‘We evoke their memory’: Martial music at the Kiersted House

(Photo by David Gordon)

(Photo by David Gordon)

Martial music from 1776 to 1976 was the theme of a mix of music, talk and pictures in the Kiersted House barn on Saturday, June 11. From the patriotic ballads of the Revolutionary period through the antiwar music of the 1960s to today’s mix of patriotic and antiwar songs of today, the wars we have fought over the years have been associated with music.

The Saugerties-based Veterans in a New Field opened for the 77th New York Regimental Balladeers, which takes its name from a group founded shortly after the Civil War, many of whom had served together and played together during the war. The group thinned out and eventually ended in the early 1900s. John C. Quinn and a small group of musicians revived the band at the end of the 1990s, playing the music of the Civil-War-era band in the style of the times. “We evoke their memory,” he said.

The program was a fundraiser for the Kiersted House.

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Quinn described the role of music in the war effort over the years: “Through music Americans have celebrated their wartime victories and struggled to justify the total cost of war and its impact on the preservation of our independence and freedoms.”

The group has presented some 450 concerts since it was founded 20 years ago, Quinn said. Members of the Windham-based group hail from all over the state and as far as central New Jersey.

In describing some of the reviews the band has received, Quinn cited the report by a student whose class was asked to evaluate the group after a performance. “He must have been in band because he said ‘The balladeers began together and they ended together,’ and he finished up by saying, ‘For a bunch of old people, they sure could play fast.’”

Between the songs, Quinn talked about the history of the wars in which this country has been engaged it, with special emphasis on the Civil War, which inspired the original balladeers’ group.

“The Civil War claimed over 700,000 lives,” said Quinn. “The war lasted more than 1400 days, with a loss of 4000 lives each day. So if you put that in the context of the attack on September 11, where we lost 3000 Americans, you can extrapolate that to the Civil War,” Quinn said, introducing When Johnnie Comes Marching Home.

The second half of the program featured music of the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. Quinn described one picture, among several contributed by a Vietnam veteran, showing a dog that he had adopted. The dog’s whining could attract the enemy, his commanding officer told him, and so the dog was taken away. He never saw it again. “When we told that story [at a different concert], there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” he said.

While the group began with songs of the Civil War, “we’re trying to diversify,” Quinn said. “Right now, we’re in the middle of the hundredth anniversary of World War I. Of course, we just celebrated the signing of the terms of surrender ending World War II, so musically we’re trying to diversify our musical program, including a lot more history ….  We do Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II and we’ve just added some Vietnam-related stuff. This concert takes you up to 1976.”

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