Some Jazzy Blues… And Also Ragtime?

Sheet music is always super exciting. Well, maybe not always. But, that statement probably would have fit popular sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th century as evidenced by all Tin Pan Alley composers, lyrists, and producers who churned an exorbitant amount of music. Looking through the Sheet Music Consortium, one such piece caught my eye because it not only seemed connected to our class discussions on Tin Pan Alley, but also our classes on Jazz and the Blues.

Tom Delaney (1889-1963). Jazz and blues composer.

“The Jazz-Me Blues” were published by Palmetto Music Publishing Company in New York in 1921, and were written by Tom Delaney, who surprisingly, seems to be a bit of an enigma in my academic research sources.1 What I did find was that he lived from 1889 to 1963, was an African American composer, and he wrote a lot of jazz and blues songs that were popular in the 20’s and later.2 “The Jazz-Me Blues” are one of his songs for which there are many later recordings, a lot of them include a full band and exclude the vocal line.3 Maybe this is the way that Delaney meant for the piece to eventually be performed, as the cover of the music pictures what appears to be an all-black jazz band, and the piano arrangement was just for individual household consumption.

The cover of “The Jazz-Me Blues” by Tom Delaney, published in 1921.

Something else that is interesting about the cover is that it differs from the sheet music covers we looked at and talked about in class. Most of those depicted fictional scenes or characters, a famous singer or performer, or racial caricatures if depicting black people. Perhaps this is a notable band, and separated from the time, we don’t know that. But what is important is that the fame of the band is not what is being used to sell the music unlike the ones in class. It also is worth noting that this is a positive portrayal of black Americans; not a caricature. Is that only because right above are the words “Jazz” and “Blues”, which were connected to blackness? Or, was this music written for a different audience and purpose than what we looked at in class?

Turning the page to look at the actual provides other examples of the coupling of certain music and race, albeit in a perhaps more covert manner. The melody relies on syncopation, even mentioning the word “syncopation” in conjunction with what jazz is. This is one of the sonic markers of blackness that we spoke about in class. Additionally, the lyrics talk about jazz and “jazz-time”, as well as “ragtime” and, of course, “blues”. Again, these are all musical genres that at the time were considered black.

Another interesting portrait is painted by the lyrics:

Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime,

They play a class of music that is super-fine,

And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine,

You can hear that jazz-in music playing all the time.

It is almost as if the people in Louisiana do nothing but sing, dance, and play jazz. Yet, this also can be read in conjunction with the last line: “I’ve got those dog-gone low-down jazz me, jazz me blues”, implying that life is really is great as long as you have jazz, which seems to thus celebrate jazz.

The first page of sheet music for “The Jazz-Me Blues“.

Ultimately, in thinking about how Rydell argued that sheet music was responsible for normalizing public attitudes, I wonder about what message this song spread.4 I’m not sure. On the one hand, it seems to reinforce a lot of the musical black stereotyping we have talked about in class. Yet, on the other hand, it does come across a celebration of jazz, and, according to some sources, it was this composition, among others, that helped Delaney get out of poverty. Perhaps, like much of life, the answers are not as clear as they may at first appear.

 

 

Delaney, Tom. “Jazz me blues”. New York: Palmetto Music Co., 1921. Retrieved from: http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:338252/METADATA&pn=3&size=screen.

2 The Commodore Master Takes. Recorded February 28, 2006. Universal Classics & Jazz, 2006, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C695030. (Delaney birth and death dates)

Harris, Sheldon. “Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney.” In Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney, 877. New Rochelle, NY: Da Capo Press, 1994. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Creference_article%7C1004410925.

3 Search for “Tom Delaney” and “Jazz-Me Blues” in Alexander Street. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/jazz/search?searchstring=tom%20delaney&is_lti_search=&term%5B0%5D=jazz%20me%20blues.

4 Robert W. Rydell, “Soundtracks of Empire: ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ the War in the Philippines, the ‘Ideals of America,’ and Tin Pan Alley”, European journal of American studies [Online], 7-2 (2012). Accessed on March 22 2018. DOI : 10.4000/ejas.9712.

“The Voice is not nearly so important as the Spirit”

After reading Eileen Southern and Dena Epstein’s accounts of American slave songs and particularly spirituals, my curiosity was piqued. I set out to see what sheet music for spirituals looked like from the days of the sheet music craze and naturally ran across something I wasn’t really expecting.

What I found was H. T. Burleigh’s arrangement of “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” for low voice and piano.1 One thing that initially struck me about the song was that it fit with what Epstein wrote about as a common theme in slave songs, that is the repetition of the same line of text several times in a row. Another common characteristic was syncopation, which is also an important driving characteristic of this song.2

The cover of the sheet music for “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. A recording of this arrangement can be found here.

However, arrangement is also interesting because it has been written in the style of arias and art songs. The melody is written out clearly, omitting some of the vocalizations that perhaps would have been sung by slaves. It is also made clear that the song does not perhaps fully fit a European method of transcription by the footnote on the first page which offers an alternate rhythm for one of the measures. Additionally, the arrangement contains a simple piano accompaniment consisting mainly of repetitive chords on the beats. This makes sense as the arranger, H. T. Burleigh studied on scholarship at the National Conservatory of Music in New York and ultimately became famous for being the first to arrange spirituals in the style of art songs, allowing for their entry into recital repertoire.3

The other interesting aspect of this sheet music is the arranger’s note that precedes it. In it, Burleigh gives a brief history of spirituals and claims that they are “practically the only music in America which meets the scientific definition of Folk Song”. He then goes on to advise the would-be singer that “the voice is not nearly so important as the spirit” when preforming, and that rhythm is the critical element. He admonishes that spirituals should not be linked with “minstrel” songs and that one should not try to imitate “Negro” accent or mannerisms in performance.

Ultimately, this got me thinking again about our discussion question of who gets to sing these songs and who gets to decide who gets to sing them? This arrangement was obviously originally intended for a white audience because of its warning about trying to perform them imitating the ways that are “natural to the colored people”. Written as it is in the style of an art song, means it caters to recitalists. Most recitalists of the time were white, as Burleigh himself is regarded as one of the first African American recitalists. Can white performers sing these songs that came out of the deep anguish of slavery and do them justice?

H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

Burleigh also adds an interesting dimension to the puzzle. As a black man born after the abolition of slavery, does he still have a right and connection to these songs? After all, he came from a poor family and learned many of his spirituals from his grandfather, who had been a slave.4 Furthermore, Burleigh still lived in a time of deep racial inequality and probably experienced ugly racism and discrimination in his own life.

Perhaps Burleigh, in is own way, provides a bit of an answer to this quandary in his performance notes when he remarks that spirituals’ “worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man”. It may not be a perfect answer, but it is something.

1Burleigh, H. T. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” from Negro Spirituals. New York: G. Ricordi, 1918. http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15037coll1/id/5400. Accessed March 19, 2018.

2Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

3““Harry” Burleigh (1866–1949).” In African American Almanac, by Lean’tin Bracks. Visible Ink Press, 2012. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipaaalm/harry_burleigh_1866_1949/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed March 19, 2018.

4Snyder, Jean. “Burleigh, Henry [Harry] T(hacker).” Grove Music Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002248537. Accessed March 19, 2018.

Different Times, Different Troubles (Same Song)

“Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”, arranged by H.T. Burleigh.

It’s hard to definitely say someone should not sing certain music. When it comes to spirituals, we wonder if the music was supposed to be passed down the generations, or if it was supposed to be left behind, where it could only be associated with slavery and sorrow.

H.T. Burleigh thought such music should be remembered, as he is famous for having arranged the music for many spirituals, including “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”. Burleigh and others published a variety of other arrangements for “mixed chorus, men’s chorus, and women’s chorus”.1
Therefore, it is clear he intended these songs to be sung by a variety of people for generations to come. He believed that spirituals have worth to anyone and everyone. He even made a statement on the second page of this sheet music, warning not to sing these songs as if a “minstrel” performance, mocking the mannerisms of African Americans while singing the song, but instead to respect the value of such musical works:

“Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, and the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come, and man–every man–will be free.”2

If a choir of white people gave a lively and vigorous performance of this spiritual or any kind like it, it would come across as disrespectful. Slaves were not allowed to sing work songs mournfully, even though the songs were of sorrow and of trouble.3  “Douglass observed in the 1845 edition of his autobiography that slaves sang most when they were unhappy”.4 A smiley performance of such music seems inappropriate. People today cannot properly fathom the hardships that slaves endured back then, so for anyone other than slaves to sing these songs does not feel right. However, Burleigh might argue that spirituals transcend the history. The music can mean a lot to a lot of people, even if for different reasons.

Perhaps it would help to imagine slaves’ reactions to performances of their songs today. They could think it beautiful that their music has survived so long and that their time is not forgotten or brushed aside as insignificant in history. However, their reaction would probably depend on what performances they see–whose singing for whom and for what reason. They could definitely find it disturbing that their music is occasionally sung out of context for the pleasure of white people listening. But what would they think if they saw a choir in Taiwan singing one of their songs?

We can’t know for sure what they would think, but perhaps if the music is performed in a respectful manner, it can mean more for more people.

1 “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

2 Burleigh, H.T. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. New York: G. Ricordi & Co., Inc., 1917. Retrieved from Sheet Music Consortium, http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-spnc/id/23714.

3 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 161.

4 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 177.

The Catchy Past: Separating the Song from the History

“Zip Coon.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612306.

Most children grow up learning songs by Stephen Collins Foster, and the melodies are quite catchy. However, if one thinks of the background of such tunes, and how they are mostly minstrel songs, they can seem problematic. Minstrel shows incorporated blackface: when white people would use burnt cork to give themselves the appearance of an African American with exaggerated features.1 While in this getup, they would portray racial stereotypes that are very offensive. This sheet music cover depicts one of the stock characters white men would portray in their minstrel performances.

The songs of minstrel shows inspired Stephen Foster into writing more of these popular tunes.2 He is famous for many memorable melodies, including “Oh, Susanna!” and “Old Folks at Home”. These songs remained popular well passed the 1920s, and we all know them today. If one watches a scene from Riding High (Frank Capra, 1950), one can hear the legendary Bing Crosby singing one of Foster’s hits, “Camptown Races”.

It sure is catchy! However, if one listens closely and reads the original lyrics, one can see where this song becomes problematic. First of all, the actual title is “De Camptown Races”, and the words are written in a way that portrays the dialect of a stereotypically, ill-educated, African American; for example: the use of “de” and “gwine”. This little ditty was originally written with the intention of white performers painting their faces black and singing the song in order to mock African Americans.3 Despite the racist nature of this tune, it lives on as an American folk classic, as many of Foster’s songs have.

I’m not saying it’s horrible to enjoy this song or others like it. Many people do. No matter if people still find the melody catchy today, it is important to remember the history, whether or not they associate the song with the disturbing truth of the past.

1 “Minstrel Songs – The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America.” The Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/popular-songs-of-the-day/minstrel-songs/.

2 “Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864.” The Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035701/.

3 Ruehl, Kim. “The ‘Doo Dah’ Song: ‘Camptown Races’ by Stephen Foster.” ThoughtCo. October 25, 2017. www.thoughtco.com/camptown-races-stephen-foster-1322494.

Trustworthiness of a Handwritten Recording

Looking through the papers of Eleazer Williams (1758-1858), I found sheet music written in the Iroquois language. The document was found amongst many other items within a scrapbook (1758-1846), and it most likely came from Williams’ time in New York and Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a missionary to the Oneida Indians.1 When it comes to determining the trustworthiness of this source, one might look to the plausible objectives of Eleazer Williams at the time.

“Notes on the Iroquois language”

Because the lyrics were written in the Iroquois language, it is possible he wrote down the music purely for his own benefit, rather than with the intentions of educating the white masses. Williams would have had to learn the language as a means to communicate with the American Indians and convert them, as was his mission. This personal endeavour of learning the language is evident by the “Notes on the Iroquois language” within the Papers, 1758-1858. Nevertheless, the objective of missionary work differs from the objectives of explorers and anthropologists/ethnographers, some of whose writings and recordings we have read and heard.

Book by Eleazer Williams

Anthropologists typically lived amongst a people to learn and understand their customs. Their recordings were intended for European readers/listeners, and they were unknowingly biased. It is likely Williams saw the Oneida Indians as ‘Other’ and inferior to himself, as did the European explorers of his time; however, he wrote sermons and translated religious texts into the language of the Oneida. This is evident by his book Prayers for families and for particular persons: selected from the Book of common prayer translated into the language of the Six Nations of Indians (1788-1858), which translates a selection from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer into Oneida.2 Because of this text, it can be assumed that Williams wrote for foreign ears, and any notes on the foreign language were probably written for his own study. Researchers should take the intended audience into account when determining the trustworthiness of this document, despite any biases that may appear in his papers.

Fagnani, Giuseppe. Eleazer Williams. 1853. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Furthermore, what makes Eleazer Williams especially unique in comparison to our previous readings are the facts that he “was of mixed Indian-white parentage”, and “he envisaged an Indian empire west of Lake Michigan under his rule”.3 After hearing the first fact, one could argue his intentions of recording this music on paper could have been to better understand and relate to the culture. However, knowing his true motives were to take control over the people, he is seen in a much more negative light. Granted, wanting to rule over the Oneida Indians doesn’t necessarily mean the music Williams wrote down was inaccurate/inauthentic. Considering the sheet music was found amongst other language materials, it could have been one of his sources for learning the Iroquois language. The scrapbook within which it was archived could have been a collection of Eleazer Williams’ personal mementos. Therefore, it is possible the music he recorded on paper is a trustworthy example of Oneida Indian music.

1 Williams, Eleazar. Papers, 1758-1858. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_999.

2 Williams, Eleazer. Prayers for Families and for Particular Persons Selected from the Book of Common Prayer. Albany: Printed by G.J. Loomis and Co, 1816. Available through: Wisconsin Historical Society, Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/item/d957d82e178a2376606b7cea19cb06a1?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DWilliams%252C%2BEleazer%26subject%255B%255D%3DNative%2BAmericans%26utf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593&next=2&previous=0.

3 “Williams, Eleazer 1788-1858.” Wisconsin Historical Society. August 3, 2012. www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS1694.

“Goin’ Home”

While scrolling through the sheet music consortium, I stumbled across a digitized piece of music of which I have a physical copy in my own personal library, “Goin’ Home,” an adaptation by William Arms Fisher of Anton Dvořák’s New World Symphony (No. 9, mvt II Largo, specifically). Personally, I love the symphony and have enjoyed listening to it for many years, but I can’t help but wonder now about the complicated philosophies of Dvořák and this adaptation of his work which place the work not just as a well-known music history class example to memorize, but a work that has juxtaposed good intention with possible misguided ideology.

The sheet music I found includes a detailed account of Dvořák’s intention behind the New World Symphony and the melody on which this vocal piece is based. This description, shown to the left, describes Dvořáks fascination with the native people of the US. In his own desire to see his home, he attempted to fully understand the Native American and black music traditions which showed the true roots of American culture.

I think, overall, the attempt of this work to show Dvorak’s intent shows in the written dialect on the words “I’m Jes’ goin home” and “Gwine to roam no more.” Clearly, Fisher’s adaptation attempts to look to Dvořák’s attempts to draw on black folk music. The music does say that the singer may omit the dialect, which shows that people of all backgrounds were encouraged to sing this music. We also know from the forward of this piece pictured above that Dvorak, while attempting to make an example of true American music, also drew on his own experiences. The spirit of his work was meant to be applicable to many people. In “Goin’ Home,” Fisher develops Dvořák’s yearning for his own home into a universal message of hope for anyone searching for home.

However, the message is pointedly not universal when it is directly associated with black folk music. Even more so, the white composer and arranger have not used an actual black folk tune but made one up – this causes confusion and leads people to believe that the song is originally a black folk tune. Instead of lifting up an already existing melody in the black folk tradition, Dvořák stereotyped his idealized version of folk music and missed an opportunity to showcase genuine, authentic folk music. While the attempt seemed earnest in its good intent, the execution remains slightly subpar.

We must also consider what it would have meant if he’d used a black folk melody. Would appropriating one have been much better? He was stuck between creating one on his own and using an existing one – both appropriation and creation would have contributed to the erasure of this culture in some form, though. As someone who was not part of the black folk tradition, it would have been impossible to find a way to authentically emulate these traditions without erasure. This brings up the question of whether or not he should have written this at all.

I hesitate to say he should not have. Whether that is simply because it is beautiful music or because there is some other argument that he contributed to American music in a way different than MacDowell (who contributed to a “vanishing Indians” idealogy), I cannot say.1 This piece, especially controversial given its dialect text, would be an excellent addition to our class exhibit, however. Since I own a personal copy, and we can give people a QR code that lets them access it online and peruse anytime, I think that it is an accessible source that many could use.

 

 

1 Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.

Women and the Piano

This cover of a piece of piano sheet music shows a dedication to Jonas Chickering. Jonas Chickering contributed greatly to the prominence of the piano in the 19th Century. Manufacturers like Chickering were reacting to a demand for the piano, but they also contributed and helped shape this demand. The piano was a sign of gentility and decorated the home. Within the 19th Century, the piano was an instrument for female amateurs. Women were expected to keep the domestic area refined, and since the piano was accepted as a sign of refinement, women seemed to like using it as a way to improve their home. This use of the piano as a source of refinement by women in the home is reflected in the many design changes that the instrument underwent. In the early 19th Century, manufacturers capitalized on this idea of women using the piano in the home, and they created a design that functioned as a piano, as well as a sewing table, which could be used for the sewing that specifically women would do.

 

Women were also seen as having an emotional core to their being. Piano music published during and after the 1840s has an emotional character, and this demonstrates how the expectations for women, and beliefs about women also reflected the notion that the piano was a feminine instrument.

 

Manufacturers like those involved with Jonas Chickering perceived what people were looking for in a piano and in piano music. Their products came from preconceived notions about femininity and what people wanted and needed in music. It may seem like there is no way of telling whether or not manufacturers were reacting to the true demands of consumers, or creating a demand by perpetuating a perceived want, or need; yet, the manufacturers’ views and the composers’ views of women’s practical needs and musical tastes are evident.

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Dempster, William R. and Reynell Coates. “Oh Show Me Some Blue Distant Isle.” Philadelphia: John F. Nunns, 184 Chesnut St., 1841. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/collection/124/022.

Kornblith, Gary J. “The Craftsman as Industrialist: Jonas Chickering and the Transformation of American Piano Making.” The Business History Review 59, no. 3 (1985): 349-68.

Leppert, Richard. “Sexual Identity, Death, and the Family Piano.” 19th-Century Music 16, no. 2 (1992): 105-28.

Was Alexander Reinagle even an “American” Composer?

Drawing of Alexander Reinagle by Joseph Muller

Alexander Reinagle is credited as being one of the first American composers to publish American music along with John Aitken. Reinagle was the first to “monopolize” the sheet music industry. He himself was able to teach, compose, publish and distribute music. We credit Reinagle’s work as American…but was it? Much of his work is simply a continuation of European music and styles.

It is first important to acknowledge reasons why Reinagle’s work is considered American. Firstly, Reinagle composed, published and distributed music in America. He resided in Philadelphia and wrote many works such as the Philadelphia sonatas and established himself as a composer of American piano works.  He also established himself as an important figure in the American sheet music business concentrating on the home music making. Publishing music that was appealing and accessible to many people was the goal.

Mrs. Madison’s Minuet.

Another reason he is considered an American composer is because of the songs and pieces that he wrote. For example, short piano pieces like Mrs. Madison’s Minuet and Madison’s March were written about President James Madison and Dolley Madison.  Madison’s March sounds especially militaristic and patriotic, suggesting that an American identity is associated with this song.  There are militaristic idioms like dotted rhythms and a feeling of cut time, which is very characteristic of American Marches.

Taking a closer look, it is clear that many of Reinagle’s pieces exhibited European elements. For example, both Madison’s March and Mrs. Madison’s Minuet were composed in a binary form, a precursor to sonata form, which was popular in European music.  The tonal organization and harmonies fit into the basic phrase model in European music as well. The phrases are balanced and end in with a dominant to tonic motion. CPE Bach influenced many of his pieces.  Reinagle draws on European musical styles, yet the subject of his works are very much American. Because Reinagle was an influential figure in the spread of music, the music he spread was inevitably labeled American. Using European music, he established and American sound by following the example of the European style, which he might have seen as superior.

Madison’s March

It is interesting that looking back, we see Reinagle as an American composer yet it is likely that he thought of himself as an advocate for European music.  Why was he considered an American composer? Was it simply because he was physically in America when he composed? Is it because the subject of his songs was American? Or is it the way he produced and sold music? Whatever the reasons may be, his intentions and where he received inspiration mark him as a continuation of the European tradition. Reinagle’s career was still very important to the history of American music. His music and ideals helped spread European music to America as well as setting a precedent for the publication and distribution in the sheet music industry. It also perpetuated a divide between the vernacular and cultivated music, which is relevant today.

Works Cited

Crawford, Richard. “Home Music Making and the Publishing Industry.” America’s Musical Life a History, Norton, 2001, pp. 221–226.

Frank Kidson, et al. “Reinagle.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/23124pg2.

Madison’s March. Philadelphia.

Mrs. Madison’s Minuet. Philadelphia.

Muller, Joseph. Alexander Reinagle. Philadelphia.

Poetry in Motion: Amy Beach

Amy Beach was one of the most influential composers on American music during her life. Her grand works like the Mass in E-flat and the Gaelic Symphony made her stand out amongst composers in a newly emerging American classical scene. Beach also wrote many songs for piano and voice and one in particular that I would like to highlight is With Violets, Beach’s first official work.

With Violets was published in 1885 and the text comes from the poet Kate Vannah, and is presented in an original setting by Beach. Not much scholarship exists on Beach’s first work, in fact I was unable to find any recording of With Violets. I find this a little surprising, as With Violets captures elements of Beach’s compositional style that stayed consistent throughout her life.

Amy Beach, composer of “With Violets”

The first page of “With Violets”

 

In 1943, Beach commented on her creative process and composition in general by comparing it to poetry. In her words, a poet is “stirred by a vigorous emotional impulse” then “reflects more calmly upon this emotion” and finally “seeks to clothe the combination of emotions plus thought with the most beautiful and suitable words, meters, and rhymes.” She goes on to say that “that, in the most general way, approximates the stages in musical creation, as well.” As you read the text to With Violets (no recording exists as of yet), try conjuring up music in your head.

The violets I send to you
Will close their blue eyes on your breast;
I shall not be there, sweet, to see,
Yet do I know my flowers will rest
Within that chaste, white nest.

O little flowers, she’ll welcome you
So tenderly, so warmly!
Go, I know where you will die tonight.
But you can never, never know
The bliss of dying so.
If you could speak!

Yet she will know
What made your faces wet,
Although I fain would follow you, and tell.
There, go and die, yet never know
To what a heav’n you go.

Beach describes a very similar experience to the one you might’ve just had when she was composing her setting of Canticle of the Sun. In her words,

“The text called melodies to my mind. I went out at once under a tree, and the text took possession of me. As if from dictation, I jotted down the notes of my ‘Canticle’.”

I think it’s a stretch to say that every piece composed by Beach had this sort of musical epiphany, but the intentionality of her composition can’t be denied. For her first published work to be a setting of a poem says a lot about the artistry she saw in her compositions. Her songs exude many of the same feelings that poetry does, and I would argue that point as a major reason for her musical success.

Bibliography

Beach, Amy Marcy Cheney. With Violets. Arthur P. Schmidt & Co., Boston, monographic, 1885. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1885.13562/. (Accessed October 22, 2017.)

Brooks, Benjamin. “The ‘How’ of Creative Composition: A Conversation with Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,” Etude, 61, no. 3 (March 1943), 151, 208-9.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001

Walt Minstry: Dumbo’s Jim Crow

Disney’s feature film Dumbo, released in 1941, tells the tale of a loveable baby elephant born with unnaturally large ears which he is consequently able to use for flying. One of the scenes presented in the film presents some highly problematic material however. Halfway through the film, Dumbo runs into a group of crows who assist in motivating, encouraging, and teaching him to fly. By aid of the “magic feather” the crows give him, Dumbo is then able to return to the circus and perform a revolutionary new act which crazes the nation.

Unfortunately, the crows Dumbo runs into are presented as African Americans. The very fact that Disney chose the particular characterization of crows to display black-coded stereotypes is questionable, but to make matters even worse, their leader’s scripted name is Jim Crow. The blatant reference to the offensive term of Jim Crow, the stereotyped language given to the crows, the voice casting of African Americans as the crows they’re playing, the animator behind their creation, and the role they play in the film’s plot all pose large problems which can’t be overlooked.

“Jim Crow” is a term full of racial connotations most often associated with the Jim Crow laws of the early 1900’s. Historian C. Vann Woodward notes that while, “The origin of the term ‘Jim Crow’ applied to Negroes is lost in obscurity. Thomas D. Rice wrote a song and dance called ‘Jim Crow’ in 1832, and the term had become an adjective by 1838.” The origin and etymology of the term comes specifically from a minstrel performance by Thomas D. Rice from the early 19th century. Although the exact origins of Rice’s inspiration for the Jim Crow character are unknown, it quickly became a sensational performance phenomenon. In his book Jump Jim Crow, W. T. Lhamon Jr explores the history and characteristics of the Jim Crow craze. He states that “No other American cultural figure stirred a legacy that endures such widespread censure as well as continual appropriation.” Such a widespread cultural figure can’t be referred to without indicating the negative racial stereotypes associated with it. A visual comparison between the two characters confirms the similarities between T. D. Rice’s representation of Jim Crow in minstrelsy and the animation of Dumbo’s crows. Even the poses, dance, and body language of Dumbo is a direct tribute to the original minstrel tradition.jim crowjim crow dumbo

Having already established a problematic visual representation of Jim Crow, the song “When I See an Elephant Fly” next adds a disturbing linguistic stereotyping of African American language. The main line of the chorus uses speech reminiscent of early minstrel songs: “But I be don’ seen ‘bout ev’rythang, when I see an elephant fly” It’s interesting to note that the lyrics of this song in current Disney songbooks have changed the lyrics to “But I think I will have seen ev’rything when I see an elephant fly.” The removal of dialect from the printed sheet music seems to reflect a recognition of the racist implications to it.

The controversial visual and linguistic stereotypes presented in Dumbo’s crows are further complicated by the voice casting. Jim Crow is voiced by white actor Cliff Edwards, while the rest of the crows are voiced by the African American choir Hall Johnson. (The same chorus Disney used in the racially controversial film Song of the South.) Whether it’s more problematic to have African American actors voicing racist stereotypes or to have a white actor voice a caricature of Jim Crow is difficult to determine. To have a white actor giving a racially black coded performance, even if animated, is the same act as a blackface minstrel show. And if the animated character being performed is Jim Crow himself, what makes this any different than T. D. Rice’s own performance a century prior to Dumbo’s release?

Works Cited:

Woodward, C. Vann. The Strange Career of Jim Crow. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974. Print.

Lhamon, W. T. Jr. Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2003. Print.

Disney Productions: The New Illustrated Disney Songbook. New York: Abrams, 1986. Print.

The Great Hope of Whitewashing in 1890s ‘Ethiopian Song’

“Would you Paint All the Colored People White?”

The titular question of what the sheet music claims is “Walter Dauphin’s Great Ethiopian Song” sounds simultaneously hopeful and skeptical. One on hand it seems to be pleading to God on high to make the ‘Colored People’ white, easing their lives of trial and hierarchical suffering. On the other, it seems to be asking, “if you could, would you?”

PaintPaint 2

A closer look at the text of the song affirms that the desired emotion of the song is hope, as the idea of painting them is a scheme for the speaker to do the things he’s been “dreaming” about. Presumably, becoming white would allow this individual greater freedoms previously unable to them. This seems like a truthful sentiment coming from a black person in 1893, but of course thats not really the case. The title page also says “Sung with Great Success by ‘The Eldridges’ and all the Leading Minstrels”, confirming that this was definitely a piece associated with blackface performances, though this doesn’t change the fact that this music is surprisingly and spiritually tender.

On the other end of the spectrum is “When the Black Folks Turn White”, a jaunty tune by Ragtime composer Joe Haydn (Not Franz Joseph). This 1898 composition has an extremely different tone from the Dauphin, with a text stating that God’s creation of African Americans was an accident. The ‘joy’ of the piece then, emerges from humorous impossibility of Blacks ever achieving a better life status.

WhenCoverWhen1

While their is a hope for salvation with the coming of the millennium, it doesn’t make sense for this idea to be taken seriously with the light nature of the sheet music, especially compared the religiosity latent in Dauphin’s composition. Instead, the significance of both these pieces is that they deal with the idea not of blackface, but of whitewashing. What does this say about blackface performers that they would be willing to adopt blackface in order to sing about wishing they were white? Is it possible they were actually grateful for the life they were given based on their skin color? Or were they just rubbing it in?


Haydn: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm_b0188/#info

Dauphin: http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm_b0215/

What sells sheet music?

Have you ever noticed that many ragtime tunes sound the same? Listen to the following two clips for their similar harmonic motion/progressions, the similarity in rhythmic syncopation/complexity, and form. Each have a general intro and short repeated sections, which unless you have become very familiar with the tune are very hard to remember.

The Felicity Rag:

felicityrag

The Ragtime Goblin Man:

ragtimegoblin

How is it possible that publishing companies could sell something so similar sounding and make it popular? It is clear that the Felicity Rag’s cover draws on minstrel like, simian caricatures, while the Ragtime Goblin Man has an enticing cover with a devil-like character controlling two musicians who according to the lyrics will get caught by the goblin and be made to join his ragtime band. Even thought the tunes’ striking similarity make them seem unmarketable, they have been made unique and sensationalized by their evocative front cover art and titles/lyrics. Publishers, composers, and artists who could appeal to the popularity of minstrelsy, the exotic, or the romantic, had successful marketing strategies for popular music. On one hand, it is problematic to have popular tunes, that “represent” different meanings, sound the same because there is a whole lot more complexity to music across cultural/racial/imaginative boundaries. On the other hand, it would be inappropriate to put a minor mode or augmented second in the ragtime tune that is named for Jewish culture or another Other as was done in Schultzmeier Rag, a Yiddish novelty.172.106.000.webimage

Now, thinking about today’s popular music, with similar harmonic progressions, rhythmic variations, and subjects, the marketing strategies really haven’t changed that much. When you think about the image sold with the music, whether it is the caricatured lifestyle of a celebrity, or the sensational lyrics, today’s popular music continues these successful marketing strategies at the expense of perpetuating problematic stereotypes.