Rush the Growler

German Songs!
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Back when I began in Civil War re-enacting, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was intrigued by the music and songs of the soldiers.  I found an interest in Irish music through this time period, but my own Civil War ancestor was a German immigrant, and I've always wanted to be able to do more with German music. 

When the band, Rush the Growler, first started, we chose the motto/mission statement: "Meaningful songs in the folk traditions," with the idea that we would soon be playing German songs in addition to American, Canadian, Irish, Scottish, and whatever else caught our fancies.

On these pages, I intend to post some German songs I've found that I've enjoyed.  With only a few exceptions, I'll perform in the songs mostly or entirely in English because I think it's important to know what each song is about.  Some of the songs could have been heard in the 1860s, but many are much more recent.  All of them are songs that I find fun and they all have some connection to Germans and German-Americans.  


A word on my pronunciation:  I have no doubt that a native German speaker will immediately be able to tell that I am not one.  I am very much a novice, and I am trying to improve all the time.  If I am recording in German, I have tried hard to be correct, but I know I've made mistakes.  If you are an English speaker and trying to learn from my pronunciation, please do so with this caveat.

"Ich verkauf mein Gut und Häuslein"
"I'll Sell My Goods and Little House"

a.k.a. "We Cannot Remain Here"

11 We Cannot Remain Here.mp3

This song is an example of Auswandererlieder, a song of emigration from Germany to America, and probably dates to the late 1800s.  

The song is from Alsace, which is the German-speaking region of France.  That's why, though it is in German, in mentions leaving France and going to the French city of Strasbourg to get their passports and paperwork to emigrate.  One German-speaking branch of Scott's family also came from Alsace, from shortly after this song was written, so perhaps they knew it.

The first instrument that you hear playing here is called a scheitholtz.  It is an ancestor of the Appalachian dulcimer that can still sometimes be heard in American folk music.

This version of the song was recorded for our first CD.  The song has the full "Rush the Growler" complement, with Matt on guitar and Brian on drum.

"Morgenrot," or "Reiters Morgengesang"

This song dates back to the Napoleonic Wars, but it caught my attention because it is the most mentioned song from German-American soldiers in the American Civil War.  Historian Bell Wiley wrote:
Among foreign soldiers, the Germans were noted for their musical learning and accomplishments. .. The favorite of the Germans seems to have been their stirring soldier song 'Morgenroth,' [sic]which they sang in their native tongue when on the march and about the campfire. They also delighted in folk and national melodies of the homeland, and in patriotic and martial songs of their adopted America. Their bands were among the best in the army."  [Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank, p 169]

There are many, many other mentions of the song from the American Civil War.  A few notable ones include:

"The German regiments gave evidence from the very beginning that they would express themselves in music. ...In the evening in camp the German-born soldiers sang songs reminiscent of German heroes and German fame and loyalty- songs sometimes gay, sometimes sad. Once a detail of three hundred Germans returning over the snow to camp from picket duty as the sun was rising struck up a German war song, 'Morgen Roth'"[sic]. [Ella Lonn, Foreigners in the Union Army and Navy, p 374.]

"[As their train rattled southward from Cincinnati, Ohio]...Germans in the Ninth Ohio made the coaches ring with their native "Morgenroth."  [Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank, p. 32]

June 30, 1863- (The day before the battle of Gettysburg)-
"That evening Gen. Schurz ordered the German band of the 45th New York to play for the priest and nuns at the academy [St. Joseph's Academy, Emmitsburg, Maryland]. In the dwindling evening light, the small group played patriotic songs, marches, and polkas for the assembled crowd. Once the day's activities were concluded, the men gathered about their campfires and speculated on the battle they were sure was about to be joined. The growing darkness provided a background of eerie calm for "Morgenrot," always a favorite song among the German soldiers. On this occasion it proved prophetic..." ((The soldiers of the XI Corps would be heavily involved in the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on the following day.) [James S. Pula, The Sigel Regiment: A History of the 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, 1862-1865, p 157]


Morgenrot.mp3

"Es, es, es und es" or "Abshiedslied eines Handwerksburschen"
"It, It, It, and It" or "The farewell song of a craftsman"

Es es es und es.mp3

This song is from the point of view of a young man who has just finished his apprenticeship, and is now ready to become a journeyman, before becoming a master craftsman.  He is bidding farewell to the life he has led and will be travelling to other places now, and he has few tears to shed for his former master and the life he led there.  

I perform the first verse in German, but then sing the entire song in English to help you appreciate the humor in the song.  The version I'm using is combined from translations by Sabine Tober and others.

The song was first published in an 1826 collection, but is no doubt much older than that.  It remained popular throughout the 1800s.  

In the United States, the melody of "Es, es, es und es" was known well enough to be used for Union song during the American Civil War. I'm including that song, "The Why and Wherefore," a testament to the popularity of the original song.

The Why and Wherefore.mp3

"Brüderschaft" or "Im Krug zum grunen Kranze"
"Brotherhood" or "Once At the Green Wreath Tavern"

Green Wreath Tavern.mp3

Many folk genres that we are familiar with are filled with ballads that tell stories- sometimes of historic events, sometimes of legends, but always a narrative with a beginning, middle and end.  German folk music doesn't have as many of this type of song.  Instead of a story, the German poetic tradition tries to capture a single moment, and explore that fully.  This song is a good example .  A man walks into a tavern and recognizes an old comrade sitting there, and they end up having a few drinks together.  That's about all that there is to the story.

The poem was published in 1821 by Wilhelm Müller, and by the 1830s had been set to music.  Some claim that the poem was actually written in the very tavern mentioned in the words, in the city of Halle (Saale) in Saxony-Anhalt.  At least one interpretation of the song suggests that the two men in the song are veterans of the Napoleonic wars.


"The Lorelei"

Lorelei.mp3

American author Mark Twain once wrote, "Germany is rich in folk-songs, and the words and airs of several of them are peculiarly beautiful--but "The Lorelei" is the people's favorite. I could not endure it at first, but by and by it began to take hold of me, and now there is no tune which I like so well... This song has been a favorite in Germany for forty years, and will remain a favorite always, maybe... "

There are many English translations of the poem, but the words used here were translated by Emma Lazarus.  She is best known for writing "The New Colossus," the poem about the Statue of Liberty which begins, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

The musical accompaniment here is an autoharp.  The autoharp was designed to mimic the German zither, which is notoriously difficult to master.  It's button mechanism greatly simplifies the playing.

"John Maynard"

Germans know Buffalo as the place where John Maynard sacrificed himself to save a ship full of people.  Even though this event is fictional,  the poem describing it is famous in Germany.  The poem has become folklore in Germany,  as much as "Casey at the Bat" is in the United States.  A quick search on a site like YouTube will show dozens of school projects, plays, and even animations bringing the poem to life.

The poem was written by Theodor Fontane and was first published in 1886.  Oftentimes, the historical event of the disaster on the Erie in 1841 is noted as the inspiration for the poem.  However, even though they both involve fire on a steamship on Lake Erie, there are many differences between Fontane's poem and the history of the Erie.  Perhaps most significantly, John Maynard apparently saves everyone aboard but at the cost of his own life.  On the Erie, perhaps as many as 200 died and only 29 survived.  The Erie's helmsman was not named John Maynard, but Luther Fuller, and some speculate that he actually survived the Erie disaster.  In any case, the Erie never made it to shore again, and was headed west from Buffalo, not towards it.

No doubt, the best English-language source for more information on the poem and its history is at johnmaynard.net.

For our lyrics, we are using an adaptation of an English translation by Julie and Amy Huberman.  Although the poem was not originally written to be sung, there are lots of people who have written melodies for it.  We are using our version of a melody recorded by a German artist named "Danny."

John Maynard.mp3

Above: the disaster on the Erie, which may have inspired this poem

Below: details from the John Maynard monument at Buffalo

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