Lydia Hamessley, professor of music, presented a talk titled “‘Music on Which the Story Might Ride’: Music in Paul Green’s The Lost Colony (1937)” at the international symposium, Roanoke Conundrum – Fact & Fiction. The symposium was held Oct. 6-10 in Manteo, N.C., to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the outdoor pageant The Lost Colony.
A variety of presenters, including historians, archaeologists, theatre professionals, writers and musicologists, focused on new scholarship about Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions to the New World in the 1580s and the interpretations of that history through the arts.
Hamessley’s presentation focused on the play The Lost Colony which opened on Roanoke Island, N.C., in 1937 supported by the WPA and the Federal Theatre Project. This outdoor pageant commemorated the 350th anniversary of the founding of the first English colony in North America.
Financed by Sir Walter Raleigh, the colony ultimately failed; the colonists vanished, leaving only a trace of their fate: they inscribed the name of a Native American tribe on a post, presumably signaling their newfound home. Prominent southern playwright Paul Green set this compelling, still unsolved mystery as a symphonic drama, a term he coined to describe his integrated use of speech, dance, pantomine, poetry and music.
The play opened to critical acclaim in The New York Times, and the music was repeatedly singled out for praise. The play has been in continuous production since 1937 until the present, excluding years during WWII, and it holds a noteworthy place in the history of musical theatre.
Focusing on the redemptive power of the New World, the play emphasizes the English identity of Americans. Thus, its music is an amalgamation of Elizabethan hymns, carols, ballads, ballets; liturgical music of Byrd, Tallis, Tye; well-known tunes such as “Greensleeves,” “Agincourt,” “All in a Garden Green”; and incidental music (including music representing Native Americans who figure prominently in the play) written by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Lamar Stringfield.
Green shaped the musical score within the context of two larger musical movements of the early to mid-20th century. He wrote The Lost Colony at a time when composers and musicians sought to identify a distinctly American style, looking especially to folk music. Green participates in this political/cultural debate stating, “the old English music [in The Lost Colony is] the folk song and hymn tunes of our musical heritage.” Green’s choices were also made against the backdrop of the burgeoning early music movement.
Hamessley argued that the early score of The Lost Colony took part in both musical projects and that it embodies an underlying connection between the two.