American Music in Music Courses

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Virtually everyone in my family is a musician, professional or amateur, and I was brought up with many American works in our daily music-making. No point was made of it particularly; it was simply assumed that American music was an equal, valuable, and pleasurable component of our musical lives. It was therefore a shock to me, when I began my musicological studies to discover that American music was omitted from the curriculum—in name and in deed.

It has been possible until very recently for American students in American schools to earn two (or even three) degrees in music without ever hearing, performing, analyzing, or otherwise engaging a single work by an American composer.

There are many interrelated issues: problems of conservative and avant-garde music in this century, for example, in which a good deal of very fine American music has been lost because of its ideology (I would urge that we take the long view and revitalize the spectrum of styles); problems of venue and the hierarchy of musical types, in which it is all right to analyze an orchestral suite if it is called a symphony but not if it is called a ballet; or in which vocabulary has its built-in snobbery and although you may speak of an ostinato by Oscar Peterson, you may not speak of a riff by Bach; problems deriving from what I have called "enkaustolatry," the worship of ink, in which the printed note is held to exist in a degree and with an authority which it has simply never had. In a nation particularly strong in ad hoc arrangements and off-the-seat-of-the-pants variations, enkaustolatry is particularly unfortunate. I have written elsewhere of the American parlor tradition,1 and of the art of "fanciful performance" in which performers never played a printed version of a work, but used it as a takeoff point. The performance of an American group of pieces exactly as published, by the New York Philharmonic in February of 1983, was a cautionary example. Steven Ledbetter in his letter to the New York Times spoke directly to the issue: "My ten-year-old daughter plays in her piano lessons a skeletal two-finger version of the second theme of the Schubert 'Unfinished' Symphony. How would the Times review a concert in which the Philharmonic performed an arrangement of that selection and billed it as the Schubert work itself?"2 I have serious doubts that European musicians were ever spindled on the pen; for American musicians I have no doubt whatever—the written form of certain musical types has never been binding. No greater damage can be done to our nation's music than to believe that what you see is what you get.

These problems get in the way of teaching American music: our students are no longer taught how to flesh out a skeletal score—I can't even get students to add an appoggiatura to the printed page, so deeply are they trained in obeisance to it; it is hard to find good recordings of American music, which is often under-rehearsed, performed with funeral tempos and stolidity of attack, and condescendingly treated in accompanying notes; and it is difficult to fit it into courses when the basic materials of the syllabus and text are anti-American, even if anti-American only by omission.

Make no mistake about omission: omission is a powerful teacher. If I label a course "20th Century Music" and it entirely omits American music, I teach very powerfully that there has been no American music in this century, or at least no American music worth teaching. And that simply is not true. How can we—dare we—teach music to American students in American schools from a stance that ignores our own existence? In any other subject this would be considered either eccentric or unprofessional.

Surely it is time in the last years of the twentieth century to reexamine our course outlines and to present all materials to students through American eyes. We are, after all, Americans teaching Americans, and it is natural and proper to acknowledge that fact. That by no means precludes a lively interest in European music—that is the heritage of the majority of Americans, though by no means all.

Some time ago I decided never again to teach a course with a foreign epicenter or without a component of American reference and American musical examples. It has been successful in more ways than I anticipated. I have found that a frame of reference close to the students provides an excellent fulcrum for discussion of that which is farther away. I have found that the familiar and the new are mutually enlightening, and that both profit from comparison.

Hearing all music through American ears represents a radical change (but it makes more sense in the United States than listening to all music, even our own, through German ears), but it is vital also to deal with American musical content.

The easiest courses in which to include American components are those in which discrete works are used without reference to context. Theory courses are among these, including harmonic analysis or form studies. The musical examples in these studies tend to be illustrations of types or techniques and can be selected from a vast pool of exemplars. In these cases the problem reduces itself simply to the seeking of information about suitable American works and the disposition to use them. There is no particular reason for twentieth-century American students to pay exclusive attention to seventeenth or eighteenth-century German hymn tunes; many fine American tunes are ready and waiting.

Northfield and Kedron come to mind, with others from the song school tradition; Nettleton or Rest from nineteenth-century hymnology—the latter, by Frederick Maker (better known by its text, "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind") is absolutely loaded with secondary dominants and has a lovely final cadence that combines authentic and plagal elements. The Bliss and Sankey Gospel Hymns have been reprinted by Da Capo Press and are unbeatable for basic theory work. And for melodic dictation what could be better than such marvelous tunes as "Shenandoah" or "The Cowpuncher," with their shaded tonal arches and their rhythmic subtleties?

Later Romantic American music contains many rich lodes for the teacher of tonal harmony; our theatre and popular music was the equal of any in the world. The simple, direct tonal diction of a Sousa march or a Joplin rag would be excellent in elementary analytic study.

And what of the twentieth century? What twentieth-century music should our students analyze? Our theory department uses European music exclusively. But there is American music galore. Certainly we are the yardstick for contemporary music, both concert and popular. And I believe that in the generations of our fathers and grandfathers American music offers a scope of style that European music cannot top. The music of the United States is in fact a treasure-trove for the study of important theoretical mid-types too often allowed to fall between: music that is serial but tonal, music that is serial but not twelve-tone, music that is atonal and integrated but not serial—and music that is some of the above, or none of the above.

I am not urging that theory teachers deal exclusively with American materials, though that would make more sense than dealing exclusively with non-American materials. But I wish strongly to suggest that omission of American works is a dangerous misrepresentation and a reckless pedagogical practice.

Literature courses present abundant opportunity for letting our students become aware of their national heritage. It is difficult to believe that the twentieth century presents any problem; there are so many fine American works of every stamp and so many decent recordings of them that it is quite possible to watch the developments in 20th-century music through American eyes. Important musical events in Europe are not to be underestimated, but their influence on American music should not be ignored.

One problem seems to be the implacable concentration on 20th-century modernism, not at all consistent with an equally implacable concentration on eighteenth-century conservatism. Another problem stems from hierarchical judgments about musical types, once again inconsistently applied. Popular music is taboo in the 20th century; the marvelous music of Joplin or Gershwin is not to be countenanced in a discussion of "Serious" music; but Josquin's pop songs are all right, and a fourteenth-century jazz band is just fine. Yet musicologist Hans Keller has written that Gershwin's "The Man I Love" is more difficult to analyze than a piece of comparable size by Webern.3

In the music of the 19th century, when this country was more directly under the European thumb in the concert world, the popular and native traditions assume greater importance. Here our chief problem is our own ignorance—as Steven Ledbetter has made clear, an extensive ignorance of how music was arranged. We know that small groups played Beethoven symphoniesone thinks of the group that William Robyn founded in St. Louis in 1837: it began with one violin, one E-flat clarinet, and a bass drum, and within a year had expanded to comprise a string quartet, a double bass, a flute, two clarinets, two horns, two trumpets, a trombone, and the drum—all of them, Robyn reported, "good musicians."4

We know that park gazebos resounded with ornate cornet solos as well as marches and dances, and featured European items, vocal and instrumental; the native music remains only in stripped-down keyboard versions. And we know that there is a great deal of music to be explored; St. Louis may yet yield up a study of Robyn's own music and that of his son Alfred: a concert Mass, a "Festival Vespers," and string quartet, songs, a piano trio, a piano concerto, oratorios, piano pieces and organ music, in addition to the very creditable operas and operettas. His comic opera, The Yankee Consul, of 1904, was reviewed as "a delight" in the New York Times, "with really good music . . . far above the usual run."5

There were many like him for us to find again. More and more is being rediscovered, more and more is being recorded, and some of it (heaven be praised) is now well recorded. In general, recordings are ahead of books—I have some excellent records of nineteenth-century American music, but our students do not find it in their texts.

One very simple way of involving America in European History is to include accounts of the American adventures of the European works you discuss. Are you presenting the Brahms First Symphony? In addition to its premiere in Karlsruhe in 1876, discuss the feverish rivalry between Theodore Thomas and Leopold Damrosch in 1877 to get the music from Schirmer and get the parts copied; Damrosch obtained the score through false pretenses and cut it into three parts for the copyists to work on; he won by six days, conducting the work on December 15, 1877 at Steinway Hall, while Thomas did it on December 21 in Brooklyn, with the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and on the 22nd in Manhattan with the Philharmonic Society.6 Are you teaching the Baroque oratorio? Include the phenomenal success of Messiah on these shores, as part of the whole Haydn and Handel Societies and other oratorial groups that crossed the country from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia to Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, and the West.

Last year I taught a graduate survey of opera literature; I included several American 18th- and 19th-century operas—unfortunately there are more and better recordings of the earlier ones, for example: Andrew Barton's The Disappointment (Philadelphia 1767) and Joseph Quesnel's Colas & Colinette (Montreal 1790)—both are just delightful, the equal of their European counterparts in every way. And I concluded with a three-week splash of 20th-century American operas.

But I also commented on the American career of every opera included in the course. Arne's Love in a Village, premiered in London in 1762, done in Charleston in 1766; Weber's Der Freischütz, premiered in Berlin in 1821, done at the Park Theatre in New York in 1825; Meyerbeer's Le Prophète, premiered in Paris in 1849, done in New Orleans in 1850 and at Niblo's Garden in New York in 1853; Julius Benedict, The Lily of Killarney, premiered in London in 1862, done in Philadelphia in 1867.7 I had had the idea that it took decades for most works to reach the United States (if indeed they got here at all) but it just isn't so.

In the 19th-century, opera was performed in 22 theatres in New York City—in the Astor Place Opera House, the Richmond Hill Theatre, Pike's Opera House, the Manhattan Opera House, the Academy of Music, and so forth. There were six houses in Philadelphia, four in New Orleans, three each in Chicago, Charleston, and Boston, and houses also in San Francisco, Denver, Louisville, Hoboken, Cleveland, Seattle, and several other towns. It seems to me that the country must have been positively vibrating with musical theatre—both European and native American.

There have been plenty of American operas—my file now contains 1,208 works by 568 composers (52 of them women), and the file is still in its early stages. And the vast majority of these were produced. If we would stop looking through the foreign eyes of the Metropolitan Opera House, we would see that American opera has had a rich life. That house has produced works by 21 Americans: (Deems Taylor has received the greatest number of performances—Peter Ibbetsen was done 16 times and The King's Henchman 14 times, a total of 30 hearings. The only rival is Samuel Barber, whose Vanessa was done 15 times.)8 Until the recent production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, the last performance of American work at the Met was in 1967.

A better place to start might be with American composers who wrote several operas—Ohio-born Harry Lawrence Freeman, who wrote 17 operas from 1892 to 1947, all of them produced; Paul Hastings Allen, from Massachusetts, who composed a dozen, most of them produced in Italy between 1913 and 1931 (though his Mamzelle Figaro was produced in the United States after the war). James Hewitt, Eleanor Freer and Mary Carr Moore all wrote nine operas.

Or one could begin with the winners of the David Bispham medal: Mary Carr Moore, Ralph Lyford, William J. McCoy, or Frederick Converse, the only Bispham medalist to be heard at the Met.

The point is that the music is there and with a little effort we can learn of it; more important, American students have the right to know about it.

With few exceptions, there are good American examples or counterparts to European musical types. But Americans have always scorned European elitist concepts, and it is precisely in elite types (such as the symphony) that a shortage of American work is noted. Thus a study of European concert music of the nineteenth century can be paralleled by American concert music, which had its own types and its own riches.

* * * * * *

The problem in the history of music sequence is quite different. First and perhaps foremost is the sense that until very late days, there is nothing in America to talk about. That of course, is not true, but it was believed in the days of the Darwinian/Freudian historical premise: America, like the orient, Africa, and the South Seas, had no music at all. In fact, music was complete only with Beethoven, the musical Messiah from whom all blessings flowed—the metaphor is not mine, but comes from von Bülow, who called Beethoven the New Testament. The lunacies of that view of history are not even quaint to us now—that there was no rhythm or form in music until the seventeenth century, for example, and no harmony until the eighteenth. A standard history of music in 1908 assigned the invention of rhythm to none other than Arcangelo Corelli.9 That harmony evolved in the 18th century, that the trio sonata was a missing link between primitive harmony (in which composers, unable to cope with notes, fumbled around with numbers) and the string quartet; that harmony became complete forever with the invention by Schubert (in the A-flat major Waltz) of the dominant-major-ninth chord, that chord "which is without any doubt the greatest harmonic discovery of the 19th century;"10 that the modern orchestra evolved by a purely Darwinian process of the survival of the fittest instruments; that Freud's work explained the superiority of concert music: concert music is of the super ego, while folk music has all the primitive evil of the id—it is "the despised music of the people's instinct."11

It seems incredible to me that even though we have thrown this entire basis operandi into the trash heap long since, we have retained the judgmental opinionations that resulted from its use as a premise. We are pinioned on von Bülow's assertion even as we reject his historical ignorance and prejudice.

What I am saying is that writers of music history have almost all seen music through 19th-century German eyes, and in such a view neither the 20th century nor American can be given a fair shake. What America gets in most histories is the bum's rush. Two techniques characterize this treatment: one is the grudging addition of a couple of American names or titles at the end of a discussion of some European type of music. American music is all nouns in these books; the verbs and adjectives are for the exclusive use of the European elite.

The other is what I call the "Meanwhile, back at the ranch" technique, an eleventh-hour whipping in of a bit of American history. These books hold off until the 20th-century section, and then suddenly and dispeptically scoop up a capsule summary of three centuries. Machlis scoops up America on page 552, for example, after establishing music unequivocally for 551 pages as a European art. He even begins the book with the concept of 18th-century revolution without mentioning the American revolution. The whole history of American music before the 20th century he then proceeds to dispense in twelve pages (with pictures). Too little and too late.

But these books do a greater disservice still. They look backwards at early American music, seeing it with a condescension quite different from the forward view that parallel European composers receive because they are discussed in context. Looking back at the Hopkinson songs is a case in point: in such studies they are casually dismissed as comparable to the pre-Romantic Lieder of Reichardt and Zelter; but examining them in context might reveal them as innovative—Hopkinson's songs in fact preceded the others and were in the vanguard of the song for voice and keyboard.

These histories teach us that our country has no status, no musical originality, no musical validity, that our entire musical life has been parenthetical to the "right stuff." This is, of course, the German view of it, but it is a false view even from that epicenter. In fact, American music has always been important, American music has always had a strong originality, American music has always been entirely valid. American music has always been genuine, robust, rich, and a surpassing joy to its practitioners. What country can say more?

This is so evident in contemporary music that I need not spend time with it; it would be entirely possible, as I have said, to teach a 20th-century music course (and run the gamut of styles and techniques) basing the course squarely on American works, with the European influence as peripheral.

Romantic music courses need to break away from the Darwinian/Freudian nonsense if American music is to be given its due. That the United States was a nation of immigrants and that European music flourished here is one important aspect of our past, but the strength of native creativity lay in smaller ensembles and down-to-earth musical types—in small opera and musical theatre, in dance music, in marches, in songs of many kinds, and in tough-minded experimentation, the music of the men and women that Ross Lee Finney has called "American tinkerers," composers who were not a little like Thomas Alva Edison—Charles Ives is their most noted exponent. (Where in Europe is there a marvelous work like Ives' Unanswered Question?)

America had her own classicism. Colonial music was not a carbon copy, but was vigorous and original. The Hopkinson songs are quite lovely, and so are the instrumental works of the first fifty years of the Republic—I include the Moravian music here. And there is that redoubtable American in Paris, Guadaloupe-born Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges—a larger-than-life violinist/composer/fencing champion/playwright whose string quartets, among the earliest (the first volume was published in 1773), are just beautiful, and whose violin concertos are the equal of any. This Black Prince of Music, as he was called, has received some excellent recordings lately.

The Baroque era has many fewer native composers, the nature of American life being what it was. But many of the tunes that we call folk-songs were being composed then and being sung to the guitar; a recording of a folk-singer doing a simple version of Shenandoah or a fiddler whipping into a hoe-down are authentic Baroque American concepts. But don't forget the California Mission Music or the South-American works that Robert Stevenson has so generously provided for us; the music of several Americans, including the half-Black half-Inca Juan de Araujo, is available on an excellent recording—Araujo's villancico "Los Negritos," on that disc, is simply ravishing.12

It is an open question whether or not to deal with Indian musical traditions in Colonial and pre-Colonial times; my history of music has a short chapter on South American native music in the Renaissance section, and one on North American native music in the Baroque, an attempt to reconstruct that early musical interaction. One settler in 1634 observed the excellence of Indian singing: "To hear one of these Indians unseen, a good ear might easily mistake the voice for a well-tuned instrument. Such command have they of their voices."13 Such admiring views were censored by the Darwinists, of course. And there was interaction; "Many a time," wrote another settler, "Indians and settlers cut a cantico together."14

Although I would not omit the American song school composers from an eighteenth-century music course, it is in the Renaissance part of the history sequence that I concentrate upon them as part of the study of cantus firmus technique in music to be heard from the tenor outwards. Equally important to the Renaissance class is listening to the singing school art in its contemporary practice in the Sacred Harp tradition. "Rivers of Delight," a recording by the Word of Mouth Chorus,15 is a thrilling introduction to Renaissance voice quality and intonation that a student will never forget. Some of the items on that disc are in Renaissance familiar style (with occasional fuging tunes); some are harmonically Medieval (and I use those in Medieval class). All of them are polyphonic in the true sense, with each line shaped independently, and that music brings Renaissance concepts to life as no words can. Barbershop quartet singing is likewise a surviving Renaissance art—the barbershop quartet is mentioned by Cervantes in Don Quixote. An ancient art alive and well, and well organized in America.

There are in fact a host of early techniques that can be made relevant by playing modern American equivalents. We know that a tune like L'homme armé, which survives as a single line that takes 20 seconds to sing, was performed by groups of singers and instrumentalists, put together in what we call an arrangement in the art that they called minstrelsy. Machaut wrote appreciatively of a performance of a monophonic work by seventeen different instruments;16 that must give us something to think about—they certainly didn't go through the tune in unison in 20 seconds and quit. It must have been music expanded in additive, layering processes. We know that there was plenty of on-the-spot melodic embellishment, with decorative spontaneous additions or divisions that the minstrels called "garribles."

That art may be no longer audible, but I can sing the tune "When the Saints Go Marching In," a comparable 20-second bit of monophony, and then play the recording of that by the Dixieland Jazz Band. The whole of the Medieval ideal and many of the techniques are there: the spinning-out of the tune in alternating instruments, the addition of the rhythm section which provides the beat against which the melodic elements pull, and the stunning melodic variation, modern garribles that may be more like their Medieval predecessors than we imagine. (We know that scat singing was common in Medieval times—called "diddling" in the British Isles, "Schnada" in Medieval Bavaria, "luoti" in Finland, and so on.)

I no longer try to force students to approach the Renaissance quodlibet or double from contemporary examples; when you don't know the tunes, how can you appreciate their interactions? If I had my way, the historical albums would include the quodlibets that Carol Burnett did with Robert Preston and Julie Andrews on the Garry Moore show; and as soon as it is recorded, I plan to use my own quodlibet of minstrel-show tunes, an organ piece called "An American Olio; or, General Ruckus for Two Players at One Console."

For doubles, what could be better than to let the students hear "Goodnight, My Someone," a slow three-four song (very good to analyze in Freshman theory, by the way), from Willson's The Music Man, turn into the rousing four-four "Seventy-Six Trombones"?

For ostinato basses, modern examples abound in both popular and concert examples; and for a good walking bass nothing can surpass Les Paul's "Walkin' and Whistlin' Blues," with footsteps and guitar as continuo and a treble melody which is whistled.

An excellent project is that of playing a modern work and asking the students to identify medieval, Renaissance, or Baroque techniques and discuss their use in modern context. The Medieval elements in George Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children are put to stunning new use. An advanced student in a Renaissance class might compare the number symbolism in the Anonymous Breslau Mass from about 150017 with Crumb's Black Angels.

Such projects illuminate both the old and the new, while giving music of other times and places a direct relevance that students are grateful for and find exhilarating.

* * * * * *

Probably the biggest stumbling block in the way of teachers who are willing (or even eager) to include American music in their teaching is simply the fact that we stand outside of our own scholarly tradition, aliens to our own concepts of music history. How this came about is a part of that history, but it is the scholars' view, and not the only view. I was brought up knowing American music and proud of it, and I must assume that that knowledge and pride were normal and unexceptional. Bound to the anti-American narrow view of music is the tendency to be deflected from the teaching of musical forms, types, and techniques, which is our proper concentration, to the teaching of a litany of names, a study of composers and not of music. At best such teaching is exclusionary, self-limiting, and of course self-perpetuating; at worst it reduces itself to the inculcation of a musical hagiography. Unless new light is shed upon the past, we shall be teaching the same canon forever.

If teaching the song cycle (as an example) is reduced to a series of "big names," its history begins with Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (1816), as it does for most sources. But by teaching the musical concept and its history, I can begin with Benjamin Carr's Lady of the Lake (1810) to poems by Sir Walter Scott, hot off the press when Carr set them—good poems and in English, which my students understand. An added advantage is a recording that uses forte-piano and a more accurate vocal technique than today's Lieder singers can manage.18

To the difficulty of changing a firmly established tradition one can add the study and the reorganization which change requires; these involve time and work. But as new materials increase, the time and work will become less forbidding, and with success will come a compensatory pleasure.

These are general attitudes. So is the simple need to be open minded, to remember that we are teaching American students and that they should indeed see the history of music through American eyes and listen to all music with American ears. They are more American than we are, for in their childhood American music was preeminent in the world, as it was not in my childhood.

But there are some specific principles as well.

First, include American works where you can. If you are giving a session on late Romantic songs, include some by Hadley (they are gorgeous); if you are discussing piano music in general, include the marvelous Chasins Preludes or the Copland Variations or the stunning First Sonata of George Walker; if you are dealing with chamber music, include the Piano Trio of Amy Cheney Beach, or the Barber String Quartet—and then play the slow movement done by string orchestra as the Adagio for Strings. An excellent springboard for a discussion of medium. (That work would also provide an eight-course meal for a theory class.)

Second, add American names and works to all the study lists that omit them. Do you have a list of European tone poems? Add Griffes' White Peacock, Gershwin's American in Paris, and Piston's Incredible Flutist.

Third, include the American fortune of the works you deal with whenever you can. Be sure to include any information of particular interest to Americans: if you are discussing the Baroque dance suite, be sure to include the fact that the sarabande was America's contribution to that international sampler, an Aztec dance that was the rage of Europe when the lutenist Ennemond Gaultier, who had seen six visiting Indians dance, included it in a lute suite;19 if you are discussing Chopin, report that he heard and admired Gottschalk (if you are playing some Chopin, why not play one of the early Gottschalk works that Chopin actually heard?—the vision of the American child playing in the Paris salons is a compelling one); if you speak on Saint-Saëns, tell of his amazing American tours in 1906 and during World War I; do not consider presenting the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor piano concerto without mentioning that its premiere was in Boston.

By showing how European music came to the United States, we can validate that heritage, make it actual instead of merely theoretical; by showing interaction, we can demonstrate that it is part of us, and that we are also part of it. Many American artists have dazzled European audiences; Adelina Patti and Alma Gluck were both raised and educated in New York City, returning to Europe as American artists.

In teaching twentieth-century music there is no excuse for omitting American examples. If you are for some reason concentrating on European music, a five-minute statement on the scope and the high calibre of contemporary American music would be desirable; a ten-second aside, assuring students that a wealth of materials exists, would do in a pinch. Urge students to listen to American works on their own if they are not hearing them in class.

Don't be afraid to tell students that there are vast numbers of American works out there still to be studied. The excitement of knowing how much is still to be explored is a genuine one; we are, after all, a nation of explorers. A major problem for teachers trained from the European epicenter is that American focus, American musical skills, American musical goals were never the same as the European. Why should they be? American opera, for example, is much less concerned with pretension than European opera; we had no kings and no permanent royal family. And we did not have enough instrumentalists in one place to deal centrally in big orchestral works. So there are indeed fewer American "grand" operas and symphonies. I will go further, and hazard that American grand operas and huge symphonies are, by and large, the least American and the least successful of our literature, the most likely to be slavish imitations of foreign models. There are significant exceptions, of course, but it is hardly to be questioned that success is unlikely to come to anyone by doing somebody else's thing. It is not the humble American imitators who fascinate me, but the proud Americans who work out his and her own musical destiny. There is not—there cannot be—a European Harry Partch or a Charles Ives.

Letting students know that there is much I do not know cannot possibly threaten me; if I did nothing but study for a hundred years, I would still know very little. In fact, such an admission, especially when freely and cheerfully made, is liberating and yeasty. By explaining to my opera class why I know so little about American opera, that my teachers never included it, that because nobody knows much about it, opera companies do not produce it and record companies do not record it, so that people are maintained in ignorance and a vicious cycle is strengthened;—by laying bare the scaffolding of misrule, I have taught an important aspect of the history of American music. My class was made up of a baker's dozen of graduate students, ten of whom intend to pursue careers in opera. By making them aware of American issues I may have planted seeds that will some day bear good fruit. We need American performers who are aware of their own music; it is our responsibility to give them this awareness. Applied music teachers who assign American music in the studio are building for the future of our music. We need a hundred more dissertations offering us musical discoveries about our own music. Making a point of discussing in class what we know and what we don't know of it can motivate those who have a natural bent towards such studies to be one of the discoverers.

Some critics berate American composers for not having done well what they never intended to do in the first place. That is the result of looking at our music with alien eyes, of hearing it through foreign ears. That stance is outmoded. It is really time to stop criticizing our country's music for not having been something else, time to stop scolding American composers for what they didn't do and to start trying to understand what they did do.

I believe in the validity and strength of American music. I believe in the basic premise that we are Americans teaching Americans and should begin and end in that recognition. We are the product of a conglomerate past. If the old traditions are empty for our students, we cannot possibly justify a requirement that they devote so much time to studying them. And if they are not empty,—if they have, as I believe, a great deal still to say to us,—it is certainly our obligation to reveal that relevance, emphasize it, ramify it, and confirm it. Then it can enliven the skills and spark the imaginations of budding musicians whose careers, after all, will be carried forth in twentieth and twenty-first century America.


1"The American Musical Parlor," American Music, forthcoming.

2Reprinted in the Sonneck Society Newsletter 4 (Fall, 1983), 76.

3Hans Keller, "Smash Hits and Genius" London Times Literary Supplement, September 13, 1974, p. 970.

4Missouri Historical Society Bulletin (January/April, 1953), 235.

5February 22, 1904.

6This, and many other nuggets, can be found in H. Earle Johnson, First Performances in America to 1900 (Works with Orchestra), Bibliographies in American Music No.4 (published for the College Music Society by Information Coordinators, Inc., Detroit, 1979).

7Julius Mattfield, A Handbook of American Operatic Premieres, 1731-1962, Detroit Studies in Music Bibliography No.5 (Detroit: Information Service, Inc., 1963).

8Cf. Carl Johnson, "American Opera at the Met: 1883-1983," American Music Teacher (February/March, 1984), 20-25.

9Adolphe Coerne, The Evolution of the Modern Orchestra (Ph.D. thesis at Harvard, 1905; published by Macmillan in 1908). Quoted in Leroy Ostransky, Perspectives on Music (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1962), p. 4.

10Alfredo Casella, The Evolution of Music, revised and enlarged by Dr. Edmund Rubbra (London: J. & W. Chester Ltd., 1919), p. 17.

11Waldo Selden Pratt, The History of Music (New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1907), p. 105.

12Salve Regina: Choral Music of the Spanish New World, 1550-1750; The Roger Wagner Chorale, under supervision of Robert Stevenson; Angel 36008.

13Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. (ed.), The American Heritage Book of Indians (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1961), p. 26.

14Josephy, p. 73.

15Rivers of Delight: American Folk Hymns from the Sacred Harp Tradition; Nonesuch H-71360.

16The Portable Medieval Reader, edited by James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin (New York: The Viking Press, 1949), pp. 560-561.

17MS No. 2016. Discussed in an introduction to the modern edition by Fritz Feldman (Das Chorwerk 56).

18The Flowering of Vocal Music in America: Vol. 2. Carr, Shaw, and Jackson; New World Records (Recorded Anthology of American Music, Inc.) NW 231.

19Robert Stevenson, Music in Aztec and Inca Territory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 109, 226-30. The Gaultier reference is on page 229.

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