Music followed along with them on the trail, as they sang to the tunes played by whatever instrument was available. Often the instrument was a portable fold-up pump organ perhaps played by the preacher's wife as they stayed in camp on the Sabbath to worship with song and music.
Frowned on by some, singing, games and dances were popular, especially among the younger folks. But musical instruments were sometimes scarce and some were viewed with moral suspicion, especially the fiddle, which was sometimes seen as an instrument of the devil. The dulcimer, a type of zither, became an accepted form of entertainment because it was easy to play and helped to ease the harshness of pioneer life. The pioneers also played the autoharp, ukulele, guitar, banjo, mandolin, psaltery, jew's harp, concertina and melodeon.
As immigrants came from all parts of the world they brought their own traditions and their music. Historian Rev. Timothy H. Ball wrote how pleased he was to be invited to a festive gathering by a German family near Cedar Lake. Perhaps he heard them sing "Ja Das Ist Eine Schnitzelbank" with the music of a glockenspiel or concertina.
Cornelia Clark Dwyer, daughter of Lowell Pioneer Jabez Clark, wrote about the 1845 house warming party for her parents home, the first frame house in Lowell:" 'Uncle' Warren Russell was the only fiddler, and was the crier of the 'figgers', and was the only one needed for what he lacked in other instruments to assist him, he made up with his head 'a bobbin' and his foot 'a pattin' to the time as he entered into the spirit of the frolic."
The 'hoe down' or barn dances, not always held in barns, were always welcome events by all ages as they danced to the lively tunes of the times. The dances were held in halls, homes, or in the open air. In the very early years, the caller was not always needed because the dancers were expected to know the square and round routines.
Through the decades orchestras and brass bands were popular. During the Civil War the army bands from the North and the South played as the troops marched through the villages and towns especially during enlistment campaigns. Band members of that period played trumpets and several other instruments with the bell facing backward over the shoulder, making it easier for the troops to hear. Small German brass bands were also popular, as they played lively traditional songs from their homeland, and the Salvation Army Band became a tradition. A popular musical group at Lowell during the 1872 4th of July Celebration was Professor Wm. Tuthill's String Band. In the years 1875 and 1876 the best known band in the area was Lowell's Silver Cornet Band, with Owen Sutton leading the twelve musicians and Theron Halsted, son of Lowell's founder, playing one of the four cornets.
Violins, zithers, banjos, trumpets, bugles and many other musical instruments were available in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog, all priced under 5 dollars!
In 1905 at the dedication of the large veteran's monument on Lowell's town square, the well known M. C. Wiley Brass Band played (in the rain) before and after a long oration by the Governor of Indiana.
In 1916 the Lowell Boy's Band was the star attraction at a 4th of July celebration at Hayden's Grove, near the 1837 Hayden homestead in West Creek Township.
Most Lowell townspeople looked forward to attending the popular Saturday night ice cream socials and band concerts in downtown Lowell. Stores were open late and farmers and town dwellers alike came downtown as early as possible to find a good parking place for their carriage or early auto as they enjoyed a social evening with old friends while doing the weekly shopping and trading. One of the bandstands stood on poles on the south side of Commercial Ave at Mill Street, another portable stage was near the monument at the square. The audience would applaud or blow their car horn in approval after each rendition by the volunteer band members.
A Rennsalaer brass band led the 1920 Lowell Labor Day parade as spectators followed with their buggies and autos to enjoy a day at Oakland Park. The Milford Illinois Brass Band led the parade in 1921. In 1926 two bands performed, one from Hebron, the other from Williamsport, Indiana. In 1927 the Dewey Biggs Post American Legion Band from Rennsalaer led the parade.
During the years of the silent movies at the Taylor, Grand and Lyric theatres in Lowell talented piano players stayed with the tempo of the movie, often playing faster and faster as the villain chased the heroine.
Music was taught all through the early schools. In the 1915 year book, the first one for Lowell High School, there is a story about the organizing of a boy's glee club. The next year a girl's glee club began. By 1921 music classes were offered to all four grades. An orchestra was formed in 1923, and soon after a ukulele club began. The popular "uke" club performed at the Grand Theatre in Lowell and was heard on WLS radio. By 1927 the high school orchestra was reorganized and enlarged, and about the time (1930) the Old Timer became a Freshman (and began to wear long trousers instead of knickers) , the big high school band was organized .
During the early decades of the 1900's Lowell was host to several tent shows that came every year, including the big circus with a brass band, Wild West Shows, the Chatauqua group that brought classical music and drama to Lowell until the radio became popular, and the 'Gordon Players" with their orchestra and drama on stage in the big tent.
With the coming of the radio all styles of music were broadcast wherever electricity was installed as listeners enjoyed the music of their choice.
While many large symphony orchestras were playing classical music, the "Big Band" era soon began with famous waltz and jazz bands entertaining at dancehalls all over the nation. Country-Western music also became popular. Large crowds gathered at Lassen's pavilion and Midway Gardens at Cedar Lake to listen and dance to the music of the big bands so well remembered by many.
With the electronic equipment of today, music of choice is available at the click of a button, and music is becoming more of an integral part of worship in the churches to encourage more congregational singing.
A big applause to many musical groups, from a duo, a trio or a full brass band, who are preserving the memories and the traditions of music of the past as they play old style instruments, garbed in period dress. "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without" -- Confucious , 551-479 BC.
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