Limerick Composer Discusses Maine Music History


Speaker John Secunde, right, and Brother Albert Heinrich discuss music history after Secunde’s presentation at Alfred Shaker Museum on Sunday (June 11).

Limerick music composer John Secunde engaged his audience at Alfred Shaker Museum on Sunday, June 11, with his history of early Maine composer Supply Belcher. He offered samples of Belcher’s music, which Secunde thinks has been “largely neglected today” and has “fallen by the wayside” despite his significant early role in music in America.

John Secunde, who recently graduated with a degree in music composition from the State University of New York at Fredonia and is headed to a master’s program at the Longy School of Music at Bard College in the fall, focused on Supply Belcher (1751-1836).

Belcher lived and worked in Farmington and Hallowell (now Augusta). He moved from Massachusetts to Maine after the Revolutionary War, in which he served and was designated a captain by George Washington. At one point, he also interacted with Paul Revere over payment for a town bell. In Maine, Belcher was a well-known civil servant.

The presentation was the second this season in the Sid Emery Memorial Forum, which is now in its third year of sponsorship from the Shaker museum and the Sanford-Springvale Historical Society. Funding has been provided by the Davis Family Foundation.

Belcher, Secunde explained, was a member of the New England School of five musicians who banded together through common interests and geography and produced “tune books”. The school included William Billings and Justin Morgan (for whom the Morgan horse is named). In 1794, Belcher published a book called Harmony of Maine, with a preface that Secunde termed “important” for its redefinition of music’s place in contrast with the European position. Belcher’s view was that music was about “bringing communities together.” There was a “trend toward sacred music… to be used in churches.”

Secunde played samples of three Belcher pieces, including a “Sacred Harp Performance,” “Heroism,” and “Majesty.” In “Majesty,” Belcher employed chance as a controlling factor over which notes are played. A member of the audience, who seemingly was skeptical about that piece, questioned whether chance could actually produce good music. Secunde said the approach was interesting, “colorful,” and “not sacred music,” and that chance “removes the influence of intuition.”

Secunde also talked about the strong influence on American music of the influx of German immigrants to the United States about 1800. And he praised Belcher as one of the “few musicians who is completely American and unique but… largely neglected today.”

The final two talks in the Memorial Forum, by book authors, will take place in October. For more information, see Speakers’ Series.

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