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May 31, 2010

A musical reminder of the war that led to Memorial Day

The original purpose of Memorial Day can get easily lost amid all the cookouts or, in these parts, trips to the beach for the unofficial start of the summer season. The origin of the holiday can get overlooked, too, since there have been so many wars since the one that led to the practice of commemorating those who died in service to the country.

It was in 1868 that the first Decoration Day ceremonies were held, honoring the dead of the Union Army in the Civil War. Over time, of course, the observance incorporated the dead of both sides and, renamed Memorial Day, encompassed all of this country's fallen in subsequent wars.

I was thinking today of those Civil War roots of the holiday and of a song that was popular with Northern troops: "We're Tenting Tonight On the Old Campground." I'm fascinated by Walter Kittridge's words from 1864 as much as the tune. This is a remarkably powerful, personal expression of that war's toll -- any war's toll.

It seems doubly appropriate to recall it on this Memorial Day, when there are still conflicts and casualties. I've posted some of the lyrics here, followed by a recording of "Tenting Tonight" that effectively communicates the song's sadly timeless message:

We're tenting tonight on the old campground. Give us a song to cheer our weary hearts, a song of home, and friends we love so dear. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, wishing for the war to cease. Many are the hearts looking for the right to see the dawn of peace ..."


Posted by Tim Smith at 8:05 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Comments

Beautiful, poignant reminder of the real reason to commemorate this day. Even my 13-year-old son was touched by the recording of "Tenting Tonight." Thank you.

I'm so glad you liked it. That song hasn't entered the national consciousness the way some others from that era have, but I think it deserves to be better known. It really puts a human face on the war. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at baltimoresun.com/artsmash. This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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