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UC Art History Faculty Member Curates Exhibition on Civil War Sheet Music

The ongoing 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War is marked by an exhibition of colorful sheet music from the era, curated by UC art historian Theresa Leininger-Miller at the downtown public library. The exhibit is on display through Dec. 31.

Date: 10/26/2013 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County collection

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Drummer Boy of Shiloh

An exhibition, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh: Illustrated Sheet Music of the Civil War,” contains 35 pieces currently on display through Dec. 31 at the main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
The exhibition was researched and assembled by the University of Cincinnati’s Theresa Leininger-Miller, associate professor of art history in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). She will also deliver a free, public lecture related to the exhibition at 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23, in the Huenefeld Tower Room of the downtown library.
Leininger-Miller explains that sheet music of 150 years ago during the United States Civil War was of a larger size (about 10x13 inches) and more colorful than today’s sheet music. “Sheet music of the past often served as visual culture in homes. People proudly displayed it on pianos,” she says.
Our Country's Flag

Leininger-Miller proposed the Civil War sheet music exhibition at the library after having curated two other shows there. They featured imagery of Cincinnati’s Tyler Davidson Fountain (1871) on the occasion of its 135th anniversary in 2006 and sheet music by black composers, circa 1828-1943, in 2011.

For “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh: Illustrated Sheet Music of the Civil War,” Leininger-Miller combed through the library’s extensive collection of historical sheet music for pieces pertaining to the Civil War, since we are currently observing the sesquicentennial of that 1861-1865 conflict.
Ultimately, she opted to display sheet music that reflects eleven themes, including music about Abraham Lincoln; Ulysses S. Grant; African Americans; generals’ marches; compositions with a tie to Cincinnati; pieces about the U.S. flag; songs about grieving for the common soldier; and portrayals of children of the battlefield. In fact, the exhibition takes its title from a piece in the latter category, “The Drummer Boy of Shiloh.”
The sheet music – which is displayed in the library’s first-floor atrium, first-floor popular library and outside the elevators on the second and third floors – once had a place in people’s homes. And that’s the best part of the exhibition for UC’s Leininger-Miller: “I like knowing that these works held significance in people’s lives at one time. Drawn to faces and scenes on the covers, families purchased illustrated sheet music and used it often in their homes and in public events. They performed music and sang songs related to the war effort for many reasons—to commemorate lost loved ones, to honor military and political leaders, to convey humor, to demonstrate allegiance to the Union or Confederacy, and to express patriotism, racial pride, and/or sorrow.”
Cincinnati Rover Guards Quick Step

She adds, “I’m drawn to putting these hidden (non-circulating) works on display again because for most of us, this is now new material. It’s a personal way of connecting with art and with our history.”
It’s also possible to experience some of the sheet music now on display at the downtown public library, 800 Vine Street, on YouTube: