Old American songs bring history to life when we use them as stepping-stones: their lyrics, melodies, and sentiments help us to imagine the era when they were first popular. The core repertoire of the nearly 40 concerts in this 5-year series are songs that were well-known in America between 1840 and the 1890s.


David connects the songs with the historical context that surrounds them. The music takes on more meaning, and history and song come to life together. The music from the 19th Century can be witty, naive, pointed, or heart-rending. And the tales that surround the songs are stories nobody could invent...

 •The failed gold miner who wrote "Jingle Bells"
 •The story of the actual "Man on the Flying Trapeze"
 •What "Seeing the Elephant" meant to the Forty Niners
 •The gritty and surprising origins of a cherished lullaby
 •The Irish ballad written by a German immigrant in Indiana
 •The song that was illegal to sing or own during the Civil War
 •and lots more...  Quick Links:   Listen    Series Song List

Programs in Oregon and California 2016-2020 included:

• Stephen Foster - Making Music American

The first American freelance composer, and the most famous songwriter of the 19th Century, Stephen Foster died penniless in 1864 at the age of 37. David loves to tell the story of Foster's brief life, and how he sought to create a new kind of American song. His artistic journey is inspiring: he began his career writing buffoonish songs for blackface minstrel shows and went on to write songs that were deeply sympathetic to African Americans. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass referred to them as "heart songs." During the course of the concert, David sings a dozen Foster songs in the order in which he published them—from his first song in 1844 to his last in 1864. The playlist includes Open Thy Lattice, Love; Oh, Susanna; Camptown Races; Swanee River (Old Folks at Home); My Old Kentucky Home; Hard Times Come Again No More; Some Folks; Beautiful Dreamer; and others.

On the Go - Travel in the 19th Century

Travel in the mid-19th century was not for the fait of heart. On stagecoaches, wagons, riverboats and ocean-going ships, a journey was full of danger and adventure. In this program you will hear songs the pioneers heard as they made their way west, and songs about the perilous journey.

In one whirlwind hour David sings authentic 19th Century songs about traveling by wagon, canal barge, river, train, bicycle, and stagecoach. He even includes two early Tin Pan Alley songs about automobiles and airplanes. Songs: Wait for the Wagon; Low Bridge, Everybody Down; The Boatmen Dance; The French Velocipede; The California Stage; The Great Rock Island Route; In My Merry Oldsmobile; Take Me Up With You, Dearie; and David's hilarious Oregon Place Names song, featuring the unusual names of 128 Oregon towns.

• Music on the Oregon Trail

On the Oregon Trail, you couldn't bring much with you, but you could bring songs. During the six-month trek, music was a source of strength, hope, entertainment, and consolation. For this program, history and stories of the great western migration are interwoven with music specifically mentioned in emigrants' own diaries. These are songs the pioneers actually recalled singing and hearing as they made their way west in the 1840s and '50s, including: Wait for the Wagon; Home, Sweet Home; The Girl I left Behind Me; What was Your Name in the States; Begone, Dull Care; My Old Kentucky Home; O, California; and more.

Women Poets and Ballad Composers

In 1844, Marion Sullivan became the first American woman to write a hit song. Despite living in a time when "proper" ladies were actively discouraged from any form of public musical activity, Sullivan and other bold 19th-Century women created and published beautiful, memorable songs. This hour focusses on those female musical pioneers and their ballads, including The Blue Juniata; In the Gloaming; The original "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" song; Do They Miss Me at Home; The Old Log Hut ("Row, Row, Row Your Boat"); and other gems.

Songs of Hardship and Hope

Some songs speak from within the experience of struggle, and others offer comfort and strength to those in need. In this concert David features a century of iconic songs of lament and yearning, including: Poor Wayfarin Stranger; Follow the Drinking Gourd; Tramp Tramp Tramp the Boys are Marching; Home, Sweet Home; Brother Can You Spare A Dime; Keep on the Sunny Side; One More River to Cross; Amazing Grace; and more.

The California/Oregon Gold Rush 1848–1855

Between 1848 and 1855, several hundred thousand treasure seekers made their way to California and Oregon, and some wrote songs about their experience. Songs: In the days of 49; O California; Seeing the Elephant; The Miner's Lament; The Miner's farewell; What was your Name in the States; more.

Two Brothers: the War Between the States 1861–1865

Confederate General Robert E. Lee once remarked that without music, he would have had no army. Music was everywhere on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, and the war could not have been fought without it. Songs: Two Brothers; Bonnie Blue Flag; My Old Kentucky Home; Battle Cry of Freedom; Home Sweet Home; Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Boys are Marching; All Quiet Along the Potomac; Eating Goober Peas, more.

Pioneer Laughter

Songs can be created purely to lighten the burdens of life, and composers and poets sometimes go to great comic lengths to do so. This concert is an hour of truly goofy mid-19th-Century creations like: People Will Talk; If You Only Have a Moustache; The Overland Stage; The Wonderful Musician; The Spider and the Fly (yes, that song really does exist); plus Mark Twain's description of travelling in a stage coach, and a brief but earnest sermon on the parable of "Old Mother Hubbard."

Newfangled Inventions

One hour of 19th-Century songs extolling the latest and most modern inventions! 150 years ago, before radio or phonograph, songwriters published some odd but strangely uplifting songs about the velocipede (bicycle), hot air balloons, electric lights, the telegraph, the telephone, the sewing machine, baseball, and more. The playlist includes songs like: The Base Ball Song; The New Electric Light; Song of the Sewing Machine; Take Me Up with You Dearie; The Wondrous Telephone; The Telegraph Boy; and The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. (He was a real person, and he invented something!)

Victorians in Love (and Occasionally Loss)

Love songs have been popular since the beginning of time: songs of romantic love, lost love, unrequited love, motherly love, and love in every other form. In honor of Valentine's Day, David has chosen a bouquet of songs - happy, sad, and silly. Some were written by America's earliest women composers. Songs will include: Let Me Call You Sweetheart, the original version of Rock-A-Bye Baby, Don't Marry a Man If He Drinks, Love's Old Sweet Song, Courting in the Rain, and more.