Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Vintage Band Festival, Day 4: Marching through Georgia

It was horribly hot and humid on Sunday, the last day of the Vintage Band Festival, when Sebastian and I attended an afternoon concert by the 1st Brigade Band.  The weather seemed appropriate, since the 1st Brigade Band portrays an actual Wisconsin band that marched through the South with Gen. Sherman during the Civil War.

The 1st Brigade Band doesn't just play a concert, it presents a program that combines 1860s brass band music with historical stories and anecdotes, and includes women dressed in period costume.  As I sat in the shade, listening to the music and feeling the humidity, it was easy to believe I'd been transported to 1860s Georgia – except I had a bottle of water, and not a mint julep, in my hand.

Dan Woolpert, emeritus bandmaster, lets Sebastian hold a vintage brass horn.
The band members wear period uniforms and play instruments that date back to the 1860s.  The bells on the over-the-shoulder instruments point behind the players because the bands would march in front of the troops.  As one of the presenters explained during the program, 80 percent of the tunes in the original 1st Brigade Band's music books were quicksteps - songs played at 104 to 108 steps per minute, to get troops moving down the road.

Members of the 1st Brigade playing their vintage brass instruments.
The band played more than a dozen songs during the concert, including "The 7th Massachusetts Regimental Quickstep," "Glory Hallelujah March," "Rally 'Round the Flag" and an 1861 version of "The Star Spangled Banner," which we were instructed that we didn't need to stand for, since the song didn't become our national anthem until 1931.  During the presentation, the costumed women brought out several different flags that were used before and during the Civil War, like the Bonnie Blue Flag, an unofficial banner of the Confederacy.

Presenters with one of the old flags.
The program closed with the song, "Marching Through Georgia."  I was amused to learn that Sherman grew to hate the song because people would always play it whenever he showed up to events.  It was neat to hear it played on vintage horns as my great-great grandfather Jasper Riggs would have heard it.  Jasper fought with the 45th Illinois Infantry, Company I, and did indeed march through Georgia, after fighting in battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg.

Jasper didn't play in a regimental band, but his son, my great-grandfather G. Oliver Riggs, played in the 55th (51st) Iowa Regimental Band when it traveled to the South in November 1906 to dedicate the Iowa memorials at the battlefields of Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Chickamauga, and Andersonville.

We are planning to retrace the steps of Jasper and G. Oliver in October when we visit the Shiloh National Military Park and the Vicksburg National Military Park during our family vacation.  We won't make it to Georgia, but we'll be sure to put the song on the iPod in honor of Sherman.

He probably wouldn't be amused.

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