Music at the National Archives

By T. Juliette Arai

RG 93 (War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records), Entry 50 (Music Book, n.d.)

As most researchers are aware, the National Archives has many records that are administrative in nature.  In some very rare cases, however, we do come across a document that is so much more interesting than the everyday letter sent to and from government officials/offices.  Last month was one of those times…..

While searching for any War Department records relating to music, I found that I wasn’t having much luck.  What little I could find seemed mundane; nothing really stood out.  But then I stumbled upon three very small files each containing the one document I was hoping to find: sheet music.

RG 92 (Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General), Entry 225 (Consolidated Correspondence), File: “Music”

The first item, entitled Cavalry Ordinance (shown left)is handwritten by I.E. Roca around 1833.  In the cover letter accompanying the piece, Mr. Roca—a Professor of Music and teacher of the 3rd Regiment Band at Fort Jesup—writes to Major General Macomb, Quartermaster General, “…[e]nclosed you have a specimen of the different cavalry calls which I rather think will suit different evolutions – you have reveille to tattoo – also different staple calls – Drill call, Dismiss Drill, Parade, Turn out, etc., etc., etc….”  Mr. Roca also enclosed another item that appears to be instructions (not displayed) on the chords and the exact types of instruments to be used.

The second piece of sheet music is entitled Major Thompson’s March (labeled Exhibit B, shown below) along with a plan of sheets.  These documents were enclosed with a letter dated January 6, 1903, to the Adjutant General from the Chief Musician, V.F. Safranek, 25th U.S. Infantry stationed at Ft. Niobrara, Nebraska.  In it he presents his recommendation “for supplying Regiments with sheet music for Bands to play from…[and] would provide music really suitable for marching purposes and at minimum cost.”

He goes on to discuss—based on his over 8 years of experience as a Regimental Chief Musician—his idea of establishing official band-related positions within the ranks of the U.S. Army, including Chief Bandmaster (of the Army), Regimental Chief Musician, and Drum Major.  He also makes a suggestion concerning the organization and makeup of a typical regimental band.

RG 94 (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office), Entry 25 (AGO Document File), File: #469254

The third and final record (shown at the top) is a music book containing scores and lyrics in English, French, and Italian.  It was donated to the War Department by Henry Pickering, great grandson of Colonel Timothy Pickering, in April 1909, along with account books and payments vouchers of the Quartermaster General’s Department for the years 1790-1794.  The pages displayed here appear to be the beginning of an Italian song called “Porgi Amor qualche ristoro.”

While we do not have an abundance of these types of records, coming across them always reminds me of the many interesting and diverse documents one may find among the holdings of that National Archives.

2 thoughts on “Music at the National Archives

  1. I’ve always found it interesting that the U.S. Sanitary Commission questionnaires ask if the camp, “has a regimental band.” Ever come across any documents that dwell on smell? (yes, I am serious).

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