Rockingham County, Virginia
VAGenWeb Project


A History of Rockingham County
John W. Wayland Ph.D.

Chapter XVIII

 

CHAPTER XVIII

SINGERS OF ROCKINGHAM

 

     It has been asserted (see page 183) that there are probably more people, old and young, in Rockingham who can sing, and who love music, than in any other section with the same population in America.  This assertion is, of course, beyond either proof or disproof, but it is made advisedly, and is believed to be warranted by known facts.  For example, a year or two ago a dozen competent judges were asked to vote for the twelve leading singers and musicians of Rockingham, natives or long residents of the county, and to name others deemed worthy of special mention.  In all, about 80 different men and women were named.  So many teachers and leaders of song would not be found apart from a large number of learners and lovers of song. Most of the people of the county are church-goers, and nearly every member of every congregation sings.  Singing is a common pastime in many homes, and singing classes are frequently conducted in the churches as well as in the schools.  All-day singings at churches are not uncommon.  Singing books were printed by Lawrence Wartmann and Ananias Davisson a century ago; Joseph Funk and Sons printed tens of thousands of music books and music journals from 1832 to 1878; and since that time the Ruebush-Kieffer Company have sent out hundreds of thousand more.  The output to-day is greater than ever.  The music departments of Shenandoah Collegiate Institute and Bridgewater College have attracted many students for many years; the Funk school at Singer’s Glen was widely known of old; the new State Normal School at Harrisonburg has large classes in music; and occasionally, for the past forty years or more, summer normals for music teachers have been held in and near the county.  For example, in the early 70’s, Chester G.

 

 

 

Allen, P. J. Merges, B. C. Unseld and others held several sessions of a music normal at New Market; and from 1894 to 1896 G. B. Holsinger, B. C. Unseld and others held summer music schools at Bridgewater.  For three-quarters of a century Joseph Funk, his sons, his grandsons, and their pupils went all over Rockingham and neighboring counties teaching the art of song.

     While the music cultivated in Rockingham has been mostly church music in its simpler forms, classical forms of music and famous musicians are not, and have not been, unknown.  Within the writer’s own recollection Sidney Lanier, Edward Remenyi, Creatore and his bank, and the Conradis have delighted Rockingham audiences.  A few famous songs have also had their genesis in Rockingham:  “Twilight is Falling,” by Kieffer and Unseld, and “The Everlasting Arms,” by Hoffman and Showalter, have probably been sung around the world.

     In November, 1867, a great musical convention was held in Harrisonburg, in Rev. T. D. Bell’s (Presbyterian) church.  The session continued for four days; 122 delegates from Harrisonburg, Dayton, McGaheysville, Bridgewater, New Erection, Singer’s Glen, Cross Keys, Union church, and Edom, in Rockingham, and from Mossy Creek, Parnassus, Augusta church, and Bethel church, in Augusta County, were present.  A constitution was adopted and a permanent organization effected.  Rev. T. D. Bell was elected president; Rev. T. U. Dudley, Maj. J. H. Irvine, Emmet Guy, and Capt. J. P. Ralston, vice-presidents; H. T. Wartmann, secretary; and G. Fred Mayhew, treasurer.  Subsequent meetings of the organization, which was known as the Valley Musical Association, were held at Mossy Creek (1868), Harrisonburg (1869, Bethel church (1870), and Tinkling Springs (1872).  W. H. Evans was director of the chorus in 1869, etc.  It may be of interest to state in this connection that an oratorio society has just been organized in Harrisonburg, with Miss Julia Starr Preston and Rabbi Schvanenfeld as directors.

     The twelve singers and composers of Rockingham receiv-

 

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ing the highest number of votes in the election referred to above were the following:

J. M. Bowman.

G. B. Holsinger.

J. D. Brunk.

A. S. Kieffer.

Joseph Funk.

J. H. Ruebush.

Timothy Funk.

W. H. Ruebush

J. H. Hall.

A. J. Showalter.

E. T. Hildebrand

J. Henry Showalter.

     Four are dead, eight are living; and, of the latter, four are now residents of the county.

     Bowman, John Michael:  Born near Harrisonburg, June 11, 1859; at the age of 18 attended the music normal of Unseld and Merges at New Market; has since studied with a number of America’s foremost teachers.  Every year he conducts a number of music normals in the Southern States.  He is a skilled tuner of pianos; has written a number of popular pieces of music; and is author, or associate author, of several books of hymns, songs, and choruses.  Residence, Harrisonburg.

     Brunk, John David:  Born near Harrisonburg, March 13, 1872, a great-grandson of Peter Burkholder (see p. 318); has had training in the New England Conservatory of Music, and in other high-class schools; he is a teacher and composer of ability, and possesses unusual skill in directing choruses; he has compiled and edited several excellent books; for the past six years or more he has been director of music in Goshen College, Indiana.

     Funk, Joseph:  A native of Pensylvania [sic], but an almost life-long resident of Rockingham.  On December 25, 1804, he married Elizabeth Rhodes; children, Jonathan (1803-1874), Henry (1807-1813), Elizabeth (1808-1870), Susan (1810-1815), Barbara (1812-1850); on Sept. 6, 1814, he married Rachel Britton:  children, Mary (1815-1888), Joseph (1816-----?), David (1818-1870), Samuel (1819 -----), Hannah (1821 -----?), John (1822 -----), Timothy (1824-1909), Solomon (1825-1880), Benjamin (1829-1909).

     For 46 years Joseph Funk was a teacher of music, a trainer of music teachers, and a publisher of music books and

 

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periodicals.  By 1858 he and his sons, particularly Timothy, had taught music classes in at least 10 counties of Virginia, besides Rockingham; records show that by the same year his books had been sold and used in 37 counties and cities of Virginia, as well as in Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Missouri, and Canada West.  By the 70’s, between 75,000 and 100,000 copies of his famous book, “Harmonia Sacra,” had been sold.  It is still used in old-folks’ all-day singings in Rockingham and adjacent sections.

     One of the 12 men now under review (Timothy Funk) was Joseph Funk’s son; on (A. S. Kieffer) was his grandson; two (J. H. and W. H. Ruebush) are his great-grandsons; two (A. J. and J. H. Showalter) are great-grandsons of his sister Elizabeth; others of the 12 are related to his family, and all have come more or less directly under his influence.  He may, with justice, be called the father of song in Northern Virginia; he more than any other man, has made Rockingham a land of singers, and he was himself one of her greatest citizens.(1)

     Funk, Timothy:  Born at Singers Glen, Jan. 29, 1824; died at the same place in 1909; after his father, the most famous itinerant teacher of singing in the Valley of Virginia.  For more than 50 years he was known in this capacity, not only in Rockingham, but far beyond her borders.  He was also, for many years, a minister of the Gospel.

     Hall, Jacob H.:  A native of Rockingham, and one of the best known conductors of music institutes in the South, having worked in no less than 20 different States.  He studied under Geo. F. Root and other famous teachers, and has been a student in Dana’s Conservatory and other high-grade schools.  He has written dozens of excellent pieces, and has been an editor of many popular music books.  His address is Dayton. – See page 322 above.

     Hildebrand, Ephraim Timothy:  Born near Greenmount,

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(1)     See pages 293, 294, above; see also “Joseph Funk, Father of Song in Northern Virginia” (4to, 12pp.), published by the Ruebush-Kieffer Co., Dayton, Va.

 

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Jan. 18, 1866; teacher, composer, editor, publisher, and singer; has had training in New York Vocal Institute, the Metropolitan Conservatory, and other schools; was a member of the New York Oratorio Society, under the direction of Frank Damrousche; has written many excellent pieces, sacred and secular, among the latter being “The Hills of Tennessee.”  Some of the popular books he has helped to edit are “Gems of Gladness,” “Crowning Day,” and “Onward and Upward.”  Address, Roanoke, Va.

     Holsinger, George Blackburn:  Born in Bedford County, Pa., May 10, 1857; died in Illinois, November, 1908.  From 1882 to 1898 Prof. Holsinger was director of music in Bridgewater College; from the latter year till his death he was music editor for the Church of the Brethren, but continued to have his home at Bridgewater.  He was a pleasing singer and versatile composer, his pieces having been used in about 100 different publications.  “Psalms and Hymns,” one of the numerous books of which he was associate editor, had reached a sale of over 200,000 in 1905.  His wife, who survives him, was Miss Sallie Kagey.

     Kieffer, Aldine Silliman:  Born in Saline County, Mo., August 1, 1840; died at his home in Dayton, Va., Nov. 30, 1904.  His mother was Mary Funk, daughter of Joseph Funk, Father of Song in Northern Virginia; she married John Kieffer, May 30, 1837.  On June 22, 1847, her husband died, and she returned from Missouri, to Mountain Valley (Singer’s Glen), with her children.  Lucilla Virginia married Ephraim Ruebush, March 28, 1861, and has handed down to her sons the gift of song; Aldine wrote songs, set them to music, and taught them to the people.

     Aldine S. Kieffer founded the Musical Million and edited it for many years; he compiled the “Christian Harp,” the “Temple Star,” and many other books of song.  The “Temple Star” has reached the half-million mark, and is still being sold.  With his brother-in-law, Mr. E. Ruebush, he gave name and character to the publishing house transferred from Singer’s Glen to Dayton in 1878, and still known as The

 

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Ruebush-Kieffer Company.  He wrote the song, “Twilight is Falling,” wedded to music by Unseld, and sung by thousands far and near.  Many other songs he wrote, which, with or without music, have touched many hearts.(2)

     Ruebush, James H.:  Born at Singer’s Glen, Oct. 19, 1865, son of E. Ruebush and Virginia Kieffer Ruebush, and great grandson of Joseph Funk; teacher, composer, editor, educator; has studied with such artists as H. N. Barttelb, H. R. Palmer, and F. W. Root, and has been a student in the Grand Conservatory of Music, N. Y., and other high-grade schools; is the author of many popular pieces of music, and the editor of many well-known music books – collections of songs and manuals of instruction.  For a number of years he has been connected with Shenandoah Collegiate Institute and School of Music, and is at present general manager of that institution.

     Ruebush, William H.:  Born in Rockingham, June 4, 1873, a brother of James H.; a teacher of music in Shenandoah Collegiate Institute, a writer of popular pieces for male and mixed voices, and a skilled director of choirs and orchestras; has enjoyed excellent advantages for training in his art, and is endowed with the perception of the artist; is the author of various manuals for his profession, and the editor of a number of popular song books.

     Showalter, Anthony J.:  Born in Rockingham, May 1, 1858; for many years a man of mark in Georgia; head of the A. J. Showalter music publishing company, and editor of the Music Teacher and Home Magazine, Dalton; author of the music to “The Everlasting Arms” and hundreds of other Gospel hymns and songs; has studied under the best teachers of America, has visited the music centers of Europe, and has held more than 200 sessions of music institutes in the Southern States; He is the author of 30 music books, and the associate author of as many more.

     Showalter, J. Henry:  Born at Cherry Grove, Rockingham County, Nov. 2, 1864, a brother of A. J. Showalter; present

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(2)     See page 325 above; also, the Musical Million, Kieffer memorial number, August, 1908, and Wayland’s “German Element,” pp. 173-175.

 

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address, West Milton, Ohio; singer, teacher, composer, and publisher; has studied under the best teachers, and holds high rank as a teacher and singer; has written hundreds of beautiful songs and anthems, and has compiled more than a score of music books; some of his best pieces are:  “At the Golden Gate of Prayer,” “The Blood of the Lamb,” and “Breathe Upon Us, Holy Spirit.”

     John A. Showalter, born in Rockingham, Dec. 19, 1832, was for many years a teacher of singing classes in various parts of the Valley.  In 1892 or 1893, while in Shenandoah County teaching a class, he said that he had kept account of the number of his classes till he had taught a hundred – then he had stopped counting.  He is the father of A. J. and J. Henry Showalter.

     Years ago Karl Merz, long editor of Brainard’s Musical World, published at Cleveland, Ohio, taught music for awhile in Rockingham. In 1860 Chas. Eshman (died March 18, 1901) was a teacher of brass bands and orchestras in the county; in 1867 he organized at Harrisonburg a band of 13 or 14 members, composed mainly of men of German extraction.  In 1891 he was still leading a band in Harrisonburg.  Mr. Eshman was a native of Germany, and visited his Fatherland in 1883.  From 1861 to 1873, perhaps longer, Prof. A. Kuhnert, a skilled musician, taught singing and piano-forte in Harrisonburg.

     One of the best known musicians in Rockingham some years ago was Henry T. Wartmann, one of the sons of Lawrence Wartmann. (See page 329.). In October, 1872, his singing class from Andrew Chapel, Harrisonburg, numbering 60 or more, went upon special invitation to Baltimore and Washington, singing at St. Paul’s Church, Trinity Church, Central Church, Western Female High School, and Maryland Institute in the former city, and at Mt. Vernon Place in Washington.  They were termed the “Virginia Rustics.”  In 1873 the Choral Singers from Trinity M. E. Sundayschool, Baltimore, returned the visit of the “Rustics,” singing in Harrisonburg, and visiting the Cave of the Fountains, Tay-

 

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lor’s Springs, Rawley Springs, and other places of interest.  In 1878 the “Rustics” were again in Baltimore and Washington.  Mr. Wartmann was a talented composer, as well as a skilled director.

     Among the younger pianists and teachers of music from Rockingham must be mentioned Kinzie Blakemore, of Newport News, and C. Ernest Hall, of Evanston, Ill.  Perhaps the greatest singer ever born in Rockingham is Mrs. Tenney Showalter Schwerin, of Oregon City, Oregon.  One of the best singers and teachers now in the county is Mrs. Imogen Avis Palmer, of Harrisonburg, who has enjoyed unusual advantages in piano playing, composition, and voice culture, and who is a poet as well as a musician.  Mr. S. G. Cline of Harrisonburg is a well known teacher of music and a dealer in musical instruments; and Mr. J. Owen Long, of Melrose (R.D., Harrisonburg) is a composer and publisher of creditable music, as well as a singer and teacher of ability.

     It would be a pleasure to mention all of the Eighty, but the printer’s space limits the writer’s lines.

 

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