“Perilous Blessing of Leisure”: Music and Leisure in the United States, 1890–1945
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter provides an overview of the rationales, efforts, and results of public and private initiatives promoted by musicians, educators, government officials, businessmen, and other advocates, to encourage active music making as a leisure activity in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Following the establishment of professional organizations promoting community music in the early twentieth century, private industries began to sponsor musical activities as recreational for their workers. State, county, and municipal governments funded programs to create opportunities for active music making in the community. The Federal Music Project of the Works Projects Administration (1935–1939) employed thousands of musicians and music educators across the country to perform concerts, teach music classes, and create new musical organizations. The chapter concludes with a description of a survey of music making in the industrial city of Pueblo, Colorado, conducted by sociologist and music educator Max Kaplan.
In a famous scene from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man (1950), the impostor-bandmaster Harold Hill admonished the community of the fictional town, River City, Iowa, in 1912: “Either you’re closing your eyes to a situation that you don’t wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community.”1 In the number “Ya Got Trouble,” he warns the crowd about the afterschool activities of the young citizens of River City:
- One fine night they leave the pool-hall headin’ for the dance at the Arm’ry.
- Libertine men and scarlet women and ragtime,
- shameless music that’ll drag your son and your daughter
- to the arms of a jungle animal instinct mass-ster-i-a!
- Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground, trouble!
Hill concluded his sermon, “Gotta figger out a way to keep the young ones moral after school.” He eventually convinced the upstanding citizens of River City that the solution for all their “trouble” would be the formation of a marching band.
Since the late nineteenth century, a number of American institutions, representing education, government, business, and nonprofit organizations, have put forward initiatives to encourage music making as a worthwhile leisure-time activity, an alternative to the unhealthy leisure of “pool parlors, social clubs, dance halls, crapshooting, prize fighting, pleasure parks, corner-store activities and street-corner loafing” (Rosenstein 1917, 75). This chapter provides an overview of the rationales, efforts, and results of public and private initiatives promoted by musicians, educators, government officials, businessmen, and other advocates to encourage active music making as a positive leisure activity in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Although some (p. 242) advocates recommended all forms of music making as worthwhile, many advocates strove to encourage the performance of “good music,” in other words, music making following the practices of the Western European art music tradition.
Music and Leisure in the Nineteenth Century
As the United States entered the nineteenth century, the fledgling nation struggled to create a common culture. In his book High-Minded and Low-Down, music historian Nicholas Tawa (2000) described the breadth and ubiquity of musical activities encompassing all classes and ethnicities of Americans during the antebellum period (1781–1860):
A traveler could journey anywhere, from eastern city to wagon train to California settlement, and find music encouraged and practiced whenever possible. … Little by little, the musical usages in the newly settled lands acknowledged, by force of circumstances, a dependence and trust in cultural equity for all. By midcentury the young American democracy, too, had articulated shared concepts of cultural beliefs and sentiments, in harmony with its principles of political and social equality for all.
(Tawa 2000, 291)
It was also during this period that music education began to gain influence on the everyday musical practices of the American citizenry. In the American Musical Landscape, music historian Richard Crawford credited music educator Lowell Mason2 with expanding the role of music education beyond the purpose of the refinement of church music. According to Crawford, “Mason’s transforming insight was to recognize psalmody as part of a larger world of music, one of many worthwhile kinds of American music-making” (1993, 54).
Music-making, his insight taught him, was not only an indispensable way to enter a state of grace in worship. It was also a pleasurable human activity: a wholesome, enjoyable way to spend leisure time, and a gratifying social pastime. And a society growing more urban and middle class was beginning to find the accessibility of musical experience a more urgent matter than the devotional concerns of an earlier age. Teaching, Mason perceived, could be the key to accessibility. (54–55)
In addition to the expansion of music education, the music instrument and music publishing businesses began to flourish, providing the necessary tools for both the music educator and all varieties of the amateur musician. According to Tawa:
[P]ianos and melodeons by the thousands entered American parlors during the antebellum years. Failing these, there were violins, flutes, and guitars. As the years (p. 243) went by and demand increased, native manufacture of instruments grew tremendously and the price of instruments dropped significantly. Their acquisition became all the more easy. For the penniless, homemade banjos, reed pipes, fiddles, and percussion instruments answered.
Following the American Civil War (1861–1865), the popularity of professional wind bands, such as those led by Patrick S. Gilmore and the U.S. Marine Band led by John Philip Sousa, inspired both amateur and professional bands across the nation. According to Crawford, “a vast network of amateur groups, that like church choirs, were part of many Americans’ musical experience, as both performers and listeners. Nourished by the spread of music teaching, the growth of the music instrument business, and the appetite for music at local functions, the amateur band provided amusement for people in towns and villages” (2001, 455). Hazen and Hazen (1987, 43–60) described a wide variety of amateur bands active in the nineteenth century, including town bands, industrial bands, institutional bands, lodge bands, ethnic and national bands, women’s bands, and children’s bands.
The Progressive Era (1890–1920)
By the turn of the twentieth century, the rapid development of Tin Pan Alley and the rise of ragtime in the 1890s had transformed American musical culture.3 Music publishers printed millions of copies of sheet music favorites, such as “After the Ball” by songwriter Charles K. Harris and “Maple Leaf Rag” by ragtime pianist-composer Scott Joplin, mainly for the vast market of amateur musicians. Several technological innovations introduced during this era, including the phonograph and the pianola (player piano), also impacted the nature of music making and music listening. In his article “The Menace of Mechanical Music,” composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa feared that the recent proliferation of the phonograph and the pianola would have deleterious effects on the practice of amateur music making: “Under such conditions the tide of amateurism cannot but recede, until there will be left only the mechanical device and the professional executant” (Sousa 1906, 281). Sousa painted a picture of a country rife with amateur music making, aided by the guidance of a legion of music teachers.
There are more pianos, violins, guitars, mandolins, and banjos among the working classes of America than in all the rest of the world, and the presence of these instruments in the homes has given employment to enormous numbers of teachers who have patiently taught the children and inculcated a love for music throughout the various communities.
(Sousa 1906, 280)
First introduced in 1896 at Tony Pastor’s Café in New York by pianist Ben Harney, ragtime soon became a national craze. “Within weeks after Harney’s appearance at Pastor’s, ragtime became a fad. Performers (mostly white) were playing, dancing, and singing (p. 244) this new music supposedly in the style of the southern Negroes” (Waldo 1976, 28). Concurrent with the ragtime fad, Americans yearned to play the music for themselves, and soon music publishers and entrepreneurial music teachers were seeking ways to profit. According to Jasen and Tichenor:
As ragtime became part of the pop music scene, publishers had their own composers write easy-to-play rags for the amateur pianist. Ragtime was now big business, with schools like Axel Christensen’s which advertised “Ragtime Taught in Ten Lessons.” The large firms not only employed staff composers to turn it out, but bought rags from outsiders. The demand was so great that everyone had an opportunity to be published—amateur and professional alike.
Ragtime composer and pianist Alex Christensen succeeded in establishing and franchising a network of music schools using his instructional method to teach ragtime and popular music. Establishing the first Christensen School of Popular Music in Chicago in 1903, Christensen soon opened four branch schools in Chicago; by 1918, there were branch schools in over twenty-five cities. He published a series of books and a magazine, The Ragtime Review (1914–1918), containing instructional material for both amateur and professional pianists. Even though both amateur and professional musicians clamored to master ragtime, most music educators trained in the European art music tradition refused to accept the genre as worthy of serious musical study. When Christensen moved his teaching studio to the Fine Arts Building in Chicago, the traditional piano teachers scoffed and tried to evict him from the building. “Christensen had demeaned their profession by his advertising, they said, and he was committing the unpardonable sin of teaching ragtime. When the landlord refused to remove Christensen, the teachers tried harassment, standing in the hallway during his lessons, chanting the junk man’s cry, ‘Any rags? Bones? Old iron?’ ” (Jasen and Jones 2000, 125).
The bourgeoning of the musical instrument manufacturing industry led to promotional efforts to spur sales by encouraging active music making. Piano sales grew from 171,138 in 1900 to a range of 220,000 to 365,000 during the 1910s and early 1920s (Litterst and Malambri 1999, 9–10). There was also a growing demand for more affordable and portable stringed instruments such as the banjo, guitar, violin, double bass, mandolin, and ukulele; wind instruments used in town bands such as the clarinet, cornet, and trombone; and pocket-sized instruments such as the harmonica and kazoo.
Charles Milton Tremaine (1870–1963) had worked for several piano dealers between 1889 and 1916, including a stint as vice president of the profitable Aeolian Piano Company, manufacturers of the pianola from 1898 to 1909. In 1909, he took over ownership of his father’s company, Tremaine Piano Co., which went well until the company declared bankruptcy in early 1916. Later that year, Tremaine founded the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music with the cooperation of the National Piano Manufacturers Association and the Music Industries Chamber of Commerce. Active from 1916 until its dissolution in 1942, the bureau influenced the development of American musical culture, promoting community music, music in the home, music (p. 245) in industry, and public school music in a series of publications and events. Although his work contributed to musical instrument sales, Tremaine “insisted that he be allowed to serve all of music, not just the interests represented by those providing financial support” (Koch 1990, 269–269). As the director of the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music, Tremaine organized several nationwide activities in the late 1910s and throughout the 1920s, including music memory contests,4 state and national school band and orchestra contests, music weeks, and industrial music.5 The bureau, under Tremaine’s able leadership, also published a series of books on a range of subjects, including music therapy, community music, and college music programs.
Concurrent with the growth of the popular music industry was the establishment of major cultural institutions in major centers of commerce, such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, usually funded and supported by the local self-styled “aristocracy.” The founding of music conservatories, university schools of music, and nonprofit institutions supported the furtherance of the values of Western European art music, creating a cultural hierarchy between the “highbrow” music of the upper classes and the “lowbrow” music of the middle and lower classes.6 The development of this cultural hierarchy resulted in initiatives undertaken by professional educational organizations to promote a particular type of leisure music making rooted in the practices of the art music tradition. A number of educational and community-based organizations were founded during this period to help fund and promote active music making (as well as music listening and concert attendance) as a leisure activity, including the National Federation of Music Clubs (1898) and the Music Division of the National Federation of Settlements (1911). Other professional and trade organizations were instrumental in endorsing amateur music making as a leisure activity, such as the Music Teachers National Association (1876), the Department of Music of the National Education Association (1883), the National Association of Piano Dealers of America (1901)—which changed its name to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) in 1919—the Music Supervisors National Conference (1907), and the National Recreation Association (1906).
During the Progressive Era, the women’s club movement resulted in hundreds of organizations formed by women to create educational opportunities for women and to help alleviate some of the most pressing social problems of the time (Croly 1898; Gere 1977). “Wherever the public health, beauty or morality may be benefitted, there the Women’s Club is quick to find its opportunity. … Women have the leisure, at least all the leisure there is, and they may wisely use it to look about them and discover the ugly, the unwholesome and the unlovely,” one description explained (Ward 1906, 15). Women’s clubs raised money to build local libraries, establish settlement houses, and promote literature and music.
At the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Rose Fay Thomas (1852–1929), the wife of Theodore Thomas, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony, arranged for amateur women’s music clubs across the country to take part in the World’s Fair Congress of Musicians. Thomas was given the title of Honorary President of the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC), which was officially launched in 1898 in (p. 246) New York City. One of the primary goals of the organization was to promote and support American composers and performers. “Singing contests” were held between music club choruses, later to be expanded to festivals and choral competitions at state conventions. In 1905, the NFMC charter was amended to include men and men’s music clubs. During the next decade, state music club federations were formed. By 1935, the membership of the NFMC had grown to 500,000 members (Ottaway 1935).
The community music movement as it arose from the Settlement movement7 provided another impetus for amateur music making during the Progressive Era. Some of the first sites to include community music education were the late nineteenth-century settlement houses, beginning with the Hull House in Chicago in 1892. One purpose of the settlement house was to offer educational and recreational opportunities to immigrants living in impoverished and overcrowded urban communities. Johan Grolle of the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia emphasized the importance of amateur music making for all citizens including adult workers:
Music is a valuable recreational factor because it employs a high form of self-expression; it brings various groups and families together; it makes racial cleavages less visible; it opens new avenues of thought, and it gives the wage-earner something to look forward to after the day’s grind.
(Rosenstein 1917, 75–75)
By the mid-1920s, there were 143 community music schools in forty-one cities, the majority of these being departments of settlement houses (Schenck 1926, 27).
An important component of community music during this period was the organization of community singing. Frank Damrosch (1859–1937), born in Breslau, Germany, was the son of the violinist, conductor, and composer Leopold Damrosch. The Damrosch family immigrated to the United States in 1871, when Leopold was appointed conductor of the German opera in New York. In 1892, Frank Damrosch founded the People’s Singing Classes in New York, to offer affordable lessons to the community. In 1894, he established the People’s Choral Union, “whose purpose shall be the cultivation of the love of music among the working people” (Stebbins and Stebbins 1945, 171). Damrosch insisted that the governance of the organization would be shared by its primarily working-class membership of 500. The People’s Singing Classes continued to flourish and an outdoor concert in Central Park during the summer of 1896 drew over 50,000 people (178). Damrosch later founded the Institute for Musical Art in 1905, which merged with the Juilliard Graduate School to form the Juilliard School of Music in 1926. Damrosch served as the dean of the Juilliard School until 1933.
An early leader of the community music movement was music educator Peter Dykema (1873–1951). Dykema was the director of the music program at the Ethical Culture School in New York from 1901 to 1913, before becoming a professor of music at the University of Wisconsin and, later, chair of the music education department at Columbia University Teachers College. Dykema was also the founding editor of the Music Supervisors Journal in 1914 and was president of the Music Supervisors National (p. 247) Conference from 1916 to 1917. With a strong background as a vocalist and choral director, Dykema was one of the main promoters of the “community singing” movement. According to Dykema, “community music is socialized music; music, to use Lincoln’s phrase, for the people, of the people, and by the people” (1916, 218). In 1913, he was selected by the Music Supervisors National Conference (MSNC) as the committee chair to select twelve songs for group singing. The first pamphlet, published by C. C. Birchard, contained eighteen songs, including patriotic songs such as “America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” popular songs such as “My Old Kentucky Home” and “Swanee River,” folk songs such as “O How Lovely Is The Evening,” and hymns such as “Come Thou Almighty King” (Mark and Gary 2007, 285n1).
The patriotic fervor stirred up in the United States before and during World War I provided a boost to the community singing movement, and Dykema remained a tireless supporter of community singing. In 1917, the committee published an expanded songbook, 55 Songs and Choruses, declaring that “there has been such a remarkable development of group or community singing that the original eighteen songs are no longer adequate” (Dykema et al. 1917, Introductory Note). The songbook came out weeks before the United States declared war on Germany in April. Community singing played an important role during World War I, both in the military and in the factories, with the assistance of trained song leaders. In movie theatres, audiences would sing along to the projected words of patriotic and traditional songs (Mark and Gary 2007, 272–273). After the war, community singing continued to be a popular pastime activity. “There was a great deal of singing during the war, and with peace came a temporary reaction from what had been, in the public mind, a purely war-time activity,” Dykema explained. “That reaction subsided and Community Singing has been resumed with fresh interest and vigor” (Dykema et al. 1923, Preface).
The Jazz Age (1920–1929)
One of the programs that took shape during World War I and escalated in the 1920s was the establishment of National Music Week.8 As director of the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music, Tremaine had begun preparations for a Music Week in New York in 1917 but was unprepared to complete the project. In 1919, several cities, including Boise, Idaho, Dallas, Texas, Sharon, Pennsylvania, and St. Louis, Missouri, presented civic events dedicated to music. The first Music Week took place in New York City during the week of February 1–7, 1920, including “thousands of clubs, schools, churches, musical societies, industrial plants, settlements, theaters, motion-picture houses, and other institutions” (Tremaine 1925, 22). In 1923, the National Music Week Committee was formed to organize the annual events of National Music Week, beginning each year on the first Sunday in May. The committee was chaired by Otto Kahn, a banker and patron of the arts, with Tremaine serving as secretary and Kenneth S. Clark as assistant secretary. The president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, agreed to (p. 248) chair the Honorary Committee (38–39). Seven hundred and eighty American cities celebrated the first National Music Week, increasing to 2,012 cities in 1928 (Zanzig 1932, 9).
In 1925, sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Muncie, a small city in Indiana that they anonymized as “Middletown.” Clark Wissler (1929, v), the Curator of Anthropology for the American Museum of Natural History commented, “No one had ever subjected an American community to such scrutiny.” To the Lynds, Middletown represented a typical American small city. Using archival data from 1890 as the baseline for their study, the authors contrasted the cultural landscape of Middletown in the mid-1920s with similar activities in the previous generation. The Lynds found that more children from both working-class and business-class families were taking music lessons than in 1890, and they attributed this trend to “the muscularity injected into the music by jazz, the diffusion of instruments other than the piano, and the social and sometimes financial accompaniments of knowing how to ‘play’ ” (Lynd and Lynd 1929, 243). Working-class boys, they claimed, were motivated to play the musical instruments favored in dance orchestras.
The energetic jazz aggregation of four or five boys, featuring the easily learned saxophone, presents a new and relatively distinguished occupation by which sons of working class parents are seeking in some cases to escape from the industrial level. The city has several of these small groups seeking engagements playing for dances. (244)
The Lynds noted decreased adult participation in community music making in 1925 in comparison to 1890: “Music for adults has almost ceased to be a matter of spontaneous, active participation and has become largely a passive matter of listening to others. The popular singing societies of the nineties have disappeared, with one working class exception” (Lynd and Lynd 1929, 245). The authors concluded, “when great artists or dance orchestras are in the cabinet in the corner of one’s living room or ‘on the air,’ the ability to ‘play a little’ may be in increasingly less demand” (247).
Community music advocates looked to Europe’s governmental support of the arts for rationales to encourage similar funding in the U.S. at the national, state, county, and municipal levels. In 1924, it was reported that 310 cities in the U.S. were each contributing an annual average of over $5,700 for musical activities. The National Recreation Congress that year adopted a resolution proposed by Peter Dykema, “that the various municipal governments should, in the expansion of their recreation programs, give increasing attention to the question of municipal appropriation which shall aid in meeting the city’s growing needs in the providing of such activities as open-air band concerts, a community orchestra, municipal organ recitals, a civic auditorium, community singing, civic opera or other musical advantages which may be needed to enrich that city’s life” (Clark 1925, 16).
The city of Baltimore was the first to have a municipal department of music, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra being the first city-sponsored orchestra. In 1917, Mayor James Preston asserted, “That the people of Baltimore and all other American Cities are entitled to municipal Symphony Orchestras, Municipal opera, Municipal organizations (p. 249) which provide for individual aesthetic development, just as they are entitled to municipal service in education, sanitation, and public safety” (Human 1917, 29). During the next two decades, the city sponsored a municipal band, a community orchestra, community singing, community dancing, and a separate band, orchestra, and chorus for the African American population (Disharoon 1980).
The industrial city of Flint, Michigan, was another to sponsor community music activities. The population of Flint had exploded during the 1910s with the development of the automobile industry. By 1917, more than 14,000 workers were employed in the Buick, Dort, and Chevrolet plants and ancillary industries. The Flint Community Music Association was created in 1917, funded by the Board of Education, the Manufacturer’s Association, and the Board of Commerce (Spurgeon 1994, 30). The first leader of the organization, George Oscar Bowen, organized Sunday afternoon community sings, with attendance sometimes reaching 1,000 participants (32). The Association also organized noontime factory sings at the automobile plants, which “often included as many as one thousand men and women on their noon break.” These sings became so popular that factory choruses began competing against each other (33). According to Spurgeon, “The CMA watched over Flint’s music for years. When its protective influence disappeared, so did much of Flint’s music” (42).
In 1921, Iowa became the first state to pass a law authorizing municipal band funding. The law enabled Iowan cities with a population below 40,000 people to levy a tax for the support of municipal bands (Clark 1925, 44–47). The Iowa Band Law was soon followed by similar laws passed in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin (Clark 1925, 44–61).
In addition to public initiatives, private industries sponsored music making as a recreational activity for their workers. According to Tremaine, recreational music benefited both the profitability of business and the well-being of the workers:
When conclusive testimony as to the practical value of music in industry is given by successful business men in a wide variety of industries, music acquires the status of an economic asset entitled to the serious consideration of all business men. When William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, makes the statement that “music is a friend of labor, for it lightens the task by refreshing the nerves and spirit of the worker and makes work pleasanter as well as profitable,” this makes music in industry of direct interest to every labor leader and to the great body of workingmen.
(Tremaine 1929, v)
In a national survey of 679 companies, Clark (1929, 204–212) found that there were 911 active musical groups: 182 orchestras, 176 choruses, and 133 plants with community singing. He estimated that approximately 50,000 workers participated in musical activities at their workplaces. The survey included an assortment of companies such as railroads (115), department stores (89), steel manufacturers (27), miscellaneous manufacturers (107), electric companies (38), textile companies (30), and oil refineries (21). There were (p. 250) an assortment of instrumental groups including ukulele clubs (15), harmonica bands (10), drum corps (6), mandolin clubs (4), and saxophone quartets (2). Vocal ensembles included choruses: mixed (76), men’s (68) and women’s (34); quartets: men’s (30), mixed (5), colored (4), and women’s (3); and Christmas carolers (11). Miscellaneous musical activities included operettas (21), minstrel shows (12), and musical shows (9).
Augustus Delafield Zanzig, director of music for the Brookline public school system, was chosen by the Playground and Recreation Association to direct a nationwide study of community music. Zanzig began his survey in October 1928. Zanzig emphasized the importance of the quest for musical excellence for the true amateur musician: “Leisure may mean merely freedom from outer compulsion, merely ‘time off’; but for the amateur it means for something, freedom for inner, lasting propulsions and the happiness rather than mere pleasure that these can bring” (1930, 29). Zanzig envisioned a time when cities and towns across the nation would have “at least one good civic chorus, a symphony orchestra and a band, and a company of amateurs presenting a good light opera now and then; and not only these, but also string quartettes and other small groups of men and women, young and old, from the shops, mills, offices, and professions, singing or playing excellent music as well as they can as a means of recreation” (29). According to Zanzig, the attainment of these objectives would necessitate the employment of recreational leaders who would possess a combination of professional musicianship, recreational leadership abilities, and pedagogical experience (33).
In the Foreword to Zanzig’s Music in American Life (1932), composer and Columbia University professor Daniel Gregory Mason attested to the timeliness of Zanzig’s survey and decried American musical culture dominated by the mass media and the professionalization of musical performance:
Such a survey was greatly needed because our American musical culture has always been too passive, too dependent on specialized professionalism, too without roots in the every-day life and feelings of our people, and has of late become so unbalanced in this way that one sometimes wonders whether it can survive at all. In 1929, for example, America purchased only 92,000 pianos—or 238,000 less than it had purchased in 1909—while it spent 890 million dollars on the passive and vicarious delights of radio. How can such steadily diminishing individual initiative in the production of music be compensated? Obviously only through the means Mr. Zanzig studies: through amateur groups—in schools, colleges, settlements, playgrounds, art museums, summer camps, public libraries, and above all in homes. Only through the activities of such groups can music, atrophied and mummified as it tends to be by exclusive professionalism, remain a living art among us.
(Zanzig 1932, v)
Zanzig looked back on the musical developments of the 1920s and wondered if there were still resources for the advancement of community music during the Great Depression. “But the whole outer structure of our prosperity has crashed beneath us like Sinbad’s ship, and no one will venture to say, when, if ever, it can be recovered. What is the use of proposing musical developments now? Should not all the labor and money asked for them rather go to physical relief of the unemployed?” (Zanzig 1932, 543). (p. 251) Presaging the rationale for the ambitious federal programs introduced by the Roosevelt administration in 1935, Zanzig asked:
What would be the effect if such a chorus as the Bethlehem Bach Choir or any other good sort in every city could attract many of the unemployed to its ranks now, when rehearsals could be held in the day time and frequently. … Group instruction in singing and playing might also be offered, and orchestras, bands and smaller playing or singing groups be formed—all without charge, and instruments loaned.
The Great Depression (1930–1940)
Although musical instrument and record sales plummeted in the years following the stock market crash of 1929, amateur music making and leisure activities continued to grow during the years of the Great Depression. According to Snyder:
For leisure enjoyment, enforced or otherwise, there were radio programs to listen to and movies to attend. There were parks and playgrounds, family picnics, neighborhood parties, amateur sports, and games. For those with dancing feet there were “big bands.” There was church on Sunday for the faithful. And with changing times ordinary folk were beginning to sing again because there was something to sing about. True, there were war clouds in Europe but America was at peace.
Sunderman stated that, “in 1933 at least 15,000,000 people in America could play some musical instrument.” He further stated that of these, 9,000,000 could play the piano and 2,000,000 more were studying the violin (1971, 270).9 Clarke (1935) observed, “As a nation, we have recently—almost suddenly it seems—become aware that music belongs somewhere in our lives. Immense energy, both professional and voluntary, and private and public money, are being lavished on musical undertakings” (v–vi).
In a study prepared for the National Recreation Association, Eugene Lies hoped that participation in school music activities would lead to greater adult community music participation:
One next thinks of the great possibilities for enrichment of community life from the successive waves of graduates who come out of school possessed of this musical training. If they could somehow be marshaled into permanent organizations for continuance of their singing and playing, what a great asset they would be in American life.
(Lies 1933, 28)
Audre Stong (1897–1976) joined the music faculty at Pasadena Junior College in southern California in 1929 and took over the leadership of the college marching band, known as the Bulldog Band (Krikun 2014, 141–141). For his master’s thesis at the University of (p. 252) Southern California School of Education, “The Relation of Music as Taught in Junior College to Certain Leisure-Time Activities of Students” (1934), he studied a cohort of 232 students taking eight classes at Pasadena Junior College. Stong investigated the relationship between enrollment in junior college music instruction and participation in various leisure activities, such as going to movies and concerts, listening to radio programs, reading books, newspapers, and magazines, as well as extracurricular musical activities. He also investigated the difference in the selection of leisure activities between students who chose active participation in music (band, orchestra, glee club) and students who engaged in passive music listening classes such as music appreciation. Stong pointedly warned of the dangers of spending leisure time on immoral activities:
A very large proportion of the inmates of America’s famous prison, Sing-Sing, are there because of a misuse of leisure. Records show that 98 per cent never belonged to a boys’ club. Time spent with trashy magazines, listening to worthless broadcasts, dancing in a vile atmosphere, and most dangerous of all, attending moving pictures, turns precious new-found leisure into one of the gravest perils of modern civilization. Radios and moving pictures are among the richest of present-day blessings but by perversion they may really be changed into organized agencies for crimes against society.
(Stong 1934, 13)
Stong concluded, “the study of music in the upper level of the secondary school10 does tend to raise the selection of certain leisure-time activities of the students” (1934, 85). He also concluded that “studying music in active class work does more to improve the selection of musical activities than does the studying of music in passive appreciation classes” (85). He recommended, “Music should be taken from its elite, purely cultural place in the school curriculum and made a practical, usable subject for everyone” (86), and, “Every student should take music courses in the upper level of secondary education, and these courses should be classes in participation. Where students do not play instruments they should enter choral, a cappella, or glee club classes” (86–87).
During the height of the Great Depression, the federal government intervened to create economic opportunities for artists and arts educators. As an initiative of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to combat mass unemployment, the government-funded Federal Music Project of the Works Projects Administration (1935–1939) employed thousands of musicians and music educators across the nation. The director of the Federal Music Project, Nikolai Sokoloff, formerly the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, reported that, nine months into the project, 15,000 musicians and music teachers had been employed by the government (1937, 7). The project had three objectives: “first, in the presentation of the finest music, foreign and American, at little or no cost to the public; second, in the conducting of instructional classes in singing, instrumental playing, and music appreciation; third, in research aimed at broadening knowledge about music in America” (Tawa 1984, 108). Although the program was national in scope, projects were woven into local music cultures, with the result that “interest in music—making it, learning about it, and hearing it—grew tremendously” (109). With (p. 253) impending war in Europe, and faced with the objections of conservative politicians and music businesses who felt threatened by the low-cost alternatives of the Federal Music Project, the Roosevelt administration terminated the program in August 1939. In its brief existence, the Federal Music Project had provided music instruction to 15 million people and presented over 200,000 performances to 150 million people (118).
Willem van de Wall11 (1887–1953) was one of the founders of music therapy in the United States following World War I. Throughout his career, van de Wall studied the role of music as a positive influence in various institutions, including hospitals and prisons. In Music in Institutions (1936), he declared, “[J]azz music should be considered a constructive musical activity for institutions.” He believed that popular music would have a healthy impact on the prisoners: “To play, sing, dance, and listen to jazz often means to an inmate that he is keeping up with the times” (179–180). Van de Wall further suggested that popular music be accepted as a legitimate leisure-time activity:
Many parents and teachers of music in the United States have observed that, in spite of their efforts to teach a knowledge of the traditional art music, children will turn to popular music in their leisure time. This trend must not be belittled. It indicates that there is something in that music which expresses and satisfies what lives in the hearts of the people.
In Music of the People (1938), van de Wall described various community music projects, sponsored by city, county, and state governments and universities. Van de Wall surveyed community music in a variety of settings: urban, suburban, and rural. He noted a particular need for music in rural communities: “the need in rural areas for the inspiration that the arts offer is fully as great as in the cities, especially during the winter months when farm folk have many leisure hours” (van de Wall 1938, 16). Echoing Zanzig’s call a decade earlier for recreational leaders, van de Wall suggested training professional musicians for community music leadership: “The time has come when vocational music institutions, like the Curtis, the Juilliard, and the Eastman schools and the various conservatories of music, large and small, must give attention to the problem of training music leaders equipped not only as artists but also as personalities and community workers ready to meet the cultural needs of the community” (24).
World War II (1941–1945)
The prelude to and the entrance of the United States into World War II in December 1941 brought about significant changes for the role of music in society. Federal funding for the arts was discontinued and available resources were redirected to the war effort. According to Tawa (1984): “No longer would musicians need employment. If not in music, there would be plenty of work available elsewhere for all who needed it” (118). As the nation focused on the war effort, music educators had to justify the importance (p. 254) of music, often highlighting the social role of music instead of aesthetic enrichment. Sociologist and music educator Max Kaplan (1911–1998)12 founded the music department at Pueblo Junior College in southern Colorado in 1937 and was the only music faculty member until his departure in 1945. Kaplan stressed the socializing role of music in the postwar environment.
The dramatic immediacy of the war and the crying need it has brought for scientifically and technically trained youth has crowded from the popular mind the abiding necessity for training our young people through the social sciences and the arts for crucial peace-building and peace-preserving years ahead, with the need they will bring for social understanding, economic wisdom, and the highest type of unselfish citizenship.
Kaplan believed that the “immediate task and salvation” of the music program was to “become a vital part of community life” (1943, 374). Inspired by the previous sociological studies of Lynd and Lynd (1929) and van de Wall (1938), Kaplan collaborated with his music students to gain “an intimate knowledge of the music facilities and agencies in the community. The school men, the radio, the church choirs, the librarian, the music stores, the musician’s union, the symphony orchestras, book stores—all of their musical activities, their aims, their contributions, their method of operation, their personnel, their problems” (1943, 372). He divided his study into four categories: (1) Agencies of Musical Education, including public and private K–12 schools, colleges, and community music programs; (2) Agencies of Musical Production, including bands, orchestras, vocal groups, and other music making activities; (3) Agencies of Musical Consumption, including live concerts, radio, recordings, and jukeboxes; and (4) Agencies of Musical Circulation, including libraries and music merchandisers.
Pueblo was an industrial city dominated by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s steel mill. Drawing from the Lynds’ study of Middletown, Kaplan sought to take a snapshot of a southwestern city’s musical culture. According to Kaplan, there were forty-one active private music teachers in Pueblo, although only thirteen of those responded to his survey. The thirteen teachers responding taught a total of 294 students (145 female and 94 male), with piano and organ being the most common instruments taught (185), followed by the accordion (31), violin (26), cornet (16), clarinet (10), and trombone (6). Kaplan also found an equal distribution of students coming from households where the primary occupations were professional, trades, office, unskilled, and farmers (Kaplan 1944, 20–20).
Kaplan lauded the two amateur band organizations active in Pueblo at the time for their role in providing a positive leisure time activity. The Phillips Crusaders Boys Military Band was founded in 1926 by D. Z. Phillips, the proprietor of a local music store. Originally comprising twelve boys, membership grew to 325 by 1944. The goal of the Crusaders Band was “character development,” “substituting a supervised and constructive ‘gang’ for the lawless and destructive street gang” (Kaplan 1944, 32). The Stillman Lassies Band was established in 1930 and grew from its original number of twenty-five (p. 255) girls to a total of fifty-two in 1944. In 1939, a drum corps began to perform together with the band. Kaplan concluded, “We feel that this type of activity for girls of high school age is of great value. It offers a constructive substitute for much of the movie and romantic type of experience which girls frequently grasp as a source of vicarious experience and adventure” (34).
Kaplan painted a bleak picture of the musical culture of Pueblo. “An outstanding weakness of Pueblo musical life is the little opportunity in adult groups for creating music. Such opportunity can take place in the formal school-type activity, or informally in the home or club” (1944, 149). He suggested several initiatives to improve Pueblo’s musical culture, including the expansion of evening adult education programs, municipal music programs in the parks and playgrounds, greater support and participation for the local orchestra and adult community chorus, greater cooperation between the city’s private studio music teachers, encouragement of chamber music in the home and neighborhood, and the establishment of a community music organization similar to Flint’s Community Music Association (167).
After leaving his teaching position at Pueblo Junior College in 1945, Max Kaplan continued to explore the relationship between music and leisure and worked on numerous projects to establish amateur music making as a community activity. In Foundations and Frontiers of Music Education, Kaplan concluded:
[I]n itself leisure is neither a blessing or a curse; it is a phenomenon of our time and economic-social structure that reaches deeply into personal and group destiny and purpose … only as creative, substantive directions are given to the leisure that is now an increasingly major part of our lives can we find our new sources of values.
In a review of the historical currents of the community music movement,13 community music scholar Lee Higgins attributed the gradual demise of the governmental and philanthropic support for amateur music making in the postwar era in the United States to the repressive policies of the Cold War and McCarthyism. Higgins concluded, “From an American perspective, community music as a strategy for human development, democracy and change was eluded [sic] to from the 1920s until around the 1950s but lost visibility and momentum soon after” (2012, 23).
Inspired by European community music projects and research, the early years of the twenty-first century have witnessed a resurgence of interest in community music and music making as a lifelong leisure time activity in the United States. As in the early initiatives discussed in this chapter, government and nongovernmental organizations, trade groups, professional societies, music businesses, and educational institutions continue to impact policies affecting the development of American musical culture and the role (p. 256) of music making as a leisure activity. According to Higgins, “historical perspectives are to be understood as a key component to the future providing pathways, counterpaths, flight lines, and openings towards events to come” (2012, 175). With an eye on the past, several questions come to mind. Are our current goals different from the goals of the American educators and administrators who promoted music making as a worthwhile leisure activity in the first half of the twentieth century? What are the best practices of programs aimed at promoting active music making in the community? What types of music should receive institutional support? Have certain musical cultures and minority groups been marginalized by the patronage of art music? Viewing the past with a fresh perspective, we can begin to assess current and future institutional initiatives to support music making as a rewarding leisure activity, while ensuring that the results are democratic and beneficial to the greater society.
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(1.) The chapter title is taken from an editorial that appeared in the magazine Etude 50 (November 1932), 763.
(2.) Lowell Mason (1792–1872), an American hymn composer and music educator, cofounded the Boston Academy of Music in 1833. He is also credited with the beginning of formal music education in the American public school system, introducing music education to the public school system of Boston in 1838.
(3.) The Progressive Era refers to a period in the history of the United States when a variety of social and political movements were formed to address social problems resulting from rapid industrialization, immigration, and urbanization.
(4.) Music memory contests were popular in the United States from around 1920 to 1932. Contestants were ranked on their ability to aurally identify compositions from the classical music repertoire; see Keene (2009, 280–286).
(7.) For a contemporary perspective on the relationship between the American community-music movement beginning in the early twentieth century and the international community-music movement of the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, see Yerichuk (2014).
(8.) The Jazz Age was also known as the “Roaring Twenties,” a period in the United States characterized by prosperous growth of industry and wealth and a relaxation of cultural taboos. A new African American musical style, jazz, was exported from New Orleans and became a symbol at the time of youthful rebellion and hedonism.
(9.) Sunderman cites R. C. Rolfing, president of the National Piano Manufacturers Association, as the source for this information.
(10.) The “upper level of the secondary school” to which Stong is referring was equivalent to the first two years of higher education in the Pasadena school system.
(13.) For an overview of the historical foundations of community music in North America, see Bush and Krikun (2013). Two recent books provide an excellent introduction to community music research: Higgins (2012) and Veblen et al. (2013). The International Journal of Community Music is devoted to current research and practice in community music. Higgins also explores the different approaches and ideologies separating the early community music movement in the United States and the more recent community arts movement in Europe.