Site icon Laura Dean: Musical Artist, Teacher, Author

Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier

After months (really years) of work on the manuscript, I’m delighted to announce the book cover and title of my forthcoming book to be published by McFarland Publishers later this year. The book is 7 x 10 inches and contains 10 chapters along with 60 images, bibliography, index, and a selection of lead sheets.

As the publisher is hard at work on the editing process, I turn my attention to offering a sneak peek of the book. Over the next several weeks, I’ll post snippets of the narrative along with my own recordings of songs mentioned in the text.

The cover image features the Fort Shaw Mandolin Club circa 1905. The young ladies hold a variety of string instruments including mandolins, violins, and guitars. The image was likely taken at the Fort Shaw Indian School near Great Falls, Montana. (Image courtesy of Montana Historical Society.) 

The story………………….

Many people have heard of The Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Trail, and the Westward Expansion, but few are aware that music played a significant role in the movement. The diverse cultural landscape of the Old West included Northern Cheyenne courtship flute makers, fiddle-playing explorers, dancing fur trappers, hymn-singing missionaries, frontier flutists, girls with guitars, wagon driving balladeers, poetic cowboys, singing farmers, musical miners, and preaching songsters.

During the Westward Expansion, some 400,000 people uprooted their families in pursuit of a better life in the West. Taking only the bare essentials that would fit into simple wagons, the pioneers made room for musical instruments alongside their guns, food, and tools. Music often provided the only spark of light and happiness for these weary travelers during what seemed like an endless dusty journey fraught with hardships. Heart and Place offers a new look at an old story, an opportunity to drill down deeply into the experiences of our forefathers and foremothers, discovering again and again how music sustained them, provided joy, and often eased tensions between disparate groups along the trail.

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