Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers, 1842-1846

By Dale Cockrell | Go to book overview

Prologue

Our story really begins in 1824. In that year Judson, John, and Asa Hutchinson turned seven, three, and one, the youngest sons of a Milford, New Hampshire farm couple. Nothing suggests their lives then were materially different from those of other boys in New England farming families. There was little money, but enough, Sunday church-going (to the Baptist instead of the Congregational or Methodist church), perhaps more siblings than ordinary (there would be thirteen in all), no more but no fewer rocks to haul from fields each spring, chores, a good education in a local school to look forward to, good health, altogether a life that had more than a touch of snails and puppy dog tails.

The Hutchinson boys might have heard more music-making than other children though, for accounts tell of an amount and quality of family singing unusual even in an era when most people were musical in some way. Their parents had local reputations for exceptional voices that not only served well in church, but also surely led the way in impromptu home musicales. To round off the musical training they received at the family hearth, the boys attended the singing schools periodically offered in Milford, perhaps taught by Phineas Stimpson, bootmaker and local singing master, where they learned how to read the notes from sight and sing in three- and four-part harmony, in the honored New England psalm- singing tradition.

Yet the story in 1824 is not in Milford. It is a continent away on the mountainous border between Switzerland and Austria. There, another large family, the Rainers, decided to offer their gift for song to the public and sang their first programs of Tyrolese folksongs and German partsongs. As the decade pro

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