Music and the 4th of July go together like love and marriage! I enjoy the big fireworks displays, but the patriotic music associated with 4th of July is just the best!! The use of music to accompany festive occasion is, of course, ancient. Whatever kind of celebration of ritual is going on, music enhances the whole experience. Music adds another layer of meaning to any life experience, but especially celebrations.
So what are the characteristics of our classic 4th of July musical favorites, both classic and recent? Well, first you have to think about the characteristics of lots of military music because much of the music we enjoy on the 4th of July, was created for military occasions and parades of various kinds. Therefore, it often has quite a bit of brass. Trumpets, trombones, tubas, sousaphones, cornetts, and mellophones (instead of French horns.) There is also usually quite a bit of percussion, because snare drums, and bass drums have always accompanied military parades, and they can be easily heard , even with lots of brass instruments playing. So when you see a big marching band parade coming down the street, you’ll see lots of brass instruments and drums, cymbals, glockenspielen, and also, a few woodwinds! Those would be mostly clarinets and saxophones; flutes and piccolos. (Double reed instruments like oboes and bassoons, couldn’t be heard above the brass and percussion.
But what about the whole body of holiday music that consists of vocal music and vocal ensembles? Every school child in the USA learns “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “America, the Beautiful.” In the Deep South, we sang “Dixie” and other distinctly southern songs that are not heard much today!
The 4th of July is a wonderful time for multi-generational activities because people from 1-99 know all of these songs! I can’t think of a better way to spend the 4th of July than to go to a big picnic or barbeque, eat some watermelon and home-made ice cream, and have a big singalong, as in the video above!!