Ancestors of American Music

Although the tenets & findings of the Yale Seminar on music education in 1963 or the Tanglewood Symposium in 1967 paint a portrait of the foundational philosophies that shaped and formed a justification for music education for roughly the past 100 years, it is difficult to isolate the cultural and social milieu of any particular era of the United States from a recursive idea about the role of music education in schools and society.

Is it unimaginable to consider that music education was made available to predominantly middle class, suburban communities? What socially affluent demographic household had the opportunity and resources to gather around the radio and experience the NBC Music Appreciation Hour of Walter Damrosch? Perhaps, these groups of people who might identify and feel a connection to the music composed of primarily European composers of the classical and romantic periods of the western canonic repertoire. Interestingly, In the MENC Tanglewood Symposium declaration titled Music in American Society, proclamation 6 states that “the music education profession must contribute its skills, proficiencies, and insights toward assisting in the solution of urgent social problems as in the “inner city” or other areas with culturally deprived individuals (Choate, Fowler, Brown, Wersen, 1967, p. 2). Should we take this aim to mean that culturally deprived individuals were devoid of an Italian opera or one of the nine classic Beethoven symphonies?

Quite possibly in these “culturally deprived” communities “you have black musicians thinking about how to move not only music forward, but American culture forward. Thinking about how [these] instruments can do other things besides make what we think of as Western European classical music” (Morris, 2019). Over fifty years after the Tanglewood Symposium an essay by Randall Allsup’s “begins with the seemingly innocuous claim that music is a reflection of the culture that produces it, but by examining two strongly contrasting American musical practices he asks us, in effect, “Of what kind of culture is America’s music a record?” (Bowman, 2009, p. 7).


Morris, W. (Presenter) & Mills, A, Brown, A (Producer). (2019, September 6). The Birth of American Music [Podcast]. Retrieved from

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