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Making Music in Los Angeles

Making Music in Los Angeles: Transforming the Popular

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Making Music in Los Angeles
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating social history of music in Los Angeles from the 1880s to 1940, Catherine Parsons Smith ventures into an often neglected period to discover that during America's Progressive Era, Los Angeles was a center for making music long before it became a major metropolis. She describes the thriving music scene over some sixty years, including opera, concert giving and promotion, and the struggles of individuals who pursued music as an ideal, a career, a trade, a business--or all those things at once. Smith demonstrates that music making was closely tied to broader Progressive Era issues, including political and economic developments, the new roles played by women, and issues of race, ethnicity, and class.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93383-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Music Making as Popular Practice
    (pp. 1-12)

    Los Angeles is regularly reported as having had little to offer in the way of music—“culturally unfocused” in one recent, relatively tolerant formulation—until émigrés from Hitler’s Germany began to find their way there in the mid-1930s.¹ Yet in 1910 more musicians and music teachers were working there, in proportion to its total population, than in any other city in the United States. In fact, almost half again as many professional music makers addressed the demand for music teachers, church soloists, bandsmen, theater musicians, and other paid music makers per capita than in New York City, then the center...


    • 2 “The Largest and Most Enthusiastic Audience That Ever Has Assembled in the City”: The National Opera Company of 1887
      (pp. 15-25)

      The city of Los Angeles began as a Spanish mission, founded by a party of thirty-one ethnically diverse Mexican citizens, in 1791. The community that grew up around it remained small, diverse, isolated, and generally left to its own devices long after Mexico became an independent country and the missions were secularized and effectively abandoned. When Anglos began arriving in the 1840s and a takeover threatened from the north, Pio Pico, then governor of the Mexican province of Alta California, asked histrionically,“Shall we remain supine, while these daring strangers are overrunning our fertile plains, and gradually outnumbering and displacing us?”¹...

    • 3 “A Precarious Means of Living”: Early Working Musicians and Their Jobs
      (pp. 26-42)

      “Music is to some a luxury, to others a necessity. . . . it is a business which feels the touch of financial depression more than others and has therefore at times furnished a precarious means of living to some of its votaries.”¹ With this pronouncement, Charles Leland (“Lee”) Bagley began his “History of the Band and Orchestra Business in Los Angeles,” a project whose fruits appeared serially between 1924 and 1937 in theOverture,the monthly magazine published by Local 47, the white musicians’ union in Los Angeles. Decade by decade starting with 1850 and year by year after...

    • 4 “Popular Prices Will Prevail”: Competing and Cooperating Impresarios
      (pp. 43-55)

      Theater operators and music store owners presented an increasing number of musical events in the 1890s, both concerts by traveling virtuosi and performances by local groups and individuals. A lively competition for audiences, involving different approaches and personalities, began to emerge among these presenters only in 1899. Six years later, the competition had subsided, lea ving in its wake the pattern of organized concert giving recognizable as typical for much of the twentieth century.

      Traveling entertainers, theatrical troupes, and musicians had visited from earlier times, but substantial theaters had gone up only in the 1880s. In the 1890s, a third...

    • 5 Amateurs, Professionals, and Symphonies: Harley Hamilton and Edna Foy
      (pp. 56-72)

      Two early participants in symphonic music making present sharply contrasting experiences, shaped by differences in background, class , and gender as well as individual ability. Harley Hamilton, a violinist, first came to Los Angeles while touring with a minstrel company. Active as a teacher as well as a performer, he became prominent as the conductor of the first local symphony orchestra that was able to sustain itself for more than a few performances. One of Hamilton’s many students, Edna Foy, played a major role in the formation and evolution of the Los Angeles Women’s Orchestra. Besides telling us much about...

    • 6 “Our Awe Struck Vision”: A Prominent Impresario Reconsidered
      (pp. 73-92)

      Like many others who came to California to seek their fortunes, Lynden Ellsworth Behymer reinvented himself not once but several times in the course of his life. This would be a matter of merely antiquarian interest, except that Behymer’s career became a public one for which he made greatly exaggerated claims. He repeatedly took credit for single-handedly inventing Los Angeles’ concert life almost from the moment of his own arrival there in 1886, then for single-handedly nurturing it for decades afterward. He did this, as he later insisted, by bringing all of the major concert artists and opera companies that...


    • 7 The “True Temple of Art”: Philharmonic Auditorium and Progressive Ideology
      (pp. 95-105)

      The Progressive movement developed in parallel with the growth of professional music making in Southern California; its political arm actually embraced—marginally, anyway—public music making as one of its values. It is no accident that, at the same time that Los Angeles was becoming a hotbed of political Progressivism, the city’s many musicians and advocates for concert music and opera endowed their art with an essential, constructive ethical power that enhanced its value and justified its cultivation as a civic asset. A quasi-religious, ethical value was intrinsic to both. Musicians, mostly male, were by then found routinely in theaters,...

    • 8 “Something of Good for the Future”: The People’s Orchestra of 1912–1913
      (pp. 106-123)

      In the years immediately before World War I,“people’s” orchestras and concert series were organized in several American cities.¹ Although each of these has its own story, some common themes and common motivations unite them. Established symphony orchestras catered to elite, upper-class audiences; they featured relatively high ticket prices and a repertoire built around the nineteenth-century German-Austrian symphonic literature. In the same period, the new commercial mass entertainment industry prospered, its markets seemingly boundless. People’s orchestras and concerts attempted to bridge the rapidly growing gap between elite and mass entertainment. In doing so, they raised questions about whether the European...

    • 9 Producing Fairyland, 1915
      (pp. 124-131)

      While Edson and the Southern California Music Teachers Association were otherwise occupied, another progressive musical project, even more obviously involving municipal pride and Progressive idealism, was in the works. San Francisco was making extensive preparations for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, to be held in 1915. The PPIE would celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal and the rebuilding of the city following the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906. San Diego would have a smaller exposition at the same time. What would Los Angeles have to offer when the world came to newly accessible California? The program book for the...

    • 10 Founding the Hollywood Bowl
      (pp. 132-154)

      On the evening of July 11,1922, the first of the Symphonies under the Stars concerts took place at the Hollywood Bowl, a site still known to the audience as either Bolton Canyon or Daisy Dell, in the hills close behind the rapidly rising new Hollywood business center. The concert marked the inauguration of a summer series, which by now has become one of the longest-running in the United States. The Bowl’s success represents the culmination of several attempts in the Los Angeles community, spread over the two preceding decades, to develop its own regional version of American high culture: symphony,...


    • 11 Old Competitors, New Opera Companies in 1925
      (pp. 157-165)

      The short-lived National Opera Company had arrived in town in 1887 with its own orchestra, ballet, and chorus, along with a trainload of stage sets. Five planned performances expanded to seven, literally by popular demand. Its visit was so successful, in fact, that more than half the town turned out to see and hear it, makeshift opera house and all. To accommodate a similar turnout in the 1920s, when the city had grown many times larger, would have required several such companies, each of them running for weeks on end.

      Of course that never happened. Among other things, opera had...

    • 12 The New Negro Movement in Los Angeles
      (pp. 166-186)

      A few generations after the founding of the Spanish mission that became Los Angeles, Mexicans, Chinese, and African Americans were among the gold seekers, railroad builders, and other fortune hunters who supplanted the area’s once-numerous indigenous peoples. Given Los Angeles’ origin as a part of Mexico, it is to be expected that the city had a larger Latino population than most other American cities, but the presence of the largest African American community on the West Coast may come as a surprise. (In contrast, San Francisco had few Mexicans or blacks; Chinese were by far its most numerous racial minority.)...

    • 13 Welcoming the Ultramodern
      (pp. 187-201)

      “Southern California . . . probably has the smallest audience for new music to be found anywhere,” wrote Jerome Moross in the journalModern Musicin 1941.¹ Henry Cowell’s selection of Los Angeles as the site for the first New Music Society concert in October 1925 has seemed a quixotic choice, for Moross’s judgment has been widely shared.² Indeed, by the time Evenings on the Roof, the first long-running concert series in Los Angeles devoted to high modernism, got started in 1939 (drawing minuscule audiences in its first seasons), several such series had come and gone in New York,Modern...

    • 14 Second Thoughts
      (pp. 202-214)

      No sooner had the New Music Society folded its tent in Los Angeles than a local chapter of Pro Musica, a national organization whose purpose was to present European modernists to American audiences, was organized.¹ The charismatic Artie Mason Carter, newly fired from the Bowl, emerged as chapter president, a move that carried with it the promise of an interested, friendly following. A single concert by the visiting Pro Arte string quartet in spring 1927 constituted the first season of the local Pro Musica chapter. The Pro Arte generated a positive response with an uncontroversial, not-somodern concert of music by...

    • 15 Calling the Tune: The Los Angeles Federal Music Project
      (pp. 215-238)

      Opportunities for working musicians expanded in the 1920s, in Los Angeles as elsewhere, bringing what would turn out to be their highest level of paid employment in the twentieth century. After 1930, though, ever ything changed. Sound films definitively replaced the silents, resulting in the demise of the theater orchestras that had routinely supported the movies in the larger theaters and the firing of the organists and pianists who had worked in the smaller ones. The American Federation of Musicians estimated that eighteen thousand of what had been twenty-two thousand movie theater jobs disappeared soon after 1929.¹ As the Great...

  9. APPENDIX A. Los Angeles Population Growth, with Racial and Ethnic Distribution
    (pp. 239-244)
  10. APPENDIX B. Musicians and Teachers of Music in the United States and Los Angeles
    (pp. 245-250)
  11. APPENDIX C. A Music Chronology for Los Angeles, 1781–1941
    (pp. 251-254)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 255-324)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 325-344)
  14. Index
    (pp. 345-376)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 377-377)