Dr. George F. Root
The subject of our sketch was the product of that period in our national life in which the parents devoted themselves preeminently to training their children to habits of industry, and to teaching them the strictest morality and religion. Inheriting a strong physical constitution, and starting out from a typical New England home a pure boy with high aspirations, he attained the highest place among American musicians as a teacher, a theorist and composer.
George Frederick Root was born in Sheffield, Mass., August 30, 1820. His father moved to North Reading, near Boston, when the boy was six years old, and there his youth was spent.
He was always fond of music— not singing at all as a boy, but played upon every kind of instrument that came in his way. At thirteen it was his pride that he could ”play a tune” on as many instruments as he was years old. His dream of life was to be a musician, although such an ambition was looked down upon by all his relatives and friends, excepting a fond mother.
In the fall of 1838 he went to Boston and made an engagement to work for Mr. A. N. Johnson and take lessons on the piano.
His father and one of the brothers were at the time in South America, and the mother, with six younger children, was at home on the farm. When he secured the engagement with Mr. Johnson to receive three dollars a week and board and lessons, the neighbors became interested and encouraged him to go ahead, they promising to help look after the farm and see that the family got along. The young man’s happiness over these events can better be imagined than described.
On the second day of October, 1838, he entered upon his duties in his new heaven on earth located at Harmony Hall, Mr. Johnson’s music-room, in Boston. His duties were to see to the fires, care for the room, answer callers, give information about Mr. Johnson when he was out, and practice his lessons when not otherwise engaged. He Avorked industriously and made steady progress. It was but a few weeks till Mr. Johnson had him playing for the prayer-meeting, and but a few more till he began turning over pupils to him. In about seven weeks’ time Mr. Johnson encouraged him by a considerable increase of salary. A most important event to him was meeting Dr. Lowell Mason and being accepted as a bass singer in the celebrated Bowdoin Street choir. Also, on Mr. Johnson’s recommendation, he began taking private voice lessons of Mr. Geo. Jas. Webb, the then celebrated voice teacher of Boston. He continued at least a year with Mr. Webb.
His first real singing class was taught the following fall, 1839, at the North End. It lasted nearly through the winter, and on the closing night his class made him a present of a silver goblet, suitably engraved, which he kept among his treasures.
Before the first year was up Mr. Johnson proposed a five year partnershi]), by which Mr. Root was to receive one-third of their earnings, and the former was to have the privilege of visiting Germany part of the time if he chose. They then clianged their quarters to three rooms in the basement of Park Street Church. The annual rental was six hundred dollars. They were kept quite busy.
At this time Dr. Mason’s music teaching in the public schools was a growing success, and Messrs. Johnson and Root were employed to assist him. Drs. Mason and Webb had introduced what is now called Musical Conventions a year or two previous to this. They called them “The Teachers’ Class.” Teachers and singers were called to Boston from surrounding territory to study and practice pretty much as they do now at normals.
In 1841 Mr. Root became one of the teachers in this class. He taught vocal training and continued this work for years afterwards in Dr. Mason’s teachers’ classes, and later incorporated the same method in his own normals. During this year Mr. Johnson went to Germany, and left the two large church choirs (Winter Street and Park Street) in charge of Mr. Root. One of the organs was played by a pupil — Mr. S. A. Bancroft.
Everything went smoothly during Mr. Johnson’s absence as it did also after his return. During the last year of the five-year partnership, Mr. Root was called to take the organ at Bowdoin Street, Mr. Mason changing to Winter Street. An amicable settlement was made between Messrs. Johnson and Root, and the partnership dissolved.
In 1811, Mr. Jacob Abbott (father of Lyman Abbott) and his three brothers had established a young ladies’ school in ^N^ew York City. They wanted a music teacher, and offered the position to Mr. Root. They also secured him the organ and choir of the Mercer Street Church, with prospects for other good work. It required pretty strong persuasive arguments to tempt Mr. Root to leave Boston, lie was doing well there, and as the sequel shows, there was an attraction in Boston that held him in too tight a grasp to be relinquished by the mere offer of greater power and place. He made up his mind, however, only after getting the consent of the powders of Boston to take with him this [to him] the greatest attraction of the city — Miss Mary Olive Woodman — an accomplished lady, a sweet singer, and a member of a prominent family of musicians. He went to New York first to prepare a home, and in August, 1 845, returned for his bride, who took her place in his New York choir as leading soprano, and through his long and eventful career she was ever at his side, a true helpmeet.
He was soon employed at Rutger’s Female Institute, Miss Haines’ School for Young Ladies, Union Theological Seminary and the New York State Institution for the Blind. Within six weeks after he arrived in New York his time w^as fully occupied. He continued with Mr. Abbott’s young ladies’ school ten years.
While teaching in New York he continued his summer work with Messrs. Mason and Webb in Teachers’ Classes. U}) to the year 1849 he had written but little music; only a few hymn tunes wdiile in Boston. He needed more music for the young ladies of his schools, so he made his first book, ” The Young Ladies’ Choir,” of w^hich he had enough copies made for his own use, as he had no thought of offering it to the public. Then in connection with Mr. J. E. Sweetser, they compiled the ” Root and Sweetser’s Collection.”
Mr. Root did work enough for two men, hence broke down in health. Mr. Abbott suggested that he take a trip to Paris. After weighing the matter care fully, in December, 1853, he sailed, and in due time arrived at Paris, where he began studying French, voice culture and piano under celebrated teachers. After spending nearly a year abroad, he returned home in improved health and ready for active work. He began to feel the need of new music for his classes, and after some thought decided upon a musical play; the subject and title, “The Flower Queen.”
At the Institution for the Blind was a young lady, a former pupil, but now a teacher who had shown some poetical talent. He asked her to help him with the words. He would suggest in prose what the flowers might say and she would put it into rhyme. She did it so well that it seldom needed any alteration. This lady was the now famous Fanny Crosby. The cantata became very popular. About this time Mr. Root wrote a half dozen simple songs for the people. They all sold pretty well, but ” Hazel Dell ” and ” Rosalie, the Prairie Flower,” became the most popular, and had a large sale.
It was in the summer of 1853 that the first real normal was held. Mr. Root originated it, and held it in ‘Nqw York. The principal teachers were Messrs. Mason, Root, Hastings, and Bradbury. This school became famous. Sessions were also held at Xorth Reading, Mass., a village near Mr. Root’s ” Willow Farm Home,” with Dr. Mason, Mr. Webb, Mr. Bradbury and himself as principal teachers.
About this time Mr. Root decided to give up his work in New York, and devote himself entirely to conventions, normal work and authorship. He was eminently successful. Among the most eminent teachers and composers of our country have been students in Dr. Geo. F. Root’s Normal Musical Institute.
In 1860 Dr. Root settled in Chicago and entered the music publishing business with his brother E. T. Root, and C. M. Cady, as ” Root & Cady,” Mr. Root’s reputation being the most important capital of the firm. His books and popular songs soon made the new firm prosperous. Then came the war with its horror. Dr. Root wielded his musical sword in the way of writing war songs, which made him famous. ” The Battle Cry of Freedom,” ” Just Before the Battle, Mother,” and others, made thousands of dollars for the music house.
In the great Chicago fire of 1871 the interests of the firm of Root & Cady became engulfed in the general ruin. Their loss was upward of a quarter of a million dollars. They then sold their book catalogue, plates and copyrights to John Church & Co., of Cincinnati, and the sheet music plates and copyrights to S. Brainard’s Sons, Cleveland. These sales realized about §130,000. The final result was that Dr. Root, his talented son F. W., and others became connected with John Church & Co. Under this new business relationship Mr. Root went right on with his normal and convention work ; also issued a great many new books and cantatas. In 1872 the Chicago University very worthily conferred upon him the degree Doctor of Music.
In 1886 he made a trip to Scotland and England, and arranged with publishers to issue some of his cantatas. He was royally received.
Dr. Root was the author of about seventy-five books, nearly two hundred songs in sheet form, and many popular gospel songs. Dr. Root occupies a prominent place in the musical history of this country. It was Dr. Mason who lifted music from almost nothing and gave it an impetus, but he left no better follower than Dr. Root to carry on his work. He was a man of spotless integrity and high Christian character ; and to know him was to love him.
At the time of Dr. Root’s death he was at Bailey Island, Maine, a summer resort, where he and other relatives had cottages. On August 6, 1895, he was seized with neuralgia of the heart — and died within one hour. He was buried at North Reading, Mass., his old home.
” Dead he is not, but departed — for the artist never dies.”