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#054: An American Romantic:The Music of Stephen Foster for Harp

music and meaning May 30, 2022

Stephen Foster is often referred to as the “Father of American music,” or “America’s first songwriter,” neither of which is strictly true. However, Stephen Foster’s extensive output of songs and the strength of their popularity more than 150 years later attests to the powerful connection his music creates. The homespun appeal of his words and music evokes gentle images of family, home, love and longing that are in sharp contrast to his more difficult reality. 

In fact, there were many ironical contradictions between his music and his life. His songs paint vivid pictures of life in the South, but Foster never lived there and only visited there once. HIs music was a staple in music hall minstrel shows, but Foster himself was an ardent abolitionist. His life came to a close not with the “Old Folks at Home” but alone in Bellevue Hospital in New York City. 

Nonetheless, his music is filled with singable melodies, uncomplicated harmonies and a romantic sentiment that not only still touches the hearts of listeners, but is suited perfectly to the harp. 

On today’s show, I will discuss - and play for you - 3 songs by Stephen Foster. Two of these are less familiar ones that I believe are worthy of more attention. The third is a very familiar one. I will share my insights about Stephen Foster’s music and give you some tips for playing it well, with the right stylistic touches to make it sound authentic but fresh and beautiful. 

Also, I wanted to make it a little easier for you to play some of Stephen Foster’s music yourself so I have created PDFs of all three of the arrangements I’m playing for you today and I will tell you how you can get them at the end of our show.

But my goal today is really to give you an inside look at this music and the man who wrote it. So let’s begin by imagining yourself back in 1826, July 4th, 1826 to be precise.

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 


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