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There Was a Time-Melodies of Stephen Foster[CD]
~ Susan Urbach
Susan Urbach graduated with a Bachelors and Masters degree in Music from Oklahoma City University. A church music director for 16 years, she now makes appearances in the local and surrounding area. A history buff, she brings her knowledge and enthusiasm to the presentation of historical music selections. In addition to the vocals, she also plays the cello and concertina on the recording. H. Scott Raab is accomplished in organ, piano and violin. A native Texan, Scott is Director of Music at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City. Scott holds degrees in music from the University of Houston and the University of Michigan. Scott plays the piano and violin on the recording. In 1850 Stephen Foster began to emerge as America's major songwriter. The nation was beginning to develop an entertainment industry. Popular novels began to appear, newspapers became more readable, both in content and layout, and concert-goers now had options besides aristocratic operas. Dan Emmett and his Christy Minstrels were popularizing the uniquely American minstrel show, and most importantly for Foster, americans were becoming more musically literate and a sheet music industry was developing to provide them with songs they could play at home. Foster's first commercially successful songs were minstrel songs, often written for Emmett, and in one case published under Emmett's name. Ironically, Foster disliked the genre for he felt that it would impede a broader composing career. Indeed, the medium's insistence on racial stereotyping and epithets, which are today considered offensive, limited Foster and in fact, he became known in the industry as the first songwriter who consistently gave his slaves personae, emotions and personalities. As his career matured, Foster increasingly turned to love songs, ballads, and topical campaign songs, and his humorous songs lost the racial overtones of the minstrel song. Foster served as his own lyricist until the very end of his career, and his themes are appealing even today. Foster's greatest themes were love, bereavement, and family; his reflections on them, coupled with his beautiful melodies, can speak to anyone at any time. Foster left his Pittsburgh home for New York in 1860, and although it was a productive period for him artistically, his personal life, never terribly successful, deteriorated further. After his death in 1864, Foster's songs emerged as standard favorites for Americans, their popularity only receding in the mid-twentieth century. Recent years have seen a rising generation of performers rediscover their many merits, giving us interpretations which retain Foster's aesthetics while adding their own modern sensibility. Thus the songs serve to evoke America's great age while also speaking to our own lives. Just listen.
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