Charles Ives

Image courtesy of the Charles Ives Society

Charles Ives' Decoration Day:
A Conductor's Guide 

Charles Ives’ Decoration Day, a dreamy haze of almost-forgotten memories and half-remembered tunes, depicts recollections American Civil War through the eyes of a Connecticut youth at the end of the nineteenth century. The work, originally published as the second movement of Ives’ New England Holidays Symphony for orchestra, is a musical representation of the composer’s childhood memories of that eponymous holiday.

This paper links Ives’ own descriptions of the composition, his childhood, and his memories of the somber annual memorial to the musical gestures in the score, synthesizing extant scholarship with practical analysis and performance experience. Through better understanding Charles’ connections to the Civil War, specifically by way of his father, the bandmaster George Ives, Decoration Day comes to life as a stirring epitaph for a boy’s long-lost hero.

Published by the CBDNA Journal (Sage Open, Volume 9, Issue 1), March 29, 2019.

Carl Hirschberg, Decoration Day, 1885

Image courtesy of

CBDNA Research Presentation

This paper was presented on March 17, 2017, at the College Band Directors National Association National Conference in Kansas City, Missouri, as part of a juried academic research poster session.

Click to download associated materials:

- CBDNA Handout

- CBDNA Poster

Additional Ives Writing

April 7, 2017

Driving north to the family homestead in Connecticut, I often remark to myself (or to my unfortunate passengers) of the musical significance as we pass over the George Washington Bridge, the span over the Hudson River connecting Fort Lee, New Jersey, to upper Manhattan. Once I leave New Jersey, the prominent musical landmarks abound (Manhattan alone features a seemingly infinite number of composers...

October 20, 2016

Charles Edward Ives, the convention-shattering American modernist composer, was born 142 years ago today, October 20th, 1874, in Danbury, Connecticut. Ives would later pen some of the most remarkable music every composed, anticipating many later twentieth-century musical innovations by decades, and establishing himself as one of the first true American master composers.

Ives had early musical traini...

April 2, 2016

Decoration Day

Charles E. Ives

Born: October 20, 1874, Danbury, Connecticut

Died: May 19, 1954, New York, New York

Original Instrumentation: Orchestra

Duration: 9 minutes

Composed: 1912

Arranged: Jonathan Elkus, 1962

Charles Ives, Decoration Day, arr. Jonathan Elkus

"The President's Own" United States Marine Band, Col. Timothy W. Foley, conductor

Charles Ives’ Decoration Day, a dreamy haze of almost-forgotte...

April 1, 2016

Overture and March “1776”

Charles E. Ives

Born: October 20, 1874, Danbury, Connecticut

Died: May 19, 1954, New York, New York

Original Instrumentation: Theater Orchestra

Duration: 3 minutes

Composed: 1903-1914

Arranged: James B. Sinclair, 1975

Program note from the printed score:

Overture and March “1776” was originally conceived for a play by Ives' uncle, Lyman Brewster. The plan of making an opera from...

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© 2019 Brian Coffill