Greenwich Historical Society is presenting a special program featuring an afternoon of song and readings from the Civil War era on Lincoln's birthday. Leading the program is Stefanie Kies, a local singer who performs around town in churches, in Greenwich Hospital, in nursing homes, and often on the steps of Town Hall.
Kies and a group of her friends and fellow musicians and history buffs will explore the lyrical history of the Civil War accompanied by authentic period instruments, including banjo, fiddle, bugle, harmonica, drums, concertina and guitar at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12 at the Historical Society's Vanderbilt Education Center, 39 Strickland Road.
To learn more about the program, Greenwich Citizen talked to Kies about what drew her to become involved in a celebration of the Civil War.
Describe the program.
"Happy Birthday Mr. Lincoln - Songs from the Civil War" is the working name for this project. Each of the five years of the war, 1861-1865, is assigned a specific topic heading: Martial Songs; Songs From the Soldier's Point of View; Sentimental Songs; Spirituals; and, finally "The War Is Over!"
We present two songs per year -- one expressing Northern sentiments, and one from the Southern perspective. In a few instances, we include a song that was "owned" by both sides in the conflict.
As the date of our program is the 203rd anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, we are featuring brief excerpts from some of his speeches, which will be read by my husband, Bill Kies.
How did the idea for this program come to you?
First of all, be it known I married a dedicated Civil War buff. Some years ago, we went to the reenactment of an 1862 cavalry skirmish in Barnesville, Md. That evening, we visited the reenactors' campsite after dinner and found them sitting around their campfire singing. I was amazed at how many songs I knew but had not thought of as being from the Civil War. "Aura Lee" (the melody is famous as Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender"), "When Johnny Comes Marching Home;" "The Cruel War is Raging;" and "How Can I Keep From Singing" are but a few. From then on, I was inspired to do further research on music of the Civil War.
Secondly, last spring Bea Crumbine and Lynn Smith were working on their own program for the Greenwich Historical Society and invited me to join them to present two songs. A wonderful experience, it gave me the thought that it might be both historically interesting and great fun to gather together some of my musical friends to present songs of the Civil War, almost as if we were sitting around campfires of our own 150 years ago. Lincoln's birthday seemed a propitious date. I made the proposal to the Greenwich Historical Society, and they said "Yes!"
Who's in the cast of the performance?
Nick Carter, a music teacher at the Stanwich School, has been on board with this project since I first started talking about it last summer. Both he and fellow Old Greenwich resident Tim Schantz have been essential in the process of selecting songs and crafting random thoughts into a cohesive program.
Nick, a talented singer/guitar player, enlisted the talents of another Stanwich teacher, David Kantor. In addition, we have drafted other area musicians: Bea Crumbine, Kai Underwood, Rick Crossman, Ron Conarroe, Max Nunes, Dan Swartz, Vin Lukeson, Lenny Sinowitz and John Lawrence. All in all, Nick and I have assembled a baker's dozen of talented folk musician friends to present the songs. By day they are teachers, financial planners, builders, volunteers -- even a zoning officer! -- all with a mutual passion for authentic roots music, played on guitars, banjo, harmonica, concertina, snare drums, trumpet, bugle, fife and fiddles.
What other discoveries have you made about some of the Civil War songs?
As much as discovering songs, this project has given me yet another reason to love my Apple! It is so easy to find the songs and the stories behind them. One of my favorite discoveries is that "Home Sweet Home" was a song precious to both sides in the conflict. Several times when the opposing forces were camped for the night in close proximity, both sides shared in singing together this wonderfully sentimental song. What a picture! Another story is that of "Taps."In 1862, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield decided that the traditional song signaling "lights out" was too French and too formal. He recalled another tune he'd heard, hummed it to his bugler, Oliver Norton, who then crafted it into what is now one of our most recognizable military airs.
What do you hope people will come away with from the program?
Our goal is to provide a fresh approach to the Civil War, which typically we've learned about through battles, strategies, economics, and politics. Music's great gift is in how it gives voice to, and helps people come to terms with, the inexpressible. Fear, pride, pain, camaraderie, loneliness, loss, exhilaration, exhaustion, exuberance and sacrifice . . . we are giving life to these human states through the music of the times.
And I ain't just whistlin' Dixie!
The program for Greenwich Historical Society's Civil War program includes a flag-designing project at 2 p.m. Cost for the entire program is $10 for members $10; $15 for nonmembers. To register, call 203-869-6899, ext. or visit www.hstg.org.