Transcontinental Railroad

by Teresa Jennings

As educational as it may be (and it is), this tune was a blast to perform! It's characterized as "Stately Patriotic Western Folk," because, well, it's all of those things. This is one case where we really encourage you to use the accompaniment tracks as a listening lesson, too. There are a number of neat sounds and textures that evoke the era as well as the event: iron spikes, old train sounds, quasi-military snare drums, banjos and guitars, not to mention the full orchestra with rock drums and beefy brass motifs set against the folksy stylings of the melody and lyrics. (Dare we say it's a melting pot of styles?)

America across the curriculum

Of course, the main goal of this cool piece is to tell the story of the Transcontinental Railroad, whose completion was commemorated by the driving of a golden spike in May 1869, in Utah. (That's 150 years ago as of the publishing of this issue, by the way. Or why we chose to feature it now.) This is a pretty simplistic rendition of events, to be sure, but it's enough to help students learn and remember the bigger points using our all-time favorite cross curricular tool: music. Besides providing a jumping off point for talking about the particulars of this monumental, history-altering event, let it inspire students to consider what life might have been like back then. How did people live? Where did they live? What did they eat, how did they dress, how were they educated, how did they travel, etc. And probably of most interest to your students: What was it like being a kid at the time? So many possible extensions with this topic! As always, we encourage you to make the classroom teacher(s) aware that you have this great gift to share for teaching, reinforcement, and discussion.

The verses of the song are in unison and have a decidely old-fashioned folk style which makes it feel natural to sing and gives the song a storytelling vibe. At the chorus, it breaks into two parts, which also feels natural, though the second part is optional. We have isolated this second part and created a rehearsal track which you will find at our web site.

At the coda, there is a nifty musical moment we'd like to mention. The chorus is being repeated, except this time, at the end of the phrase, "All aboard," everything – singers and orchestra – stops except for the horn and trumpet gliss. Kind of a goose bumpy moment especially if you have it turned nice and loud. (Nods to our players Sarah Greene on horn and Joey Tartell on trumpet.)

There is also a chance for a bit of musical nuance at the end as the song is winding down. The kids "become" part of the train whistles as they decrescendo, passing into the distance till they fade way. Pretty cool.

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.