Latest How Music Changed Show
How Music Changed Part 143-26
Previous How Music Changed Shows
How Music Changed Part 143-25
How Music Changed Part 143-24
How Music Changed Part 143-23
How Music Changed Part 143-22
episode date - October 13, 2006
In our previous edition of “How Music Changed,” we identified a path that led Europe’s musical tradition toward America’s shores. With today’s show, we will attempt to explain how America’s musical identity developed within, featuring songs by Stephen Foster, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson.
For starters, you can be quite confident that the first European settlers coming to the new world were not exactly enthralled with the ‘music’ they heard from Native Americans. In almost every regard, the average European looked upon Native Americans as savages, and “Indian” music certainly was no exception. By the same token, the Pilgrims and the Puritans didn’t exactly dance there way across the Atlantic, either. For the first few hundred years after European settlement, America was a cultural abyss, especially in regard to the arts. Those fleeing Europe to avoid religious persecution brought strong ideas about the intrinsic evil of music and dance, so America’s musical development happened very, very slowly. Initially, there were little more than the religious songs published in prayer books. Interestingly, these songs eventually infiltrated the slave culture, who were usually converted to Christianity by the white culture who claimed their ownership. Naturally, the Negro slaves incorporated the European themes to their own traditions, resulting in something quite different from the staid original source. The songs that developed from this cross-cultural blend were the Negro Spirituals that we discussed in Show #2.
Another semblance of musical development began once American Expansionism began in earnest. The Louisiana Purchase had a huge effect on our musical development in two different ways. First, it attracted renegades away from the strict atmosphere of established towns and the semi-enforced religiosity that went hand in hand with that type of existence. Expansion provided the opportunity for traveling shows, and vaudeville became a common form of entertainment, along with ‘camp meetings’. Second, America obtained New Orleans, a city settled by the French, and inhabited by a multitude of ethnicities whose attitude toward music and culture was diametrically opposed to the Puritan ethic. In New Orleans, singing and dancing were considered proper, normal behavior.
Stephen Foster, a northerner who wrote songs romanticizing the southern American way of life, became the first American to earn a living through songwriting. His ideas permeated our culture from almost every facet. Free men and slaves both identified with his pastoral songs of home and hardship, and in time, his music became ubiquitous. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a reasonably wealthy New Orleans resident who almost certainly was exposed to the music of Foster, was also exposed to the sights and sounds of Creole New Orleans. The Louisiana Purchase also happened to make Gottschalk a U.S. citizen. He published music that blended the French, Spanish, and African influences of New Orleans, adding a syncopated flair to his rhythms that made his music seem more contemporary than Foster’s. Some called it ‘banjo’ music, because it incorporated folk-styled rhythms. Others referred to his style of writing as “Cakewalk” music, because the songs served as excellent accompaniment for dance contests held by slaves, where the winner would be awarded with a cake.
Certainly, the music of Gottschalk (and, of course, Foster) would eventually find its way to the ears of a Texas-born African-American named Scott Joplin. Joplin taught himself how to play piano when a local white family allowed him access to their instrument. He eventually enrolled in the George R. Smith College for Negroes, studied formally, and began to publish his compositions. In time, his music ignited a craze for popular music that heretofore had been unknown in America. His syncopated style of piano-based melodic rhythms became known as Ragtime, and it provided the soundtrack for an entire era. Ragtime was addictive, and those who played it could easily get wrapped up in the excitement of its rhythmic ingenuity. Soon, players added their own ideas, improvising new phrases and rhythms that propelled the music even further. Some people disparagingly referred to this improvised style as ‘jass’ music, or ‘jazz’, implying a sexual underpinning to the driving force behind the rhythms (note to fans of early rock and roll - sound familiar?). A ‘swing’ feel that ‘bounced’ the notes caught on, and players like James P. Johnson took ragtime to entirely new places. By incorporating the feel of jazz onto the structural elements of ragtime, a style known as ‘stride’ rose to prominence, and it would provide much of the soundtrack for ‘the jazz age’.
Here is a list of songs from today’s show;
1) A Traditional Indian Pow-Wow – Renzel Last Horse and Kiyaksa
2) The Rivers of Babylon – The Melodians (excerpt)
3) Old Folks at Home – Paul Robeson (excerpt)
4) Oh Susannah! – The Byrds (excerpt)
5) Oh Susannah! – Taj Mahal (excerpt)
6) Camptown Races – Al Jolsen (excerpt)
7) The Banjo – Louis Moreau Gottschalk
8) Wallflower Waltz (a Cakewalk) – L.M. Gottschalk
9) Swipesy (a Cakewalk) – Scott Joplin (excerpt)
10) Solace – Scott Joplin
11) The Entertainer – Scott Joplin
12) Maple Leaf Rag (piano roll) - Scott Joplin (excerpt)
13) Maple Leaf Rag – Jelly Roll Morton
14) Carolina Shout – James P. Johnson
15) The Charleston – James P. Johnson
16) Meet De Boys on the Battlefront – Anders Osborne and “Big Chief” Monk Boudreaux
CLICK HERE to listen to the full show!