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On "American" Music

By E. R. Kroeger.
 
One of the critics who attended the recent convention of the Music Teachers' National Association, at Cincinnati, wrote that, of the eighty-seven compositions by American composers rendered, there was but one that might be called "American," Mr. B. O. Klein's "Louisiana Carnival." The others, he claimed, were entirely either German or French in character.
 
The occasion was a peculiarly valuable one for the purpose of investigating works by American composers. Naturally, the majority of them submitted works which might be considered representative, and they were desirous of "putting their best foot foremost." Excellent interpretations were, with but few exceptions, the order of the day. And with all these advantages this critic came to the conclusion that characteristic American music does not really exist, as yet.
 
Is this a fact, and are there no prospects for the development of a really national style of composition? We are certain that German, French, Italian, Russian, Norwegian, Bohemian, Polish, Hungarian, and Spanish music exist. The majority of musicians can place the nationality of any works written by composers native to these countries, upon hearing them. Why can not this be done in regard to works written by Americans? Is it true that we must accept the music of another race (the negro) as being that which is American? Have not the white Americans sufficient individuality to develop a characteristic style of composition? These are very pertinent questions.
 
Personally the American has characteristics which distinguish him from the German, the Frenchman, the Englishman, the Russian. He is quick of perception, alert, prompt to act, resourceful, daring, imaginative, optimistic. He is forever trying to improve upon existing conditions; he desires convenience, comfort, and even luxury if possible to attain it; he is courteous and considerate of the opposite sex, and he is sincere in his efforts to better himself spiritually. Surely this type of a man ought to develop himself artistically, so that great poets, painters, and musicians would be a natural sequence.
 
But, unfortunately, the artistic side is the weak point in the American. It is not an important feature in his nature. There is no imperious demand within him to hear the best music, see the best pictures, obtain the best architecture, encourage the best sculpture. Until these become a vital necessity with our people, true art will always remain an extraneous sort of growth, flourishing largely because of the culture of a minority. We want to get to the point where music is not merely an ear- tickling process, or the result of a fad among persons with long purses who desire to emulate European examples. It must be a vital need with the American people.
 
Such a situation would be an enormous power among our native composers, stimulating them to unusual efforts. Let such a condition exist among a people with the characteristics such as are described above, and the tendency on the part of our composers to follow along foreign lines will gradually disappear. It will not be African or Indian music that will be the genuine American style, but it will be something emanating from the nature of the American people. It may embody certain characteristics of African, Indian, or even Chinese music; it may be built upon German or French lines; it may reflect the sturdiness of an Anglo Saxon ancestry—but it will be thoroughly American at heart. This greatly-to-be-desired state of things will come when we, as a nation, feel the need of music being a part of our life, as are the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the dwellings in which we live.
 
 
 

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