Rebels on Lake Erie & Music

Over the past six months, a dozen musicians have worked with 19th century sheet music as they recorded for the documentary Rebels on Lake Erie. The result has been extraordinary. The music has added so much to the story we’ve told.

All the musicians have been fabulous. All donated their time. When you see the documentary, I’m sure you’ll agree that they are tremendously talented.

However, one musician in particular has been central to the musical success of Rebels on Lake Erie – Katrina DeFord. Katrina is a former music major who now studies Communication at The University of Akron. I’m certain she never expected to play quite the role she did when she first joined our Saturday editing sessions in January. As a production major, she just wanted an opportunity to watch our Emmy-award-winning editor — and nice guy–Matt Rafferty work his magic on the Avid editing system.
That first day, in a lull in the editing, I asked Katrina what her major had been. Music, she innocently replied. My ears immediately perked up. Do you play an instrument? Yes, she replied, the viola.

Matt Rafferty and Gabor Smith, the assistant editor/audio editor, know me pretty well and they figured something was up. By the end of the editing session, Katrina had agreed to record some music for the documentary. She’s very good.

Over the past couple months, she’s spent a lot of time in the recording studio in Kolbe Hall. In addition, she’s brought her sister and brother in law into our musical team. But Katrina has also served as our musical consultant, advising us on music placement and what we still needed with regard to music.

Now that all the music is recorded and placed and the editing is done, I was reluctant to let her off the hook. So I asked Katrina to write a bit about the whole experience of using 19th century arrangements in this documentary.

So, below is Katrina’s perspective on the music of Rebels on Lake Erie.

“Throughout recorded history music has served as a mirror of society, reflecting people’s hopes and dreams as well as their conflicts and pain. In experiencing music of the Civil War era we relive in part what the citizens of that period lived in full, in particular the emotions that coursed through our nation as our country was torn apart.
In performing this music on my own instrument, the viola, I attempted to capture the mournful longing of soldiers who feared they might never see their home again. The original melodies were primarily folksongs, well-known to boys far from home, and perhaps the only familiar element of a life left far behind. These time-worn melodies allow us to share even now what our fellow Americans experienced over a century ago.

The selections I recorded for this documentary were taken from transcriptions for solo voice with piano accompaniment from the Historic American Sheet Music collection at Duke University. As such they sometimes required transposition to adjust to the range of the viola, which is pitched somewhat lower than the more popular violin. However, the viola, better-known for carrying the middle voice in the classical orchestra, is well-suited to the somber mood of many Civil War pieces, such as “Do They Miss Me at Home?” Often written in the minor mode, these lonesome melodies depicted the longing of the soldier for home, and the worry of those left behind. Without a single word the sadness of loneliness and death are clearly portrayed.
As with every war, people also need music to lift their spirits. The music in this documentary also includes pieces such as the glorious “Riding a Raid,” which was recorded on piccolo. These upbeat tunes are generally composed in major keys, often with syncopated rhythms, a triplet feel, or a march-like beat, in contrast to the slower tunes recorded on viola.

The music in this documentary thus reflects both the hardships and hopes of those affected during the Civil War, supporting the recorded facts with the emotion appropriate to the story being told.”

Stay tuned for more stories of the music of Rebels on Lake Erie.

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