“Painting & Music”: Fine Art in 1830s America

The manager of the Baltimore Museum bought an advertisement in the Baltimore Patriot on November 4th, 1831, to publicize an upcoming event, shedding light on the role of music in antebellum American society. The manager wished to advertise an exhibition that would be occurring at the museum that Saturday night at which Francis Johnson and his military band would be performing, in order that “amatures [sic] and connoisseurs in fine painting” alike would be able to enjoy “the concord of sweet sounds” of the live music.1

This advertisement reveals several details about the role of music, and art in general, in American society in the early nineteenth century. At the time, bands like Johnson’s could not distribute their music by recording. Instead, their profits came from performing live. While many ensembles, especially Johnson’s band, put on their own concerts, this article demonstrates that they also performed at events that were not necessarily dedicated concerts but simply required some musical accompaniment. Music could be combined with the experience of viewing paintings for the greater enjoyment of “amatures and connoisseurs” alike, indicating that while this was a social function, it was more about the sensory experience than about asserting the upper class identity of those who had the luxury to consider themselves “connoisseurs”. This was the same tradition of live performance that minstrel shows and vaudeville would evolve from, and the combination of different forms of entertainment in one event for convenience and accessibility actually resembles these later traditions.2 The manager of the museum describes Johnson and his band as “famous” and “excellent” and advertises that they would “perform many of the most popular and justly celebrated pieces of instrumental music”, which was a feature of much of the American concert music of the early nineteenth century. Bands and even early American orchestras would mix high-brow music with more popular and fashionable music, drawing very diverse crowds as a result.3 However, money was still a factor for the artists, and just as Johnson’s band relied on public support, the success of this museum was “so much indebted to the liberal patronage” of the public.1

By playing popular music at public events like this art exhibition in addition to their own concerts, ensembles like Johnson’s band could draw audiences from a variety of backgrounds, garnering attention for their music as well as for the art displayed at the museum. Their reliance on public support helped both institutions–that of music and that of art museums–to reach a wider audience, ultimately creating more opportunities to engage with art and in turn contributing to more widespread artistic literacy among the American public.

Citations:

1 “Advertisement.” BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) XXXVIII, no. 98, November 4, 1831: [3]. Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANX&docref=image/v2%3A107D4AD8C258B928%40EANX-108270873A425650%402390126-10827087F7BAA9A0%402-1082708C24416710%40Advertisement.

2 Lewis, Robert M., ed. From Traveling Show to Vaudeville : Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Accessed November 25, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3 Locke, Ralph P. “Music Lovers, Patrons, and the ‘Sacralization’ of Culture in America.” 19th-Century Music 17, no. 2 (1993): 149–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/746331.

“The Power of Music”: Charles Williams and His Jubilee Singers

In an article written for the Chicago Defender in 1954, Enoch Waters writes about Charles P. Williams and the choir he had founded fifty years prior in Chicago, reflecting on “the power of music” to break racial barriers.1 Waters mentions Williams’ “refreshing” and “jaunty” personality and the benefits of professional management as factors in their success in small towns across the country, many of which had never encountered a black person before. However, Waters writes that Williams considered their music the “most effective weapon of the group in combating racial discrimination”, and although many towns received them with hostility initially, when they returned to these towns for another performance, they would “almost invariably” find a warm and hospitable welcome and sold-out crowds.

Williams’ ensemble was sometimes billed as Williams’ Jubilee Singers, and sometimes as Williams’ Colored Singers.2 The former label was a tribute to the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, who had paved the way for black performers (later to include H.T. Burleigh, J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson, and others) to bring spirituals to the white American public.3 Williams’ group, founded in 1904, was not the first choir to take advantage of Fisk’s success, but they were one of the first to sing in a quartet, rather than a larger group of ten to twelve.4 The Fisk group had sought to elevate the spirituals and prove that black music belonged in a high-class setting, resulting in the crystallization of the genre and transforming its norms of variance into ones of fixity. These were the issues that later led Zora Neale Hurston to react to the concert performances of Burleigh and others, proclaiming that “there has never been a presentation of genuine Negro spirituals to any audience anywhere”.6 Williams’ group, made up of classically trained and educated performers, evidently wished to fit into this tradition. They were internationally known, touring several European countries and performing 130 concerts in London alone.2 However, Waters notes that by 1932, “the radio, the depression, and the public’s change in music taste conspired to end a long brilliant career”. As tastes changed, so did the circumstances that had allowed Williams’ group to have an impact on small town America.

The Chicago Defender developed in much the same circumstances as Williams’ ensemble. It was founded just one year later in the same city, and its founder, Robert Abbott, was a former member of the Hampton Singers, one of the first black university choirs to imitate Fisk.6 Abbott envisioned a newspaper that would become the “defender” of the black community, and by the early 1920s it had become the most influential black newspaper in America, protesting against Jim Crow laws and acts of violence while championing the growing civil rights movement. Its calls for black people to move out of the South were a primary cause of the Great Migration, and in many ways the advances made by the Defender led the way for the black press in general, illustrating the paper’s enormous impact. While the Harlem Renaissance was seen by many as a victory only for the elite, the Defender sought to present Chicago as an ideal destination for ordinary black people by featuring personal accounts as well as by highlighting local artists, entrepreneurs and others who had found success in Chicago.7

While this profile of Williams’ Jubilee Singers was written retrospectively to celebrate a group which had found success in the past rather than to highlight a rising star, the article serves many of the same purposes as earlier Defender articles. This article is part of a series entitled “Adventures in Race Relations”, portraying it as an ongoing struggle (which it very much was in 1954). Waters notes that Williams had originally come to Chicago for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair before founding the Jubilee Singers (which was also Abbott’s impetus for founding the Defender), re-establishing Chicago as a place where ordinary people could find success. Waters celebrates the Jubilee Singers’ use of “the power of music” to break down racial barriers, paralleling the Defender‘s use of poetry, music and other forms of art to portray Chicago as a center of black culture. Williams’ group sought to adhere to the performance practices set by Fisk and to contribute to the perception of spirituals as art music. However, Waters’ emphasis of their impact on whites in small towns across the country and the context of the Defender‘s commitment to showing the contributions of ordinary black people to black culture serve to cast Williams’ Jubilee Singers as an important part of the black struggle for acceptance by the white public.

Citations:

1 Waters, Enoc P. “Adventures in RACE RELATIONS: THE POWER OF MUSIC.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Oct 23, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/adventures-race-relations/docview/492959620/se-2.

2 The World Famous Williams’ Colored Singers. Chicago: Press of Rosenow Co., [ca. 1925].  Accessed online via RareAmericana.com, November 14, 2022. https://www.rareamericana.com/pages/books/3727978/williams-colored-singers/the-world-famous-williams-colored-singers?soldItem=true.

3 Brooks, Tim. “”Might Take One Disc of this Trash as a Novelty”: Early Recordings by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Popularization of “Negro Folk Music”.” American Music 18, no. 3 (Fall, 2000): 278-316. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/might-take-one-disc-this-trash-as-novelty-early/docview/1374579/se-2.

4 Advertisement for the Williams Jubilee Singers, 1904-1910. UCLA Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/z1418f71.

5 Snyder, Jean E.. Harry T. Burleigh : From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance. Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

6 Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender : How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America : from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

7 DeSantis, Alan D. “Selling the American Dream Myth to Black Southerners: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919.” Western Journal of Communication 62, no. 4 (Fall, 1998): 474-511. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/selling-american-dream-myth-black-southerners/docview/202724373/se-2.

Beethoven is for “Aural Cowards”: Charles Ives and the Establishment of an American Musical Identity

One of the letters in Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, edited by Tom C. Owens, is from the composer and educator Percy Goetschius, a composer and the head of the theory department at the Institute of Music and Art in New York (which later became Juilliard School of Music), acknowledging his receipt of Ives’ Concord Sonata.1 Ives’ music was not met with much acclaim during his lifetime, forcing him to adopt the rather unorthodox method of simply sending his music to anybody who might show interest, from friends to complete strangers in the musical establishment, as well as fans outside of it. Many recipients of his music were confused as to the nature and potential merits of Ives’ music, which was very unconventional, as well as why they were even receiving it at all.

Goetschius’ letter is typical of much of the correspondence that Ives received, and reveals the source of much of this confusion. He apologizes for having neglected to write earlier, but eagerly states that the piece “excited [his] deep interest”. He reassures Ives that he does not “wish to take [his] music lightly”, but confesses his dislike for it, as it does not align with the “classic methods”, which “to [his] mind[…]are correct ones” and speak to unchanging facts of physics. Goetschius even writes that he “[hesitates] to call it ‘music'”, choosing instead to refer to it as Ives’ “work” and describing his methods as “experiments”. However, Goetschius does reflect that he is biased towards the “habits[…]of the classic method”, which despite reflecting some fundamental truths in his opinion, are nevertheless to some extent “habits”. Declaring that he is not “a heartless and brainless conservative” who sees Beethoven (or Ives, or any other composer) as the end-all and be-all of art music, he ends by expressing his fervent hope that Ives’ “sincerity” and “logic” would lead to greater success in the future.

Ives’ music was highly experimental, and he deliberately abandoned many earlier traditions. Ives was already financially comfortable through his job in the insurance business, giving him the freedom to do essentially whatever he wanted musically.2 This made much of his music fantastically impractical, as he did not have to consider how it might actually be performed. Ives was part of the generation that Antonín Dvořák had declared needed to establish a truly American musical identity by drawing on spirituals and other American folk music, and many today regard him as the first composer to find success in this regard.3 Ives was one of the few white composers to include black folk music in his music as Dvořák had envisioned. His music drew on a wide variety of both white and black influences, from Protestant hymnody to spirituals and ragtime. He adapted these genres to his own idiosyncratic style and combined them to capture particular moments in the soundscape of America.4 The Concord Sonata, which Goetschius wrote his letter in response to, was an homage to the Transcendentalist philosophers of the mid-nineteenth century full of dissonance, cluster chords, and a brief flute solo.2 Ives self-consciously sought to distance his music from the music of composers who came before in an attempt to solve the “Beethoven problem” of having to establish an identity in relation to a supposedly universal but paradoxically German ideal.5 He would probably have been rather pleased, then, when Goetschius admitted that Ives’ “experiments” interested him as a rejection of the idea that Beethoven should be taken as the “Last Word” in art music.1

However, Ives reacted with frustration and defensiveness to those who did not understand his compositions, retorting rather petulantly in the margins that objective standards are “for soft-eared cissies and aural cowards!” In a different letter that Ives wrote to Henry F. Gilbert, a fellow New Englander and composer who appreciated Ives’ music, this defensiveness shines through again when he protests that he is “not a bad composer[…]though it’s inconvenient to have no one know that but [himself]!”6 This reveals the almost total lack of support he found, as well as the obstinacy with which he refused to change his methods. Although Ives found some admirers during his lifetime and achieved greater success after his death, his refusal to adhere to the objective standards set by European classical music and determination to create experimental music were reflected in the confusion, distaste, and apathy he faced in audiences who simply did not understand what he was going for. However, Ives’ total abandonment of convention in favor of experimentation and his utilization of American folk music, both black and white, ultimately helped him establish a distinctively American style.

Citations:

1 Goetschius, Percy. Letter to Charles Ives. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 67-8. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

2 Tomes, Susan. The Piano : A History in 100 Pieces. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. Accessed November 13, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3Mauk, David C. “New England Transcendentalism Versus Virulent Nationalism: The Evolution of Charles Ives’ Patriotic March Music.” American Studies in Scandinavia 31, no. 1 (1999): 24–33. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v31i1.1478.

4 Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. “Charles Ivesʹs Four Ragtime Dances and ʺTrue American Musicʺ.” In Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century, 1st ed., 17–47. University of California Press, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp004.6.

5 Shadle, Douglas W. Essay. In Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise, 242–57. Oxford University Press, 2018.

6 Ives, Charles. Letter to Henry F. Gilbert. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 82-3. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

“The Political Quadrille”: The Subversion of Social Roles Through Dance

In the Prints and Photographs collection of the Library of Congress, I found a political cartoon connecting the 1857 Dred Scott case to the 1860 presidential race, portraying presidential candidates as dancers in a quadrille led by Dred Scott himself, shown playing the violin.1 By centering Dred Scott as a performer, the artist seems to give him power but ultimately consigns him to anonymity in the same way that blackface minstrelsy confined black performers to stereotypical roles while denying them individual celebrity.

The quadrille was a dance form popular among the upper class in the first half of the nineteenth century where four couples would dance together in a set choreography to a piece with either four or six movements.2 Although some composers like Francis Johnson experimented with the genre, quadrilles were almost always instrumental and had the same structure, although the actual melody and dance steps varied piece to piece.3 For audiences in 1860, the quadrille represented an upper-class and perhaps outdated tradition of adhering to a fixed program with a partner, as well as following the music itself.

The social context surrounding quadrilles allows the cartoonist to poke fun at the figures portrayed dancing in couples. In the upper left, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge is shown arm in arm with his political ally and the incumbent president, James Buchanan.1 Nicknamed “Buck”, Buchanan is depicted with horns, adding a touch of fantasy to the image, perhaps to remind readers that the cartoon is not quite serious. The artist pairs the other three presidential candidates with more generic figures: Abraham Lincoln is shown dancing with a black woman as a jab at the Republican party’s abolitionist leanings, while Constitutional Union party candidate John Bell is shown with a Native American man as a reference to his brief flirtation with Native rights, and Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas is shown with an Irishman, reflecting the makeup of his own supporter base. In contrast to Buchanan’s fantastical horns, the exaggerated features and clothing of these three anonymous figures are based in very real stereotypes, denying them any individuality. Having the Native man and the Irishman serve as dance partners for Bell and Douglas serves to emasculate them, showing that the interests of these groups were in the hands of male American politicians. It is not clear exactly why the artist chose to portray Lincoln’s partner as a woman while the others are portrayed as men (although fears of black masculinity experienced by whites are probably involved), but the overall message is that all three groups are placed at the whim of white male politicians.

However, by far the most interesting figure is Dred Scott himself, shown in the center playing violin for the dancers. Scott was the plaintiff in the landmark 1857 Supreme Court decision which ruled that black people, enslaved or free, were not considered citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the rights accorded to citizens.4 This decision divided the country and eventually contributed to its descent into the Civil War, and as the artist points out it also overshadowed the 1860 presidential election. Scott is placed in a position of power, both through his role as the musician and by being visually centered in the cartoon. In an era when black musicians were allowed to perform only in limited contexts, giving an enslaved man a position of prestige over presidential candidates who dance along to his music might have been a powerful statement. However, the artist reminds us not to take this power too seriously. Blackface shows were primarily performed by white actors, but it also included black actors, as they were not allowed on the stage in other contexts, and were only allowed to take part in minstrel shows by assuming the stereotyped identities of characters. Scott undergoes a similar process to black blackface actors, who had their individual identities assimilated into white conceptions of blackness.5 The image of Scott has a grotesquely large head and features that, while not strongly exaggerated, do not resemble Scott himself at all, and an expression of happiness or delight at odds with his situation. These features combine to take the audience’s attention away from the actual man and the suffering that led him to sue several times for his freedom, allowing them to focus on the idea that the Dred Scott case had the attention of the presidential candidates and had become a central issue of the presidential race. In appearing to give Scott agency through a musical metaphor, the artist actually erases his individual identity and ultimately thrusts upon him the same stereotyped identities that black performers were forced to adopt in minstrel shows, and and which then applied to all black people by extension.

Citations:

1 “The Political Quadrille. Music by Dred Scott.” Library of Congress. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008661605/.

2 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

3 Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

4 Urofsky, M. I.. “Dred Scott decision.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 25, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/event/Dred-Scott-decision.

5 Sullivan, John Jeremiah. “’Shuffle Along’ and the Lost History of Black Performance in America.” New York Times, March 24, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/magazine/shuffle-along-and-the-painful-history-of-black-performance-in-america.html;Lott, Eric. Essay. In Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, 15–37. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Unconventionally Conventional: Francis Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles”

Despite being a black composer and bandleader in Philadelphia during the early 19th century, Francis Johnson was one of the most celebrated American composers of his time, period. While this undoubtedly had something to do with the liberal and progressive atmosphere of Philadelphia, it was also due to his talent and the innovative and experimental nature of many of his compositions. However, some argue that he merely excelled in existing genres and was popular not because of his unconventional style, but precisely because he catered to white tastes.1 I found a copy of Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles” in the Sheet Music Consortium database, which Johnson dedicated to a wealthy local businessman.2 The subtitle proclaims that Johnson and his band found “much distinguished success” while embarking on what was the first tour of Europe by any American band, revealing that his celebrity was not limited to Philadelphia.1 The quadrille was an elaborate dance form that was very popular among the upper classes in the first half of the 19th century.3 The circumstances of this piece’s composition and publication reveal that Johnson’s success had much to do with his catering to upper-class interests.

However, the music itself shows Johnson’s willingness to experiment. Popular music written by Johnson and others at the time was often published in arrangements that could be performed by amateur pianists in the home.1 As a result, this quadrille, written for piano and voice, is mostly very simple rhythmically, but Johnson also embellishes the piece with a more lively and rhythmically complex cornet solo. Johnson annotates his music with instructions to the dancers, in addition to the lyrics. The very idea of a “voice quadrille” was a novel one, as the genre was traditionally instrumental.4 The lyrics themselves are lighthearted, with a “laughing finale” that literally calls for the singers to sing “ha ha ha”.

While the quadrille was a highly ritualized genre that was popular among the upper classes, Johnson’s ability to play with the conventions of that genre shows that his success was not only a result of catering to upper-class tastes but actually a result of subverting them. Johnson provides an interesting example of the kind of creative mixing of genres that occurred when black Americans came into contact with European music, as his success came from privilege and access to white upper-class society rather than the oppression of slavery. Johnson achieved a number of firsts among American composers, showcasing his boldness and willingness to go beyond what was expected.4 In fact, Johnson was the first composer writing for white audiences to address the topic of slavery and the suffering it caused, showing that in some cases his success was actually despite this boldness. While his education in and use of European musical styles perhaps reflected a desire to fit in with the white cultural elite, along with a desire by that elite to embrace a black person who had proved himself able to assimilate, Johnson’s success was ultimately due to his ability to engage in the musical styles of the cultural elite and bring something new to them.

Citations:

1 Griscom, Richard. “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 14, 2012. https://almanac.upenn.edu/archive/volumes/v58/n22/bandmaster.html.

2 Schnurmann, Claudia. “His Father’s Favored Son: David Parish.” Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German Historical Institute, August 22, 2018. https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entries/his-fathers-favored-son-david-parish/#Between_Philadelphia_and_Ogdensburg_1806-1816; Johnson, Francis. Johnson’s Celebrated and Much Admired Voice Quadrilles. Geo. W. Hewitt and Co., Philadelphia, monographic, 1840. Notated Music.

3 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

Roundup: A Selection of Black Musical Artists of the Early 1890s

In an article published in the Cleveland Gazette on November 4th, 1893, Walter B. Hayson provides an enthusiastic endorsement of the “company of remarkable songstresses” and other talented musicians among the black population.1 He claims that “just as the white race has its Patti, its Nordica, its Albani”, so are there similarly talented black artists, and sets out to provide examples of this talent.

Hayson laments the “coveting of empty titles” and the trend of “purposely [aping] the conventionalities in singing of a known artist”, describing such behavior as “groveling and distracting” and praising those singers who do not fall into this trap. He provides a detailed critique of the talents of several black male and female singers, applauding both good technical performance and “naturalness in stage presence” equally while criticizing poor execution and musical selections. He emphasizes that many of these performers are yet young while praising their talents, creating a hopeful tone for the future of black musicianship.

However, this hope betrays bias. Hayson was a celebrated educator, music critic, and activist who was later a founding member of the American Negro Academy.2 This highly elite institution sought to bring together black leaders in various fields with the aim of “the promotion of literature, science, and art; the culture of intellectual taste; the fostering of higher education; the publication of scholarly work; the defense of the Negro against vicious assaults”.3 This reflected the concept of the “Talented Tenth” which was espoused by W.E.B. DuBois, which held that the most highly educated and skilled black people would be able to uplift all black people through their achievements.4 Hayson later publicly responded to Antonín Dvořák’s support of black music, provoking a wave of backlash against the idea of black music being originally black.5 This in turn prompted the work of Krehbiel and Jackson that we have analyzed.6

This ideology is present in Hayson’s article, which seeks not only to give a summary and review of the most talented black musicians of the time, but also to claim ownership of these artists by the black population at large. He repeatedly refers to “our young singers” in “our midst”, establishing a sense that these artists represent all black people in some way.1 He also says of H.T. Burleigh that “the best wishes of us all accompany him in his new work”, deepening this impression and asserting that the “best wishes” of all black people are aligned in wanting these young artists to find success. Burleigh in fact found greater musical success after the World’s Fair in which he was performing, and eventually became an activist in his own right.5 In optimistically profiling the promising young black talent of the time, Hayson reveals the hope that their success could be used as a tool to improve the situation of black people in America. While this hope is innocent in itself, it prescribes a specific model for success for black people as individuals and as a group: becoming part of the Talented Tenth meant subscribing to Western ideas of correctness or success in music and other spheres, and their success meant that these values applied in turn to all black people.

Sources

1 “The ‘Queen Of Song.’ A Fair Criticism of Mrs. Flora Batson Bergen and Others of.” Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), November 4, 1893: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2BA16C77495A8%402412772-12C106455169BF98%400-12DB0D86AB1C7020%40The%2B%2522Queen%2BOf%2BSong.%2522%2BA%2BFair%2BCriticism%2Bof%2BMrs.%2BFlora%2BBatson%2BBergen%2Band%2BOthers%2Bof.

2 Moon, Fletcher F. “American Negro Academy (est. 1897).” In Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience, by Jessica Carney Smith, and Linda T. Wynn. Visible Ink Press, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipfff/american_negro_academy_est_1897/0?institutionId=4959

3 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “American Negro Academy.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 28, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-Negro-Academy.

4 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Talented Tenth.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 23, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Talented-Tenth.

5 Snyder, Jean E. Essay. In Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance, 102–11. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2021.

6 Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914), 11-28; George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943) 265-268 and 278-289.

Insider Knowledge from an Outsider’s Perspective

As the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, Garcilaso de la Vega had a unique perspective on both cultures within Peruvian society. His writings betray a respect for the Inca flautists and the music they played on their panpipes, while his observations shed light on the role of music in 16th-century Inca social customs.1

As a member of the cultural elite, de la Vega evidently had at least some musical training, allowing him to describe in detail the structure and voicing of the Inca panpipes and the characteristics of the music they played. He admires the skill of the flautists, noting that they were “always in tune” when they played together and that their skills were not limited to their own repertory, but translated to European music as well, which they could sightread. However, he does display hints of elitism when describing the general lack of singing in Inca culture, stating his belief that this was because the Inca “were not sufficiently good [singers]” and “did not understand singing”.

The panpipes are closely tied with Inca culture even today, and in the 16th century they carried great ritual importance. De la Vega discusses the significance of the panpipes in Inca courting, noting that young men played the flute to woo young ladies, with each tune conveying a unique message to the object of one’s affection, so that “it may be said that [a man] talked with his flute”. Thus, both the instrument and the tune had a specific purpose, and other types of songs were “not fit” to be played on the panpipes, revealing the importance of the instrument and of music in general to everyday social practices.

With his intimate experience of Peruvian society, de la Vega’s honest and open admiration of the skill of the flautists and the comparisons he makes between Inca and European music is rare to see among early accounts of the music Europeans encountered through colonization. This makes his work very valuable for ethnomusicology, which is impressive considering he was writing over two hundred years before the field existed at all. This kind of insider status and the insights it brings is exactly what makes Tara Browner’s work in studying pow-wows so valuable, as she departs from a traditional theory-based approach in favor of “[writing] about music and dance as [she has] experienced them”.2 Despite the fact that ethnomusicological research is traditionally undertaken by outsiders who attempt to remain as neutral as possible, these examples demonstrate that the intimate cultural knowledge and understanding of an insider is a valuable tool in investigating musical traditions which may be a result of a different value system.

1 The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276

2 Browner, Tara. “All about Theory, Method, and Pow-Wows.” Essay. In Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow, 1–17. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Musical Performance or Spectacle? Documenting Native Music and Ritual

I came across a journal kept by George Catlin, an explorer and painter traveling the American West in the 1830s, in which he documents a yearly Mandan ceremony commemorating a great flood, in the American Indian Histories and Cultures database. While Catlin describes the ceremony as a dance and documents the role of singing and drumming in the ritual, he spends far more time describing the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the story they are telling than he does describing the music itself.

This is typical of a wider attitude which prevailed among ethnomusicologists, historians, and the public until fairly recently that Native American musical traditions were little more than primitive chants and drum beats and were certainly not artifacts of high culture like the European musical canon.1 This attitude meant that Native music was often not taken seriously by early observers like Sir Francis Drake and John Smith, whose descriptions of “a most miserable and doleful manner of shreeking [sic]” and “such a terrible noise as would rather affright” the listener echo those of Catlin.2 Even the work of later authors like Frances Densmore and Alice Fletcher, who pioneered serious ethnomusicological investigation of Native traditions, often relied on theories of social evolution to justify the idea that Native Americans and their music could not possibly be as advanced as European culture and music.4

Catlin’s focus on the story being told seems more appropriate to a play or pantomime rather than a musical performance. He does not analyze the music itself beyond a few short comments, but describes at length the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the many animals and natural phenomena they represent, noting that “many curious and grotesque amusements and ceremonies” took place over the four days of the ceremony.3 Besides devoting several pages of text to describing the ceremony, Catlin also preserved it in several paintings. Catlin mentions that large water-filled sacks were used as drums, along with rattles, to accompany a song which is repeated many times throughout the ritual, and notes that it was impossible to obtain a translation of this song, as it was a closely guarded secret even within the tribe. However, beyond these observations he makes no attempt to analyze the lyrics, composition, or instrumentation of the song, focusing instead on the visual spectacle of the bull-dance, which he describes as being “of an exceedingly grotesque and amusing character”.3

As an explorer who was clearly dedicated to documenting the rituals he saw both on the page and the canvas, it is fair to assume that Catlin was truly interested in preserving the details of the ceremony he was witnessing. Of course, Catlin was far from a trained ethnomusicologist, as the field didn’t even exist for fifty years after he was writing, and therefore did not have the same goals or values and was probably not musically trained. However, this amateur status actually reveals that Catlin’s attitude that the ceremony was simply too far outside of his experience to count as music and was not worth preserving or even really discussing was a common reaction to Native music. While these cultural attitudes clearly had nothing to do with formal training or education, they were still taken as scientific truth for decades.