Michael Lasser, host of the nationally syndicated public radio show, Fascinatin’ Rhythm, will present the talk “No Army Without Music: the Songs of the Civil War” at the West Virginia Independence Hall Museum in Wheeling on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
Lasser, of Penfield, N.Y., titled the talk from Robert E. Lee’s observation, “I do not think we can have an army without music.” After careful research, Lasser learned that the armies would sing in bivouac and on the march, and the people at home would soon pick up the same songs. Frequently the two armies would serenade each other across the lines at night and then resume battle in the morning. His primary interest has been in studying the song’s central themes and what they tell us about the attitudes, values and beliefs of the time. His talk also looks at musical portrayals of battles and men at war, comic treatments of army life, sentimental ballads, and patriotic anthems.
Lasser is a lecturer, writer, broadcaster, critic, and teacher. He and Philip Furia are co-authors of a new book, America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. A study of approximately 300 classic American songs, the book illuminates the ways in which great songs meld words and music, sentiment and melody, into a seamless whole. It also traces the process of collaboration, the give-and-take between composer and lyricist that results in a finished song.
Since 1980, Lasser has hosted Fascinatin’ Rhythm. The weekly program explores the history and themes of American popular music through a series of radio essays illustrated by recordings. In 1994, the program won a prestigious Peabody Award for letting “our treasury of popular tunes speak (and sing) for itself with sparkling commentary tracing the contributions of the composers and performers to American society.”
Lasser also was the theater critic for The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle for 20 years, and a member of the Speaker’s Bureau of the New York Council for the Humanities.
He has spoken at universities and art and history museums in 34 states and the District of Columbia, and designs and narrates concerts for symphony orchestras. His appearances include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Cornell University, the Museum of the City of New York, The Stratford Festival and the Truman and Bush Presidential Museums, among others. Lasser was the director and curator of the not-for-profit Wilson Arts Center in Rochester, N.Y. for 15 years. He has taught at Rutgers University, St. John Fisher College, and Fairleigh Dickinson University. He also taught the history of the American musical at the University of Rochester and Nazareth College, and was a major contributor to American Song Lyricists, 1920-1960.
Lasser is a graduate of Dartmouth College, holds a master’s degree from Brooklyn College and did additional graduate work at Rutgers University.
Rene Paul Barilleux, deputy director for programs at Mississippi Museum of Art, said of Lasser, “Michael captivated the audience with his passion for music. In particular, he made connections between popular American music and this country’s history and culture. . . . His engaging style, accessibility to the audience, and thorough knowledge of the subject made the presentation one of our most successful in recent times.”
For more information about the talk, contact Melissa Brown, site manager for West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, at (304) 238-1300.
West Virginia Independence Hall Museum, originally built as a federal custom house in 1859, served as the home of the pro-Union state conventions of Virginia during the spring and summer of 1861 and as the capitol of loyal Virginia from June 1861 to June 1863. It also was the site of the first constitutional convention for West Virginia. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988, the museum is maintained and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, with the cooperation and assistance of West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the exception of major holidays. The museum is located on the corner of 16th and Market Streets in Wheeling.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Visit the Division’s website at www.wvculture.org for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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MEDIA NOTE: Michael Lasser can be reached at (585) 377-7408 or by e-mail at
Director of Public Information
West Virginia Division of Culture and History
The Cultural Center
1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East
Charleston, WV 25305-0300
Phone (304) 558-0220
Fax (304) 558-2779