Historic Music Programs by Rick Spencer
Rick Spencer has nearly 30 years of experience in the history industry, including his work as the Executive
Director and Curator of the Dr. Ashbel Woodward Museum in Franklin, CT. Rick is recognized internationally as
a scholar, researcher and presenter of music programs based on historic themes. These programs are
well-researched concert/lectures with a strong focus on entertainment. They have been enthusiastically received at
historical societies, museums, libraries and other academic settings from New England to California. Songs are
presented a capella or accompanied on guitar and 5-string banjo. These programs are designed to run for one hour,
but can be adapted for longer or shorter presentations. Time is always allotted for questions and discussions.
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A 19th Century Christmastide: The December holidays, either sacred or secular, are the most engaging times of the "rolling year" (as Mr. Dickens once called
it). The history of Christmastime celebration in the English-speaking world is a long one, with strong connections to a body of music that has been
handed down through generations. For many the romance of Christmas is linked to a distant land, rituals of the past and some very evocative songs.
Thomas Nast, Clement C. Moore and others formed cultural impressions of the "perfect Christmas." Perhaps most influential was Charles Dickens and
the images of his most precious story (both the still images he created and the moving ones which came later). A 19th Century Christmastide is a selection of
songs which were popular at the end of the 1800s. They were adapted from religious and secular traditions from England and Europe. The songs are almost universally recognizable.
For those who have embraced history as a passion the romantic notions of the ideal Christmas are entwined with songs which were part of the holidays in Victorian England and
America. I present these songs as ambient, period music for holiday gatherings or as a historic music program with commentary on the background and origins of the songs and the
evolution of America's 19th Century Christmas traditions. I accompany the songs on guitar, banjo, mandolin, concertina or Appalachian dulcimer. Audience members are welcome to
sing along. A list of songs is available on request.
Songs from the War of 1812 is a program which gives background information and insight into the causes and the incidents of this conflict, which pitted a
rather young United States of America against our "mother country" and most bitter enemy, Great Britain. In response to British actions and policy the
halls of Congress echoed with the cries of "Free Trade and No Impressment." There was also great concern about the British arming our Native-American
enemies on the frontier. In June of 1812 Congress declared War in an effort to enforce our sovereignty. The conflict lasted until the until January of 1815.
Some remarkable music was popular during the War of 1812. This program presents songs from both the British and American sides. Recruiting songs,
ballads, songs of the hardship of those whom the soldiers left behind, patriotic songs and songs which described major battles are all presented in this very
entertaining and informative program. View a video of the song "How Happy the Soldier" here.
Freemen for Fremont: Music of the Presidential Campaign of 1856. Before the days of radio or television it was common for campaign promoters to distribute songbooks to those
gathered at political rallies. In between the speeches and other activities the crowd would be prompted to open the book and sing the songs about the virtues of our candidates and
platforms and the failings of the opposition. In 1856 the “Freeman’s Glee Book” was published to promote the Presidential aspirations of John C. Fremont, the first man to receive the
nomination from the young Republican Party. “Freemen for Fremont” presents ten songs from the book along with background information on the issues and personalities of the
campaign. Fremont, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, “Bully” Brooks, the Kansas-Nebraska Act are all discussed along with the “tabloid” issues of the day. The songs are
insightful, humorous, patriotic and inflammatory. This program promotes an understanding of the United States on the brink of Civil War. View a video of the song "Hurrah For
The Greatest Hits of the Civil War: America’s First Professional Songwriters is a program of compositions by four of the nation’s earliest popular songwriters. Songs by Dan
Emmett, Stephen Foster, George F. Root and Henry Clay Work were known and loved by Americans on both sides of the War. These songs give remarkable insight into the character
of the American people at the time of our country’s greatest and most divisive conflict. This program includes a discussion of the phenomenon of the American minstrel show and its
cultural impact, both positive and negative, on our culture. View a video of the song "The Glendy Burke" here.
A Songwriter from Connecticut: The Civil War Era Music of Henry Clay Work presents some of the most interesting and engaging songs of one of the most popular songwriters
of the Civil War era. Henry Clay Work, along with Stephen Foster, Daniel Emmett and a handful of others, wrote melodies that continue to be familiar today. They were the great
"pop" hits of the '50s, '60s and '70s (1850s '60s and '70s that is!). Work was born, received much of his education and died in Connecticut. Songs he wrote, including "Marching
Through Georgia," "Grandfather's Clock," "The Ship That Never Returned" formed the soundtrack of the period. Ten of H.C. Work’s songs are presented, along with biographical
information on his life and a discussion of the challenges of presenting music of the 1860s in a culture that understandably requires “political correctness.” View a video of the song
"The Days When We Were Young" here.
The Maritime Civil War in Song. America has always been a seafaring nation, and from our earliest days we’ve documented our maritime activities in song. This
program presents some of the best and most interesting of the period songs which tell the stories of the seafaring side of the Civil War. View a video of the song "The Glendy Burke"
The Boys of the Battlefield: The Civil War As Told By Its Popular Songwriters. The images that the general public had of life at war during our greatest conflict came from a
number of sources. Those sources included the lyrics of songs that were popular during the period. American songwriters composed many songs about the war, giving their own
impressions (some accurate, others romantic or melodramatic) of the soldiers’ lives. This program presents images of the War as told in the words and music of the songwriters of the
day. View a video of the song "The Girls at Home" here.
Historical Songs of Outlaws, Villains and Rogues is a program (again with extensive and well researched background information) which addresses the human obsession with and
documentation of misdeeds using songs as the informational medium. Ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s (some going back hundreds of years), penny
broadsides and popular songs from the 1700s to the mid 20th century are presented to tell the stories of Captain Kidd, Jesse James, Stagger Lee, Pretty Boy Floyd and a number of
others. This program includes a discussion of why we as a culture are so fascinated by misdeeds, violence and mayhem. View a video of the song "Duncan and Brady" here.
The Days When We Were Young is a companion piece to Rick Spencer’s most recent CD recording, which includes selections from four of his most popular historic music
programs. This presentation is more geared toward entertainment and less toward academics. Historic details are presented to a lesser degree. The program can include material from
any of Rick’s presentations in a mix and match musical adventure through American history. View a video of the song "The Days When We Were Young" here.
Sweet Sorrow: Historic Songs of Love, Pursuit, Connecting and Parting is an entertaining, amusing and light-hearted musical journey through the adventures and misadventures of
lovers. View a video of the song "Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy" here.
In Their Own Words: Songs of the Seafaring Traditions is a program of music from the English-speaking maritime world during the period from the 1790s to the 1930s.
Mariners developed sea chanteys to coordinate shipboard work and composed songs to sing at leisure. In doing so they described their lives and expressed their thoughts and
opinions. This program gives insight into the lives of deep-water sailors, fishermen, whalers and others who made their living at sea. It can be adapted as a children’s program and
includes instrumental accompaniment on the concertina (a squeezebox that was often taken to sea) as well as the guitar and banjo. View a video of the song "Adieu Sweet Lovely
On the Job: Historic Songs of American Work and Trades. Occupational songs have been around for as long as people have been proud of the work that they’ve done. Our
ancestors described their working lives in songs about their trades. This program includes songs about farmers, sailors, lumberjacks, cowboys, housewives, railroaders, soldiers, and
others. This presentation includes a discussion of the labor movement in America and the modern use of songs which describe work. View a video of the song "The Connecticut
Creating a National Identity: Music of the Irish-Americans is a collaborative program with the Irish duo “Ask Your Father.” A musical journey through the history of the songs of
SeaLore is a program developed by Susan McGuire and Rick Spencer and is specifically geared toward students and youngsters. Stories, legends and songs of the sea are combined in
a fast-paced, informative, entertaining audience participation program.
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