Tuesday 25 April 2017

Music is in Our Blood

Music has been a big part of our family activities through the generations.

My grandfather sang in the church choir before he came to Canada in 1907 and was an entertainer at many social events in the communities of Keoma and Irricana, Alberta. In 1925, he was the star vocalist and comedian in the comedy, Nothing But the Truth, an event held to raise funds to purchase a piano for the new community hall. He also sang at many social events at the local school. Neighbours remembered hearing him singing at full voice as he worked outside at his farm.

As a child I took music lessons for many years, learning to play the baritone (horn). From that I could play anything with valves. For many years I was one of the smallest kids with one of the biggest horn. I also tried (not very hard I’ll admit) to learn the violin in a short and painful series of lessons for me and everyone around me.
1956 – students of Joseph Hopkins in an early brass ensemble. Wayne is second from the right. Mr. Hopkins is standing in front of the picture hanging on the wall.
My music teacher, Mr. Joseph Hopkins (1904-1981) was a marvelous musician and teacher who could play and teach others to play almost every instrument. He assembled both a brass band and an orchestra featuring all of his students that played at local concerts and competitions. There are many photos and personal certificates related to his career in the Glenbow Archives in Calgary, with this short description of the man: Joseph W. Hopkins, 1904-1981, was born in Prague, Bohemia and graduated from the Prague Conservatory of Music. He immigrated to Calgary, Alberta in 1927 and became the founder and principal of the Hopkins School of Music. He organized classes in the towns of Innisfail, Olds, Bowden, Red Deer, Sylvan Lake, Lacombe and Calgary. Students from his schools formed a student symphony, brass band and Hawaiian orchestras. His students won many awards at the Kiwanis Music Festivals in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge. He was a member of the Alberta Registered Music Teachers Association.

I was very lucky that my parents found Mr. Hopkins. He was an excellent teacher and a dedicated professional in giving all his students the opportunity to play with others in larger bands and orchestras.
1959 Hopkins School of Music brass band composed all of students of Joseph Hopkins
In high school I played in the band (baritone) and a small four-piece combo (valve trombone). While attending university I played in a pick-up Dixieland band organized by one of my geology professors.
1969 – some members of the Prospectors, a pick-up Dixieland jazz group. In all there were over a dozen musicians from all walks of life who dropped in to jam on a regular basis.
I bought my first grandson an electronic piano when he was a small boy. This six-foot high school student now plays an upright bass in the school band, orchestra and jazz ensemble as well as being a pretty good piano player. His brother is taking up the piano and guitar. My granddaughter is an accomplished ballerina at the tender age of 13. We hope she will be able to pursue dance in her adult life. Her little brother is learning the saxophone.
2017 – Shepheard grandchildren musicians and performers
Music is in our Shepheard blood although it was not a main pursuit of every generation. I like to think my ancestors also had musical talents – where else would I have gotten mine – but there is no way to know if that was true to any great extent.

In past centuries people certainly were entertained by and participated in musical activities. We can’t hear them sing or dance, so we have to guess at what entertainment they liked based on stories and songs that have been preserved in print. With luck we can hear present-day performers tackle the old versions to get an idea of how they sounded and were received by audiences hundreds of years ago. The church was generally the central gathering place in many communities, especially in the rural areas. Choirs would lead the congregation on Sundays but these same people might also be highlight singers as other social events and encourage many residents to join them.

I searched for information on music from the 17th to 19th centuries to try to find out what people listened to, primarily in Britain as most of my ancestors come from that region. I am sure that readers could find many examples from other countries.

A few websites worth visiting include:

Widipedia (of course):
This is a brief outline of the development of Western art music written during the Classical period between 1730 and 1820.
Commercial music enjoyed its origins in the music halls of the 16th and 17th centuries.

This is an article by Gavin Dixon published in Limelight Magazine 2013 in which he comments on music evolution from the Middle Ages onward. Gavin discusses music of all types from classical to jazz.

This blog piece was published in The Guardian by Suzy Klein in 201. Suzy points out that popular music, for the masses, as it originally conceived, began as the middle class grew in Britain through the 1700s. It is a very good introduction to the rise of performance art in many venues from pubs to music halls.

The originator, Lesley Nelson-Burns, has assembled songs from many regions and sources. Both lyrics and musical accompaniment can be experienced. Folk music was probably the hit parade of the day with songs sung and played in many venues from local pubs to community social gatherings.

I am sure there are lots more sites to investigate. And maybe one day I will find out more about whether my ancestors were musical.

Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.