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Old Folks at Home - cover sheet music

[Detail] Old Folks at Home - sheet music

The Temperance Movement

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, ca. 1820-1860 includes a number of songs composed to call attention to the temperance movement, the effort to ban alcohol. Following the lead of the temperance movement, many of the songs focused on an alcoholic father and the hardships he placed on his family; an example of this kind of song is "The Drunkard and His Family". The "Temperance Anthem" was a hymn written as an opening for temperance festivals at which participants would pledge to abstain from all alcoholic beverages. Stephen Foster's "Comrades, Fill No Glass For Me" is yet another example of how the spirit of the reform movement influenced composers. The Hutchinson Family's "Right Over Wrong, Come Right Along" showed a similar fervor against alcoholic spirits as their songs expressing opposition to slavery. Light-hearted drinking songs of the era, such as "Brandy and Water," and "The land we live in" provide a contrast with the more serious warnings in temperance songs.

Browse the Subject Index for additional examples. Compare several drinking songs with songs devoted to the temperance cause:

  • What is the central theme of most temperance songs?
  • How effective are the lyrics in conveying the temperance message?
  • How was temperance associated with patriotism in the "Temperance Anthem"? Why do you think the anthem invoked the spirit of George Washington?
  • How are the tones of the drinking and temperance songs different? Do you think that songs devoted to a reform movement or other "cause" are necessarily serious? Give examples from historical and contemporary music to support your answer.