The Lexington Historical Society Colonial Singers

LHS Colonial Singers

Directed by Diane Taraz since January 2010, the LHS Colonial Singers are a dozen reenactors and lovers of history who present the music enjoyed by American Colonists in the years before and during the Revolution. Their repertoire is as wide as the issues of the 18th century: equality, the meaning of liberty, the scope of government, and the proper role and relations of rulers and subjects, women and men, masters and servants, and husbands and wives.

LHS Colonial Singers

Members represent both sides of the conflict, both colonists and members of His Majesty's Tenth Regiment of Foot. Music was an important weapon in the battle for hearts and minds, and many songs were created to encourage either rebellion or loyalty to the crown. The group sings marching songs, passionate ballads, work songs, hymns, drinking songs, lullabyes, and rounds, or "catches" as they were called back then.

LHS Colonial Singers

The Colonial Singers perform in period clothing, which adds a compelling visual element to their presentations. They traditionally sing for Lexington Historical Society events such as Patriot's Day and the Fourth of July, and can be hired to visit museums, historical societies, libraries, schools, and other places where their music can enhance the exploration of history.

Many of the group's songs are done without accompaniment, as was usual when they were created. Diane leads others on a modern version of an "English guitar," a lute-like instrument played by women in the 18th century. Member Darlene Wigton adds what was then called a "Spanish guitar."

Diane finds and researches songs, arranges them for the group, and teaches them to the singers. Much can be learned from the antique language and sometimes unusual musical settings, and the group's members bring much historical knowledge to their gatherings as they tease information from lyrics written in centuries past.

Recordings

In 2015 Diane produced a recording for the Colonial Singers entitled Now Kiss the Cup! Made in the historic Taproom of Buckman Tavern, built in 1710, it recreates of an evening in a Colonial tavern, complete with crackling fire, clinking tankards, snippets of conversation, and rousing songs in praise of spirits – music that echoed off the Taproom's walls in centuries past.

Now Kiss the Cup!

In 2022 Diane produced a second recording for the group, An Abundance of Pastime. It was made in Monroe Tavern and features songs people sang for entertainment or to while away an evening by the fire – amusing ditties about the foibles of women and men, and reflections on life's fleeting joys and sorrows. The group tackles two rounds – a lively, intricate one from a gentleman's drinking club, with music by Henry Purcell, and the sorrowful beauty of "When Jesus Wept," by William Billings.

An Abundance of Pastime

These recordings are available at the Buckman Tavern Gift Shop in Lexington Center, or from Diane. Contact her at diane@dianetaraz.com to order.

Theatrical Presentations

LHS Colonial Singers

In 2017 and 2018 Diane directed a group of LHS members and friends in three performances of John Gay's The Beggars' Opera. This farce, written in London in 1728, is set in a criminal world of beggars, thieves, and ladies of the evening. It makes wicked fun of the widespread corruption of the ruling class, especially politicians. Gay's play was the first musical, sung and spoken in English. He wrote new words for familiar tunes, and the novelty of hearing well-loved melodies in the midst of shocking cynicism captivated the public.

LHS Colonial Singers

Diane trimmed the play to a manageable size and edited its 60 songs down to 20. She accompanied the songs on her English guitar and took the role of Mrs. Peachum. She delighted in turning her usually tidy singers into wily denizens of the underworld, complete with sooty faces, threadbare clothes, and missing teeth.

LHS Colonial Singers

The Beggar's Opera was presented as part of an evening of scandal and wit entitled Wicked Revelry, held in the candlelit Lexington Depot. Colonial-era food and drink were available to suggest the atmosphere of a tavern. Taraz led the crowd in some rowdy songs and toasts before the play commenced its gleeful celebration of sin.

LHS Colonial Singers

Plans are in the works for another production, a play entitled The Disappointment, or the Force of Credulity. Written in 1767 (under a pseudonym) by Francis Hopkinson, it was expected to be the first play written by an American to debut on the continent, but it was cancelled just two days before its opening because it was based on a joke that had been played on some residents of Philadelphia, involving buried treasure. The joke's victims were sure they would be recognized in the play's characters and demanded its cancellation to avoid humiliation. The public never got to enjoy the fun poked at those willing to believe impossible things, although the script was published and widely read.

The Disappointment has been performed only twice, in 1935 and 1976. Both of these productions made incorrect assumptions about a key character and failed to locate many of the original melodies. Working from expert research by Carolyn Rabson, Diane has created the most accurate version ever presented of this play, with all 19 of its original songs, and immigrant characters that show the deep roots of American humor.

For more information, contact Diane at diane@dianetaraz.com.

Diane Taraz with English Guitar