Music Of WWI: A Centennial Commemoration

Apr 11, 2014

A stylized picture of soldiers raising their hats in unison, and the title of the song "Over There" by Geo M. Cohan
Graduate music students at Utah State University present "Music of WWI: A Centennial Commemoration."

Music played a major role in World War I both in uniting soldiers in a rhythm and a march, and also in uniting a nation behind a cause. Graduate music students at Utah State University will be presenting a program this Saturday which will combine both music and research from this era. This event will commemorate the centennial anniversary of the beginning of World War I.

Irving Berlin once declared “the history of America can be traced through its music.” Graduate students from the Music History Seminar course at USU will be tracing the events that occurred in World War I through music and lecture. Their goal is to present how music reflects the complex sentiments that come with fighting a war and, in turn, how music itself influenced individuals during that time.


Brody Craney, a graduate student in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, will be one of the presenters at the event.

"There was a great, great author, Glen Watkins, who wrote a book about music in World War I. He says 'music reminds us of its capacity to incite and to calm, to preach and demoralize, to jeer and to cheer, and finally, to lament and memorialize. Collectively it offered a heady mixture that traversed the entire landscape between heaven and hell.' As we think about WWI, there’s the patriotic anthems that come in each nation, there are the marches as we send soldiers off to war, all the way to the laments and lullabies of the soldiers gone and the horrors of war," says Craney.

Students will present a wide spectrum of musical genres and styles from this period. Performances of works by composers such as Holst, Cohen, Stravinsky, McCroon, Vincent, and Debussy will be on the program.

“The particular piece that I’ll be performing is called “Over There” by George M. Cohen. He received a congressional gold medal from Franklin D. Roosevelt for that piece, amongst others.That particular song is where we get the phrase 'the Yanks are comin.'  It’s a great marching tune and it’s a little of the lighter side of when we send soldiers off to war as opposed to when we don’t get to see them come back home,” says Craney.

Associate professor of Musicology, Dr. Christopher Scheer, says his class has spearheaded this event as a final project, to mark this very significant cultural anniversary on the USU campus.

"Music can be a kind of reflection, a mirror of the culture of the time. In it we can sense what it was like to be there at that time and to have those experiences. Many composers went to war during the First World War, came back and had to deal with what they saw, what they did and what happened through their art. And not just composers, in fact, visual artists and writers and so on," says Scheer.

The event will be held on the Utah State University campus in the Fine Arts Building, room 214 Saturday, April 12 at 6:30 PM.