|Two generations have now come and gone
down that hall to the auditorium, and today, the touching melodies and sentimental words of
Steven Foster have been replaced by fun words and catchy rhythms of
today's fast paced and stimulus filled world.
This tribute to Steven Foster has been created to
remind us of the richness he contributed to our lives. For you younger
generations who would not recognize the titles in The Golden Book of
Songs, please be introduced to the creative genius of Steven Foster.
Mr. Foster was born into a well established
Pittsburg family on July 4th, 1826. Apparently he did not fit into
the strict academic mold any better than I, and his parents labeled him "a
problem child". While he failed to meet academic expectations, he read
extensively, thereby providing his own self-education. He began
composing at an early age, and his parents
provided him with some limited formal music study.
He went to work as a clerk in his brother's business, but success as a
song writer soon led him into this new and difficult occupation.
Opening the door here in America for the song writers who would follow
him. He rented an
office for his creative exploration and soon after, married his wife Jane. The marriage
produced a daughter, Marian, but the family was often separated for some
reason (possibly his inability to provide for them financially)..
He died at the young age of 34 when illness
caused him to faint. The resulting fall caused him to cut a gash in his throat. His "aloneness" at
this time of death found him destitute with only 38 cents and a piece of
paper with the scribbled words, "Dear friends and gentle hearts"
in his pocket.
There has been much speculation regarding his
failure to support himself and his family. Some feel he was a poor
manager of his finances, and there is evidence that alcohol
was a problem. Others feel he was a genius ahead of his time,
not covered by the copyright laws and formal arrangements that would protect
the song writers that would follow him. Royalties were not common,
and he resorted to selling his songs to publishers, who in turn, reaped the profits
of his success. The trauma leading up to the Civil War
also clouded America's desire for his music during his later years.
His Musical Offerings
Steven Foster spent much time and care with
his compositions. Melodies and lyrics were carefully created with
great emphasis placed on crafting just the right essence for the message.
His sentimental nature and emotional depth were in tune with the needs of
the times, and many people desired to be associated with his success.
Much of his music was similar to the folk music of
the British Isles. There is evidence that he was attracted to the
works of by the patron bard of Scotland, Robert Burns and the Irish song
writer, Thomas Moore. Our choice of Foster's melodies is Gentle
Annie which bears a faint resemblance to the Scottish folk melody Annie Laurie.
Much of his music was created for minstrelsy, the
popular stage offering of the time. This entertainment form
capitalized on and made fun of the plight of the Afro-American slave.
Foster broke with this tradition and documented the gentle, warm, humble and
often sad plight of the blacks in his songs.
Interestingly, while much of his music seems to
reflect the deep south, he only made one short trip south of his Pittsburgh
birth place. Instead, he spent most of his time in New York City,
attempting to gain his success.
Our musical tribute to Steven Foster is one
of his lesser known works, Gentle Annie.
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Apparently, he had
witnessed the death of a neighborhood girl who was run over by a horse
drawn carriage. This was his musical elegy to her memory. The
touching melody and words speak to the personable nature of Steven Foster
and his origination of the American song writer tradition.
People gifted with unusual creative
capacities often find difficulty in their capacity to adapt to life's
expectations. Steven Foster was apparently a member of this
distinguished group. Through no fault of his own, he experienced this
world through a different perspective than you or I.
Perhaps there is a part of us that longs for a
small piece of Foster's gentle simplicity, expressed in the melodies and
lyrics of his songs. Hopefully that desire will insure
that Beautiful Dreamer, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, Oh Susannah,
Old Black Joe, Camptown Races, and the rest of his songs will live
on. They will touch each of us with the true human compassion, warmth,
and realness, that he shared with his admirers 150 years ago.
About the Musicians
soloist for this recording is our special friend and talented fellow musician, Julie Momber. We wish to thank her for sharing her love of music and Steven
Julie is well known for her vocal work
in our neighboring community of Greenville, MI. She has performed with the
Flat River Community Players, Broadway Delights, and Seasons of
Love and in the musical duo, Schoeder and Momber. She is
a frequent soloist in oratorios, weddings and other religious functions.
Recently retired as a building principal, Julie spent over 30 years
contributing to her students and the field of special education
For me, recording Gentle Annie brought to mind
an era when life was far less complex than today, yet human emotions remain
unchanged. In death there is grief but there is also a sense of celebration
of Annie’s life. The beauty of the tune is reflected in its simplicity."
||Gary is sharing
the low D whistle and wooden flute.
Anne's presence is noticed on Celtic harp and
our audio recording of
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come no more, gentle Annie,
Like a flower thy spirit did depart;
Thou art gone, Alas! like the many
That have bloomed in the summer of my heart
roamed and loved mid the bowers
When thy downy cheeks were in their bloom;
Now I stand alone mid the flowers
While they mingle their perfumes o'er thy tomb.
hours grow sad while I ponder
Near the silent spot where thou art laid,
Ane my hear bows down when I wonder
By the streams and meadows where we stayed
Shall we never more behold thee;
never hear thy winning voice again --
When the spring time comes, gentle Annie,
When the wild flowers are scattered o'er the plain.