Friday, November 26, 2010

George F. Root (1820-1895) Composer

George F. Root (1820-1895) was one of the most successful American composers of the 19th century. He was well known for his patriotic songs written during the Civil War. "Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! (the boys are marching!") and “Battle Cry of Freedom” are two of his best known tunes. The tune of “Tramp!” was also used as "Jesus Loves the Little Children". “The Battle Cry of Freedom.” can be heard throughout Ken Burns’ film: The Civil War. Listen to both by clicking the links:
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! or Jesus Loves the Little Children
The Battle Cry of Freedom

Root was born in 1820 in Sheffield, Massachusetts and moved to North Reading when he was six years old. As a young teen he could play many instruments and dreamed of being a musician. At 18 he moved to Boston where he studied under George Webb, founder of the Boston Academy of Music and organist at Boston’s Old South Church for over 40 years. Mason was also very active in arranging music conventions and supporting normal institutes, through which he trained countless public school music teachers and perpetuated his philosophy of teaching and music.

In 1850 Root made a music study tour of Europe, staying in Vienna, Paris, and London. He returned to teach music in Boston, as an associate of Lowell Mason at Boston’s Academy of Music. In 1851, Root began composing. By the early 1850s musical conventions had become established features in all parts of the country. Mr. Root conducted several such enterprises, including convening one at the Smithsonian Institution at Washington.

Root helped organize the first Normal Musical Institute, held in New York in 1853, and quickly became a leader in raising the standards of music education. In late 1855or early 1856, Root and his family moved back to Willow Farm in North Reading, where he continued his writing and convention activities. In 1856 Root developed a more permanent organization known as the ‘Normal Musical Institute”. With the assistance of Dr. Mason and J.G. Webb the North Reading Institute was created and became known far and wide. It was held in the Third Meeting House on the Common through 1859. Guests attending concerts included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher.

An autograph album of the Normal Music Institute (North Reading, Mass.) was kept by Emory L. Smith, probably a student, during a music convention held there in August, 1861. A fine example of a musical autograph album, Smith had the teachers and selected students sign the book, and many provided brief musical quotations. Smith pasted photographs of five participants onto the pages with their signatures: the composers Lowell Mason, George F. Root, and George B. Loomis, and two fellow students, James H. Lansley and Lewis Story.

Besides his popular songs, he also composed gospel songs, and collected and edited volumes of choral music for singing schools, Sunday schools, church choirs and musical institutes. He also composed various sacred and secular cantatas which were popular on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the 19th century.

In the 1880s and 1890s Root wrote as series of dramatic cantatas for children, most with texts by his daughter, Clara Louise Burnham, all meant to be staged.
George Frederick Root died at his summer home on Bailey Island, Maine in 1895. He is interred in the Harmony Vale Cemetery, on Chestnut St., North Reading Massachusetts.

Click this link for my favorite of his hymns: Ring the Bells of Heaven

References:
Cyber-hymnal George F. Root

Hall, J.H., Biography of Gospel. Song and Hymn Writers. New York. Fleming H. Revell Company 1900.

Smith, Emory L. Normal Music Institute (North Reading, Mass.) Autograph Album. 1861 August 14-20. William L. Clements Library. The University of Michigan. Photographs Division. A.1.33.

Hubbard. W.L. Editor. The American History and Encyclopedia of Music. Pp. 187-8 Google Books