Regionalism, Legacy, and Preservation
Let’s establish three major themes for our study of American music and culture:
Regionalism looks at the question of who settled where and what they brought with them. English Puritan settlers landed at Plymouth Rock and settled primarily in New England. The settlers in Pennsylvania and New York were initially Dutch. Even today, we see strong evidence of Spanish culture in Florida and the Southwest, and French culture in Louisiana and some Canadian provinces.
Each of these groups brought its language and artistic heritage to America. Each brought an old culture that left its mark on America just as the old culture was reshaped by being transplanted to America.
Regionalism is not just a question of the origin or destination of American settlers. We need also to look at why they came. Some came to escape religious persecution, some to spread their religion, some for adventure, and some for better economic opportunities. The things that motivated people to come to America are often expressed in their art.
In fact, the arts express the things that are most important to people in any particular time and place. A society is able to capture its values in art and use artistic expression to pass those values from generation to generation. That is its legacy. In today’s world of instant communications and a fascination with the latest fashions, we sometimes forget that a culture is defined by its legacy. One of the best reasons to study history is to understand our legacy – not just what happened, but how events in the past affected who we are today.
To study history in an effective and interesting way, we investigate the experiences of people in the past. We visit a particular place, for example, and walk on the same ground as our forefathers. We see the same view, or stand in the same building. There are valuable lessons in visiting the battlefield at Gettysburg or George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon.
But the arts give us an equally valuable way to connect with the past. When we sing the songs our great-great-grandparents learned around a campfire, read the poems they recited, and study the paintings or quilts they painstakingly created during their lifetimes, we visit the past in a tangible way. We connect with our legacy.
We will talk about preservation throughout this program. For now, let’s just say that if our legacy is important, then preserving that legacy becomes essential.
Mission San Gregorio de Abo, Mountainair, New Mexico
Gloria Dei Old Swedes’ Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Things To Consider
A. What is American Art?
- Dr. Peter Mooz talks about ways that paintings were different in Early America. Although early American paintings were European in style, they weren’t just European paintings that “happened” to be created in America. What are features that make a painting American?
- Bob Falls asks “What makes a work of literature American?” It can be hard to distinguish English literature from American literature. Do you agree with the way Bob Falls makes that distinction?
- Professor Carol makes a similar point. Imagine a group of Swedes singing a hymn as they board a ship bound for America. After a perilous voyage, they land safely in Pennsylvania and sing that same hymn. Is it now an American hymn? If not, will it ever become an American hymn?
B. As you consider how to define American painting, literature, and music, think about how the things that make each of them American. Consider the following:
- What are the raw materials of each art form?
a. Painting: canvas, pigments, brushes
b. Literature: words, syntax, idioms and genres or types of literature
c. Music: instruments, sound, performers, acoustical space
- What kind of American qualities does each art express?
a. What is the subject of the painting?
b. What is the setting of the novel?
c. What are the images in the poems?
d. What is the purpose of the music?
e. Do these things determine whether art is American?
- Can we identify American art by considering it in the context of
C. How do we know what the music of the past really sounded like?
- A painting is a physical object that can survive for many generations. On the other hand, it may deteriorate over time or be lost entirely.
- Music, in contrast, must be recreated in a new performance. Each performance is different in some respect.
a. Compare these versions of George Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2:
b. Similarly, compare these two readings of Phillis Wheatley’s On Virtue:
D. How is literature like painting or music? In particular, think about different forms of literature.
- Political documents
- Biographical documents
If you wanted to preserve today’s music in a way that future generations would understand it, how would you go about doing that?
- A digital recording may be a very accurate way of preserving the sound, but is that enough to enable future generations to understand the music?
- Would future generations need to know something about the times we live in to understand our music?
a. Our politics
b. Our religious values
c. Our educational and social systems
d. Current fashions
e. Current technology
Things To Explore
John Philip Sousa. David Lovrien of the Dallas Wind Symphony maintains an excellent site on all things Sousa.
The Gloria Dei Old Swedes’ Church may be a part of our history that is unfamiliar. Visit this site concerning the history of New Sweden in America. Also visit the Old Swedes’ Church in Wilmington, Delaware.
More on Phillis Wheatley.
Spanish Missions in New Mexico.