Unit 4 Study Materials

Architecture, Soundscapes and New Directions (1780-1850)

What is a soundscape? Simply put, it’s the sound that fills our ears, whether we are listening for it or not. You may be listening to one conversation in a crowded room, but the soundscape would include a dozen other conversations. The soundscape of New York City includes the din of traffic, shouts of street vendors, doors opening and closing, and the barking of dogs on their morning walk. The soundscape of the Kentucky woods might include water flowing through the creek, chirping birds, and the wind in the trees.

Many of the soundscapes that we encounter today would shock our forefathers. Particularly the intense volume! What would they think about jet planes, the roar of motorcycles, or the blows of a jackhammer?

Just as a painter creates a landscape based on the kind of scenes that he sees, composers create musical soundscapes that reflect their aural world. Music can capture a peaceful, pastoral setting. It can also capture the cacophony of a modern city, the repetitious pulsing beat of machines, or the clang of the blacksmith’s hammer. Poetry can do much the same thing.

The architecture of our young nation provides endless facets for study. Our forefathers wanted to build in the finest traditions. East-coast cities are filled with buildings that attest to their success.


Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Lowell Mason

George Washington


Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Baltimore Basilica, Baltimore, Maryland

Lowell Mason House, Medfield, Massachusetts

Medfield Historical Society, Medfield, Massachusetts

Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia

Calvary Baptist Church, Tupelo, Mississippi

Things To Consider

A. Think about the soundscape where you live.

  1. Do you hear city noise all the time? Do you think that affects how you hear music?
  2. Do you live in a rural area? Perhaps you know that many sounds in the country at night at not peaceful at all.
  3. Does your soundscape include things heard through headphones? Or are those headphones a way of escaping the soundscape?

B. Washington DC was very much a planned city from the beginning of its existence.

  1. Look at the history of how the site for the Federal Capital was chosen.
  2. Look at these architectural styles:
  3. Can you identify buildings in Washington in these architectural styles?

C. Read the history of the Library of Congress.

  1. As you consider Thomas Jefferson’s role with the Library of Congress, spend some time looking at Jefferson’s home Monticello.
  2. Compare the Library of Congress with the British Library.
  3. Visit the American Memory Project.
  4. Can you find something there about your home town?
  5. Americans speak with many accents.  It’s one of the interesting things about Regionalism.  Listen to some different American dialects here.

Things To Explore

The Baltimore Basilica

Mount Vernon Gristmill

Lowell Mason House

Library of Congress, American Memory Project

The Handel and Haydn Society

More on Benjamin Henry Latrobe

Architecture of Girard College

White House Architectural Timeline

A Guide to Neoclassical Architecture

Styles in American Architecture