Lyceum revives music of Pilgrims

  • The ensemble Seven Times Salt gave a sampling of music that would have accompanied the Pilgrims on their journey from England to the Netherlands and the New World during a talk at the Monadnock Lyceum on Sunday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, August 07, 2018 10:14AM

The history books paint a picture of the harsh life of the early Pilgrims, one in which music, and dancing and bawdy drinking songs are not often included.

Seven Times Salt, an ensemble music group specializing in the music of the 16th and 17th centuries, dispelled that austere image during its concert and lecture at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church in Peterborough on Sunday, entitled, “Pilgrims’ Progress: Music of the Plimoth Colony Settlers.”

It’s not really proven either way whether music was a large part of the Pilgrims lives, explained the members of the band, because literacy was lower in that time, and there are few written accounts of day-to-day doings

“Whether or not the pilgrims knew this music, we don’t know,” said lute player Matthew Wright. “They didn’t talk about it.”

But there were musical instruments on the manifest of cargo headed to the New World, so its likely it was, at least in some part.

There were a mix of people who were leaving England to come to America. Some were Separatists, and some were Puritans, slightly different religious reform minorities who were seeking religious freedom, said violinist Karen Burciaga. But there were also a mix of people who were looking for their fortunes, and for them, the journey was a business venture.

Many didn’t go first to America, however, and instead fled to the Netherlands seeking religious freedom. The Netherlands had a more Democratic system, and there was less religious persecution. But not as much opportunity for non-Dutch citizens, and those of strict religious beliefs found the culture too liberal for their own tastes. The Pilgrims even attempted to make their Dutch communities more observant of the Sabbath, distributing pamphlets encouraging them not to work or do other tasks on Sunday after church, said flutist Dan Meyers.

“Quite bold for such a small minority,” he said.

Eventually, the Pilgrims decided to make their way to America.

Though the Mayflower has its name entrenched in the history books, there was originally a second ship, the Speedwell, which along with the Mayflower was to take a combined 120 Pilgrims to the New World.

The Speedwell, however, had leaks and other problems so the Pilgrims abandoned the Speedwell, and instead, of the 120 combined passengers, the Mayflower took 102 aboard to complete the journey.

The delay caused by the Speedwell’s problems meant the Pilgrims arrived at what is now Plymouth (then spelled Plimouth) in winter and because of the conditions the Pilgrims had to remain on board, spending their first month  aboard the Mayflower, on which 45 people died before they were able to properly settle into their new home.

Seven Times Salt’s program follows the settlers musically from the beginning of the 1600s on, touching upon some of the most popular music of the day, which ranged from hymns to dance music the Pilgrims would have been aware of in their homes in England and later as they settled into the Netherlands. Some of the music played was derived from the settler’s experiences, including a musical arrangement of a poem written by Thomas Morton, who treated the Native Americans like business partners and invited them to drink and dance with him, in the face of condemnation from Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford.

There will be no Lyceum on Sunday, Aug. 11. The Lyceum will return on Aug. 18 with speaker Robin Kimmerer, speaking on “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.”

Lyceum talks are held at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church on Sundays at 11 a.m. and broadcast on New Hampshire Public Radio on Saturdays at 10 p.m. The talks are available as podcasts on monadnocklyceum.org.