"Let me see generation times, will we hear children singing rhymes? Sweet memories gone by..."

19 October 2014

Battle of Yorktown

Hark! hark! down the century's long reaching slope
To those transports of triumph - those raptures of hope
The voices of Main and of Mountain combined
In glad resonance borne on the wings of the wind
The bass of the drum, and the trumpet that thrills
Thro' the multiplied echoes of jubilant hills
And mark! how the years, melting upwards like mist
With the breath of some splendid enchantment has kissed
Reveal on the ocean, reveal on the shore
The proud pageant of conquest that graced them of yore
--"Centennial Ode" by Paul Hayne & J. Mosenthal

On October 19, 1781, the British surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia.  So far as I know, none of my ancestors were present there that day.

One hundred years later, however, my 3rd-great-grandfather, Charles L. Siegel, was one of those involved in planning the centennial celebration of the battle in 1881.  In July of 1881, Charles Siegel was appointed the musical director of the festivities.

The Yorktown Centennial Commission have decided to have a chorus of three hundred male voices to assist in the ceremonies during the principal days of the celebration.  The services of Professor C. L. Siegel have been secured as musical director, and he will train and lead the chorus, which will be accompanied by the Marine band of Washington.  This combination of vocal and instrumental talent will render a number of national airs and the Centennial Ode which has been written by Mr. Paul A. Hayne, of Georgia, with music by Professor Mosenthal, of Philadelphia.

The following is the official order issued by the Chairman of the Commission, Hon. John W. Johnston.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 1881.

The Yorktown Centennial Commission, desiring to make the celebration in October as perfect as possible in all its details, have decided to have a grand chorus of male voices to sing national airs on that occasion.  With this view, Professor Charles L. Siegel, of Richmond, Va., has been appointed musical director, with full power to make all necessary arrangements.  The Commission earnestly invite the cooperation of all singers who feel interested in the celebration and who are willing to assist in making this portion of the programme a grand success.

The director will appoint a time and place to receive the names of those who desire to volunteer their services.

Chairman Yorktown Centennial Commission."

Professor Siegel has already gone energetically to work in carrying out the duties imposed upon him by the above order, and has issued the following call to the gentlemen singers of Richmond:

"RICHMOND, July 16, 1881.

To the Gentlemen Singers of Richmond:

Having been appointed musical director of the Yorktown Centennial celebration, I hereby earnestly call upon the singers of Richmond to lend their aid in the furtherance of this patriotic work, promising to make the necessary course of instruction as pleasant as possible, and to do everything in my power for your comfort.

Preliminary meetings will be held as follows, and you are invited to attend without further notice:

On Tuesday the 19th instant, for the western portion of the city, at Laurel-Street Methodist church at 8 ½ o'clock P. M.

On Wednesday, July 20th , for the central part of the city, at Sänger Halle, at the same hour.

And on Thursday, July 21st, for the eastern part of the city, at ---, at 8 ½ P.M.

Information as to details will be given at each meeting."

By September, choir rehearsals were well underway.

In providing for the proper success of the celebration at Yorktown in October, the Congressional Committee in charge of the celebration have been mindful of the importance of the musical features naturally expected on such an occasion, and have devoted to this part of the programme as large an amount as they thought could be spared from the limited appropriation at their disposal.  The Richmond correspondent of the New York Herald writes that it is gratifying to know that the management of this part of the programme has been entrusted to most competent hands, and that the progress already made in preparation and rehearsals assures the promise of a successful and satisfactory performance

The difficulties of the undertaking might have proved too formidable for a less energetic conductor than the gentleman who has it in hand, since he has had to collect a chorus mostly of untrained voices and give them elemental teaching and drilling through the parts of the music proposed to be sung.  It is a reproach to this city that with very considerable musical capacities there is no choral body that can be made the nucleus for a large chorus like this.  A well-trained body of singers as a nucleus would have been a powerful auxiliary in the undertaking, and would most materially assist and lighten the labor.  Indeed, with such assistance the work of preparation would have been easy, and could have been done in less than half the time necessary under existing circumstances.  Another difficulty in the way that will affect the size and strength of the chorus is the distance to Yorktown and the time required for the trip, which will prevent the attendance of many singers who cannot spare the time from their business.  But despite these drawbacks and difficulties, there will be an effective male chorus of about 300 good voices, who already show excellent results of the last five or six weeks' rehearsal.  As yet the chorus is divided into three sections for the convenience of members living in different parts of the city, each section meeting once a week for rehearsal.  They have been brought together once or twice for a mass rehearsal at Sänger Halle, the meeting-place of the middle section.  The success of their performance will be largely owing to the energy and ability of the conductor, Charles L. Siegel, who collected the chorus and has trained it to its present state of efficiency.  Mr. Siegel is a maestro of local reputation, to whom has been owing the credit of most of the successful amateur performances gotten up in this city for several years past, within which time, with the aid of local talent, he has set several operas on the stage, among them excellent performances of "Der Freischutz" and "Stradella."  The instrumental accompaniment for the chorus will be done by the Marine Band from Washington - a band that deserves its reputation as one of the best in the country.

The programme is of course made up mainly of patriotic and popular music, embracing, "Hail, Columbia," "The Star-Spangled Banner," "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," &c. and out of compliment to our French visitors, "The Marseillaise."  Besides these well-known patriotic songs, there will be sung a hymn and the "Centennial Ode," written for the occasion.  The music selected for the hymn is an "Ave Maria," opus 209, No. 2, by J. E. Schmölzer, an eminent German composer.  This is a composition of great beauty and dignity, whose lofty and devotional character well adapts it for use on such an occasion.  It has become a great favorite with the chorus and other who have heard it, and, somewhat strange to say, it is, perhaps, better sung than any other number on the programme, though less familiar in style and character and requiring finer singing and nicer shades of expression.  The words were written and adapted to the music by Mr. Charles Poindexter, of this city.

The Centennial Ode is written by Paul H. Hayne, of Georgia, and set to music by J. Mosenthal, of New York.  The music of this composition has not commended itself to favor like that of the hymn, but the words are of far greater merit, and it will be sung with great spirit, as befits the most prominent number on the programme.  Mr. Hayne, the author of the ode, is a well-known southern poet.

The full order of events is available online at the Internet Archive.

Today, copies of the choir's sheet music can been found in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society.