The Battle of Bull Run
words and music by Alan Sanderson, arrangement by Tom and Alan Sanderson
The Battle of Bull Run
Everybody loses and nobody won
And brothers killing brothers
And fathers their sons
My brother was there that day
Within the ranks of the other side
When that bullet pierced his heart
A part of me staggered over and died
And the hearts of the people are moved
As the trees in the wood are moved with the wind
Alan Sanderson: lead and backing vocals, guitars, mandolin, recording, mixing, mastering
Tom Sanderson: backing vocals, strings, harmonium, woodwinds, horns, drum, recording
Marisa Sanderson: recorder
Johann: chimes, recording
Nearly 20 years ago while browsing through a secondhand store I found a copy of Carl Sandberg’s classic biography of Abraham Lincoln. Here is his description of the first major conflict of the Civil War:
“The Battle of Bull Run, Sunday, July 21, 1861 was to a large and eager public a sort of sporting event, the day and place of combat announced beforehand, a crowd of spectators riding to the scene with lunch baskets as though for a picnic. On horseback, in buggies and gigs, Senators [… and] Congressmen with emergency navy revolvers and pretty ladies in crinoline gowns, rode out to gaze on a modern battle.”Sandberg C. A. (1954). Abraham Lincoln – The Prairie Years and the War Years. Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. p.252-253
By the end of the day soldiers from both sides were running from the confused field, believing that their army had lost. When the smoke had cleared the most obvious lesson from the battle was that this war would last longer and have more casualties than anyone had imagined.
Application of this history to our modern world is largely left as an exercise to the listener, but I will add that when I wrote the first verse to this song in 2005 it comforted me to think, “At least we aren’t dealing with an internal insurrection!”
The final verse is adapted from Isaiah chapter 7, which describes a Civil War in ancient Israel. The people of the southern kingdom of Judah learned that their northern brethren in the kingdom of Israel were coming to war against them. Here is Isaiah’s description of the emotional impact of this news on the people:
“And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).
This song moves my heart, and I hope it moves yours too.
I was surprised and pleased by the direction Tom took the arrangement. The classical instruments were all his idea, and I love the mood and texture he created on my rough canvas.
My studio has had a couple of upgrades which were put to good use on this project. The first is a Michael Willis-made DIY condenser microphone, which I used to record the guitar, mandolin, and vocals. The second is a new mandolin, which is a significant upgrade from my old student instrument.
The project was done in Ardour 5.12 running on Linux Mint 19.3. Plugins included Dragonfly Reverb and the compressors and limiters from Linux Studio Plugins. I decided to try out the x42 Parametric Equalizer, and I was not disappointed. I think I have a new favorite EQ.
Alan first introduced this piece to me some 15 years ago while in its demo form. It was in a different key and a faster tempo and I remember having some musical ideas in a more alternative rock orientation. Alan’s creative adventures intrigue me because of his willingness to put his heart (passion) on his sleeve in his forms of expression, as “Battle of Bull Run” most certainly does in its existential exam of life and death.
As Alan re-examined this song fragment 15 years down the road, the passion remained but instead of feeling like a protest song, it felt more like a plaintive ballad – a bittersweet view of conflict through eyes that had decades of examination. Though perhaps a slight redirection, this prompted me to propose a different musical palette. Orchestra seemed to feel right. And I felt the song reminded me of a celtic folksong, so I thought to add a harmonium, inspired by some of my favorite celtic recordings to feature this instrument. I thought to include cues from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” but instead I borrowed from “Taps” in the brass.
Marisa took the woodwind idea I had submitted on synthesizer and made it more organic with her recorder, adding glissandos in just the right places. I should note that I myself have an alto recorder but was unable to make it produce pleasant sounds (best to leave the instrument to the experts)
Cover art based on chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison – Library of Congress, Public Domain.