The Return of How I Spent My Summer Fellowship: Walter Damrosch

Walter Damrosch. Bain News Service, date unknown. Prints and Photographs Division.

This is the last of a series of blog posts by this year’s Pruett Fellows. The following post is by Catherine Hughes, Graduate Student in Musicology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For my independent research as one of the 2010 Pruett Fellows from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I chose to study Walter Damrosch’s role in the early years of the music appreciation movement in the United States. Damrosch committed himself to exposing his audiences to both European “masterworks” and new compositions by American composers. For a brief time, he acted as the impresario of his own opera company in the 1880s which made tours throughout the United States. Damrosch also served as a conductor with the Metropolitan Opera Company in the 1890s, and as the conductor of the New York Symphony Society from 1885 until the Society’s merger with the New York Philharmonic in 1928. He conducted the premieres of George Gershwin’s American in Paris and his piano concerto, as well as works by Deems Taylor, Charles Loeffler, and John Alden Carpenter.

At the end of the 1920s, Damrosch extended his efforts to expose American audiences to “the best music” beyond the concert hall. He began conducting regular radio broadcasts of classical music. In 1927, NBC presented a series of lecture-concerts with Damrosch conducting, and in 1928, Damrosch began his Music Appreciation Hour for children on the same network. The MAH continued until the spring of 1942. Damrosch designed his broadcasts for children so that they might be part of a school’s regular curriculum, and NBC produced an instructor’s manual and student notebooks for each season to be used in the classroom. The purpose of these broadcasts, which were divided into four series designed for different age groups, was to “open up the vast and important field of music to the younger generation… and to initiate them into the beauties of the works of the great music masters” (Instructor’s Manual for Music Appreciation Hour 1929-1930, Broadcasting Materials, Box 15, Folder 1, Damrosch-Blaine Collection).

For this project, I worked primarily with the Damrosch-Blaine Collection. I am interested in what pieces Damrosch programmed as part of his presentation of “masterworks” that would form the basis of music appreciation for his audiences, as well as how he used these pieces to illustrate and explain broader concepts. The transcripts of Damrosch’s broadcasts, his correspondence, and the instructor’s manuals and student notebooks in the Damrosch-Blaine collection reveal an important connection between the works Damrosch chose to present and his methods. Damrosch programmed primarily Romantic orchestral pieces. He used Beethoven’s fifth and ninth symphonies and Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tristan each year, and he regularly programmed works by Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. At the same time, he omitted later composers, arguing that “children should not be confused by experiments. Only that which has been proven worthy should be used to build the foundation of their knowledge.” The instructor’s manuals and student notebooks in the collection reflect Damrosch’s continuing process of refining his methods for teaching his radio students. Damrosch had a systematic approach to teaching informed listening. He began with recognition of the instruments in the orchestra and the broad categories like “fun in music” or “fairy tales in music.” He illustrated these broad categories of music with different pieces each year. For the more advanced students, Damrosch presented listening for complex forms and historical styles. The pieces he programmed for these series were more consistent from year to year.

In addition to the Damrosch-Blaine Collection, I also worked with papers in the Damrosch-Mannes and the Damrosch-Tee Van Collections, as well as the NBC History Files held in the Recorded Sound Division. The NBC Collection includes recordings of many of Damrosch’s broadcasts and internal reports on the successes and weaknesses of the MAH.

Happy Birthday Prez and Bird

Today, as will happen every other Friday for the next several months, additional batches of photographs from the William P. Gottlieb Collection have been uploaded to Flickr . This week’s set is particularly varied, with classic portraits of Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Tommy Dorsey,  Doris Day, Nat “King” Cole, and Perry Como.  In addition to these portraits are […]

Sherman’s March to the Sea

The following blog post is by Mark Zelesky, recent graduate of the School of Library and Information Science, Louisiana State University. During our internship, my colleagues and I in the Junior Fellows internship discovered several items that highlight the diversity of materials collected by the Library of Congress. For ten weeks, we processed materials from […]

Leonard Bernstein – Defining the American Classical Music Experience

The following blog post was written by Daniel Walshaw, Music Division. Wild, passionate, perspiring, and, above all, human – words not typically associated with a man clad in a tuxedo performing great works of the classical repertoire. However, it is nearly impossible to describe the extroverted music-making of Leonard Bernstein without using at least one of […]

Eighty-five Years of Live Music and Counting

My colleague on the Library of Congress blog just waxed eloquent on the storied history of the Coolidge Auditorium.  I’ve seen some great shows on that hallowed stage; although I’ve gravitated to the jazz shows, like Cecil Taylor and  James Carter, The Mingus Big Band and John Zorn’s Masada, I’ve also spent memorable evenings there […]

Happy Birthday Count Basie

Pianist, bandleader, composer, William “Count” Basie was born on this day in 1904. Some of the greatest names in jazz passed through his band, from tenor legend Lester Young to singers like Bille Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, and Joe Williams, just to name three. Basie’s career spanned fifty years and did not shy from whatever music happened […]

Before the Flood

The Mid-Atlantic United States has been hit with a series of furious rainstorms this summer, and this gray day in Washington is no exception. We hope that instead of walking between raindrops and dodging cupcake-sized hail, you, gentle reader,  choose to stay inside, cuddle up by the Steinway and sing a few songs –  just […]

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

This post is excerpted from an article written by James Wolf, Digital Conversion Specialist, Music Division. Samuel Coleridge-´╗┐Taylor (named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge) was born in Croydon, England on August 15, 1875.  Coleridge-Taylor studied with Charles Villiers Stanford, and at the suggestion of Edward Elgar, was commissioned to write a piece for a […]

This is Your Lucky Day!

Summer means baseball, and baseball has a long history of superstition, but before you decide to stop bathing after your next no-hitter,  remember that the performing arts is far from immune to the allure of old wives’ tales. The most notable superstition in the repertoire may be that of theater professionals who refer to one […]