Music and Sound Effects

Imagine a world without daily doses of music to break the silence, drown out annoyances, or to interrupt conversations.

”I’d soon lose my mind!” you say.

Maybe, but I suspect you'd notice birdsongs more often or the frequent mooing of a cow--if you live in the country, that is. There could be annoyances, too, such as the cries of your next-door neighbor's baby or a squeaky wheel on a cart going by on the road or your mother calling every time she tries to get your attention.

You'd certainly be tinkering around soon, looking for creative ways to make your own music. Perhaps one of your friends would learn to play a saw from his father's woodshop. You might get desperate enough to turn your mother's old rusty washtub into a one-string bass like this man did:

Eventually, you'd discover this new "toy" capable of producing almost as many sounds as a large electric keyboard today!

Without a TV, computer, or telephone to distract, you'd have time to gather your friends and family for a sing-along on the front porch after supper on summer nights. Bet you'd soon draw a crowd. Nobody would be self-conscious about not sounding like a pro. It might be a little trouble to drag up a washtub bass, but somebody could easily show up with other instruments, like those the Carters enjoyed the morning they boarded the steamboat going up the Mississippi. Chances are, the closest thing to a pro would be the song director at the community church who didn't know he was even off-key or the amateur musicians at the dances in your grandpa's barn every Saturday night. How excited you'd be watching a fiddler or square dancing to these lively tunes! There might be a banjo with that fiddler, strumming out the sounds to "The Old Gray Mare," one of the songs Tom Carter bellowed out while sitting atop the cart in Chapter 16:

Maybe someone in your family would know by heart every single verse of "Skip to My Lou." Just look at those funny lyrics Ask your friends or family to sing them all with you. Got chores? A family singing silly songs together can get the work done faster and have a lot of fun doing so. Give it a try.

Music and sound effects in nature broke the tension of the Carter's. It helped them forget their sorrows and worries. Of course, it had been doing that for years in the slave community, especially in the frightening times when some were running toward freedom.

The slaves cleverly used coded language, lacing it all through their songs, so outsiders wouldn't know what they were really singing about. "Following the Drinking Gourd" is an excellent example. You can hear it and follow the words on the sing as you sing it now:

Harriett Tubman was an amazing risk-taker who was very active in leading many to freedom. Listen to her story, told in song:

If you’ve finished reading Just Following Orders, why not glance back to portions of chapters 23-24 or 33-37, where you’ll find reference to some of the music and sounds on this site. If you're just beginning the book, you may wish to wait until you get to Chapter 23, then come back to access the music, articles, or a set of lyrics whenever there's a mention of music in the story. In fact, you'll find a note at the end of Chapter 22, inviting you to do just that.

From here, you can:

  • (Chapter 23) Find the history of the square piano and the Steinway Piano Company

  • (Chapter 23) “Listen to the Mockingbird” continues to be enjoyed as an instrumental or vocal performance. It's also sung frequently by groups of folk singers. You can find many arrangements through your search engine. Yet none is likely to be more interesting than this 1939 recording that combines several instruments accompanying a whistler doing amazing bird calls. Follow the lyrics and try singing along. The whistler may remind you of Chapter 7 of "Just Following Orders" when Joshua found that sending bird calls in code was a good, safe way of communicating with Pa, who was off in a hideout.

  • (Chapter 24) Oh, what a spirited piece Mr. Wornall chose for everyone to sing in the last few minutes before his own family had to get out of their beautiful home! Think of what it would have been as you follow the lyrics and join the singing: “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”

  • (Chapter 24) Hans, the field hand, must have been quite good on the harmonica--probably not as good as the amazing Buddy Greene. Just look at the possibilities if you decide to master what is known to some as "the French harp":

  • (Chapter 31) Hear the hissing, whistles, and comforting sounds of travel on a steam locomotive at:

  • (Chapter 33) Hear all the verses of "Yankee Doodle" and see the lyrics on the screen below:

  • (Chapter 34) Notice how many traveling troubles are mentioned in the 14 verses of "Sweet Betsy from Pike." Enjoy all the lyrics at while you listen to them sung at

  • (Chapter 34) Listen to all the rich sounds of a steamboat and see if you can guess whose voice the captain is trying to capture above the crowd of excited passengers as they leave Hannibal on

    Remember, in Chapter 37, when some of the Hutchinson family came to sing at the Union Building? Of course, it's highly unlikely you would have any building nearby close to that size nor anyone near that famous, capable of attracting attention of curiosity seekers from thirty miles away. Yet, their lively music and once-popular messages have been well preserved in printed form, allowing vocalists to bring it to life again like this:

  • (Chapter 37) The lyrics and sheet music to an entire library of songs produced by the Hutchinson Family Singers can also be ordered.
  • ************

    This page was created as a gift to students and teachers by Dee Ann Miller. She is author of the historical novel "Just Following Orders: Surviving Guerrilla Warfare in the American Civil War." This is a story about Order No. 11, the massive forced evacuation of 20,000 people in an attempt to control guerrilla warfare in Missouri after the horrific massacre in Lawrence, Kansas, just four days before Order No. 11 was issued. The book spans the last half of that war, honoring those who risked their lives to stand for freedom and peace. It is also available on Kindle. A slightly-simplified edition of the story is offered under the title "Might Tall Orders," for students at a 5th or 6th-grade reading level. Plus extensive lesson plans can be obtained upon request after purchase of any of the three. See for more information.