You want me to share songs from the Civil War era in my senior living sessions? Hmmm…so I spoke to the residents.

“That was before our time.” was their response.

Talk about a challenge! Making music from the Civil War era meaningful to them now, in this moment of their life.

Many of the songs I selected could be found in “The Golden Book of Favorite Songs” – a book most had used in school or in other settings.

The focus became Stephen Foster, George Frederick Root and Henry Clay Work along with folk songs likely sung during that period. Most people are familiar with some music of Stephen Foster: “Oh Susanna”, “Beautiful Dreamer”, “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” and “Camptown Races”.

Lesser known to these residents were the Stephen Foster songs: “Hard Times Come Again No More”, “Slumber My Darling” and “Voices that Are Gone”.  These became our songs for discussion. They held the materials to relate the distant past to their lives and to today.

Fredrick Root (aka G. Friedrich Wurzel) was shared through the lesser known “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” –  the tune of which has lived on in “Jesus Loves the Little Children”.

Drumming to Henry Work’s “My Grandfather’s  Clock” allowed us to work on patterns and a steady beat. We also reflect on how clocks have changed through the years.

Other songs we added include:

  • “Aura Lee”
  • When Johnny Comes Marching Home”
  • “Buffalo Gals”
  • “Goober Peas”
  • “Polly Wolly Doodle”
  • “The Yellow Rose of Texas”
  • “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
  • “Oh Shenandoah” 

Closing our sessions we used the songs “Home Sweet Home” and “Taps”.

Sharing Songs from the American Civil War era allowed the group to realize how music lives on across years and to acknowledge the sentiments surrounding wars cross lifetimes.

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Have a suggestion of other songs to include? Please share them in the comments below.