Author: Emily Gale

Lecturer of Music in the Global Arts Studies program at the University of California, Merced, with a PhD in music from the University of Virginia

Sound in Jefferson’s Virginia

Sound in Thomas Jefferson‘s Virginia included natural, man-made, and melodic noises. The areas surrounding Monticello, the Albemarle County estate of Jefferson, and the city of Charlottesville, reverberated with thunder, cicadas, bells, work songs, fiddles, and drums. Nearby taverns, parlors, dances, and political rallies resonated with the sounds of crowd noises, toasts, songs, military salutes, fireworks, and shouts. Jefferson’s world was as noisy as any small town of its time, filled with the sounds of nature (especially cicadas), Western art music, political music, and the sounds of the enslaved. In taverns, patrons sang drinking songs and patriotic tunes. In parlors, young women performed with keyboards and lutes. At dances, men played fiddles, and in the military, they participated in fife and drum corps. In slave quarters, enslaved men and women, though regularly ignored, sang spirituals and played fiddles and drums, sometimes to communicate with one another.