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It must have skipped a generation or two…

14 Dec

In July, I went to upstate New York to visit my grandfather as he was undergoing surgery to have two tumors removed from his brain. The operation went well and he was doing much better almost immediately. He is still undergoing some radiation treatments and has his ups and downs, but the surgery seems to have been a major factor in his survival to this point.

While I was there, we stayed in the spare apartment attached to my grandfather’s house. In that apartment were boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings, family photos and the like. My mother and I were determined to acquaint ourselves with the family heritage, so we dug through the boxes over the course of a day and found some fascinating stuff – we were able to trace one side of my grandfather’s family tree all the way back to 1780.

The coolest find, however, was made by yours truly. The high school yearbooks of my great-grandmother were in one of these boxes. Leafing through the yearbook from 1916, I came across an essay titled “Our National Music.” That, of course, piqued my interest. So imagine my surprise when I discovered who wrote it: my great-grandmother, Loleta Hoxter.

Yes, my great-grandmother was an amateur musicologist. My mind was understandably blown when I made this discovery, and I still get goosebumps thinking about it – not only was my ancestor a budding music historian, but she had chosen to write about American music, and music by American women. I am an American music scholar and study gender in music. It was just uncanny, and I spent the remainder of the trip gushing about the discovery to anyone who would listen.

I would like to reproduce her article here, for the rest of the world and for myself of course. I have both the yearbook and her type-written draft. The paper is yellowed, but it’s in remarkable shape for being close to 100 years old. So, enjoy an article written by my ancestor about American music.

*****

Our National Music

Music was introduced in America in New England during the seventeenth century. It was known as psalmody and originated with the Pilgrims. The puritans soon made an advance in music; and slowly psalmody grew into sacred songs, gathering strength with each onward step until it gradually entered upon new conditions which led to its present high plane of art endeavor and achievement, of universal cultivation and diffusion.

Many writers on American music have sneered at the emphasis placed upon early music but it is nothing to sneer at. The early writers had a very hard and difficult struggle, composing and publishing music. Now, it is for us to contrast the present and the past and to rejoice over the marvelous advancement, which such comparison illustrates. In the preface of George Hood’s “History of Music in New England,” he says, “All things must have their beginning and this, though small, is important.” He adds that at first our music was low and mean; but if we hope to have a history of the art worth preserving, we should not lose the past but carefully gather it up and place it with the future that the latter by contrast may appear the more bright and beautiful.

Of course it would not be just to pass over the composers of this most beautiful art; therefore I shall mention a few of the many writers. The first that comes to my mind and one that was among the earlier writers is Lowell Mason. To this man is due great gratitude for his efforts to found American music and to encourage its progress. He spent his time mostly on church music and did much to promote correct of established church hymns. He began the study of music when a boy; and because of diligent efforts, he was soon master of his great art and a teacher of music. Public concerts were given; and he with a few friends founded the Boston Academy of Music.

Another great composer of music was John Philip Sousa who is known throughout the world for his wonderful bands and band music. Many splendid bands were organized by this man and he also wrote many marches, which are based upon his own experience of the feelings of men who march together on the open field. While very young, Sousa was the conductor of an orchestra in a theatre. At twenty-six he became leader of the United States Marine Band; and this organization under his leadership developed into one of the best military bands in the world. Later, he took leadership of the band bearing his own name.

Another famous writer of music is John K. Paine. He is considered the most classic of our composers. He studied music under a local teacher and then went abroad for three years under Haupt and other great foreign musicians. Having returned home, he was appointed instructor of music at Harvard and shortly afterward was promoted to full professorship; he has held this position ever since with distinguished success.

There is a large number of other male composers; but I shall now turn to the feminine sex. There are famous women composers and writers of music. For instance, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, writer of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, formerly ┬áMiss Cheney, who is a great concert pianist as well as a composer of music in the largest forms. Not many living men can point to a composition of more maturity and more dignity than Mrs. Beach’s “Jubilate,” for the dedication of the Women’s Building at the Columbus Exposition. Besides there is Margaret Lang, who has written large works. Miss Lang has a harmonic individuality, too, and finds out new effects that are strange without strain.

Such being our achievements, I do not hesitate to match the high-hearted, electric-minded free people of our hills and prairies with the rest of the world, and to prophesy that in the coming century the musical supremacy and inspiration of the world will rest here overseas, in America.

– Loleta B. Hoxter, 1916

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