and making one that is certainly one of a kind--is any musician's dream. And "The Roast Beef of Old England" is one of a kind.
"I might have dreamed of something like this," says Nicholas Donnell Ward, a local attorney. "I made one when I was a kid in 1959, just a demonstration record. One of my friends had a band in school and we thought it would be kind of fun to do something like that for the hell of it. I was trying to be Lester Young, playing tenor saxophone."
Twenty-four years later, Ward has struck again, this time as a flutist and this time publicly with "The Roast Beef of Old England." The album may never top the charts--come to think of it, it probably won't--because it's "an evening's entertainment of musick from a regimental mess in colonial America followed by a ball for the ladies." This is a real oldie-but-goodie.
The album is an outgrowth of Ward's 10-year involvement with the Society of Colonial Wars (he is governor of the 90-year-old Washington chapter, which meets officially four times a year). The group, founded in New York a year before the Washington chapter was formed, is a hereditary society commemorating those whose civil and military service assisted in the establishment and continuance of the colonies before the American Revolution. "In a very loose way, it's like the Daughters of the American Revolution, except it's for guys and for people who are the sons of somebody who had something to do with the colonial wars." There are 110 members locally, about 4,000 nationally.
"The Roast Beef of Old England" is the Society's first record, says Ward. "Most of what they do is publish diaries and letters, things like that." Although he made it as a gift for delegates to the Society's general counsel meeting held here in May, Ward's interest in period music goes back to 1974, when he started playing with a local Irish dance band, the Blackthorn Stick. (He performs on a 150-year-old, eight silver key rosewood flute.)
"A lot of the music we played was held out to me to be Irish, but I knew I'd heard it somewhere else. I've had a lot of curiosity and collections of music over the years dealing with some of these tunes." He was also an officer in the American Revolution Roundtable, another amateur historical society, so "some of the work had been generated before; there were a lot of different sources, but putting it together happened in one year."
The music on "Roast Beef" follows the heavily stylized format of a formal regimental dinner of the period. Of course, those traditions and practices were adapted from the British military.
The dinner would open with a ceremonial common-time march to call everyone to the table, followed by a slow march in tribute to the departed. There would then be post-dinner toasting with port wine, songs and musical entertainment, capped with a ball when there were ladies present (it would traditionally commence with a minuet and end with a jig from each lady) and several songs of parting. More than half of "The Roast Beef of England" is taken up with country dance tunes, with Ward accompanied on guitar by Thomas J. Lynch, a local engineer.
The album, which includes 45 different tunes in 17 cuts, is wholly instrumental, partly because Ward couldn't find anyone who could recreate the authentic vocal styling of the period. "We were trying to get the tempos and flavors as we understand this music sounded, but we didn't know any singers we felt could do that."
The album has its share of medleys (common-time marches, quick-step marches, a few minuets) and draws from the folk, military and popular music of the 17th and 18th centuries. The one odd tune is the lament, Ward says. "Probably nobody at these regimental dinners would be older than 45, and they probably wouldn't have a 'memory of the dead' kind of thing during their dinner because that's done by the veterans groups."
Ward, a third-generation musician (his grandfather was a bandleader and his father an amateur drummer and violinist) is also sensitive to the fact that "some people feel it's inconsistent to be interested in things military and things cultural or musical. I don't think that's true, so I felt it was important to let people know this was not something to glorify people killing people." On the album he notes that "wars cannot be safely forgotten or ignored nor should the institutions associated with them be treated as unworthy of understanding. The contents here served then, as now, as a morale booster."
He adds that "some of the most conversant people of social styles in the 18th century would be the officers of regiments who would go all over the world and learn things. They spread culture, in a bizarre sort of way."
Admitting that some friends have kidded him about being a budding recording star ("they get a kick out of it"), Ward is quite serious in hoping that "people who might think that the Society for Colonial Wars doesn't do anything of general appeal to the public would get a slightly different flavor from it. And second, people might find the mix of folk music and English stage music of the 18th century interesting and get a different sense of what 18th century life was like."
Information on "The Roast Beef of Old England," which includes a fascinating 42-page booklet, is available from The Society of Colonial Wars by writing to Nicholas Donnell Ward, 734 15th St. NW, 11th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20005.