“Quickstep: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War, Featuring the Music of Thomas Coates” – MSR Classics

by | Aug 15, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

“Quickstep: Brass Band Music of the American Civil War, Featuring the Music of Thomas Coates” [TrackList follows] – Coates Brass Band (47th PA Vol Infantry Regt. Band)/ Douglas F. Hedwig – MSR Classics MS 1422 [Distr. by Albany], 58:28 ***1/2:
I asked to be assigned this CD because among other things I do in my spare time, when not trying to hear every piece of classical music written in the last 500 years, is Civil War reenacting. The old gray warrior not being what he used to be, I have somewhat curtailed my activities in this area, but I have fond memories of days in the field followed by the Saturday evening ball that caps social events on most reenactment weekends. Depending on the scope of the event and the predilections of the sponsoring organizations, the music supplied at these balls can range from a trio of bluegrass musicians (not very authentic) to a brass band playing period-style instruments in the manner of the Coates Brass Band (aka 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment Band).
Thomas Coates (1803?/1810?–1895) was a peripatetic trumpeter and bandmaster who returned to his native Easton, Pennsylvania, just before the Civil War, heading up the band that bore his name and enthusiastically volunteering his service (along with that of his band) at the outbreak of hostilities. The band’s tour of duty ended in the autumn of 1862, but Coates continued to compose and conduct. Many of his compositions found their way into the repertory of Civil War–era bands, and indeed the pieces on the current recording had to be reconstructed from band books belonging to other regiments, including the 26th North Carolina Infantry Band, which suggests how pervasive Coates’s influence was.
Coates’s music is supplemented here by other favorites of the period, such as “Red, White, and Blue,” “Hail, Columbia” (“The President’s March”), and “Sweet Home.” Kurrick’s “Dead March” and Pleyel’s “Hymn” would have featured in the more somber duties of the typical Civil War brass band.
In his notes to the recording Michael O’Connor of Palm Beach Atlantic University, who was responsible for collecting and editing most of the Coates pieces that appear on this CD, states that Coates’s style was fairly revolutionary among bandmasters of the age. His music incorporated pre-jazz rhythms and harmonies that he most likely picked up during his years in Louisiana and Texas. Thinking of the swingy music of his contemporary New Orleans-born Louis Moreau Gottschalk, this seems reasonable, though to the untutored ear Coates’s music doesn’t seem so different from most Civil War–era band fare. Dr. O’Connor further states that Coates’s music is unusual in its frequent use of countermelodies and emphasis on the inner voices, which mostly had to content themselves with supplying the oom-pahs in other bandmasters’ music. Again, I defer to O’Connor’s judgment. Coates’s art seems pretty typical of what I’ve heard before in the more sophisticated recordings of band music from the era (for instance, Grafulla’s Favorites, featuring music of bandmaster Claudio Grafulla: New World Records 80556).
But for those with an interest in music of the period, this MSR disc is a worthy anthology, suggesting the mix of dance music, funerary music, and settings of classical and traditional favorites with which the Civil War bandmaster roused the troops and entertained private citizens.
One thing that distinguishes this recording is the fact that the Coates Brass Band plays original instruments using original mouthpieces, which produce an authentically mellow sound, from the burnished glow of the cornets through the plump tones of the E-flat tuba to the rope-tension snare and bass drums. The recording, made in a church in Pawling, New York, underscores the mellowness of the old instruments, though a tighter acoustic would have provided a clearer sonic picture, helping to make those inner voices all the more prominent. Still, this is an entertaining and enlightening endeavor, and I recommend it to all with an interest in the period and its music.

  1. Thomas Coates: Northampton Quickstep
  2. Coates: Buckley’s Minstrels
  3. Donizetti: Death Song
  4. Coates: Turk
  5. Traditional: Red, White, and Blue
  6. William Tanzer: St. Martin’s / Lowell Mason: Hamburg
  7. Coates: Temperance Quickstep
  8. Coates: Cottage by the Sea 2-Step
  9. George H. Goodwin: Waltz
  10. Henry R. Bish (arr. Stratton): Sweet Home
  11. Coates: Dustin’s Quickstep
  12. Coates: Quickstep 32
  13. A. Kurrick: Dead March
  14. Coates: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  15. Philip Phile (arr. Stratton): Hail, Columbia
  16. B. F. Porter: Peace, Troubled Soul
  17. Coates: Phantom
  18. Ignaz Pleyel: Pleyel’s Hymn
  19. Coates: Quickstep 31

—Lee Passarella

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