syracuse, Nebraska.  He came from a poor family, and worked very hard to put himself through the University of Nebraska.  Among other things he waited tables in a Lincoln restaurant.  It was there he met Nelly Griggs, an artist and musician and Nathan Griggs' daughter.  They were married in 1908.  As a student he was considered a "free thinker" and was heavily embroiled in campus politics. He belonged to a "slightly radical group" which was opposed to compulsory military drill, Greek letter fraternities, and the wearing of caps and gowns at commencement.  He was an outstanding student, and eventually became chairman of the Philosophy Department at the University.  Among other accomplishments, he wrote the inscriptions for the Nebraska State Capital Building and helped with its design.  He was a scholar, lexicographer, essayist, poet, teacher, philosopher, and humanitarian.  He was also considered an expert on Native American mythology and culture.  After the Wounded Knee episode in 1890, he wrote poems (two of his earliest) that sympathized with the Indians.  He wrote many dramatizations of Indian legends, nine of which were collected as Manito Masks.  When named to the Nebraska Hall of Fame, he was called "Nebraska's Renaissance Man."


The Pageants of Lincoln

     In the early part of the 20th century, America was caught up in the grip of the pageant movement.  These presentations were largely amateur affairs designed to commemorate local historical events, dramatize legends, and educate the citizens of the respective areas.  Lincoln, Nebraska participated wholeheartedly in such productions.  Hartley Burr Alexander wrote the stories and scripts for three such pageants and Howard Kirkpatrick, a faculty member of the University of Nebraska School of Music, wrote the scores.  The pageants were co-sponsored by the Lincoln Commercial Club and the Alumni Association of the University.  The first, in 1915, dealt with the founding of Lincoln.  It was performed outdoors at the Athletic Field on the University campus and featured actors, musicians, dancers, singers...a veritable cast of hundreds.  The program was a resounding success, and the Commercial Club decided that it should become an annual event.  The talents of Alexander and Kirkpatrick were again enlisted.  In 1916 the theme was "The Gate City, A Masque of Omaha" and in 1917 it was "Nebraska, A Semi-Centennial Masque."  These affairs were much praised by the local newspapers:


"The dominant spirit of a recent Pageant at Lincoln was not a lusty and laughable hilarity.  It was charm.  It was something deliciously memorable."

                                                                                          --World Herald


"The combination of inspiring music, outdoor setting, historic atmosphere, rich coloring, and rhythmic movement stirred the pulses of many jaded habitués of entertainments, some of whom had said that they never expected to experience real thrills again."

                                                                                          --Nebraska State Journal

     Next, Alexander focused his writing on patriotic pageants for the war effort.  His most significant work of that time was the 1922 AkSarBen pageant, "Coronado in Quivera".  It took two evenings to perform and included numbers by members of the local Native American and Black communities.  Gradually other forms of entertainment usurped the place of the pageants, but Alexander continued to write libretti for operas after he left the University of Nebraska and became part of the faculty at Claremont and Scripps colleges in California.


Ivy Day

     The pageants were not the only celebrations which took place on the campus.  Most educational institutions develop traditional events, and the University of Nebraska was no exception.  The earliest of these was Ivy Day, first held in 1901, which had grown out of the annual senior class day begun in 1889.  It took place on the first weekend of May, and was considered important enough to allow the dismissal of classes on Friday so students could attend the various activities.  These included the crowning of the May Queen, an inter-fraternity sing, a senior orator, a May Pole dance, and the tapping of the members of the scholastic honoraries for the coming year, namely the Innocents Society for the men and the Black Masque Chapter of Mortar Board for the women.

     The planting of ivy was a main feature of Ivy Day (hence the name), and Hartley and Nelly Alexander together wrote "The Ivy Song", meant to be sung during the event.  An element of this part of the celebration was the carrying of an ivy chain by the senior women and a daisy chain by the junior women.  Another tradition which sometimes involved music was the presentation of the May Queen and her court.  In 1912, the queen first made her appearance in a poppy-covered rickshaw which had been donated to the school by none other than William Jennings Bryan.  Two World Wars and other social issues of the mid-20th century served to change the carefree nature of the old Ivy Day celebrations, and it no longer plays as important a role in the annual University calendar.


The University School of Music

     The University of Nebraska was a land grant college chartered in 1869 under the Morrill Act.  From its inception, the Board of Regents felt the need to offer instruction in music.  Several faculty members were engaged to do so, but there was no music department as such.  Finally, in 1892, Chancellor Canfield initiated plans for a more extensive music program.  As the University was experiencing severe financial limitations, Canfield's proposal to the Regents involved the creation of a Conservatory of Music which was to be affiliated with the University but was to remain a separate entity and to generate its own funding.  It would become a private institution with no endowment or financial assistance from the University whose students, however, would be granted University credit. The school would also be expected to provide music for University functions (gratis, of course!).

     With the approval of the Regents, Chancellor Canfield invited Willard Kimball, then Director of the Conservatory at Grinnell College in Iowa, to come to Lincoln and establish the proposed conservatory.  Kimball, who had some money of his own and was interested in investments, proceeded to purchase land at the corner of 11th and R Streets.  Not only was he a fine musician but also a consummate businessman.  He convinced a local bank to loan him the rest of the money needed for the project, and in 1894 the new conservatory building was opened.  The University School of Music was resoundingly successful and the faculty and number of registered students grew rapidly.  Finally , in 1930, the Board of Regents purchased the school, and it became an integral part of the University of Nebraska.

     This institution is of particular interest here because many of its students and faculty members are represented as composers and lyricists in this collection of Nebraska music.  It is perhaps best to simply name these individuals and direct the reader to the links which provide more information about each.  They include: Wilbur Chenoweth, Henry Purmort Eames, J. Frank Frysinger, Hazel Gertrude Kinscella, Howard Kirkpatrick, Thurlow Lieurance, Charles F. H. Mills, Robert W. Stevens, Guy Bevier Williams, and Mortimer Wilson.  The music faculty were not the only composers at the University.  Several "cross-campus" professors also wrote music and lyrics.  We have already discussed Hartley Burr Alexander's contributions, but mention must also be made of Flora Bullock of the English department and William F. Dann, chairman of Art History and Criticism. 


The Indianist Movement

     Throughout history nationalistic composers have drawn upon traditional and folk music for inspiration.  The Indianist Movement, however, differed in that the source material was drawn from a culture other than that of the composers and was therefore nationalist by virtue of geography rather than ethnicity.  It began around 1890 and lasted into the mid 1920s although remnants of it can be seen as late as the 1930s.  It was triggered largely by the field recording work of early ethnologists such as Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche and the articles published in Arthur Farwell's Wa-Wan Press.  The composers, Edward MacDowell and Antonin Dvorak, challenged American writers to stop imitating European models and, instead, turn to native sources in order to establish a national identity in their compositions.  It is particularly sad that the interest in Native American culture only manifested strongly after the Europeans had largely decimated the tribes and their traditions.  It is also true that the use of the thematic material and legends was more an appropriation than an indigenous setting.

     A number of composers of the period participated in this movement, but only a few made consistent use of Native American music as a basis for their own works.  Among those were two of the individuals represented in this collection, namely Charles Wakefield Cadman and Thurlow Lieurance.  Both men became interested enough in the tribal songs to actually go to the reservations and record material themselves, and this personal contact with the Native Americans marks their compositions with a more respectful attitude and a bit more authenticity than is present in the works of some other Indianist composers.

     Charles Wakefield Cadman was influenced early on in his career by his neighbor Nelle Richmond Eberhart.  She had been a school teacher in rural Nebraska and had come in close contact with Native American culture.  Her interest was infectious enough to send him out to make his own recordings of songs and chants in the summer of 1909.  These were collected from the Omaha and Winnebago tribes.  From 1909 to 1919 he toured the country with the Indian princess and mezzo-soprano Tsianina Redfeather. This was part of his attempt to educate the American public about Native American culture.  He was always careful to differentiate between the use of the source material in its "native state" where the melodies were presented as single-line tunes sung with Indian "vocables" and what he called "idealized" presentations in which the music included "white man's harmonies".

     Cadman, with Eberhart as his lyricist, wrote about 200 songs and several operas. Indeed, of all the Indianist composers, Cadman enjoyed the most mainstream success; "From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water" became a popular hit song.  Their opera "The Robin Woman", which was based loosely on the life story of Princess Redfeather, was the first American opera to be produced in consecutive seasons (1917-1918 and 1918-1919) at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.  They also wrote "The Willow Tree" which was the first opera written for radio and was produced by NBC in 1932.

     Thurlow Weed Lieurance is the other Indianist composer represented in this collection.  The reported details of his life are sometimes conflicting, and there is not time here to sort out the confusion.  There are certain facts on which all the accounts seem to agree.  His musical education began when he was a child and continued at the Cincinnati College of Music.  For a while he taught music in a small Kansas town and then began his early work with the Chautauqua circuits where he met Edna Wooley, a Nebraskan, who later became his wife.  He came to the faculty of the University School of Music in Lincoln in 1918 and taught there for a number of years.  Later he became Dean of the Department of Music at the Municipal University of Wichita, Kansas.

     His interest in tribal music began in 1902 with a visit to his brother who was an Indian Agent on the Crow Reservation in Montana.  From that time he began a life-long fascination with the music and customs of the Native Americans.  He visited over 30 reservations and amassed a collection of several thousand recordings and transcriptions as well as a large number of Indian flutes.  He also invited Native Americans to his studio in Lincoln for some of the recording sessions. It was often difficult to coerce the Indians into performing for his recording machine, but his understanding and patience with tribal ways won them over.  He had an enormous respect for the people and had learned a great deal from the Native American wives of two of his brothers.  Much of his vast collection now resides in the Smithsonian Institution, the New Mexico Museum, and the Archive of Folk Culture at the Library of Congress.

     Lieurance drew upon Native American melodies for many of his own compositions which he then clothed in what he called the "harmonizing which our ears demand'.  His most famous piece is "By the Waters of Minnetonka".  It was first published in 1913, and became the number one sheet music hit of its day, with many subsequent published arrangements.  It was performed and recorded by some of the leading musicians of the era and enjoyed world-wide popularity.

     According to one account, "By the Waters..." was inspired by an ancient Sioux love song sung for Lieurance in 1911 by one Sitting Eagle.  The legend associated with the song has also been preserved and reads like a Native American version of Romeo and Juliet.  It is the story of two ill-starred lovers from different clans who fell in love in spite of the ancient laws of their tribes which forbade this.  They met in secret, knowing that their act carried the penalty of death were they to be discovered. They were, of course, found out, and realizing that death was inevitable they chose to commit suicide together by drowning themselves in a lake.  The legend has it that the rippling water of the lake forever after moaned a rhythmic sound and the wind in the pines sang their love song.  In his piece based on this story, Lieurance created the atmosphere of the water with an insistent right-hand arpeggiated figure.

     In the early 1920s Charles O. Roos, a feature story writer for a Los Angeles newspaper, happened to read about Lieurance and his work with Native American music.  In his younger days Roos had been a woodsman and raftsman on the St. Croix River and had written poems based on his experiences with the local tribes there.  He realized that Lieurance was the right person to set the poems to music.  The two of them met and decided to travel together in the Chippewa forest country of northern Minnesota in order to gather additional material and inspire themselves further.  Using thematic material from Chippewa homeland, rain dance, ceremonial, and mourning songs, Lieurance composed music for Roos' poems, and the result was the "Eight Songs From Green Timber" song cycle which appears in this collection.




     Lieurance and his wife Edna toured together for many years in the Redpath Circuit Chautauqua.  Wearing native costumes, she sang his Indianist songs and he accompanied her on the piano.  The Chautauqua movement served as a major vehicle for such musical performances in this country as well as a platform for orators and lecturers whose topics ranged through many political and religious issues of the day.

     The Chautauqua movement began in 1874 in northwest New York state as a summer Sunday school teachers training institute held annually by the Methodist Episcopal church.  It was very successful, and soon after its inception it was expanded to include not only religious studies but also literacy, historical, sociological, and scientific studies.  The concept was so popular that other communities began to present their own Chautauqua events.  In 1904 it occurred to certain entrepreneurial minds that the programs could be organized and sent out on the road as traveling  tent show presentations.  This marked the birth  of the circuit Chautauqua, and, at the height of its popularity, it made appearances in 10,000 communities across North America each season.  By the mid-1920s 45 million Americans were attending the programs each year.

     A contemporary Chautauqua program billed itself as "the opportunity formerly denied to all save the favored few, of seeing and hearing the great speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers and specialists of the day."  The movement was aimed largely at the uneducated rural and village population, and, as a result, came in for a certain amount of criticism.  Sinclair Lewis called it "nothing but wind and chaff and ...the laughter of yokels."  Gregory Mason criticized it as "infinitely easier than trying to think," and William James described it as "depressing from its mediocrity."  On the other side were such individuals as Theodore Roosevelt who called it "the most American thing in America," Woodrow Wilson who felt it was an "integral part of the national defense" during World War I, and William Jennings Bryan, one of the most popular Chautauqua speakers, who characterized the movement as "a potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation."

     For many audience members, Chautauqua was the only exposure they had to the arts.  It provided a chance to leave behind their work for a week and be entertained by lectures, classic plays, and in the later years, movies.  There was also always a variety of musical numbers ranging from bell ringers to Broadway hits and Metropolitan Opera stars.  It was here that Thurlow and Edna Lieurance could spread their message of the importance of Native American music and culture.  The Chautauqua experience helped to plant important social, political, and cultural issues in the minds of the citizens.  No fewer than nine U. S. presidents spoke at these gatherings over the years.  Nebraska's own perennial presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, was a central figure in the movement and appeared as a lecturer for 30 years.  His most famous speeches were the "Prince of Peace" lecture and the "Cross of Gold" political oration.  Billing himself as the "Great Commoner," he presented his populist, evangelical, and temperance messages across the land until his death in 1925.  "Bryan's Democratic Success March", and "Line Up For Bryan", written for Bryan's 1908 presidential campaign, appear in this collection.

     The Great Depression of the 1930s, the coming of radio, and the advent of movie houses in rural towns spelled the end for the Chautauqua circuits; the programs had also been weakened by an ever-increasing commercialization.  By the mid-1930s the movement had pretty much ceased to exist, although some attempts have been made in recent years to revitalize it.


The Temperance Movement

     One of the most hotly debated issues in American history was the concept of Temperance.  Its champions were forcefully in favor of eliminating all alcoholic beverages, and worked tirelessly though ultimately unsuccessfully toward that end.  The rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement can also be attributed to this attitude; women viewed the right to vote as giving them the clout at the polls to empower Temperance and Prohibition legislation.  In Nebraska, the alcohol problem had been a part of local politics since the territorial days; politicians like Nathan K. Griggs and William Jennings Bryan were in the thick of the fray and were ardent supporters of the "dry" track.  From early on, Nebraska had prohibition laws forbidding the "disposing of spiritous liquor" to Native Americans and the "sale and manufacture of intoxicating liquor" to anyone, but these were never enforced.  In spite of this, the reformers kept at it.

     Music was a powerful tool in the movement.  "Nebraska's Favorite Temperance Rally Songs" and "Vote Nebraska Dry", found in this collection, are evidence of the way music was brought to bear on the situation in Nebraska.  On the other hand, because of its attractions, music was also questioned as a negative force in fighting the "demon rum."  A 1904 newspaper item from the Lincoln Star asked. "Does Saloon Music Lure Men to Drink?"  Its opening salvo read, "Half the wretched 100,000 alcoholic victims of every year die from music."  Lincolnite Frank Burk went on to explain his theory that the sentimental music heard in saloons contributed to the problem by leading men to surrender themselves to a "swooning melancholy" and to "allow the glow of alcohol to steal over their brains."  He advocated the destruction of all musical instruments in public houses.  Fortunately this rather radical goal was never achieved.

     The drive toward Prohibition proceeded apace, and by 1918 both the Republican and Democratic parties included it in their political platforms.  The 18th Amendment and its subsequent repeal is now history, and the problems arising from the abuse of alcoholic beverages still plague our society.


     World War I

     Music has always played a part in war efforts.  Patriotic music stirs the souls of the citizens and helps to sell the idea of war.  Military bands set the beat for the marching soldiers.  Loud blasts on bugles wake them early in the morning and lead them into battle charges.  Mournful dirges soothe the families who grieve for the loss of their war victims.  Music can even lighten the mood of war with a humorous song like "I Wanta Ask Y'u About Nebraska".

     When the United States finally entered World War I in 1917, Nebraska did its part to provide soldiers, munitions, food, and moral support.  It also provided an able leader in the person of General John J. Pershing.  This career army officer was the commander-in-chief of the American forces in Europe.  He had graduated from West Point with high honors in 1886.  He served briefly at several frontier military outposts, and then was offered an appointment at the University of Nebraska as a professor of military science and the commandant of the University Battalion Cadets.  His initial intention in coming to the University was to get a law degree, but he proved to be much better as a leader of the young cadets, organizing them into a well-drilled, highly disciplined group.  They became know as the "Pershing Rifles" and served as a model for other college campus units across the country.

     Pershing's high visibility as a general made him an obvious object for musical praise.  "General Pershing's Grand March" and "Just Like Washington Crossed the Delaware..." are examples of pieces written to laud the hometown hero.  Pershing only lived in Lincoln for four years, but he maintained his ties with the city for the rest of his life.  His parents, sisters, and son all lived there, and he continued to visit them periodically.  In 1920 he ran for president and campaigned in Lincoln, although his loss in the Nebraska primary put an end to his candidacy.

     A number of other pieces in this collection reflect the concerns of our citizens for loved ones "over there."  These include "My Soldier" by Albert Haberstro, Prof. William Dann's "Song of Freedom", and "Your Lad and My Lad" and "Little Gold Star", both by J. S. Parks.  Parks, you recall, was an early Nebraska composer and music publisher.  The "Little Gold Star" song referred to the service flag which became a tradition during the war. This symbol hung in the windows of homes that had relatives serving in the armed forces.  A blue star in the center represented a living soldier, and a gold star indicated that the individual had given up his or her life for the country.

     World War I finally came to an end with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.  On that evening, Arthur Babich, the director of the Nebraska State Band, wrote a concert march entitled "World's Peace."  The parts for that piece are available in this collection.  It was performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Lincoln in March of 1919, and represents another way that music surrounds, supports, and celebrates war and peace.




Popular Music

     At the close of the "war to end all wars" Nebraska joined the rest of the nation in its desire to get on with life and leave behind the troubles of the Old World.  Theatre and Chautauqua orchestras provided a musical background for the lighter mood of the times, and our Nebraska composers were busy writing love ballads, humorous songs, and dance tunes.

     Actually the history of pop music in this area goes back a bit before that time.  The University of Nebraska had supported the efforts of the Kosmet Klub since 1911.  That group was made up of members of various Greek fraternities on campus, and presented an annual musical theatre revue, organized the crowning of the Nebraska Sweetheart and Prince Kosmet, and sponsored a spring musical comedy event.  This collection includes complete piano vocal  scores for "The Diplomat", and "The Match Makers". The individual songs,  "It's Your Wonderful Smile" and "Kaloa" were written for the production of "The Most Prime Minister".

     Other Nebraska composers tried their hand at popular music.  Dick Bruun was an advertising agent and salesperson for the John Deere Company in Omaha, but also spent a fair amount of time writing pop tunes.  He is well-represented in this collection, and much of his music was published by the Midwest Advertising Company in Lincoln.  Another tunesmith was Jess Williams. He was a long-time resident of Lincoln, and, like most other composers, found it necessary to make a living at something other than music.  For many years he owned and operated an automobile spring shop at 22nd and O Streets.  He was also a nationally famous rag-time pianist, and there are stories about how people used to gather outside his shop to listen to him play.  As a young man he had met Scott Joplin, and that meeting influenced all the rest of his life.  Williams claimed he could play a week's worth of ragtime music from memory.  He played in local bands during his student days, accompanied the silent movies at the Lyric, Majestic, and Sun theatres in Lincoln, was the calliope player for all the Masonic Parades in Nebraska, was invited to perform at the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri at which he won prizes, and, at the age of 84, appeared in Washington, D. C. at the Smithsonian Institute's Bicentennial Folklife Festival.  Williams wrote more than 20 songs between 1920 and 1930 and published them in Lincoln.  In December of 1977 he entered the hospital in Lincoln.  The evening before his surgery he played piano for his fellow patients  in the hospital lounge.  The next day he died.  Music truly was his whole life.

     It would be interesting to follow the course of music in Nebraska in the years following the time period of this collection, but that history is out of the scope of this project.  Please feel free to download, print, and play the examples in our catalog;  they are all in public domain.  Why not let them serve as a time travel machine for you, taking you back to the early days of music in Nebraska?  You will be pleasantly surprised!

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