Photo: Mr. Ducke
Although Thanksgiving Day did not become a national holiday until the second half of the 19th Century, we have been giving thanks at the end of the harvest season for over four hundred years. Today, the holiday is generally considered a secular one, yet early Americans gave thanks to God for the many blessings they received.
The earliest recorded Thanksgiving ceremony took place in 1565 at a Spanish settlement located in modern-day St. Augustine, Florida – the settlers gave thanks for their safe arrival. Nearly six decades later, the first Pilgrims gave thanks after their first harvest in the New World. Although modest, that initial harvest’s success was due to the help of Squanto, a Native American who taught the Pilgrims how to fish and grow corn.
Giving praise and thanks to God is a common theme in early American song.
The Moravians were a religious community in which giving thanks to God played an important role. Like in a number of early American communities, music was an integral part of their services. One type of Moravian service, known as a lovefeast, was primarily made up of music. Lovefeasts celebrated regular events as well as special occasions, sometimes even political ones.
The kind of music heard at Moravian lovefeasts was rich and varied, and could include some of the latest music from Europe or works from composers within the community. The composers who wrote music were usually skilled amateurs who set texts in both English and German.
One can hardly talk about 18th-century America without making mention of William Billings, one of the most prominent composers of the era. For a man who was untrained in music and who worked as a tanner, it is remarkable that Billings is regarded as the father of American choral music. Yet, his compositions were recognized in many a publication.
A few of America’s first presidents issued Thanksgiving proclamations, yet it wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, that it became a national holiday. Lincoln’s proclamation was addressed directly to his fellow Americans:
“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”
Our new release features the English choir and orchestra Ex Cathedra. Jeffrey Skidmore leads the ensemble in a program of Latin American baroque music primarily focused on the composer Juan de Araujo.