Elizabeth Stewart Clark & Company

Book Review: I Like That Good Old Song

Imagine yourself strolling down a quiet village lane on a fine early summer day.

A gentle breeze blows; dappled shade from the trees plays over your face as you walk. You can smell firewood in the sun, and the sweet fragrance of newly-cropped grasses in the pasture.

A farmhouse sits just off the lane, curtains riffling a bit; on the porch, there sits a young person, looking for all the world like a picture from the past. They are sitting with one leg tucked under them, and a large stoneware bowl in their lap, snapping beans.

Absorbed in their chore, they do not notice you, but on the breeze, you catch the satisfied hum of a tune they warble as they work… it is a perfect picture, a perfect “time travel” moment.

Until you realize the song they hum is vintage Metallica.

Music is a major component of modern life; with the proliferation of miniaturized music devices, it’s rare for an individual to lack a personal soundtrack! People relate to music; it sparks emotional responses, recalled memories, and shared connections with others.

As such, music has the potential to be an important interpretive tool for any living history setting. Music gives us an opportunity to connect with our senses, to amuse ourselves (a true “I”-pod!) and others, to communicate, to transmit culture and information, and to add dimension to the everyday life settings we portray.

Music was a major component of historic life! Sung and played at home, in the public square, in churches, in taverns, in theaters, in traveling shows; published in letters, diaries, magazines, and collections of music—the past was not silent. When the majority of our experience with the past has been through books and silent relics, we sometimes forget that the past was a noisy place, just as full of sound as our era.

The biggest difference: the past relied on live performance, rather than recorded and remastered music. Getting back into the live music sound touches something visceral for performers and listeners; we hear the full human experience, without tempering, correction, or re-dubbing. We get in touch with raw emotion in ways our MP3-tuned ears may never have heard before.

Many have desired to integrate music with living history. For quite some time, a main quandary has been “What do I sing? What do I play? What music did They internalize and perform?” 1880s music in 1860s settings is just as jarring as Metallica on the farmhouse porch, after all. It’s one thing to recognize the need for higher-quality musical resources in living history; it’s another to put accurate resources to complete use, and increase the opportunities for connection and interpretation.

Finding lyrics has often been easier than finding the “right” tunes. The mid-19th century practice of mixing and matching lyrics with different tune settings was helpful in allowing people to more readily perform new pieces (particularly singers without instrumentation), but it can be confusing and challenging for modern musicians accustomed to one lyric, one tune, and written notations!

I Like That Good Old Song,” the new anthology from John and Elaine Masciale, is an excellent tool in resolving our musical challenges, and using music in a more full, 19th century way for deeper interpretive connections (and just plain personal satisfaction, too!)

It is, as the Masciale’s describe it, essentially a “fake” book: basic chords and clef notations for the earliest or most common tune settings to each lyric, plus extended verses and variations where they can be documented. Any musician or vocalist will be able to get up to speed very quickly, and then layer in their own individual styling and flourishes for performance.

While we might often see lyric snippets in letters and other written sources, the Masciale’s have done the extra research needed to provide complete lyrics and documented tunes, set in keys that are easy to sing for most voices, or to play on most instruments. Modern musical formatting makes antique sounds accessible to the 21st century musician.

They’ve reproduced a variety of song styles; the 125 songs include “pop” tunes of the era, patriotic and sentimental favorites, ballads, nonsense songs, spirituals, minstrel songs, and common hymns, making the book an easily adapted resource to suit a wide variety of personal preferences, customizing music to the individual impression needs.

The song anthology is presented piece upon piece without interruption; further expansion books will include the research background and commentary on the songs, which will be a fantastic tool for public education and personal context.

It’s easy to see the Masciales are musicians and performers, themselves; where songs require a two-page spread to include all the notes and lyrics, the layout opens flat, with no page-turning. These small touches make the book easy to use in practice and performance. Ever mindful of the need to be unobtrusive in living history settings, they even give suggestions for hiding the modern lay-flat spine, just in case you didn’t have time to memorize your chosen music before the event.

Should you have a personal copy? Yes!

“I Like That Good Old Song” is ideal for vocalists, for guitar and other stringed instruments, for piano, and any instrument that fits the era. If you’re a member of a vocal or other performing group, plan to grab a copy for each person. Using just this one volume, I can envision living history enthusiasts all across the country assembling performances that add to the magic moments we all crave:

  • A group of dressed-out youths raising their voices in patriotic tunes;
  • People of all ages delighting to rollicking minstrel show numbers;
  • Church services with added dimension through beloved and fervent hymns;
  • Quiet sentimental ballads carried on the evening breeze;
  • Rousing political songs spicing up a good candidate debate or rally;
  • Children practicing their stick drill while marching to popular soldiering tunes….


Just imagine the depth we can add to living history, for ourselves and for our visitors, just by adding that vital component: music!

You’ll want to add “I Like That Good Old Song” to your wish list today, so you can be singing or playing along next week.

Purchase “I Like that Good Old Song” direct from the publisher at tincremona.com.

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About The Sewing Academy
With a focus on the 1840-1865 era, The Sewing Academy is your home on the (internet) range for resources to help you meet your living history goals!

Elizabeth Stewart Clark has been absorbed by the mid-19th century for over 20 years. She makes her home in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, four children (from wee to not-so-wee), far too many musical instruments, and five amusing hens.

Email Elizabeth Or call 208-523-3673 (10am to 8pm Mountain time zone, Monday through Saturday)
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