Master of Arts
The music appreciation and community music movements sought to popularize, democratize, and socialize art music. While technology made it possible for anyone to listen to art music, its full aesthetic and social benefits seemed accessible only to those with talent and education in performance. Music appreciation proponents claimed that teaching active listening made it possible for the less talented, and those who needed to be taught to prefer art music to have a full musical-aesthetic experience without any training in self-performance. Community music proponents argued that music’s full benefits came from music making and worked to find ways to prove to Americans that talent was not a barrier, and that everyone not only could sing, and make music, but wanted to do so. Examining this debate about the nature of the musical experience challenges perceptions of the early twentieth-century classical music community as purveyors of a homogeneous musical-social tradition.
Summary for Lay Audience
In the first half of the twentieth century, many in the United States believed that the aesthetic and social benefits of Western Classical Music should no longer be a privilege of the few, but rather should be made accessible to all. Though the phonograph, player piano, and radio now made it possible for anyone to listen to classical music, many Americans still chose to listen popular music instead, and in so doing, deprived themselves of classical music’s purported benefits. Yet, even for many of those who chose to use technology to listen to classical music, music’s full benefits still seemed inaccessible and monopolized by a small body of talented music makers capable of composing and performing at the highest levels. Offering a solution, music appreciation movement proponents claimed that by teaching people to listen to music in the “right” way, their lessons made it possible for the less talented, and those who needed to be taught to prefer classical over popular music to have a full musical experience without “wasting” their time on challenging piano and music theory lessons. At the same time, community music movement proponents argued that too much listening divorced from self-performance was dangerous because music’s full benefits came from the act of music making. These practitioners set out to find ways to prove to Americans that talent was no barrier to music making, and that every one of them not only could sing, and make music, but wanted to do so. Under the surface of these two movements was a debate not just about what people are capable of learning, but about what constituted the “best” musical experience, and what it meant to be a full participant in the classical music community. Examining this debate challenges perceptions of the early twentieth-century classical music community as purveyors of a timeless, and unchanging musical tradition.
Blimke, Andrew J., "A Comparative Analysis of the Early Twentieth-Century Music Appreciation and Community Music Movements in the United States" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9849.
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