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Sounds American

Sounds American: National Identity and the Music Cultures of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, 1800�1860

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Sounds American
    Book Description:

    Sounds American provides new perspectives on the relationship between nationalism and cultural production by examining how Americans grappled with musical diversity in the early national and antebellum eras. During this period a resounding call to create a distinctively American music culture emerged as a way to bind together the varied, changing, and uncertain components of the new nation. This played out with particular intensity in the lower Mississippi River valley, and New Orleans especially. Ann Ostendorf argues that this region, often considered an exception to the nation-with its distance from the center of power, its non-British colonial past, and its varied population-actually shared characteristics of many other places eventually incorporated into the country, thus making it a useful case study for the creation of American culture. Ostendorf conjures the territory's phenomenally diverse "music ways" including grand operas and balls, performances by church choirs and militia bands, and itinerant violin instructors. Music was often associated with "foreigners," in particular Germans, French, Irish, and Africans. For these outsiders, music helped preserve collective identity. But for critics concerned with developing a national culture, this multitude of influences presented a dilemma that led to an obsessive categorization of music with racial, ethnic, or national markers. Ultimately, the shared experience of categorizing difference and consuming this music became a unifying national phenomenon. Experiencing the unknown became a shared part of the American experience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4136-1
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    During the early decades of the new American nation, intellectuals and cultural commentators were concerned with the question of what it meant to be American. More than a desire to differentiate themselves from Europeans, their anxiety arose out of the belief that the nation’s members lacked any commonalities beyond the shared revolutionary experience. To them, diversity within the nation potentially threatened to undermine the unity they assumed necessary to ensure the successes of this republican experiment. The newly forming political parties, the variety of religious traditions, the contrasting regional experiences, and the ethnic and racial diversity within the nation, all...

  5. 1 Insecurity and Nationalism: The Call to Create a Unified American Music Culture
    (pp. 16-41)

    Insecurity pervaded the new American nation. According to late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century cultural commentators, America’s lack of a unified national culture potentially threatened the success of the republican experiment. As a result, many American writers called explicitly for the identification, creation, and support of a national culture to unify, solidify, and legitimize the young republic. The diverse ethnic and racial groups within the United States, with their attached cultural forms, posed an especially potent threat to the unity cultural critics assumed necessary to a successful national culture. To alleviate this danger, writers explicitly called for an American culture by...

  6. 2 The Threat of Diversity: The Lower Mississippi River Valley as a Case Study
    (pp. 42-68)

    The region of the lower Mississippi River Valley is a particularly fruitful place to use as a case study to examine the interrelated issues of ethnic and racial diversity and insecure national attachment within the new nation. Between 1800 and 1860, this region moved from a contested borderland, to American territory, and finally into statehood, as it gradually became more securely part of the United States. Simultaneous to the region’s increasing ties to the American nation, the lower Mississippi River Valley experienced frequent and varied waves of newcomers into its already mixed population. These two characteristics make the region a...

  7. Figures
    (pp. None)
  8. 3 The War of the Quadrilles: Ethnic Loyalty and American Patriotism
    (pp. 69-106)

    The lower Mississippi River Valley between 1800 and 1860 remained tenuously if increasingly attached to the United States, while home to a markedly diverse and dynamic population. During this era, many commentators, working to create a unified national culture, called to strengthen the ties with regions previously unattached to the nation. Because of this, and because music ways in early America were believed to be linked to ethnic, racial, or national groups, a study of the regional music culture, both its perceptions and its expressions, reveals how the mixed population interacted during the process of being annexed to the nation....

  9. 4 “Other” Musicians: Ethnic Expression, Public Music, and Familiarizing the Foreign
    (pp. 107-141)

    The music culture of the lower Mississippi River Valley revealed contentious diversity during the first half of the nineteenth century. Ethnic and racially specific organizations flourished in the region, which used music to strengthen and redefine their group identities. Suggesting changes that affected the country in general, this regional population searched for meaningful ways to make sense of the swiftly changing diversity around them. As a result, they tended to arrange their music culture into ethnic and racial categories. Because many of the cultural activities of benevolent societies, militia companies, singing clubs, church choirs, dances, and theaters were available for...

  10. 5 Bounding Ethnicity: The Creation and Consumption of Ethnic Music Genres
    (pp. 142-172)

    On the Fourth of July, 1835, organizers of the day’s events in New Orleans made a change to the parade route. In previous years, the festivities culminated with speeches and patriotic ceremonies outside the Catholic cathedral at the Place d’Armes. This year, the pomp would end outside the new Presbyterian church; it was less than a mile away, but a decision the Creole population interpreted as an attempt to limit their involvement at this national commemoration. The Louisiana Legion and Orleans Guards, militia companies composed of French-born and local French Creoles, protested and refused to continue processing across Canal Street,...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-178)

    The political and cultural founders of the new American nation were never able to solidify a unifying national culture that extended beyond a shared revolutionary heritage. As a result of this failure, the memory of the Revolution remained the strongest cultural tie that bound the diverse people of this vast land together, both ideologically and through commemorative acts. Because localism and regionalism had been embedded within American culture since before the Revolution, a unity based solely on this shared creation story never completely erased other loyalties. A shared national culture founded on memory meant that certain segments of the nation...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-198)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-250)