Rick Spencer, Dawn Indermuehle & Friends
These presentations are well-researched concert/lectures with a strong focus on entertainment. They have been enthusiastically received at historical societies, museums, libraries and other academic settings from New England to California. Songs are presented a capella or accompanied on guitar and 5-string banjo. The programs are designed to run for one hour, but can be adapted for longer or shorter presentations. Time is always allotted for discussion.
We will be happy to adapt an historic music program to suit the needs of your historical or entertainment setting, and are always pleased to provide a musical background ambiance for your event.
An American Pop Music Time Machine
Our “flagship” program is a musical voyage through American history, using popular songs from our past as the medium to connect to our cultural heritage. American popular music has always reflected our culture and our times. Listening to folk and popular songs from our past brings history vividly to life.
Our time machine programs are flexible and can take the listener from music of early post-Colonial, through the period of westward expansion, into the days of the Minstrel shows, Vaudeville, Tin Pan Alley, the Jazz age, through the early days of Rock ‘n Roll and into the modern era. We can focus on music of any period between the 1780s and 1980s, in 50 or 100 year segments, or we can emphasize a particular theme.
Songs From YOUR Family Tree: Connecting to Your Musical DNA
This program is customized to include information about descendants you’ve researched. Give us the information, we’ll find historical songs that relate to their lives. Great for family reunion events!
Songs of the Baby Boom: American Post War Pop Music
Our newest series explores the major trends and influences on popular music during the 1950s and ’60s. Currently available:
~ The Brill Building Sound
This program is a collection of songs from some of the greatest composers of the day, including Leiber and Stoller, King and Goffin, Sedaka and Greenfield, Pomus and Shuman, Bacharach and David and many others, all of whom worked out of the iconic Brill Building at 1619 Broadway in NYC.
~ The British Invasion
~ Chicago to Memphis, Philadelphia to Motown: American Rhythm, Blues and Soul
~ Greenwich Village and The Folk Revival
~ The California Sound
~ The Rise of American “Pop Country”
The struggle for woman suffrage was an important and hard-fought step toward gender equality. Music was one of the significant tools used in the crusade for a woman’s right to vote. Songs were composed to advance (and to oppose) the agenda that culminated in the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. This program presents some of the most engaging and interesting songs of the movement, with historical commentary, in commemoration of the recent centennial of a woman’s right to vote.
Please note that due to the 72 year struggle for woman suffrage, (1848-1920) this program runs 70 minutes.
View a video of the song “Eliza Jane” here
Godspeed the Plow: Songs of Farming and Rural Life
This program features songs celebrating rural and farm life throughout American history.
They describe the universal timelessness of agrarian activity from the 1780s to modern times. The presentation includes light-hearted, humorous songs about rural life as well as contemplative, philosophical pieces about the challenges of making a living from the land.
To End All Wars: Songs of the First World War
On June 28, 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his wife Sophie were
assassinated. Scholars agree that this was the catalyst of the terrible conflict that claimed over 10 million lives and came to be called “The War to End All Wars.” The popular and folk songs of the First World War were patriotic and inspiring. Some were filled with pathos, describing tragedy, loss, fear and hope. A surprising number were humorous. Music tied the men on the battlefield to their families at home. It united people in their beliefs, and inspired those who left home and family to fight. To listen to the songs of the First World War is to hear the cultural history of the period brought vividly to life. “To End All Wars: Songs of the First World War” is a presentation of period songs, some well-known, others more obscure, along with a discussion of the issues, events and personalities of the War. View a video of the song “Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” here, and “Now All the World’s at Peace” here.
Between the Great Wars: American Popular Music 1918-1941
The end of WWI, the “Roaring ’20s”, flappers, women’s suffrage, a racy new slang, prohibition, the Stock Market crash, the Great Depression and preparation for a second Great War were all part of the American experience between 1918 and 1941. During this period the radio was broadcasting an eclectic mix of different sounds and we were developing an appetite for a variety of musical styles. The popular and folk songs that were mainstream at the time included music from traditions as diverse as Gospel, Country, Blues, Vaudeville, Jazz, Swing and others. Songwriters like Irving Berlin, George M. Cohan, the Gershwins, Jimmie Rodgers and others were making their mark on
American pop culture. This is a program of American songs from one of the most interesting and dynamic times in our history.
Songs of the Second World War
The popular music of the Second World War was influenced by many different cultural traditions. Tin Pan Alley, Vaudeville, Swing, Country, Jazz, Blues and Big Band music were blending in a diverse and dynamic way to form the soundtrack of the period. “Songs of the Second World War” is a program that combines some of the most entertaining and popular songs of the 1940s along with background information on the War and the music that it inspired.
View a video of the song “G.I. Jive” here.
Are We There Yet?: Songs of American Transportation
This program is a lighthearted look at our motivation to be “on the move” from one place to another, and about the many modes of transportation we’ve used in getting from there to here. The presentation includes traditional and modern songs about travel by just about
every different mode imaginable.
On the Job: Historic Songs of American Work and Trades
Occupational songs have been around for as long as people have been proud of the work that they’ve done. Our ancestors described their working lives in songs about their trades. This program includes songs about farmers, sailors, cowboys, peddlers, housewives, railroaders, soldiers and others. This presentation includes a discussion of the labor movement in America and the use of modern songs that describe work.
View a video of the song “The Connecticut Peddler“ here.
Historical Songs of Outlaws, Villains and Rogues*
This presentation addresses the human obsession with and documentation of misdeeds using songs as the informational medium. Ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s (some going back hundreds of years), penny broadsides and popular songs from the 1700s to the mid 20th century are presented to tell the stories of Captain Kidd, Jesse James, Stagger Lee, Pretty Boy Floyd and a number of others. This program includes a discussion of why we as a culture are so fascinated by misdeeds, violence and mayhem.
*Please note that this program contains mature themes.
View a video of the song “Duncan and Brady“ here.
In Their Own Words: Songs of Our Seafaring Traditions
This program presents music from the English-speaking maritime world during the period from the 1790s to the 1930s. Mariners developed sea chanteys to coordinate shipboard work and composed songs to sing at leisure. In doing so they described their lives and expressed their thoughts and opinions. This program gives insight into the lives of deep-water sailors, fishermen, whalers and others who made their living at sea. It can be adapted as a children’s program and includes instrumental accompaniment on the concertina (a squeezebox that was often taken to sea) as well as the guitar and banjo.
View a video of the song “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy“ here.
Music of the American Civil War
In 2012 our nation began commemorating the sesquicentennial of our most divisive conflict, the War Between the States. Songs that were popular during that conflict give us great insight into the American spirit of the time.
Program titles include
The Greatest Hits of the Civil War
Maritime Songs of the Civil War
The Boys of the Battlefield: The Civil War as Told by Its Professional Songwriters
View a video of Stephen Foster’s song “The Glendy Burke“ here.
The Days When We Were Young
This program is a companion piece to the CD recording, which includes selections from four of our most popular historic music programs. This presentation is geared more toward entertainment than academics. Historic details are presented to a lesser degree. The program can include material from any of our presentations in a mix and match musical journey through American history.
View a video of the song “The Days When We Were Young“ here.
Sweet Sorrow: Historic Songs of Love, Pursuit, Connecting and Parting
This program is an entertaining, amusing and light-hearted musical journey through the adventures and
misadventures of lovers through time.
View a video of the song “Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy“ here.
John C. Frémont
Freemen for Frémont!: Music of the Presidential Campaign of 1856
Before the days of radio or television it was common for campaign promoters to distribute songbooks to those gathered at political rallies. In between the speeches and other activities, the crowd would be prompted to open the book and sing the songs about the virtuesof our candidates and the failings of the opposition. In 1856 the “Freeman’s Glee Book” was published to promote the Presidential aspirations of John C. Frémont, the first man to receive the nomination from the young Republican Party. “Freemen for Frémont!” presents ten songs from the book along with background information on the issues and personalities of the campaign. Frémont, James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, “Bully” Brooks, the Kansas-Nebraska Act are all discussed along with the “tabloid” issues of the day. The songs are insightful, humorous, patriotic and inflammatory. This program promotes an understanding of the United States on the brink of Civil War.
A Song of the Seasons
The promise of Spring, the warmth of the long days of Summer, the Autumn harvest and the deep, dark Winter have all been described eloquently in music. The allegorical song of the seasons of human life is a long standing tradition as well. This program presents some of the best of both.
The Grain, the Grape and the Hop: Drinking Songs Old and Recent
For almost as long as fermented beverages have been around we’ve been celebrating the consumption of them in song. This program presents a selection of songs that have been composed over the years to describe the joys (and a few of the sorrows) of drinking. A token temperance song or two might find their way into the presentation as well.
Songs of Ireland and Irish-America
This program is a musical journey through the songs of the Irish in America. This is a perfect program for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Henry Clay Work
A Songwriter from Connecticut: The Music of Henry Clay Work
This program presents some of the most interesting and engaging songs of one of the most popular songwriters of the 19th century. Henry Clay Work wrote melodies that continue to be familiar today. They were the great “pop” hits of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s (1850s, ’60s and ’70s that is!). Work was born, received much of his education and died, in Connecticut. Songs he wrote, including “Marching Through Georgia,” “My Grandfather’s Clock,” and “The Ship That Never Returned” formed the soundtrack of the period. Ten of H.C. Work’s songs are presented in this program, along with biographical information on his life and a discussion of the challenges of presenting music of the 1860s in a culture that understandably requires “political correctness.”
View a video of the song “The Days When We Were Young“ here.
Songs from the War of 1812
This program gives background information and insight into the causes and incidents of this conflict, which pitted a very young USA against our “mother country” and most bitter enemy, Great Britain. In response to British actions and policy the halls of Congress echoed with the cries of “Free Trade and No Impressment!” There was also great concern about the British arming our Native-American enemies on the frontier. In June of 1812 Congress declared War in an effort to enforce our sovereignty. The conflict lasted until January of 1815. This program presents songs from both the British and American sides. Recruiting songs, ballads, songs of the hardship, patriotic songs and songs describing major battles are included.
View a video of the song “How Happy the Soldier“ here.
Splendid Isolation: Songs of Warren Zevon
Warren William Zevon (1947-2003) was a gifted and troubled genius who wrote musical commentaries on late 20th century American life. His pieces were clever, satirical, sensitive, dark and humorous. Although he made his living as a rock musician he described his compositions as “basically folk songs.” Zevon recorded 12 studio albums and two live ones. He was very highly regarded by critics and his peers. Now more than 15 years after his death he continues to have a fan base and following that borders on cult status. Warren Zevon won two posthumous Grammy awards for his final recording “The Wind.”
A 19th Century Christmastide
For many the romance of Christmas is linked to a distant land and rituals of a “perfect Christmas”. A 19th Century Christmastide is a selection of songs popular at the end of the 1800s. The songs are almost universally recognizable. For those who have embraced history as a passion the romantic notions of the ideal Christmas are entwined with songs that were part of the holidays in Victorian England and America. We present these songs as ambient, period music for holiday gatherings or as a historic music program with commentary on the background and origins of the songs, and the evolution of America’s 19th Century holiday traditions. Audience members are welcome to sing along. A list of songs is available on request.