Letters

Letters 10-20-2014

Doctor Dan? After several email conversations with Rep. Benishek, he has confirmed that he doesn’t have a clue of what he does. Here’s why...

In Favor Of Our Parks [Traverse] City Proposal 1 is a creative way to improve our city parks without using our tax dollars. By using a small portion of our oil and gas royalties from the Brown Bridge Trust Fund, our parks can be improved for our children and grandchildren.

From January 1970 Popular Mechanics: “Drastic climate changes will occur within the next 50 years if the use of fossil fuels keeps rising at current rates.” That warning comes from Eugene K. Peterson of the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.

Newcomers Might Leave: Recently we had guests from India who came over as students with the plan to stay in America. He has a master’s degree in engineering and she is doing her residency in Chicago and plans to specialize in oncology. They talked very candidly about American politics and said that after observing...

Someone Is You: On Sept 21, I joined the 400,000 who took to the streets of New York in the People’s Climate March, followed by a UN Climate Summit and many speeches. On October 13, the Pentagon issued a report calling climate change a significant threat to national security requiring immediate action. How do we move from marches, speeches and reports to meaningful work on this problem? In NYC I read a sign with a simple answer...

Necessary To Pay: Last fall, Grand Traverse voters authorized a new tax to fix roads. It is good, it is necessary.

The Real Reasons for Wolf Hunt: I have really been surprised that no one has been commenting on the true reason for the wolf hunt. All this effort has not been expended so 23 wolves can be killed each year. Instead this manufactured controversy about the wolf hunt has been very carefully crafted to get Proposal 14-2 passed.

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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