Chester

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CHESTER. American, Air (4/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. A hymn tune composed by William Billings (1746-1800), employed as a march by Alstead, New Hampshire, fiddler Randy Miller. Billings was a tanner by trade and a friend to Boston patriots such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams. He is considered the foremost American composer of his era, and his "Chester," a patriotic song, became the unofficial national anthem of the American Revolution. It begins:

Let tyrants shake their iron rods,
And Slav'ry clank her galling chains.
We fear them not, we trust in God,
New England's God forever reigns.

The melody appears in several American musicians' manuscripts dating from the last quarter of the 18th century, into the 19th century. It can be found in harpsichord player Hannah Dawes' (Mass.) music copybook of c. 1790, Silas Dickenson's music manuscript (Mass., 1800), and fifer William Morris's commonplace book of 1776 ("First Regament Hunterdon" {sic}, New Jersey) where it is labelled "A Quick Step for Sunday", perhaps referring to a regimental march used when going to Sunday service. It is printed in James Hulbuert's Complete Fifer's Museum of 1807 and 1811 (Northampton, Mass.), where, in the 1811 volume, it is labelled "A Death Beat", indicating its use as a funeral march.

Printed source: Miller (Fiddler's Throne), 2004; No. 331, p. 195.


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