Make Music With Mark Twain

Farmington High School Spring 2021

The Music Box

In the spring of 2021, the Farmington High School Chamber Singers participated in the first Make Music With Mark Twain! They explored the music that was important in the Clemens home, with a particular focus on the songs Sam Clemens considered including when purchasing the Swiss music box for his front hall.

Under the leadership of Leslie Imse, FHS Choral Director and K-12 Music Dept. Chair, and with the support of FHS Library Media Specialist Jessica Lynn Johnson, they researched five songs–including their historical contexts and connections to the Clemens family’s lives–and used the results of that research to inform their performances. They also visited the front hall virtually to learn more about the space, the music box, and the family from the museum’s School Programs Coordinator Erin Bartram.

All of the students produced their recordings at home. The first five students listed produced their own arrangements and then recorded multiple voice parts or performed their own instrumental accompaniment. The rest of the students recorded their song’s melody against a pre-recorded accompaniment.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Rita Kelly—Grade 11

Mark Twain, legally known as Samuel Clemens, lived in Hartford, Connecticut from 1874 to 1891. If one were to visit Clemens during this time, they may have heard the song Wayfaring Stranger playing in one of the many rooms of the home. Wayfaring Stranger echoes throughout Clemens’ youth, and would frequently be heard in his billiard room, where he drew upon his childhood while writing.

Wayfaring Stranger tells of a weary traveler, striving to reach the reward of Heaven. He compares his journey to the Israelites reaching the promised land, crossing the River Jordan to freedom. Growing up in a Presbyterian family, Sam Clemens found this story incredibly meaningful.

Clemens would most likely have heard Wayfaring Stranger in two areas of his life. While living on the Mississippi River, Clemens was constantly exposed to new songs and traditions. Wayfaring Stranger, originating in the Appalachian region, would certainly have been one of the new songs Clemens enjoyed. Additionally, Wayfaring Stranger’s genre of bluegrass music results from a mixture of European and African culture. While visiting his uncle’s plantation, Clemens may have heard variations of the piece from the enslaved African people there. No matter where he first heard this piece, Samuel Clemens appreciated the piece greatly.

A Life on the Ocean Wave

Tanmay Kurkute—Grade 10

“A Life on the Ocean Wave,” originally written by Henry Russel, in 1838, is a very prestigious song for Sam Clemens. This energetic song depicts the wonderful adventures of sailors and how calm and peaceful one’s life can be out in the ocean. This song was a great influence on Sam Clemens writing, as it helped him reenact or envision his childhood dream of being a steamboat captain.

Since a small age, Sam Clemens had a special connection with traveling, as he had envisioned his future as a famous steamboat captain. Even though he did not continue on his earlier path, his writing legacy was strongly driven by this early love. “A Life on the Ocean Wave” re-enacts this older memory from Sam Clemens, and expresses his deeper connections to these memories. Sam Clemens used to listen to this song in his “billiard” room, as it had always inspired him to write great books about the sea. Sam Clemens’ amazing life within his literature was driven along the motif of traveling on the sea, and therefore through this song, you might hear the vast adventures of Sam Clemens on the ocean.

All the Pretty Little Horses

Ethan Roy—Grade 11

Many say the worst thing possible in this world is to lose a child. Mark Twain, truly named Samuel Clemens, suffered this pain on three occasions. Most important was his daughter, Susy, dying as her death was why Sam Clemens never returned to this house.

In an unpublished manuscript Clemens described her as, “a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force; & she was so volatile, as a little child, that sometimes the whole battery came into play in the short compass of a day. She was full of life, full of activity, full of fire, her waking hours were a crowding & hurrying procession of enthusiasm … Joy, sorrow, anger, remorse, storm, sunshine, rain, darkness – they were all there: They came in a moment, & they were gone as quickly.” Clemens was said to have never recovered from his daughter, Susy’s death.

The song “Pretty Little Horses” is much like Clemens’s life. It can be sung with bliss or with sadness, like how Clemens’s life was full of a loving family who then slowly perished before him.

All the Pretty Little Horses

Akshitha Viswanathan—Grade 12

“All The Pretty Little Horses,” was one of many popular lullabies during the Gilded Age and was likely one of the songs that Sam Clemens’ wife Livy Clemens sang to her children as they were going to sleep. This song is written from the perspective of a mother or caretaker, and in the song, they are assuring the baby that their little horses, their prized possession, will be safe even when they sleep; thus, it is okay for them to go to sleep.

Music was very important to the Clemens family. Sam and Livy’s daughters Susy, Clara, and Jean would perform concerts in the music room while Sam would sing his favorite tunes by the piano. They also had a music box by the entrance of their home, which would play music to entertain Sam and Livy’s dinner guests.

Many cultural norms and views from the Gilded Age show that Sam and Livy were amazing parents for their time. Several parents found children selfish and disobedient, and child mortality was also high at the time. Thus, Sam and Livy were grateful for their children, respected them, were attentive to them, and gave them a lot of love.

All the Pretty Little Horses

Arielle Sussman—Grade 11

We know Mark Twain as a leading man in classic literature. We know him as the author of some of our most beloved bedtime stories, and we may only know him as the 19th century writer with the crazy mustache and wispy eyebrows. However, much of our knowledge about his life comes not from Twain, but from Samuel Clemens (Twain’s real identity). Clemens was a brilliant writer, but his passions spanned far beyond literature. He was a lifelong appreciator of music, and when he and his wife, Livvy, built their family, Sam filled the house with song, partially through the means of his Genevan music box. The Clemens’ daughters, Clara and Olivia “Susy,” were enthralled by music. One a pianist, one an actress, and both vocalists, they were a talented pair, and held their craft near and dear to their hearts. Twain grew very close to his daughters, and as the girls grew up, they shared that musical connection with their father. Just as parents may read Mark Twain’s works to their children before bed today, “All the Pretty Little Horses” is a lullaby that Sam Clemens may have sung to his daughters in the same setting.

A Life on the Ocean Wave

Duke Addy—Grade 10

Everyone knows the name of Mark Twain (also known as Samuel Clemens), the famous author of works known worldwide, such as “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”  However, what you may not know is that Mark Twain’s personal life, and his aspirations, had a profound impact on his works. He had many ambitions, but the most prominent one among them was his desire to become a steamboat captain.  He was enamored with the Mississippi River, and it was this that served as the inspiration for him to pursue a career as a steamboat captain. Many of the works we’ve come to know and love from Clemens have the river as a prominent backdrop in their settings, like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and his novel, “Life on the Mississippi,” originally started out as a travel guide to the river. He stated that “The loneliness of this solemn, stupendous flood is impressive and depressing.”  This love, and emotional commitment to the river showed in Samuel Clemens musical taste, specifically songs such as “A Life on the Ocean Wave,” which had a rousing tone that Clemens loved, and imagery that he would go on to use in his own works.

A Life on the Ocean Wave

Caleb Akerley—Grade 10

Mark Twain was a famous writer. He wrote many pieces, namely on the adventures of people, and life itself. He experienced many adventures too and his choice of music truly reflects that. “Life on the Ocean Wave” is simply a mirror into “The Adventures of Mark Twain.”

“Life on the Ocean Wave” is a song about life at sea, how the home of a sailor is always on the wave. Mark Twain related to this, deeply. While he loved his home, he also enjoyed traveling the world and writing many tales about the things he experienced. As a child, Mark was always fascinated with the boats pulling into the harbor, bringing life to the city. He lived surrounded by wonder, and as life went on, he went out to explore the world himself.

This is a song surrounding the sea, and the beauty of the adventure out there. As a man who wrote much about adventure this song must have struck a chord with him. “Life on the Ocean” Wave must have not only reminded him about his childhood, but also his adulthood and the wonders that are the world and people around him.

We Three Kings

Alex Cerdeira—Grade 11

At 18 years old, Samuel Clemens moved to Philadelphia from Missouri to pursue his writing dreams, and there, he took up the iconic pen name, Mark Twain. Eventually, after gaining fame, he moved to Hartford, Connecticut with his newlywed, Olivia Langdon, in 1871; there, they raised four children in luxury during the Gilded Age, which was a time of mass American economic growth after the Civil War. Building a large home full of lavish furniture and accessories, they naturally bought a very expensive music box that sat in the Front Hall. Showing off their fortune and love for music, it gave them access to melodies from around the world. One of the most popular tunes played in the box was “We Three Kings”, which was a carol composed in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.; it tells the story of three kings who journeyed to Bethlehem to grant Jesus gifts on his birthday. A major theme of the song is the power of unity, and Samuel was known to honor this message during the holidays, as he’d constantly play the carol on the piano in the Drawing Room to inspire his children to support and love each other forever.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Sophie Currier—Grade 12

Mark Twain’s family, known as the Clemens family, was very involved in music.  Their love of music was so strong that they had plenty of pianos where the Clemens girls played.  The family fit right into the society of the Gilded Age seeing as they enjoyed the finer, lavish things in life.  Samuel Clemens once said “Clothes do not merely make the man… clothes are the man.”  This quote reflects how Clemens truly viewed the world.  To Samuel, how you portray yourself on the outside is how the world will judge you.  He believed that if you were wealthy, you should let the world know, therefore it’s no surprise that his house shows just how wealthy his family was.  The Clemens household is full of luxurious riches including plenty of stove tops and a grand music box at the entrance.  Guests would be blessed by the music it beheld as they entered.  One song that the music box contained was “Wayfaring Stranger” which is about a young woman who is leaving her home to travel to a place where she has been told she will find a better life awaiting her, just as the Clemens family had done.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Ashney Datta—Grade 11

Wayfaring Stranger, a popular gospel song, holds significance for Mark Twain in regards to his past. This song is about the journey in life of an individual who is simply wandering through the uncertainties that life throws at him. This song represents Mark Twain’s own life as he never had a clear future ahead of him, and even had some difficulties early on in his childhood. His family had experienced heartbreak as three of his siblings had died from sickness, and Samuel himself was quite weak from illness. When Samuel was 11 years old, he experienced another loss in his family due to his father’s death and Samuel had to take upon many jobs such as working as a store clerk, delivery boy, and a compositor. After this, Samuel moved around a lot, going from Hannibal to Virginia and then to California, all while pursuing a writing career. Though Samuel’s life was harsh at many times, he continued treading through it and wrote from the passion in his heart, and perhaps that’s why the song Wayfaring Stranger resonated with him as it represents the continuation of life and working through its struggles.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Jack Dunphy—Grade 12

Samuel Clemens, commonly known by his pen name, Mark Twain, moved to Hartford, Connecticut to reside in a lively city that flourished with the arts. He built a beautiful home for his family with the extravagant designs of the Gilded Era. His family loved music. Music constantly filled the home celebrating memories, hopes, and holidays.

Samuel Clemens and his wife, Olivia grew up on the edge of the Appalachian region where people traveling on the Mississippi River would sing similar genres of music to the song Wayfaring Stranger.

Wayfaring Stranger to Sam represented how industrialization influenced people’s development. Sam collected several things that represent his coming of age within his home in Hartford. His fashionable clothing, elegant paintings, and worn-down typesetting machine were a constant reminder of all he has endured.

The music box Olivia gifted Sam helped bring all of these objects to come to life. As a young writer, Sam’s family was forced to uproot their lives and travel thirty miles for his father, John, to find work and create a “new” life for himself. Sam’s family was forced to travel “through this world of woe” while still feeling sick until the age of ten.

Sam most likely sang this tune, in the library, as he thought about his former livelihood. Sam used this room to convey his elaborate storytelling and reflect on his life journey through compelling stories.

Wayfaring Stranger resonated with Sam on a personal level seeing as it drew close connections with his childhood.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Sammy Erickson—Grade 12

“Wayfaring Stranger” was written in 1858 and this song’s author is unknown but was a very popular American folk song during the American Civil War. Sam Clemens aka Mark twain moved to Hartford in 1871 with his family. Sam and his family lived during the Gilded Age, which was a time of an era of rapid economic growth. It is called the Gilded Age (covered in gold) because it seems good on the outside, but it is actually bad and corrupt on the inside, however, Sam and his family didn’t represent this. Sam Clemens and his family bonded over music and had a connection with that, and there was no evil or corruption going on within their house, it was all music and love.

The song “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” is about a plaintive soul on the journey through life, as revealed in the lyrics of “I’m just a poor wayfaring stranger, traveling through this world I know.  There is no sickness, no toil, nor danger in that bright land to which I go.”

This song is important to Sam and his family because it expresses their feelings about their daughter that the family lost. Her soul (although in heaven) was lost early and this song and the sorrow of the song represents this loss. “Wayfaring Stranger” would have been a more personal song to the family, therefore it would be listened to in a more private setting like the library or the study.

We Three Kings

Kylee Ficks—Grade 12

The rapid growth of wealth during the Gilded Age can be seen throughout the Mark Twain House, and most specifically the music box and pianos. Music was a very important aspect of the Clemens family’s lives.

One of the songs that was essential to the musical collection of the Mark Twain house, was a well-known Christmas carol titled, “We Three Kings.” This song narrates the story of Christ’s birth, in which the three kings announce the gifts that they are bringing to Jesus, the son of God. The song transitions from the minor mode to major, depicting the lyrics that describe the bright light, or star, that is guiding them to the manger.

The family enjoyed extravagant Christmases, and celebrated royally. Most importantly Livy, Samuel’s wife, spent time giving back to her community. Christmas was a time in which she could use both her service mind and caring heart. Regardless of the family’s financial standings, Livy would prepare 50 gift baskets which were distributed to less fortunate families in the city of Hartford. Christmas was a very special time of year at the Mark Twain house, and “We Three Kings” captures the spirit of giving perfectly.

We Three Kings

Margaret Fishman—Grade 12

Sam Clemens, more famously known by his pen name, Mark Twain, was a popular writer and novelist in the Gilded Age. In addition to storytelling, the Clemens family shared a love for music.

His Hartford home illustrates his high class lifestyle with tasteful furnishings, and his family’s luxurious music box. This music box was used to play music during parties and played by his daughters on the piano while guests and family sang along in their drawing room.

“We Three Kings” is a song common around the world during the Christmas season. It tells the story of the three kings who paid homage to Jesus in Bethlehem, and hailed him as the King. This song was in Clemens’s music box because of its popularity during the time and their own religious beliefs. In addition to being performed with guests in the drawing room, the song would also be played in Sam & Livy’s bedroom, and the Mahogany and Langdon Bedroom.

Due to their wealthy lifestyle, the Clemens family practiced in Presbyterianism along with other elites in Hartford, which illustrates why “We Three Kings”, a religious hymn, was played in their music box when they had guests. Although Sam Clemens had his doubts about religion, it was still very present during the time period which encouraged the song’s popularity to the public.

Margaret produced this vocal arrangement and sang all of the parts. 

We Three Kings

Elizabeth Fitzsimmons—Grade 12

In a time when Mark Twain doubted organized religion, Christmas remained a unifier in the Clemens family and brought them much joy. From Twain’s infamous letter of his family’s Christmas, remarking on the traditions and his daughter’s piano playing of Christmas songs, cheer was very much present. The song, “We Three Kings” amplified that, telling the story of three kings bringing luxury to newborn Jesus, celebrating his birth. This idea of joy and celebration with luxury was present in the Clemens family, with their Christmas’ always being planned to the tee with plentiful family and friends.

In this time of the Gilded Age, the Hartford area was a hub for famous creative minds, many of which constituted the Clemens’ family Christmas guest list. The song spread the understanding that Jesus’ birth was widely known, establishing his future status. Clemens’ religious belief himself was so based in luxury/status beyond faith, that the inclusion of gifts and an honorable role in the song included this connection. The playing of We Three Kings would be fitting in the drawing room, where the Clemens family would gather with friends, which often happened at Christmastime, making this song even more appropriate.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Tarun Kakarla—Grade 10

The Gilded Age was a time of economic prosperity and was rich in the arts, specifically music. Music was a very important part of Sam Clemens’ life, as it showed the persona of him, his family, his house, and his era in total. His house in Hartford, formally known as the Mark Twain House, was representative and almost a perfect replica of the Gilded Age. The main hall greets you with paintings, bright lights, statues, and of course, Clemens’ favorite music box. Said music box contained many of Clemens’ favorite works, but the highlight was one of his favorite songs, Poor Wayfaring Stranger. This piece tells the story of a man who was on a journey to find not only his family and the promised land, but himself as well. The death of his daughter caused him and his family to go on their own journey to heal from the grief and to find the next step in their lives. Although Clemens loved his Hartford home very much, he was forced to leave, and the journey after his departure is depicted similarly in this song.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Lyndsey Koster—Grade 12

Sam Clemens and his family had a deep appreciation for music, and they were able to incorporate it into their lives in many ways. They notably adorned their Hartford home with an ornate music box in the Front Hall, and a piano in the Drawing Room, although music was a common theme in nearly every room in their house.

In the library, Sam told many stories to his daughters, some of which took the form of song. Sam particularly enjoyed the song “Wayfaring Stranger” because of his fondness of the banjo, which could be heard in folk music of the time. The lyrics tell a story of someone who is travelling and thinking of better times. Although for now, he wanders around a “world of woe,” he’s hopeful that he can soon reconcile with his “savior” in the afterlife.

It’s clear that the Clemens family was very musically inclined, and Sam and his daughters even played the piano. Besides containing talented musicians, however, the Clemens family was composed of gifted storytellers. “Wayfaring Stranger” contains elements of both domains, and the lyrics and melody create a tune that Sam Clemens and his family once very much enjoyed.

We Three Kings

David Marimekala—Grade 10

During the Gilded Age many different genres of songs became popular especially due to the increase in musical access aided by the economic growth of the time period. His large home in Hartford, Connecticut exemplifies the braggadocious nature of the Gilded age and his love for music especially since it has a music box. As soon as you enter the front hall, the vibrant colors and architecture of the house is the first thing that will catch your eyes. The music box played many songs including “We Three Kings” which tells the story of three magi who visited Jesus when he was born. This story is very important to the Christian faith since Jesus is an important figure. Since he was a child, Sam Clemens maintained his religion as a Christian Presbyterian and participated in Church. His experiences with religion, especially the time he spent in Sunday school,  has been incorporated in his book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In this same way Sam Clemens has listened to many religious songs including “We Three Kings”.  Although he often criticized the corrupt nature of the Gilded age as well as aspects of Christianity, Mark Twain enjoyed music and his music box.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Anna Mastrogivanni—Grade 12

The Gilded Age was an influential time in American history that impacted economic growth, political participation, and social reform. Recently, my class and I met with one of the directors at the Mark Twain museum and learned that Samuel Clemens and his family were no exception to the time period’s influence. The Clemens family lived a very extravagant lifestyle, and loved to show and explore their wealth and love for music. During the Gilded Age society was changing, and music became a way to show heritage and personality. There was a music box in the Mark Twain house that contained songs that were meaningful to the family. One song in particular is called “Poor wayfaring stranger”. This song is about the survival of the challenges of life and the beauty of heaven. This is especially true when the lyrics say “yet beautiful fields lie just before me” which indicates the author believed heaven is a good place. This song was important to the family as it describes the pain they suffered with the loss of their daughter, Jean Clemens. Here is “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.”

O Tannenbaum

Binh-Minh Nguyen—Grade 12

The Gilded Age was a period in the US in the late 1800’s where rapid economic growth happened. Samuel Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain, became very successful during this period and enjoyed the wealth of his Hartford neighborhood.

A notable topic about this legendary writer was his love for music. In fact, music was a significant part of the Clemens family. They owned a piano which was used by the family and as entertainment for occasional guests and a music box imported from Europe that could play songs from the Clemens’ time period. One German Christmas carol called “O Tannenbaum,”  known as “Oh Christmas Tree” in English, was a song played during the Christmas season by the family to bring Christmas spirits to the house. This song depicts the faithfulness of a Christmas tree in the family home.

By the end of the 1800s, Christmas had become a widely celebrated holiday. The tradition of the Christmas tree was brought by Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who was the first person to bring a decorated fir tree into her home. The song caught on and became one of Samuel Clemens’ favorites as Christmas was his favorite holiday in December.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Olivia Rose—Grade 11

Samuel Clemens also known as “Mark Twain”. was a rich and extravagant man. His love of a luxurious lifestyle was evident in the music box that sits in the front hall. This is not a music box the size of a jewelry box, but rather much larger with different songs on it. He was able to choose ten songs and one of which was “Poor Wayfaring Stranger”. This song, in the style of bluegrass music, originated in the Appalachian Mountains. Samuel Clemens grew up listening to bluegrass music and chose this song to share his culture with his family and guests. He once said “Well, I am a great and sublime fool. But then I am God’s fool and all His works must be contemplated with respect.” While Samuel Clemens was not a religious man, the song is about a person who has traveled the earth and is ready to end their mortal life to ascend to heaven to be with their family. This song is a poignant story of the struggles of life and the peaceful passing on of a person who is ready to leave the mortal world to go to heaven and be with God and their family.

We Three Kings

Krithika Santhanam—Grade 12

“We Three Kings” is a spirited song addressing the beautiful star that guides 3 wise kings during their voyage to bear gifts for Christmas. This carol reflects the beliefs and values of the Clemens family. Samuel Clemens, famously known as Mark Twain lived with his family in Hartford, Connecticut during the Gilded Age, a time period of economic growth and the misuse of power by wealthy tycoons. On Christmas, garlands wreathed the house’s massive staircase, and baskets filled with gifts were scattered throughout the house. During the Victorian period, there was no electricity so instead of lights on the tree, bright candles were lit.

“We Three Kings” would be sung in the drawing room as the Clemens family entertained their guests. As a wealthy family and even when finances were low, Livy prepared 50 gift baskets each year for less fortunate families. The Clemens family was willing to share their prosperity with others showing that money will come and go, but relationships last a lifetime which conflicts the mindset of many wealthy people at the time. “The Christmas holidays have this high value: that they remind forgetters of the forgotten and repair damaged relationships,” said Twain.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Anika Sharma—Grade 12

In 1871, Sam Clemens and his family moved to a beautiful house located in Hartford, Connecticut. Sam Clemens’ Hartford Home is a perfect example of the homes built during the Gilded Age, as it was built with style and elegance.

When guests arrived at the Hartford Home they were greeted by an elaborate music box. The music box was of great importance to the Clemens family as it contained songs which held deeper meaning in their lives. Music was a means in which the Clemens Family was able to connect as Sam, Livy and their daughter Clara were all fond of singing.

One of the songs in the music box was “Poor Wayfaring Stranger.” This song is about a person or soul explaining the hardships and struggles they have faced during their life. This person is hoping for a better afterlife with their family. Similarly, Sam and Livy Clemens faced many tragedies during their life. His children Langdon, Susy, and Jean died young. These tragedies broke their hearts. Although “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” was a reminder of the tragedies the Clemens faced, it also brought the Clemens hope that they’ll be able to reunite with their children in a better afterlife.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Nina Spineti—Grade 12

Samuel Clemens was a traveler and that reflected positively in his writing. Clemens used travel as a way to transport his writing to new places. His writing describes wanderlust and invigorates his readers to travel around the world. This piece Wayfaring Stranger tells a story about the journey of life and the life of a straggler. This song was important to the family because it told the story of someone who yearns for exploring life and culture in order to tell meaningful stories. Clemens left school to work as a printer’s apprentice for a local newspaper where his job was to arrange the type for each of the newspaper’s stories. Sam headed east to New York City and Philadelphia‚ where he worked on several different newspapers and found some success at writing articles.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Clemens headed west. Samuel Clemens was an avid traveler who gained inspiration and artistry from the excitedness of exploration. Clemens believed in the beauty and mystery of excursions in order to fuel knowledge and worldwide perspective. As Sam Clemens once wrote in a letter, “There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting land again after a cheerful, careless voyage.”

O Tannenbaum

Dylan St. James—Grade 12

O Tannenbaum, a song normally played on Christmas, happens to be one of the many songs that were played regularly at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. Samuel Clemens and his family celebrated Christmas each year and on Christmas morning in 1875, Mr. Clemens himself wrote a famous letter to his young daughter, Susie. It described the cheerful story of how Santa comes to visit the Clemens architectural masterpiece of their home in Hartford every year, creating a joyful Christmas feeling that many continue to cherish to this day. O Tannenbaum is a song written about the Christmas tree which is a symbol of faithfulness. Samuel Clemens valued this song not only for its celebration of Christmas, but he applied the metaphor of the Christmas tree’s symbolism to many aspects of his life. A perfect example is Clemens’ relationship with his house. He thought of his house as a person as he believed it always welcomed his family and guests, comparing the house to an additional member of the family. This song was played in their library as Mark Twain and his family believed in the song’s value of faithfulness that the Christmas tree, mansion, and family shared.

O Tannenbaum

Mingda Sun—Grade 12

O Tannenbaum was a song in the Twain house music box used to entertain family and visitors in the front hall. It was a gift from Twain’s wife Olivia on their Europe tour.  Each song was handpicked, and the variety of repertoire reflects Twain’s tastes in music among genres that were popular during the Gilded Age. In Twain’s time, the range of popular music was broader than today, reflecting pronounced class and regional differences. Folk tunes were popular among the working class, while parlor songs entertained the middle class.

Simultaneously,  a musical revolution was shaping the nation. Although opera and classical was traditionally more popular in Europe,  American composers like Edward Macdowell composed their own “art music” aimed at educated, wealthier audiences. Consistent with populist images, Twain often criticized classical music in writings, referred to the piano as an instrument of higher classes, and said he preferred the Banjo. However, Twain played the piano and so did his daughter Clara. In fact, the Twain home had two pianos.

Therefore, the songs included in the music box reflect both operas and concertos but also well known tunes like O Tannenbaum, so that any visitor could find a melody to identify with.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Jack Tyler—Grade 12

Sam Clemens grew up in rural Missouri during the late 1830’s, and was exposed to Scott Joplin’s music in childhood. This early exposure to music allowed Sam to cherish music.

Clemens did not have a secure life. Constantly between jobs, Sam was a lost, wandering soul. Later on in his life, when he began to be recognized for his writing, Clemens met his wife, Olivia Langdon, and the two began a family and a secure life.

While his house was being built, the family went on an overseas trip where they purchased a custom music box, and Clemens picked each song in the box. Every song had a special meaning to Clemens, and became one of his most prized possessions. Whenever the family had guests visit, the music box was a common form of entertainment and resided in the main hall of their home.

One of the songs was Poor Wayfaring Stranger, in which the lyrics reflect Clemens’s life. This piece highlights being lost, and longing to find a home & family. Having this song in his home, Clemens is constantly reminded of the time when he too, felt life a poor wayfaring stranger.

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Elisabeth Williams—Grade 12

Samuel Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain, was a famous American writer and humorist who, for a time, lived in a lavish home in Hartford, Connecticut. As evidenced by the beautiful and well-used Steinway & Sons piano in the drawing room of the house, the Clemenses were musically inclined, and loved to enjoy music together. One musical curiosity in their house was the expensive music box, a large contraption that sat in their front hall. This music box was used both for the family’s entertainment, and to show off their wealth and culture for visitors.

One popular song Clemens would have heard quite often is Wayfaring Stranger, a folk song about hope found through hardship. This song grew in popularity following the civil war after a dying soldier wrote the lyrics down in a Confederate prison. Clemens, who faced much hardship throughout his life, including mental illness and deaths in his family, likely found the lyrics of this song comforting and hopeful. The lyrics describe the “bright world” to which the stranger is heading, as having “no sickness, toil, or danger,” promising that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and hope at the end of hardship.

All the Pretty Little Horses

Jackson Williams—Grade 11

Samuel Clemens, an American author commonly known as Mark Twain, is famous for  works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was more than most people think. He was not only a famous writer, but also was a family man, with three daughters and one son. His son passed away at only 18 months old, inspiring him to take even better care of his daughters, Suzy, Clara, and Jean. All of these girls were homeschooled, and Samuel had them learn all different aspects of life, from other languages to different kinds of art. 

Most important was the family’s love for music and musical theater. All three girls loved to listen to music throughout the house, and tried to attend as many local performances as possible. One of their favorite songs, titled, All the Pretty Little Horses was commonly sung in their rooms and the nursery. This tune was important to the family, as they used it to calm the children before they went to sleep. All the Pretty Little Horses also demonstrates how loving and caring Samuel and Olivia Clemens were towards their Children. Singing these songs carried on important traditions to calm the kids for bedtime, just as Samuel Clemens’ parents did to him when he was a kid.