Bicentennial of American Music

March 26, 1976

Report Outline
Flowering of U.S. Musical Tradition
Past Influences on American Music
America's Changing Music Scene
Selected Bibliography

Flowering of U.S. Musical Tradition

Variety of Musical Styles and Settings Today

“I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear,” Walt Whitman wrote. The poet's words, set down over a century ago, are fitting today. In their bicentennial year, Americans are producing more music and listening to more music than any other people on earth. They have access to a range of musical forms more plentiful and more varied than has been available to any nation in history.

Americans play and listen to music in great concert halls and muddy cow pastures, in libraries and nightclubs, in churches and homes, in offices and automobiles, in elevators and airplanes. They dote on love songs, tragic songs, work songs, war songs, religious songs, folk songs and nonsense songs; on Negro spirituals, acid rock, heavy metal and cool jazz. They pay millions of dollars a year to hear Bach, Beethoven, Rhythm and Blues, Dixieland, electronic music and steel drum music. They flock to concerts given by symphony orchestras, brass ensembles, string quartets, guitar and percussion combos, and solo organists. They sing with, and delight in listening to, symphonic choirs, opera companies, children's choruses and barbershop quartets.

Music serves a variety of purposes. Muzak and other “pipedin” music systems soothe office workers, dental patients—even dairy cattle and laying hens. Hard rock concerts, with their amplified sounds and driving beat, have an altogether opposite effect. Grand opera bespeaks opulence; love ballads, nostalgia. Avant-garde symphonic works stimulate the intellect. Protest songs carry a social message. And scarcely anyone escapes the omnipresent musical commercials on television for soap, breakfast food, deodorants and tires.

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Mar. 26, 1976  Bicentennial of American Music
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