grayscale photo of people holding assorted music instruments

A Musical History Of Classic American Music

American music is a melting pot, drawing influences from across the globe. Large-scale immigration from Europe introduced folk and Negro spirituals, respectively.

At that time, critics such as Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland upheld a dominant aesthetic which placed emphasis on compositional ingenuity; that was why critics like them so greatly underestimated George Gershwin and Charles Ives.

Native American Music

As early as the 1700s, Native American popular music first began emerging alongside their folklore and traditional songs. By the 1990s, popular groups like Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree), Joanne Shenandoah (Oneida), and Joy Harjo (Creek) had achieved international renown – with songs incorporating indigenous melodies or emphasizing unique Native styles often with modern influences like jazz or bluegrass influences.

Native American music’s history can be explored using archaeological, ethnographic, and European explorer records. Although reconstructing Native peoples’ musical lives during the 1700s is impossible, some generalizations can be made about their musical concepts and values such as ownership and creative expression, musical events structure etc. Although the degree to which people express these concepts varies among communities, the patterns remain evident through musical practice.

Early explorers provided evidence of how music played an integral role in ceremonies. For instance, in 1535 Spanish explorer Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were welcomed at a Caddo ceremony near Texas by native people shouting, clapping their thighs, and rattle gourd-and-pebble rattles. By 1718 Fray Francisco de Celiz wrote that Caddo men and women sang so harmoniously at a welcome ceremony that their voices almost seemed to merge into one voice.

Song is one of the primary means of communicating with supernatural powers and producing specific results like rain, victory in battle or healing the sick. Traditional and medicinal songs have often been passed down from generation to generation while ceremonial or medicine songs may include complex forms that incorporate both word- and vocable-based meanings as well as historical events or modern fables into their text.

Contemporary Native American composers have composed an expansive repertoire that ranges from symphonies and ballets, through ballets, chamber music, choral works, film scores and film scores, to revitalizing traditional forms such as dance drumming flute and chant. Testament led by Chuck Billy of Mohawk descent has received considerable criticism over their use of “The Crownless King,” an interpretation by many fans as an allusion to American government policies towards Native peoples.

European Music

American colonization by Europeans during the 1700’s introduced a variety of folk music, such as drinking songs, theater songs and ballads. West African slaves brought with them music instruments such as drums, string instruments similar to banjos and polyrhythmic call-and-response vocals reminiscent of call and response vocals from their homelands. Over time regional traditions were blended into American music through technological innovations like wax cylinder recorders, phonographs, juke boxes and the motion picture camera which accelerated musical cross fertilization further.

The 19th century marked an era when traditional and classical music in America first gained widespread acceptance. Popular and religious songs passed down through generations as well as patriotic and ballad songs from Civil War-era troops provided a foundation for American musical composition that still thrives today. Many American composers began making their mark at Tin Pan Alley which emerged during this era as an avenue where musicians could earn an income creating and publishing songs that sold.

American publishers weren’t profitable publishers of symphonies or chamber music; however, piano works, songs and small-scale choral pieces sold well enough to enable American editions of major nineteenth century European composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn to be created in America. This collection represents these composers well while also including works performed by popular pianists and singers such as Stephen Heller, Moriz Moskowski Paolo Tosti Franz Abt as well as American pianists composing in American composer editions reimagined in American editions from European composers as Beethoven, Schubert Schumann and Mendelsssohn are well represented as well as American pianists such as Stephen Heller Moriz Moskowski Paolo Tosti & Franz Abt.

Light European music was also immensely popular in America, and this collection boasts an abundance of examples from composers like Johann Strauss Jr. (in addition to Offenbach, Waldteufel and Lecocq). Also included here are medley overtures, potpourris, waltzes and piano versions of popular operettas – an extensive library.

African Music

Traditional African societies view music as an integral component of daily life. There is no concept in these societies similar to what exists in Western countries of so-called art music; music is seen more as an activity, sometimes played by groups known as griots who sing and play instruments; these may include those played beaten, shaken or plucked; rhythm is more important than melody or harmony and sounds produced are often characterized by their tone color (timbre) rather than tonality (actual pitches).

One hallmark of African music is an ostinato, or repeating pattern, repeated repeatedly throughout a piece. These repeating patterns give continuity and structure to the piece as well as providing opportunities for improvisation and spontaneity.

Africa-inspired music stands out with polyrhythms – an intricate combination of different rhythms – which sets it apart from Western music’s singular beat. Polyrhythms are supported by specially designed instruments which enable musicians to simultaneously contrasting rhythms; examples are the mbira, kalimba and kora; these don’t organize notes linearly from bass to treble but rather in two separated rank arrays for easier cross rhythm playing.

African music is defined by its call and response tradition, in which one singer or instrumentalist sings or plays a melody before another musician responds with their own. Another important technique in African music is “hocketing”, whereby instruments and voices alternate quickly between short groups of notes to produce lively musical exchanges.

Recently, African musicians have begun adopting popular American genres of music like hip-hop and R&B (my favorite while playing online poker on any of the sites mentioned over; often these new forms incorporate elements from older styles of African music into them.

William Grant Still combined African-American musical traditions and culture elements into the first ever American symphony composed with black cultural elements in 1931 at Rochester Philharmonic performance, considered a landmark in classical music history. Subsequent African-American composers, like Horace Silver, Count Basie and Duke Ellington would fuse traditional African American forms of music with jazz and other contemporary genres to produce their own signature styles of music.

Immigrant Music

Have you ever found yourself asking why American music reigns supreme worldwide? This success can be traced to America’s welcoming policies that welcome immigrants from every corner of the globe.

The initial wave of immigration into the United States brought with it various musical traditions that greatly impacted both popular and classical music. Immigrants brought drinking songs, theater songs and hymns from their homelands that blended in with native American music they encountered and formed the new American soundscape. Furthermore, their melodies and harmonies eventually formed part of its fabric.

Antonin Dvorak was one of many immigrant composers attempting to shed European influences and find their own “truly American” voice, drawing on experiences gained while learning the piano in Austria and Germany, traditional American country music and Western gallery music as sources for creating this “native American” style. Other immigrants took different approaches; Nathaniel Dett and Florence Price tried hard to incorporate elements of African American spirituals into their music even though neither were black themselves.

Immigrant music helped broaden the appeal of classical music and make it accessible to audiences who may otherwise have not been drawn in. For instance, black composer Florence Price included overt references to African American spirituals in My Wild Irish Rose in the 1930s which gained wider appeal among audiences and helped propel its success.

Music can serve as an avenue for local communities to gain insight into other parts of the world through cultural heritage (see Kasinitz and Allen’s papers) or for immigrant communities to reshape social boundaries within megacities ( Hernandez-Leon and Askoy’s papers).

History of American music is a long and complicated tale with numerous interweaved threads that could fill multiple books. But this guide to its key milestones can provide an overview of this great American art form over centuries. If you want to dive in deeper, UW School of Drama instructor and Seattle theatre legend David Armstrong offers an intriguing course called Broadway Musicals: How Immigrants, Queers, Jews and African Americans Shaped America’s Signature Art Form at Seattle Theatre Academy.