Letters

Letters 05-23-2016

Examine The Priorities Are you disgusted about closing schools, crumbling roads and bridges, and cuts everywhere? Investigate funding priorities of legislators. In 1985 at the request of President Reagan, Grover Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). For 30 years Norquist asked every federal and state candidate and incumbent to sign the pledge to vote against any increase in taxes. The cost of living has risen significantly since 1985; think houses, cars, health care, college, etc...

Make TC A Community For Children Let’s be that town that invests in children actively getting themselves to school in all of our neighborhoods. Let’s be that town that supports active, healthy, ready-to-learn children in all of our neighborhoods...

Where Are Real Christian Politicians? As a practicing Christian, I was very disappointed with the Rev. Dr. William C. Myers statements concerning the current presidential primaries (May 8). Instead of using the opportunity to share the message of Christ, he focused on Old Testament prophecies. Christ gave us a new commandment: to love one another...

Not A Great Plant Pick As outreach specialist for the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network and a citizen concerned about the health of our region’s natural areas, I was disappointed by the recent “Listen to the Local Experts” feature. When asked for their “best native plant pick,” three of the four garden centers referenced non-native plants including myrtle, which is incredibly invasive...

Truth About Plants Your feature, “listen to the local experts” contains an error that is not helpful for the birds and butterflies that try to live in northwest Michigan. Myrtle is not a native plant. The plant is also known as vinca and periwinkle...

Ask the Real Plant Experts This letter is written to express my serious concern about a recent “Listen To Your Local Experts” article where local nurseries suggested their favorite native plant. Three of the four suggested non-native plants and one suggested is an invasive and cause of serious damage to Michigan native plants in the woods. The article is both sad and alarming...

My Plant Picks In last week’s featured article “Listen to the Local Experts,” I was shocked at the responses from the local “experts” to the question about best native plant pick. Of the four “experts” two were completely wrong and one acknowledged that their pick, gingko tree, was from East Asia, only one responded with an excellent native plant, the serviceberry tree...

NOTE: Thank you to TC-based Eagle Eye Drone Service for the cover photo, taken high over Sixth Street in Traverse City.

Home · Articles · News · Music · From Chants to Muzak: Work Music...
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From Chants to Muzak: Work Music Through the Ages

Kristi Kates - August 25th, 2014  

From seafaring chants to mind-numbing elevator tunes, music at work has a deep history. Generations ago, however, it was much more serious business.

ON THE JOB

Work songs have been documented since people started keeping track of history itself. From domestic trades to agricultural work, sea shanties to cowboy songs, chain gang chants to paperboys hawking their wares, tunes have long been utilized for a range of productive reasons.

Some songs helped keep communities together during a task, like hunting or harvesting. During hunting, especially in Africa, some groups included whistles that would help the hunters keep track of each other’s locations.

Tunes sung during such tasks as corn picking were more for entertainment during what would otherwise be an unbearably mundane job, to keep spirits up.

The patterns and rhythms of many work songs would also help a “team” stay synced, whether they were turning soil for planting, or setting down rails for trains as part of a convict chain gang.

In the deep South of the U.S., many “slave songs” originated from African music, and were sung as much to remind the slaves of their homeland as to keep everyone working efficiently. But overall, the songs chosen during the workday were always highly tuned to the job situation, from rowing (slow and steady sung patterns, to match the rhythm of the rowing itself) to the more boisterous, call-and-response patterns of railway workers, who also had to fight loudly against the noise of clanging picks and shovels.

AFTER HOURS

But work songs weren’t limited to just work.

The art of song craft continued after the job for many, especially since the job itself consumed so much of their waking hours.

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, sea shanties became more prevalent, an extension of the rowing songs of prior decades.

Because sailors also had to work together in rhythm, these swinging songs followed very precise patterns as the crew worked the sails and cordage.

Many of these songs, popular among the men, would carry over onto the shore, as they made landfall and spilled over to sing throughout the night in the nearest local pub.

Cowboy songs were also more popular outside of the actual job than on it, as lonely cowboys and ranchers would move their herds around on the open range.

Once they stopped for the night, the campfire became the perfect place to fend off isolation with a few tunes on instruments that were easy to carry, such as harmonicas.

And military call-and-response tunes with their specific cadences kept soldiers marching in time as they moved to their next outpost.

The most familiar even to civilians is probably the “Duckworth Chant,” with its catchy “Sound off! (One, two!) Sound off! (Three, four!) One two three four, one two – three, four!”

INDUSTRIAL SOUNDS

Once workers started transitioning into more modern-day jobs, such as factory work, the tunes transitioned, too.

Now that less synchronization was needed due to the arrival of automated systems, the songs morphed into other forms, carrying over old melodies with lyrics that now reflected this new workday age.

Places like coal mines and farms still carried out the old work song traditions, but with more people working indoors, more songs were being sung after hours instead in places like coffeehouses, diners, and bars.

Once the folk scene hit in the ‘60s, work (and traveling to find work) became a prime source of lyrics for such songwriters as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, a tradition that continued into the ‘80s via the working-class, blue-jeaned rock songs of Bruce Springsteen.

Work songs haven’t vanished entirely, though. They’ve just changed into yet another form: electronic media.

You may not have realized it before, but you probably utilize “work songs” every day through such modern routes as Pandora. With earphones plugged into your computer at work, or smartphone apps with music, you’re bringing music along to your job or exercise routine just as people have done for hundreds of years.

 
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