Exhibits Music Programs in the NAEB Collection
Presented in collaboration with music departments, conservatories, professional ensembles and noncommercial radio stations, these NAEB music programs aired between the early 1960s to early 1970s. They provide a fascinating glimpse into midcentury perspectives on music education and music broadcasting in the U.S. While the majority of their narratives feature white male voices, and emphasize Western classical music, a significant diversity of recordings, styles and attitudes reflect important cultural and technological changes in both the American academy and the radio industry.
Nearly two-thirds of the NAEB music programs focus on classical music, including performances by major orchestras and ensembles, as well as lectures, discussions and interviews on composing, conducting, and instruments. At the time of these recordings in the 1960s and '70s, formal music programs in higher education had existed in the U.S. for about a century. In every case, the “music” in schools of music referred to Western classical music, reflecting longstanding Eurocentric beliefs towards traditional art forms (Nettl, 3). And though many of these broadcasts emphasize the best-known composers and works in the classical canon, there are signs of modernization. Lectures and discussions draw on new research and interdisciplinary approaches in order to present more expansive perspectives, and the inclusion of contemporary and experimental repertoire highlights a growing willingness to embrace 20th century music.
- Beethoven: The Man Who Freed Music. Fans of Beethoven will enjoy hearing the insights of musicologists and psychologists from the University of Michigan in this series that was created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 1770.
- Music in Our Time: 1969.This delightfully weird four-part series (part 2 is missing) features works of contemporary music that illustrate the sounds of the era, including progressive rock, atonal music, and experimental electronics.
The addition of jazz to music schools’ curricula marked another important change in American sociocultural values. Although it was enormously popular from its initial development in the early 20th century, jazz was maligned by Euroamerican cultural gatekeepers as vulgar, lowbrow and a threat to middle-class sensibilities. When, in the mid-1940s, respected institutions such as the University of North Texas and the Berklee School of Music began to include jazz in their programs, they endorsed it as a serious art form worthy of higher learning. Within the next decade, dozens of institutions were offering courses in jazz (Kennedy). The three complete jazz series included in the NAEB programs are impressive in their scope, first locating its African roots and then highlighting the artists who shaped its defining eras.
- Evolution of Jazz. Hosted by jazz historian and associate editor of Downbeat magazine Nat Hentoff, this 80-part series offers the most in-depth study.
- Jazz of the Past. This series demonstrates the increasing value of historic recordings at a time when magnetic tape and vinyl had replaced 78rpm as the dominant commercial media. Host Lenny Kessel’s enthusiasm for the music is evident in his relaxed, informal narrative.
In the mid-twentieth century, radio broadcasting was also experiencing watershed change. The development of frequency modulation, or FM, by Edwin Armstrong in the 1930s offered technophiles and music lovers a clearer signal with better sound quality. Subsequently, the FM airwaves became an experimental playground for those who had grown weary of the strictly formatted and increasingly limited scope of music on the AM band. When Lewis Hill founded Pacifica Radio in 1949 – the first listener-supported network in the world – he envisioned radio not as a sponsor-driven, for-profit business, but as a public space that encouraged “creative exchange between people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs” (Lasar, xv). The total lack of sponsors at Pacifica meant that record collectors, ethnomusicologists, and DJs with eclectic tastes could reinvent music narratives on their own terms. They featured a range of styles far more expansive than those on commercial radio, and ignored sociocultural hierarchies by featuring playlists that often blended folk, roots, classical, jazz, bluegrass, popular, experimental, and international music. Their influence is evident in these NAEB programs, particularly the programs in which the hosts use their personal record collections to create sonic ethnographies with detailed historical context.
- Music Around the World. Produced and hosted by Marta Nicholas, a rare female voice in this collection, this series highlights a single theme for each program, such as strings, work songs, or love, and explores musical examples from around the globe.
- The Old Record Box I and II. Host Fred Harrington plays spoken-word and musical wax cylinder recordings dating from the late 1890s to 1929, and shares the history behind them. Since many of these recordings are undoubtedly now lost to time and decay, this series may be the only place left to hear them.
Lasar, Matthew. Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.
Nettl, Bruno. Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Reflections on Schools of Music. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1995.
Laura Schnitker is an ethnomusicologist, audiovisual archivist and radio DJ at the University of Maryland. She is the curator of Special Collections in Mass Media & Culture at UMD Libraries, as well as a lecturer in the School of Music, and hosts "The Bohemian Challenge" Thursday mornings on WMUC-FM. She also serves as co-chair of the College, Community and Educational Radio Caucus (CCER) on the Library of Congress' Radio Preservation Task Force.