Stephen Foster: Willie Has Gone to the War

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Stephen Foster (July 4, 1826 – January 13, 1864) is often called “the father of American music.” His musical output in his short life included over 200 songs, many of which are still well-known.

SFoster_thumb.jpg Foster could also be called “the father of American songwriters.” While he was not the first American songwriter, he was among the first to seek songwriting as a career. In Foster’s day, there was no legal protection like the copyright laws and strict publishing agreements that support and protect today’s songwriters. As a result, Foster actually became impoverished, even as the popularity of his music increased. His works were published by multiple publishers, who often paid no royalties to the composer. Foster’s most popular tunes made money for the publishers, while his fortunes and health declined. Nevertheless, even 151 years after his death, his melodies remain an important part of the American musical tradition.

I arranged this song of Foster’s, Willie Has Gone to the War, in honor of Memorial Day, observed today in the US. The song was composed and published in 1863 with lyrics by George Cooper. An interesting feature of this song is the contrast (which I have emphasized in my harp arrangement) between music that sounds regimental and military, and music that is more romantic, sentimental and sad. Here are the lyrics to the first verse and chorus:

Willie Has Gone to the War

The bluebird is singing his lay,
To all the sweet flow’rs of the dale,
The wild bee is reaming at play,
And soft is the sigh of the gale;
I stray by the brookside alone,
Where oft we have wander’d before,
And weep for my lov’d one, my own,
My Willie has gone to the war!
Willie has gone to the war, Willie,
Willie my lov’d one my own;
Willie has gone to the war, Willie,
Willie my lov’d one is gone!

Who are you remembering this Memorial Day?

Ps. You can download an intermediate level version of my arrangement, lever-harp friendly, and in two different keys. My gift to you today! Click Here to Get Your Sheet Music

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