Music Education in 1882 Was A Dark Place

The coverpage of the J. W. Pepper’s French Horn book.

For today’s blog post, I decided to search up something I find interesting, which is French horn. I went onto the Library of Congress database, and I found this horn method book. I thought that was an interesting primary source to look into, and see if there are any interesting things in here that reflect social issues and surprise surprise, we did find something. 

What we are looking at today is a horn method book, specifically the J. W. Pepper’s Self Instruction for French Horn. It was published by J. W. Pepper in Philadelphia in 1882. This was an ongoing collection of self instruction method books for instruments, and I thought that was quite cool. I am not entirely sure what age group this collection is marketed towards, because adults would be able to read this book and get a vague idea of how to play the french horn, but kids would literally stare at this book and not know what to do. 

I mean… the book wasn’t really marketed towards kids, but this is still way too much method way too little fun. XD

Compared to method books nowadays, such as Standard of Excellence, it is a lot more readable for kids because the amount of information presented on the page would not overwhelm them. There are also graphics so that the children can be entertained, whereas this book is a lot more bland. The instruments selected are mostly band and orchestra instruments, and there were also books on Fife, Accordion and Flageolet, which is an instrument I have never heard of before. I did a quick search about its origin, and according to Encyclopedia Britannica, it originated and developed in Paris, France, and it served the role of modern day piccolo in an orchestra. However, in that collection, there is already a piccolo method book. Hmmm. Eurocentrism? 

I might be jumping the gun here, but let’s take a closer look at the excerpts provided here. It is all, yes, ALL European music. The title of this section says Fifty Classic, Popular and Operatic Melodies, but there is no variety in representation. On top of that, there is a lot of patriotism snuggled in, such as tunes like Stars Spangled Banner and America. What really made me question the legitimacy of this collection is the actual music itself. In a lot of the tunes, the highest pitch is a horn G, which is not beginner friendly at all. When I played the horn, it took about two to three years to get there. Wow, music education sure was a lot darker back then.


Works Cited

“Flageolet.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

J. W. Pepper’s Self instructor for french horn. Pepper, J. W., Philadelphia,monographic, 1882. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

Standard of Excellence: Comprehensive Band Method Book 1 (French Horn). Kjos (Neil A.) Music, 1997. Print.

Hard Working Teacher, Composer, Pianist… forgotten

For this week’s blog post, I found an article in The Chicago Defender that I think is interesting and representative of the people of that time. I did not know what I wanted to talk about, so I drew a blank and searched up “classical music”. The source I am showing today is about an African American composer and teacher who was talented, successful and hardworking. However, his story, and a lot of other musicians from marginalized communities, are forgotten by the white supremacist history. 

The article introduces the reader to William Wilkins, a young Afro-American pianist and composer. The title of this article is William Wilkins Musical Genius and His Pupils, and it was published on November 14, 1914 on The Chicago Defender (obviously). What I find really eye-catching is the picture of the musician on top of the page. It is a photo of Wilkins playing the piano and it was delicately cut out. There are also decorative lines drawn on the sides, further embellishing his picture. In this article, Wilkins is described as a successful teacher, whose “pupil’s talent surprises musicians”, and some of them have only received training from him for a few months. The article also reported some of his life stories. Wilkins did not have the best upbringing, and the first time he has played a piano in front of an audience is because of his gardener job. Even when he was older, he still needed money to publish his compositions. However, he was still hard working and would practice “from three to seven hours daily.” This article shows Wilkins’ life in a positive and uplifting way, which is rarely seen in that era. 

I wanted to hear some of his compositions, so I did a quick google search. However, the person who came up was a white American politician. I tried searching for the keyword “william wilkins composer,” but it still did not work. I felt a sense of helplessness at that moment because his legacies should be celebrated more and it shouldn’t have taken any deep dive to know about him and his stories. However, I also felt power and pride, because his experiences were published in this African American newspaper, where his people supported him and were proud of him. Maybe there will be a new day, where stories won’t be forgotten.

Works Cited


Emile Petitot and the Authenticity Talk

In this week’s discussion, we talked about Frances Densmore and her work on native American music. Like a lot of the scholars we talked about in class, she is an interesting and conflicting character. For today’s post, I want to talk about something I found that is sort of similar to Densmore’s work. At the same time, we can have a conversation about authenticity and who defines it, how to define it (if that is even possible), as well as if it actually exists.

This source is an interesting transcription of some indigenous songs sung by people from various tribes from northwest Canada. This source dated back to 1862 to 1882, which is when Father Emile Petitot spent time in Mackenzie, British Columbia as a missionary priest to the indigenous people on the land. He collected, notated and transcribed their dances, games and ceremonies and put them together, which is the source I am introducing now. He also notated this in French. It is hard to determine who benefits from this source, but it is definitely safe to say that the indigenous people did not get enough credit for this. Emile Petitot is a guy with a ton of middle names (his full name is Emile-Fortune-Stanislas-Joseph Petitot) AND an Inuk name that translates to “Mr. Petitot, son of the sun.” He was a linguist and ethnologist, but I am not sure how credible he is at music notations. Given the fact that he was a priest, it would be reasonable to assume that he has at least some basic knowledge of music to support this transcription. However, it is always good to be a bit skeptical.

The source itself is like a lens that looks into the issue of transcribing music from a different culture, because it just seemed quite lacking. There was not really any background information about the music that was notated, other than titles, and on top of that his handwriting is very hard to read sometimes… The music notation seems to be very straight and there were only quarter notes and eighth notes, which could be how the music was, but once again, I am skeptical because of how much was neglected. Some of the pieces have key signatures and most of the pieces have time signatures, which to me is quite odd as well. I think this way of notation is basically putting a musical practice that does not stem from the Western Classical environment: it obviously would not go well. 

This leads me back to Frances Densmore, who I personally think is doing at least something right. I am not saying that she is the end-all-be-all scholar for native American music; I would never put that title on someone who isn’t from the culture. However, I definitely would argue that recording the songs works so much better than notations, since you can physically hear the indigenous people singing the songs. People might also argue that it might not be as authentic if the musicians were being recorded; my thought is that yes, that might not be ideal, but there’s so many factors, some we can’t even control. Maybe there is no real authenticity.


Works Cited

Petitot, Father, Emile. 1862-1889. Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]: recueillis, classés et notés par Émile Petitot, prêtre missionnaire au Mackenzie, de 1862-1882, 1889. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT box Ayer MS 715. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, [Accessed November 03, 2021].

Savoie, Donat. “Emile Petitot (1838-1916).” Arctic, vol. 35, no. 3, Arctic Institute of North America, 1982, pp. 446–47,

Joe Davis’ Minstrel Folio… boy oh boy

This week, we continued our discussion on minstrelsy, so I looked up some primary sources by searching up minstrel shows and performances. There was one source that was quite interesting and concerning at the same time. It is a book of songs and jokes performed at minstrel shows with a frankly horrible sense of humor, and I want to present to you a few pages in this book. 

This source is a book titled Joe Davis Entertainment and Minstrel Folio, and it was published in 1931 in New York, and was compiled by Joe Davis. This book also included works by some other musicians and composers, which are all credited on both the cover page and individual scores. Honestly, it was hard to determine who this source is for, but Joe Davis himself seems very proud of this work. In his foreword he said, “Never before has such a wealth of material suitable for Radio, Home entertainment, professional or amateur show been assembled in a single folio.” I can’t imagine playing minstrel songs with racist undertones and bad jokes that are mostly unfunny and unbearable… Yeah I roasted him. I tried to do a deepdive on Davis, but when I typed his name into google, this same book showed up and it is quite easily accessible still, and it is sold on amazon for the sweet price of 26 dollars. It is quite concerning to me that this part of the history is not dead, but pretty much still alive. 

There are two specific things in this book I want to talk about. First, there are a lot of short early stages dad jokes (which I may or may not be stealing), but there are also some pretty racist jokes. On page 14, which is a section of jokes titled “Da*ky-ology,” and the one at the bottom of the page does not involve any slurs but makes jokes at black people’s death. It goes like:

Sam: Where were you the other morning at nine o’clock.

Ruf: I went Black Berrying.

Sam: Black Berrying? What do you mean by that?

Ruf: Well, I went to a colored funeral.

So… I don’t see how this is funny, and it was quite uncomfortable when I first read it.

Another page I want to talk about is page 51, which is a music score of a song titled Dixie Jamboree. Similar to the joke, this song takes black experience and makes entertainment and mockery out of it. The lyrics suggests the theme of  slavery and plantation life, hence “Way down South there in the land of cotton.” A theme I have noticed in minstrelsy (and white scholars’ study of African American music) is that they try to skew the realities of slavery and try to make it seem like the enslaved black people were enjoying their lives, when in reality they are far from that. One of the arguments they would use is that enslaved people would not be singing if they were not having a good time, but we have discussed that although sometimes music was used in celebratory scenes, a lot of times it was a way of mourning and praying. The lyrics delivered the same ideology, such as, “They have some times, wonderful times, known as Dixie Jamborees, Such good fun one seldom sees.”

This source connects with course material quite closely, and I really hope what happened a century ago will not happen again today, where white people and society as a whole finds interest in black art, but separates it from black emotions, faiths and experiences. I know it is still happening today. We NEED to be better. 


Works Cited

Minstrelsy and African American Folk Music

Yeah…CW: Racist language that are quite uncomfortable

For today’s blog post, I want to talk about two primary sources that I find interesting. This week, we talked about the origin of African American folk music, and I was thinking to myself, where exactly did the music go? Some of them, as we already know, were adapted by minstrel shows. I came across a short article in a hundred-year-old newspaper, which talks about minstrelsy in an interesting way. Based on that, I went in and looked for other sources related to minstrelsy and found some parallels and differences between the two. 

Here is the first article.

This article stood out to me because it seems to be critical of minstrelsy in the first half, but then it quickly shifts to glamourising this “new” form of minstrel shows, which I think is such an interestingly complicated idea. This article was published on April 12, 1902, in the newspaper Portland New Age. The author of this article is unknown so I can’t do that much of a deep dive on them. For the first half of this article, the author states that the death of past minstrel actors signifies the death of the old minstrel shows. At this point, I thought this article is serving some fresh, woke ideas. 

Then, it shifted into sort of an advertisement for this new age minstrel show, and the author said that the old minstrel shows “represent no class and their programs are a hotch potch of absurdly sentimental drivel and eccentric vaudeville specialties.” The author introduces the new minstrel shows by stating the type of dance, music and instruments that will be there, “The dances were… The instruments were the banjo, the fiddle, the bones and the tambourine. The songs were the racy plantation melodies, the jubilee, hymns, … ” all of these were elements of African American folksongs

This is not even the worst part (since they were just being mean to their predecessors), the author went on and said that the old minstrel shows “was to represent the plantation negro in his native humor and with all his racial peculiarities.” This answers the question I posed earlier: where did the African American folksongs go? The person writing this article as well as those who performed in the shows are the ones answering my question without speaking a word– obviously they appropriated it. It is just nuts to me how they think his new and improved version of minstrelsy is good and worth advertising. But oh wait, it probably has a market. 

This is a poster for a show. 

This other source is simply a poster of an “old” school minstrel show, since it was posted in 1860, and it shows some names of minstrel actors, programs, as well as the price for entering the theater. On the top of the poster, it shows a bust drawing of an African American person juggling a banjo, a fiddle and a tambourine, which happens to be the instruments mentioned in the article. The poster also referred to the minstrel actors as the “great stars,” which rubs me the wrong way. The two sources combined tell a story, a story of appropriation, a story of tears and cries viewed as mockery, and a story of the bloody past in the camouflage of music.


Works Cited

“Topics Of The Times.” Portland New Age, 12 Apr. 1902, p. 2. Readex: African American Newspapers, Accessed 2 Nov. 2021.

biased and bright, ‘ppropriated and proud

It is so interesting (and frankly funny) to look back at history and see what embarrassing things people have said and done, it’s like that feeling when you log onto your old social media account and see that cringey selfie with the horrible fashion choice. Thankfully, even though we did not live to see the past, we have databases to help us dig up some dirt on those arrogant scholars. What I want to highlight is the hypocrisy when it comes to the origins of certain music and how the mainstream (which is the white community at the time) perceived them completely differently.

In this week’s reading and discussion, we focused on some articles that had a lot of racist opinions and language. In his book , Jackson cited some different views on the origin of African American spiritual singing. Wallaschek argued in his Primitive Music (yikes) that the black community simply imitated white music, which is similar to what Jackson ends up arguing. In White and Negro Spirituals, Jackson pulled up a map and a statistic table in and tried to prove a point that the white hymnals is the direct causation of black spirituals’ existence.

For this blog, I searched up some open ended keywords, and in my research I found out something interesting.

This is a collection of notated music for banjo. It was published in Philadelphia in 1885 by S. S. Steward(/t), and the file is titled “Plantation Jig.” This source is quite trustworthy because S. S. Steward is a big name in the banjo world, and is often being brought up when talking about banjos and their history. This collection is quite similar to what a modern music book looks like, it has some music scores and the first four pages consist of information about what to look out for when purchasing an instrument, prices of sheet music and performance notices. It even has advertisements. This collection is clearly marketed towards those who want to know more about the banjo. It is interesting that on page 5, the drawing of a white man shows up. His name was J. E. Henning, and he was a banjo teacher. I did a tiny deep dive on him, and it turns out that he is still a name that pops up in the banjo making industry.

The actual musical content is also very interesting and… eurocentric. It is written similarly to an instrumental method book, with explanations of how to do certain things on the instrument as well as basic technique training. What stood out to me is that the music selected in this collection are all very European. On page 9 of the digitized file, the two titles are Waltz and Schottische, which is a slow polka dance of European roots. Basically, in this book, Steward planted the European music traditions onto a non-European instrument. It is nuts to me that the banjo, an instrument that is 100% African in its DNA, was whitewashed since 1830 and still is being whitewashed (Winans, 174). 

Both the spirituals and the banjo are parts of American music history that involve African American and the white Americans. However, the way the white scholars/musicians went about this is very problematic and telling of societal issues. When there’s similarities in white and black practices, the white scholars are quick to claim that the black community assimilated the white practices; but when the white community picked up on banjo, they did not credit the black community, but instead whitewashed the instrument and the repertoire.


Works Cited

Holmes, Michael I. “Identifying S. S. Stewart Banjos.” Identifying SS Stewart Banjos, 1997,

Jackson, George P. White and Negro Spirituals: Their Life Span and Kinship. New York, J. J. Augustin Publisher, 1943. 

Jackson, George P. White Spirituals in the Southern Uplands. New York, Dover Publications, 1932.

“John E. Henning.” Henning # – Vintage Banjo Makers, 

Stewart, S. S. Plantation Jig. Steward, S. S., Philadelphia, monographic, 1885. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

Winans, Robert B., and Charles Reagan Wilson. “Banjo.” The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 12: Music, edited by BILL C. MALONE, University of North Carolina Press, 2008, pp. 174–75,

Rise and Shine – African American Religious Music

In Eileen Southern’s writing, there were a lot of passages where she talked about hymnals and prayer music. She also introduced us to different practices, traditions and schools of psalmody singing, which all work with each other in the dome of music sung and played by the enslaved. While in class and doing readings, I have been thinking about what the music actually sounds like when they were sung by the enslaved African Americans: will they add their own harmonies? Any changes to the melodies? I found a source that also aimed to look into that.

This is an article that is, in my opinion,  “woke” for the time. The point of view of this article is neutral and unarrogant (unlike a lot of writings from that time), respectful of the culture, and the author acknowledges that more research needs to be done. The title of this article is Music: The Slave as a Revitalist. It was written by Horatio C. King, and was published in the Christian Union periodical on January 26, 1876. This article analyzed the music of African American religious gatherings (that are referred to in text as “sperichuals”… so is it spirituals?), and King provided information on what that is like, “To a stranger the peculiarity most striking is the intense emotion which pervades their singing and prayers as well as their preaching (pp. 78).” The outpour of emotions is not the only thing that stood out to him; he highlighted the importance of singing by stating that a meeting without singing will not accomplish much, and will also not uplift and enlighten people (pp. 78). 

King also pointed out some of the problems he encountered in his research. He stated that the harmonized melodies in the articles “must not be inferred that the ex-slaves sing thus strictly; nor on the other hand that they sing only in unison (pp. 78).” This is a slippery slope when it comes to musicological research because when music from a non-European tradition is transcribed into staff notes… you might lose some of that spice. King used the word “weird” when describing the tones of the music, and he is not the only one: in another periodical article, Penick, someone who is not a musician, said, “I am not able to analyze the weird melodies of the negroes.” (pp. 33) I bet some of that “weirdness” is lost in translation. 

I felt a bit lost with the property of this source, because it occurred to me that it is a combination of primary and secondary sources. It was written back in the days, and it has music scores from that time. However, it clearly states that some of the sources King cited were melodies heard from other people, and he understood that the melodies can’t be fully dictated, thus making it less authentic… Maybe this is the curse of doing research! 🙂 I think this topic is very interesting because you can’t avoid the discussion around authenticity, and the author approached the topic in an interesting way by combining African Americans’ religious life with their musical practices, and I find that quite interesting.


Works Cited

King, Horatio C. “Music.: THE SLAVE AS A REVIVALIST. THE OLD ARK’S MOVING. MY LORD, WHAT A MORNING. RISE AND SHINE.” Christian Union (1870-1893), vol. 13, no. 4, Jan 26, 1876, pp. 78. ProQuest,

Penick, C. C. “NEGRO MUSIC AND FOLK LORE.” The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897), vol. 24, no. 2, 02, 1895, pp. 33. ProQuest,

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans, 3rd Edition. New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.