Monday, September 22, 2008

The American Music League

In 1936 the American Music League (formerly called the Workers Music League) issued a call to "musicians and music lovers everywhere for the development of music as a people's art in America." Here is its mission statement (which I found in Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War by Elizabeth B. Crist)
1. to encourage the development of the highest type of amateur musical activities among wide numbers of people; and to draw into active participation in these activities those who have been denied the benefits of musical education and culture.

2. to encourage the presentation of, and to create organized audiences for, concerts presenting the best music of the past and present at prices within reach of everyone.

3. to bring composers and other professional musicians into closer contact with amateur musicians and with working people who form the bulk of the potential American music audience.

4. to guide and further the development of an American music addressed to the people, reflecting their lives, interests, and problems.

5. to collect, study and popularize American folk music and its traditions.

6. to defend musical culture against fascism, censorship and war.
The people who created this mission statement were strongly against the idea of "big financial institutions and banking interests" (they wouldn't have been able to imagine a corporation like Disney) being in control of musical institutions. They couldn't have imagined the mess that copyright and "ownership" of musical material has become. They couldn't have imagined the pop music culture that we have today where music is equal to fashion and people respond to "artists" because of they way they look or what they wear, or the struggles that they represent in their crafted public personae.

The motives of the AML's founding fathers and mothers were quite pure. They wanted to hear America singing, and they devoted their lives to trying to make it happen by collecting, setting, anthologizing, and recording folk songs and getting them added to public school music programs. School systems that are lucky enough to have strong music programs have benefited a great deal from the work that the people of the AML did, but there are too many communities that do not have strong music programs in their schools. There are too many music programs that simply pander to commercial musical tastes that are "marketed" to children and teenagers.

It is tragic for me to think that people's "lives, interests, and problems" are best demonstrated by the commercialism of music, but I fear that this is where American music is headed. American Idol.

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