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date: 15 December 2019

Callithumpian bandlocked

  • Sarah Caissie Provost


A collection of noisy instruments usually assembled for a celebration. These are usually re-purposed items such as cowbells, tin cooking pans and utensils, copper wash boilers, saws, and small unloaded firearms, including shotguns and occasionally small cannons. Tin horns have often been used as well. These bands, popular in the 19th century, usually followed parades on such celebratory occasions as July 4th and New Year’s Eve. As their homemade instruments indicate, callithumpian bands were not organized musical ensembles but rather rowdy mobs intent upon creating discord.

The origins of the term “callithumpian” are unknown, but are thought to be related to the mythological Greek muse Calliope, who was also the namesake of the musical steam engine, the calliope, which originated around the same time. “Callithumpian” may have been produced by combining the sweet-voiced muse’s name with the more lowly verb “to thump.” Although “callithumpian” is the most reproduced form of the word, it also appears in forms such as “callathumpian,” and all variants are often combined with “band” or “party.” Because of the unfamiliar beginning of the word “callithumpian,” it is also sometimes seen as “cowthumpin,” which indicates its rural popularity. In the East, particularly in Philadelphia, callithumpian bands appeared costumed, usually as women or African Americans, and mocked military music groups such as the fife and drum corps. A callithumpian band would sometimes accompany “fantasticals,” or men who mocked the militia. In the Northeast, callithumpian bands were sometimes called “serenades.” A related ensemble is the ...

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