Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A North American Music History Text by Daniel Mendoza de Arce

Book Review
Music in North America and the West Indies from the Discovery to 1850: A Historical Survey.
Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc. 2006 (by Daniel Mendoza de Arce)

If you are searching for a fairly comprehensive North America Music History book that starts from the early 1600s, I highly recommend this text. I use the qualifying words "fairly comprehensive" to acknowledge that contrary to tacit invisibilization of our sacred and secular American music traditions in most music history textbooks, Daniel Mendoza de Arce makes a strong argument that we do have traditions resulting from a blend of European, Native American, and African, music aesthetics. It's an enormous chronological and cultural scope to research. To continue the text into the twentieth century, Mendoza de Arce would most likely have to have included Asian influences and contributions to European musical history as well. As it stands, the text is filled with a cornucopia of well-researched information about American "cultivated music" composers, the socio-historical contexts of their lives, their music, as well as the socio-cultural fabric of our emerging Americanness that helped to shape the music with which many of us only have a slight acquaintance.

At the college level, the seven large chapters with sub sections provides an engaging critical perspective that is not for those whose reading skills are below par, whether music majors history or not. (For professors looking for a comparison, think Marie K Stolba's prolix traditional music history  text of about  fifteen years ago).  And de Arce's use of the phrase "cultivated American music" in the preface and elsewhere may give some pause for adverse reaction (I know I did at first). That being said, professors and K-12 teachers will still find its modular chapter topics easy to adapt for classroom use that will meet  WASC and VAPA academic standards.

One of my favorite sections "Military, Outdoor, and Public Ceremonial Music" opens a window onto early America's historical musical tapestry that remains intact with few alterations in twenty first century America. Both military and such civilian events as assemblies, hangings, proclamations, formal balls, picnics, as well as the ceremonies held by colleges, lodges, guilds, unions, and other organizations(eg., commencements, inaugurations, meetings, parades), usually required music, which would be provided from a range of small amateur or professional acoustic indoor (chamber) ensembles to large outdoor Military band ensembles.

A majority of today's instrumental performances, acoustic and electronic, are usually enhanced by sound amplified sound. Good old fashioned local parades still provide the flavor that once vibrated across our land--marching bands stepping lively to bass drums, snare drums, brass, and woodwinds in cadence.

Music during various occasions serves as a socially unifying signifier a majority of public and private spaces regardless of ensemble size. Browse Internet multi-media interactive websites, count the use of music. Watch televised events, music usually accompanies advertisements, provides TV show theme songs, serves as a background for plot movement, and usually accompanies major political events. Although, I must admit, we rarely have campaign songs associated with presidential candidates that were as succsessfully linke to a president as Noble and Sissle's "I'm Just Wild About Harry" was linked to Harry S. Truman. However, at campaign parties, music holds court to facilitate people's interaction.

And case in point: No matter who wins the American election this year, as in the past, music will most likely be part of the presidential inaugural event. In its celebration of diversity, the last inauguration musical presentation (PRE-RECORDED BY THE SAME ARTISTS OR NOT) of a traditional Shaker tune, arranged by John Williams, played by Isaak Perlman: violin, Yo-Yo Ma: cello  Gabriela Montero: piano, and Anthony McGill:clarinet --stand out as one of my personal favorites in its resonance of "seemingly"  simplicity and idealized Americanism.


Daniel Mendoza de Arce (Ph.D. University of Uraguay) has assembled much information in a reasonably accessible text. I predict that it will provide many music history teachers with valuable information for decades to come.

Thinking of Music History and American society,
Delores Fisher

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