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America's Musical Life: A History Paperback – October 17, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 992 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton; Reprint edition (October 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327267
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1846, the director of the Paris Opera told American composer William Henry Fry that Europeans "looked upon America as an industrial country--excellent for electric telegraphs, but not for Art." Over a century and a half later, Crawford (The American Musical Landscape), a professor of music at the University of Michigan and former president of the American Musicological Society, has thoroughly debunked that myth, at least in regard to music. In this ambitious, comprehensive history, Crawford speaks with equal authority on colonial psalmody and ragtime, minstrelsy and Gilded Age classical, and in an effort to highlight forgotten history, sketches biographies of influential individuals and the movements in which they participated. Through 40 chapters, he firmly roots each song, symphony or hymnal in its era, showing the political, environmental and social forces that have shaped composers and musicians, both professional and amateur. From an examination of Native American music to the church-centered song of the Puritan colonies, from the wildly popular minstrel shows to jazz and rock, the reader gets a fuller understanding of the America that produced and listened to the widely varied musical forms of our past. Crawford's book is egalitarian and accessible, and the occasional appearance of musicological jargon won't deter lay readers. This definitive history of music in the U.S. is sure to delight music aficionados and history buffs alike, and is a must for anyone interested in what music has meant to America and what America has meant to music. B&w photos and illus.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Here, Crawford (Glen McGeoch Collegiate Professor of Music, Univ. of Michigan; former president, American Musicological Society) has assembled a comprehensive tome poised to supersede all previous single-volume histories on both American music and American's use of music from other parts of the world. Like Gilbert Chase (America's Music, 1955) before him, Crawford believes in the quintessence of this country's folk and popular traditions. His goal is to "reconcile" that belief with the emphasis of 19th- and early 20th-century music historians on the performance of classics by European composers. Although his treatment of Native American music is somewhat limited, Crawford covers virtually every musical baseDblues, jazz, swing, pop, rock, hip hopDin a highly readable style with economics and history as cultural backdrops. Well researched and sensitively constructed, this is highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.DJames E. Perone, Mount Union Coll., Alliance, OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Very interesting, fact filled and written in an engaging style.
C.R. Melberg
Crawford establishes his theoretical basis in a section titled "Notation, the Great Divide, and American Musical Categories" (p. 227).
Robin Elliott
Bought this book in two copies, one for me and one for my niece.
jkat1946

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By L. Feld on May 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In the late 1980s, having passed the US Foreign Service written test, I took the Oral Exam, one part of which was basically aimed at probing - in front of a panel of 3 Foreign Service officers - one's general knowledge of American history, culture, and world affairs, plus ability to think on one's feet. Among other questions, I was presented with the following (without any advance warning): `pretend you are a high school teacher giving a lecture on the history of American music; you have 3 minutes - GO!' Well, all I can say is, I wish that Richard Crawford's "America's Musical Life: A History" had been available back then, and that I had read it, because, let's just put it this way, there's a good reason why I didn't pass the Oral Exam!! Having now read Crawford's book, I feel like asking for a second shot at the question...
Basically, what this extremely learned, intelligent, well-organized, readable (and mercifully free of musicologist jargon) book does is to help us understand America from the perspective of music (i.e., what music meant to America), and also to understand American music from the perspective of its social, cultural, economic, political, racial, geographic, and technological history (i.e., what America meant to music). As Crawford states in his introduction, his goal is to undertake a study from a "broader scope [which] might illuminate parallels and intertwinings that give the country's music...its distinctive identity." Crawford accomplishes this, and more, starting from American music's early origins (Native American, Early Christian, "Old, Simple Ditties," and New England Psalmody), moving on to 19th century music (devotional music, minstrels, parlor songs, patriotic and war songs, classical music, etc.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Robin Elliott on April 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the 1980s I was a graduate student in musicology at the University of Toronto, specializing in Canadian music. A visit by Richard Crawford was one of the galvanizing moments in my education. He spoke on the theme of "Studying American Music" (the talk was later published in the Newsletter of the Institute for Studies in American Music, vol. XIV, no. 2, May 1985), but his ideas proved to be applicable to any field of music study. I know I have certainly made generous use of them in my own work. So it was with particular interest that I turned to this book, his magesterial (nearly 1,000 pages long!) summing up of a career devoted to the subject.
In the epilogue to the book, Crawford states that the historian is motivated by a disagreement with received ideas - "the gut-level feeling that says, 'It wasn't like that.'" In 40 chapters covering the entire history of music in America chronologically, from pre-historical to modern times, Crawford tells us how it really was. One tribute to the quality of this book is that the chapters on music in which I thought I had no interest (e.g., 18th century psalmody or 19th century minstrel shows) I found to be every bit as engaging as those on music that I love and cherish.
Crawford establishes his theoretical basis in a section titled "Notation, the Great Divide, and American Musical Categories" (p. 227). Previous historians (notably Charles Hamm and H. Wiley Hitchcock) have proposed a binary opposition in American music between Classical and Popular, or Cultivated and Vernacular. In place of this dualism, Crawford proposes a richer three-tiered categorization: Composers' music, which aims for TRANSCENDENCE (i.e. lasting value); Performers' music, which values ACCESSIBILITY; and Traditional music, ruled by CONTINUITY.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By klavierspiel VINE VOICE on January 9, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Richard Crawford's ambitious book seems a culmination of his previous work, attempting to encompass the whole of American musical activity since the birth of the nation. His basic methodology of dividing American music into three spheres, classical, popular and folk, is a successful tool for making a gargantuan subject more manageable. His chronology makes an attempt to at least cast a glance at each of these areas as it progresses through the centuries.
Some of the individual chapters are, in my opinion, among the strongest essays available on their particular topics. Due to my own lack of previous knowledge in these fields I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the beginnings of organized music making in America, through the church. In particular, the split between the Methodist ideal of polished musical performance and literacy, and the more fundamentalist view that music in worship was direct communication with God, communication hindered by too much technical knowledge--this is a schism whose echoes are still apparent today.
Later on, the chapter on Ives takes a very small corner of the composer's output--six songs--to give a lucid and comprehensive survey of his style, a ingenious solution to the problem of how to give an accurate picture of an enormous, heterogenous body of work in a limited space.
Occasionally during the course of such an enormous work Crawford struggles with his task. At times one has the impression that topics and personages are being included and examined out of a sense of duty rather than real conviction about their significance; one can also quarrel with the choice of emphasis as Crawford approaches the present day.
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