Letters

Letters 08-03-2015

Real Brownfields Deserve Dollars I read with interest the story on Brownfield development dollars in the July 20 issue. I applaud Dan Lathrop and other county commissioners who voted “No” on the Randolph Street project...

Hopping Mad Carlin Smith is hopping mad (“Will You Get Mad With Me?” 7-20-15). Somebody filed a fraudulent return using his identity, and he’s not alone. The AP estimates the government “pays more than $5 billion annually in fraudulent tax refunds.” Well, many of us have been hopping mad for years. This is because the number one tool Congress has used to fix this problem has been to cut the IRS budget –by $1.2 billion in the last 5 years...

Just Grumbling, No Solutions Mark Pontoni’s grumblings [recent Northern Express column] tell us much about him and virtually nothing about those he chooses to denigrate. We do learn that Pontoni may be the perfect political candidate. He’s arrogant, opinionated and obviously dimwitted...

A Racist Symbol I have to respond to Gordon Lee Dean’s letter claiming that the confederate battle flag is just a symbol of southern heritage and should not be banned from state displays. The heritage it represents was the treasonous effort to continue slavery by seceding from a democratic nation unwilling to maintain such a consummate evil...

Not So Thanks I would like to thank the individual who ran into and knocked over my Triumph motorcycle while it was parked at Lowe’s in TC on Friday the 24th. The $3,000 worth of damage was greatly appreciated. The big dent in the gas tank under the completely destroyed chrome badge was an especially nice touch...

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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