Harvest Time

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recorded music, stories, and narrative from my forthcoming book: Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier.

Harvest. ca. 1869., artist unknown. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Van Orsdel, “Brother Van,” known as the best loved man in Montana. (ca. late 1800s)

Brother Van with friends and bear cub in Great Falls, Montana. Photo courtesy of the Brother Van Museum Archives. (ca. late 1800s)

“Harvest Time,” known as “Brother Van’s Song.” played by Laura Dean
Harvest Time 
The seed I have scattered in spring-time with weeping 
and watered with tears and with dews from on high;
Another may shout when the harvesters reaping 
shall gather my grain in the sweet by and by.

Over and over, yes-deeper and deeper 
my heart is pierced through with life's sorrowing cry,
but the tears of the sower and the songs of the reaper 
shall angle together in joy by and by. 

By and by, by and by 
by and by, by and by
But the tears of the sower and the songs fo the reaper shall
mingle together in joy by and by.

Then palms of victory, crowns of glory, 
palms of victory I shall wear. 

William Van Orsdel (1848-1919), known as Brother Van, was often referred to as “the best loved man in Montana.” Brother Van, an enthusiastic singer, often broke into song during his sermons. He was a 19th century Methodist minister and circuit rider – a preacher who rode from town to town conducting church services. He tirelessly preached the gospel to congregations both large and small – on a steamboat, in saloons, in churches, and on rustic homesteads throughout the state of Montana. As a young man, a riverboat captain asked why he was going to Montana, Brother Van replied, “To sing, to preach and to encourage people to be good.”

For more about Brother Van and how he once saved his life with music, you’ll have to read my forthcoming book! I just learned that my manuscript has moved into the paging or pagination phase-which means another step closer to the publication date-early 2022.

Music in the Westward Expansion: Songs of Heart and Place on the American Frontier at McFarland Publishers, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or ask about the book at your favorite book seller.

The Heart List

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring recorded music, stories, and narrative from my forthcoming book:

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

Red Boots (a gift from artist, Julie Andrews of California).
“What Wondrous Love Is This,” American Folk Hymn from the early 1800s, played by Laura Dean.

Indigenous people, explorers, pioneers on the Oregon Trail, missionaries, miners, cowboys, preachers, teachers, and frontier settlers all left behind a rich musical history. Each group that traveled west brought heart to the experience as they wove their unique threads into the musical tapestry that was as diverse as the people and experiences of the nineteenth century American West. Below you will find the “Heart List” which highlights the many roles that music played as people established a new sense of place.

Indeed, the “Heart List” applies to our modern world. For a contemporary story that illustrates the healing power of music in the face of Alzheimer’s disease, I encourage you to watch the 60 Minutes episode that aired last week,”The Final Act,” which features musical legends Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

The Heart List: In the 19th Century American West, music provided…
• Celebration
• Comfort for people (and restless cattle)
• Community connection
• Creative outlet
• Diplomacy
• Diversion
• Entertainment
• Expression of cultural identity
• Expression of friendship
• Expression of joy
• Expression of love
• Expression of sorrow
• Historical records of events
• Memories of home
• Sense of place
• Solace
• Worship

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Yellow House Salon #7, Rubato


Ruby with the Eckstein Senior Orchestra at Icicle Creek Retreat


Statue on grounds of Sleeping Lady near Leavenworth Washington




This week’s recording is a Gershwin Prelude, Rubato. Rubato means to play with expressive freedom,  a give and take of the tempo without altering the overall structure. (recorded on my Roland hand held digital recorder)

The first thing about middle schoolers, they eat a lot!  As a chaperone on a recent Icicle Creek trip, most of the duties consisted of food shopping,  feeding the kids, tucking them into their cabins at night, and  letting them out of their cabins in the morning. Just over a week ago,  I accompanied my daughter, Ruby, a member of the senior orchestra of Eckstein Middle School, to the snowy wonderland retreat at Icicle Creek/Sleeping Lady resort near Leavenworth, Washington. We were a group of 50 including the orchestra, coaches, the director, and chaperones.

Aside from a few Faulty Towers moments where we had to shuffle people in an out of rooms to make sure everyone had a place to sleep, the retreat was a huge success.  The kids worked their tails off, rehearsing as much as 11 hours a day in the full orchestra, sectionals, and chamber groups.

I am in awe of the commitment of the director, Brad Smith,  the students, the high school coaches, the professional instructors and the parents of all of these kids to make this all come together. It’s not just the support to pull of this  weekend retreat, but the long-term commitment to music education.  I listen and watch the students and I think of the weekly lessons, the daily practice, the extra rehearsals, the shlepping of instruments back and forth, the patience of the instructors, the juggling of schedules, the endless repetition in the practice room, and finally, the  glorious music  that is the end result of this team effort. Ultimately, the pursuit of music is an act of love on all parts, and it definitely takes a village.