19th Century Music in “Lighthouse Loyalty”

“Do you know any new songs to teach us, Uncle Richard?” I asked, after we had resettled in the main room and sung several of our favorites, entertaining Mama and Marian.

“Oh, I don’t know that it’s new, but there is a song I could sing for you. Someone taught it to me a few years ago,” he replied quietly, shifting in his chair.

“Sing it, sing it,” Paul chanted. Uncle Richard cleared his throat, and we waited, expecting a lively tune. Instead, he sang simple words and a pleasing melody… (Lighthouse Loyalty, excerpt from Chapter 6)

Throughout Lighthouse Loyalty music is used for symbolism and and unifying effect, reflecting the importance of music in 19th Century society. The songs mentioned by name are accurate to the era, and for today’s blog post, I thought it would be fun to share a little about the history behind the song choice and some links to the songs.

Music – Entertainment & Pastime

Sometimes in our era of entertainment and electronics, we forget the “simpler” days of the mid-19th Century. What did people do for fun, for entertainment, or while working? They talked and they sang while working and at leisure. They read, played games, or did handicrafts as some of their pastimes.

Too often, we underestimate music of the 19th Century. It was extremely popular. Nowadays, many people don’t want to sing or perform music unless they think they are particularly talented – back then, music and singing was regular entertainment, especially at home.

Throughout the historical novel, we find family members singing or whistling as they go about their daily tasks and using music as entertainment in the evenings. The maritime communities had their musical traditions which would have made singing even more natural for these lighthouse keepers who – in turn – taught the children to sing.

Singing while you work…

Sea Chanteys

In its most generic definition, a sea chantey is a work song from the maritime community, usually used to keep a rhythm or pacing. Often times, the lyrics were arranged so the leader sang one line and the crew responded with the next line (known as “call and response” singing). Different maritime industries had their own unique sea chanteys; for example, dock workers typically sang different songs than whalemen.

Lighthouse Loyalty doesn’t specifically name the sea chanteys Father sang and taught to his children, but since his background was the whaling industry, he probably sang those songs. Its implied that he taught the children the “mild” chanteys or might have even altered some of the lyrics to keep them age-appropriate. This research guide from the New Bedford Whaling Museum explains more about the types of chanteys (sometimes spelled shanties) and provides many lyrics with historical background.

This is a “hauling chantey,” giving an example of the style of the songs:

Yankee Doodle

It’s a classic song associated with Americans since the days of the Revolutionary War. In the story, it’s the tune one of the little boys is trying to whistle. Why that particular song? Yankee Doodle was often associated with the military as a marching tune of this period, following the Civil War; thus, it musically hints at the recent conflict.

However, more childishly, it’s a tune that the little boy probably knew and sang with his siblings, parents, or uncle. There are many silly verses, so I could easily picture him giggling at the lyrics and wanting to sing it again and again. When learning to whistle, it’s helpful to pick a tune already known…at least that’s what my mom says – I’ve never learned to whistle. 😦

Beautiful Dreamer

This song, written by Stephen Foster, was published in March 1864, after Foster’s death. Stephen Foster wrote many popular American folk-songs and his music was sung, played, and enjoyed by many during his era and beyond.

An original edition of “Beautiful Dreamer” sheet music, 1864.

In Lighthouse Loyalty, Beautiful Dreamer is first sung by Uncle Richard who said he learned it with friends in Scotland – implying that they had access to the latest music. I intentionally chose this song since it was popular and it also hinted at some of the mystery in Uncle Richard’s past. He teaches the song to his niece and nephews and later in the story they recognize the tune or sometimes sing it themselves.

The inspiration of the lyrics is a little mysterious, and there’s still debate whether the “beautiful dreamer” is dead or simply unconscious to the singer’s wooing. Either way, the song speaks of love, longing, and perhaps the sea stealing someone away…

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me,
Starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee;
Sounds of the rude world, heard in the day,
Lull’d by the moonlight have all passed away!
Beautiful dreamer, queen of my song,
List while I woo thee with soft melody;
Gone are the cares of life’s busy throng,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Beautiful dreamer, out on the sea,
Mermaids are chanting the wild lorelei;
Over the streamlet vapors are borne,
Waiting to fade at the bright coming morn.
Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
Even as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a favorite song from the mid-19th Century?

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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