Final Project: Music and Politics

Battle Hymn of the Republic, Words by Julia Ward Howe, Music by William Steffe, The United States Army, 2016, U.S.A.

For What It’s Worth, Written by Stephen Stills, Performed by Buffalo Springfield, 1967 U.S.A.

Thesis Definition

Music has the power to sway social perceptions of controversial political topics. Dunaway defines such “when its lyrics or melody evoke or reflect a political judgement by the listener” (Dunaway 269). The two examples chosen are Battle Hymn of the Republic and For What It’s Worth. Both songs emotionally charge a societal truth, something that they don’t have complete power over but is happening nonetheless.

Battle Hymn of the Republic was first written as a different song “John Brown’s Body” and was popular at the beginning of the civil war. Julia Ward Howe, in 1861, wrote new lyrics to the song, these more focused on the war. The lyrics are written in support of the union giving the charge that God is on their side (Civil War Music). This piece went on to be a major success influencing our national army even today.

For What It’s Worth was written by Stephen Stills and performed by Buffalo Springfield in 1967. It was originally inspired by the Sunset Strip riots in Los Angeles however it has been expanded by the listeners to apply to any other unjust political movement. This song is applicable to many situations because it is open to interpretation in its universal lyrics. Many popular artists have covered the song, keeping it in pop-culture (Browne).

Music Analysis

Battle Hymn of the Republic

Rhythm:

This song is written in 4/4 time with straight rhythm. The percussion and brass sharply keep the beat as if to keep a marching speed. Each verse and chorus go in a pair with similar tune and rhythms.

Timbre:

The music has a ‘colonial’ feel, with emphasis on the snare, brass, and choir. Each verse has it’s own set of dynamics and tempo. The third verse in the video, but the final verse in the lyrics below is typically sung slower and more thoughtful.

Lyrics:

Julia Ward Howe chose the perfect lyrics for the times she was in. Many people fighting in the civil war at the time were church-goers and would identify with a song about how God was fighting with them. However, the controversial nature of using religion to achieve a political goal was not new to this period. The song is simple enough for a broad audience to appreciate, be it singing or listening, and has a catchy repetitive chorus.

 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:

His day is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.”

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:

As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

Glory, glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on.

 

For What It’s Worth

Rhythm:

Rhythms in this song are very simple, nothing too complicated or crazy. The accompaniment strikes chords together every measure then carry it towards the next one. It is written in 4/4 time with emphasis on eighth notes in the melody.

Timbre:

The tone of the song is one of remorse and concern. It is relaxed in the sense that no instrument is competing to be heard, but each has its time in the light. The guitar riffs in the background give a smooth texture. There is no break in the music until the lyrics “stop, hey what’s that sound”, which bring more attention to the message.

Lyrics:

The lyrics for this song are simple and clear. There is something going on that the writer doesn’t agree with but is here anyways. Each verse progresses a universal theme with a repeated mini chorus at the end. With the mini chorus tying each verse together it is fitting that it is repeated at the end.

 

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Personal Journey

At the beginning of this course, I perceived myself as one who knew more than the average person about all things music. However, as I progressed through this class I learned that although I may readily identify musical elements in songs, I do not possess the natural skills of communicating them. Each blog post was tedious work as I went through the process of finding the words to express myself. At the end of the course I do not consider myself to now have these skills, but at least to be humbled to the point where I appreciate those who do.

Sources

Browne, David. “’For What It’s Worth’: Inside Buffalo Springfield’s Classic Protest Song.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 11 Nov. 2016, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/for-what-its-worth-inside-buffalo-springfield-classic-w449685.

“Civil War Music: The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Civil War Trust, The History Channel, http://www.civilwar.org/learn/primary-sources/civil-war-music-battle-hymn-republic.

Dunaway, David King. “Music and Politics in the United States.” Folk Music Journal, vol. 5, no. 3, 1987, pp. 268–294., http://www.jstor.org/stable/4522239.

“Most Popular Songs and Artists of 1800s.” Pop Culture Madness, Pop Culture Madness, popculturemadness.com/Music/Charts/1800s.php.

“Music and Politics.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Apr. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_and_politics.

Thomson, Rex. “The Intertwined Relationship Between Music And Politics.” L4LM, Live For Live Music, 14 Apr. 2017, liveforlivemusic.com/features/the-intertwined-relationship-between-music-and-politics/.

 

 

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