Music Quiz Example

1) The Civil War and World War I have often been described as America’s best wars for songs. Compare and contrast the ways in which composers interpreted wartime events from these two wars into their musical works.

The notion that The Civil War and World War I mark America’s so-called best wars for songs is clearly based on the presupposition that something within these two conflicts coincided with the realization of musical talent in popular works. This would suggest that there was the correct confluence between the sentiments inherent to these wars and composers who found some type of inspiration in these difficult times. One of the reasons for an abundance of quality can be understood in terms of the mass mobilization in both wars, with many talented individuals being conscripted into the war-time environment. Thee subject matter of their compositions could thus be shaped by experiences and since these experiences were shared by many, it became logical that popular songs would be successful.

Consider for example Irving Berlin, who was drafted into the army: this experience shaped him, as he had written largely up-tempo tunes before the war, switching to slower songs after his experiences. Here, war becomes a catalyst for the type of music produced. This, of course, is not to suggest that a profound difference did not exist between The Civil War and World War I compositions. This difference can be traced to the nature of each conflict, as the Civil War was obviously an internal conflict, whereas World War I was a united conflict against a foreign enemy. This created different themes for music and thus different forms of expression, for example, in the slavery-themed songs of the Union forces against the South. Accordingly, despite the popularity of songs in both conflicts, the logic behind both conflicts shaped the distinct message communicated through music.

2) War protest songs have been a piece of Americana since before the Declaration of Independence. Describe ways in which composers/musical artists have strived to change the direction of society away from war. Cite specific composers and their works.

It is only logic that any war will also generate protest songs from those artists who are opposed to the particular conflict at hand for whatever reason. America has seen an increase in protest songs in its history, arguably most evident in the Viet Nam War. The amount of protest songs therefore seems to be linked to the general unpopularity of the war from the general audience, as these compositions find an audience; here is a complete and seamless interaction between music and politics, as the latter provides a context for the former to discover its own subject matter. Consider for example Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” or the Byrds “Turn, Turn, Turn”, which seem to attempt to distance themselves from political decision-making through the asking of larger existential questions that challenge the violent nature of political decision-making itself.

Such songs serve as direct interventions from the public into the

public arena, demonstrating that within a democracy, there are many forms of opposition to governmental policy. Music as evidenced in these songs amidst other protest songs serves as a voice for the public consciousness, attempting to tap into a popular dissatisfaction with policy. That no protest in the Viet Nam era was complete without music, as the literature suggests, indicates that music is an effective way of communicating any type of message, including a political message.

3) The United States of America has existed as a country for over 230 years, yet in its short existence it has been involved in no fewer than ten wars. Describe ways in which composers/artists have used their musical talents via the available media in support of the wars in which their generations have been involved.

The United States has been involved in numerous conflicts in its short history, and music has often accompanied these conflicts as not only a form of protest, but as a form of support. This form of support can largely be traced to the important concept within military science itself of morale. A well-composed song with a catchy melody and pertinent lyrics for those involved in the conflict can generate a feeling of unity and purpose necessary to the successful waging of war.

One only has to take even a cursory glance at American history to see the prevalence of this phenomenon. For example, the classic Yankee Doodle Dandy was a piece intended to mock the opposing British, thus creating a more homogeneous American fighting force convinced of its purpose. Furthermore, in the Civil War, former black slaves possessed a song entitled “No More Auction Block for me”, which conveyed the high stakes of the conflict they were involved in, while also, through the collective nature of song, creating a unity among the fighting forces. Even the Viet Nam era featured its own variant of this theme, with the song “The Green Berets” praising the merits of this particular fighting unit.

Thus, despite the radically different types of conflict the U.S. has been involved in its history, there is nevertheless a family resemblance that exists between the songs that united the fighting forces participating in these conflicts. Music in war becomes an efficient way to convey needed homogeneity in the fighting forces, a unity of purpose and the underlying justice of the cause at stake.