Startled by rapid social changes at the turn of the twentieth century, citizens of Atlanta wrestled with fears about the future of race relations, the shape of gender roles, the impact of social class, and the meaning of regional identity in a New South. Gavin James Campbell demonstrates how these anxieties were played out in Atlanta's popular musical entertainment. Examining the period from 1890 to 1925, Campbell focuses on three popular musical institutions: the New York Metropolitan Opera (which visited Atlanta each year), the Colored Music Festival, and the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention. White and black audiences charged these events with deep significance, Campbell argues, turning an evening's entertainment into a struggle between rival claimants for the New South's soul. Opera, spirituals, and fiddling became popular not just because they were entertaining, but also because audiences found them flexible enough to accommodate a variety of competing responses to the challenges of making a New South. Campbell shows how attempts to inscribe music with a single, public, fixed meaning were connected to much larger struggles over the distribution of social, political, cultural, and economic power. Attitudes about music extended beyond the concert hall to simultaneously enrich and impoverish both the region and the nation that these New Southerners struggled to create.
|Publisher:||The University of North Carolina Press|
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About the Author
Gavin James Campbell is associate professor at the Graduate School of American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. The dissertation on which this book is based was awarded the St. George Tucker Society Dissertation Prize.
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Music and the Making of a New South
By Gavin James Campbell
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2004 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneGrand Opera
In 1909 construction workers painted the last beams and installed the final light bulbs in Atlanta's most impressive civic monument yet, the new Auditorium-Armory. The enormous building housed the 5th Georgia Regiment of the National Guard, and a six thousand-seat arena that was, as one later mayor described it, "ideal for nothing" but that could "accommodate anything."
In good Peach State fashion, the building's inaugural event featured a "Georgia dinner." Organizers could think of no one more distinguished or more qualified to relish the delicacies of the state's farms and fields than President William Howard Taft, who even had the grace and the appetite to appreciate the evening's culinary coup de grace: possum. Shortly after the president stowed his napkin, a handful of blustering city boosters arrived at both a more lasting and a more noble tribute to this monument of "patriotic citizenship [and] indomitable energy." Members of the newly formed Atlanta Music Festival Association schemed to launch "the greatest music festival in American history" by luring to the city some of the most accomplished musicians of the day. Violinist Albert Spaulding, pianist Germaine Schnitzer, soprano Geraldine Farrar, and the entire Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra all signed on, but their appearance meant nothing next to the announcement that tenor Enrico Caruso, by far the most widely hailed operatic star of the age, had himself been seduced by Atlanta's charms. "He realizes," one paper assured readers, "that Atlanta is one of the great cities of the country." Although Caruso was forced to cancel at the last minute, sending the festival board into a "Caruso emergency," the Great Southern Music Festival nevertheless turned a profit of over ten thousand dollars, proving Atlantans financially and artistically capable of appreciating what dozens of articles called "good music." Predictions of wild success, a necessary corollary to any Atlanta endeavor, seemed borne out by evidence.
Assured that they would not be financially skinned by similar efforts in the future, the Atlanta Music Festival Association's board decided to invite the entire New York Metropolitan Opera Company as the sole attraction for the 1910 festival. Sensing profits in a region flexing its newfound economic muscle, the Met's business director agreed, and beginning in 1910 Atlanta hosted an annual weeklong "season" of opera, with only World War I disrupting the pleasant springtime ritual.
Few events on the social calendar inspired greater civic excitement than opera week. The newspapers covered the week's festivities in numbing detail, never failing to overlook a single minute that opera stars spent in public and covering with breathless fascination their appearance, hobbies, opinions, and manners. Long before they arrived in town, their pictures ate up acres of newspaper space, and the operas they were to perform in underwent minute scrutiny. Local merchants whet consumer appetites with irresistible bargains on everything from soda water to diamonds, and the parties for which their products were destined received stupefying press coverage. Whole neighborhoods gussied up their streets and storefronts, encouraged by enthusiastic opera fans who motored through the city sporting small red pennants that urged residents to "clean up and paint up." In short, the parties, club functions, shopping expeditions, picnics, housecleaning, newspaper publicity, and musical performances made opera week one of the most thrilling and most reported on fêtes of the year.
For all of opera week's carefree grace and glamour, however, the auditorium proved an enormously frustrating and contentious place. Rather than burning away the fog of confusion and allowing a temporary respite from the New South's dramatic transformations, the Met's visits seemed to further inflame the audience's anxieties and give them ever more cause for concern. Whether it was sorting out gender roles, promoting Atlanta and the South, or debating the place of blacks, the audience spent much of opera week advancing its own particular ideas about a New South and trying to tamp down competitors.
One of the most insistent problems that Atlantans confronted when the opera came to town was the changes in gender roles that the New South's urbanization and industrialization had thrown into confusion. Without question, the urban world that Atlanta's men inhabited differed markedly from the farms so many of them had left behind. Rather than becoming manly captains of fate, an image that had lured them from the rural world of their fathers, they often found themselves mired in midlevel office careers whose unromantic, unrewarding, and unremitting boredom rejoined them with stinging provocation. Combined with the increasing treble of women's clubs, woman suffragists, and women workers, the fields of masculine endeavor seemed increasingly hedged round about. Searching for new ways to define and to assert their masculinity, men seized upon city building. In Atlanta, the most recognizable form of this masculine civic identity was the "Atlanta Spirit," a slogan under which relatively anonymous, powerless men fused themselves together into a mighty machine of prosperity and regional advancement. "We build up the man," wrote one Gate City patriot, "at the same time we build the city."
At first glance, however, music hardly seemed the fitting place to "build up the man." Across the nation, men ascribed music to a feminine sensibility, and they argued that music, especially classical music, led to "feminization." It was a word that had crept into everyday vocabulary, and articles in leading popular journals-entitled, for example, "Music and Manliness," "Is Music an Effeminate Art?," and "Why Do Not More Men Take Up Music?"-revealed that of all the culprits in this dangerous trend, music had much to answer for. Even simply patronizing classical music necessitated cautious restraint. Afraid lest their attendance at concerts and recitals expose them to ridicule among their colleagues or leave them vulnerable to the botulin of feminization, they publicly declared that domestic duty had compelled their presence and that they were utterly bored and confounded by the whole exercise. At the same time, however, men in Atlanta pursued music with an avidity that belied their caution. Tying their patronage to civic and regional advancement, they used opera week to inject an element of primitive vigor into their rather placid lives. Opera merged the construction of a new masculinity and a New South into a single project.
The city's women, no less than its men, thrilled to live in so exciting a place and during so fascinating a time. Yet rather than welcome in the construction of a New South, they found themselves confined to a narrow circle of domestic concerns, expected to watch and to cheer, but never to lay their shoulders to the wheel. Atlanta, like the other New South cities, would honor masculine endeavor. Though frustrated by their exclusion and confinement, at the same time they worried that a deeper engagement with the wider world might compromise their own identity as women. Thus, they struggled to arrive at some fitting mixture of civic engagement and feminine duty. Music balanced the ledger.
While some were cheered by a rising cohort of professional female musicians in the early twentieth century, far more women used their local music clubs to redefine and expand the range of feminine endeavors. Their efforts at fostering innumerable civic orchestras and concert seasons throughout the nation aimed at adding a spiritual complement to the materialistic, masculine bent of city building and supplied tangible evidence of women's presence and power in a civic landscape that otherwise slighted them. At the same time, club members armored themselves against criticism and self-doubt by describing their work as logically extending the time-honored proscriptions that made the sexes distinct. After all, few gainsaid that music's emotional appeal more properly suited the feminine than the masculine sensibility. Thus, women found in music a public voice that gave their opinions and talents greater influence and that realigned older notions of what was appropriate for women to do and to say. "It is as though the now emancipated feminine voice," one woman wrote excitedly, "would proclaim its destiny only through melody." But because of music's long-standing associations with genteel domestic accomplishment and moral uplift, it made that realignment seem relatively benign and natural.
In large part, the gender anxieties aroused by an evening of opera in Atlanta differed little from those experienced in the northeastern cities where the Metropolitan Opera had grown accustomed to touring. But the presence of over fifty thousand black residents and an increasingly determined campaign to segregate the races gave Atlanta's opera season an added significance for its white citizens. Never once did whites relent in the face of repeated requests from the black community for even segregated seats. The city's opera season celebrated white culture. It gave form and sound to concepts of white supremacy that often had little clear referent. In particular, white Atlantans exploited the long-standing symbolic affinities between music and women to fashion opera week into a holy communion of white civilization. For white residents eager to establish Jim Crow as a settled fact, few things better demonstrated the superiority of white over black than this tangible demonstration of white civilization's greatest achievements. Given the ominous saber rattling so commonly heard whenever white men praised white women, it was more than symbolically fitting that the Metropolitan Opera performed before a largely female audience in a building that doubled as the city's armory. Built largely in response to the militia's ineffectiveness during a three-day race riot in 1906, the Auditorium-Armory functioned as both a host to dozens of cultural events and a base "for the military commands which are a source of comfort and protection to the people." Though flowers and perfume might invade the auditorium's every corner during opera week, the bullets and clubs resting quietly in the attached armory reaffirmed the military might that sustained white supremacy. The Auditorium-Armory and the opera it housed, then, reinforced the dual nature of white supremacy, which rested simultaneously on brute force and assumptions of cultural superiority.
The opera allowed a season of carefree gaiety, to be sure, but it simultaneously engaged upper- and middle-class white Atlantans in profound self-reflection. As a civic event, the Metropolitan Opera's annual visits were designed to display a New South before the smitten Yankee press and the gawking admiration of the entire Western world. Able to appreciate and to pay for the exact same operas and performers that delighted New York City audiences, Atlantans demonstrated beyond reproof the New South's economic power and the cultural sophistication of its people. The Constitution raved that opera "was a vivid presentation of the prowess of an American city, ashes fifty years ago." At the same time, Atlantans used opera week to join a local squabble about just what tasks men and women should perform in this New South and thus to define more clearly the boundaries between masculinity and femininity. Whereas women insisted that music led to civic uplift and moral improvement, men countered that opera promoted business investment and regional advancement. Neither purpose was irreconcilable, but endorsing one over the other implied certain assumptions about the extent of power one gender exercised over the other and thereby their authority in the city and in the making of a New South. Finally, opera week forced white Atlantans to more carefully articulate the meaning of race. By continually denying blacks access to opera performances, whites came to a deeper understanding of the meaning of their whiteness and gave white supremacy a cultural justification. In short, few civic events inspired greater anticipation and more lasting heartburn than opera week.
"Woman's Work in Music"
Throughout the nineteenth century schools for women emphasized music instruction as a necessary domestic accomplishment. Music's presumed capacity to guide the spirit to higher realms and to provide families with moral guidance made it an ideal pastime for those entrusted with fashioning the home into a harbor of morality and chasteness. Even into the twentieth century, women were still expected to play music in the home to entertain and instruct their families. "Music has a two-fold influence," explained one teacher, "first upon the character of the girl who studies it; and secondly, through her, upon those for whom she makes music."
The advent of female virtuosi on the concert stage in the mid-nineteenth century, however, challenged the domestic confinement of female musicians. Whether it was the singer Jenny Lind, the pianistic wunderkind Teresa Carreño, or the pioneering violinist Maud Powell, women began to expand their music making into professional careers. These early artists inspired a wave of young girls growing up at the turn of the century to see music not as a social adornment, but as a potential livelihood. In addition, the growing popularity and respectability of opera provided women unparalleled opportunities for pursuing music professionally. By the 1920s women had managed to convince large numbers of Americans that, though female performers should not neglect their duties as mothers, it was "not necessary for them to give up entirely their personal accomplishments to care for a home." They had won a permanent place for themselves on the concert stage.
An even larger number of women became music teachers, a profession that seemed merely an extension of their "natural" roles as mothers and nurturers. One music supervisor observed that of the female teachers he employed, "I am certain that not one of them but will be a better mother," and he reassured readers that "they all aspire to be mothers." Women also formed the core of those who took jobs as music teachers in the public schools, though men tended to horde the supervisory positions. Despite such prejudices, women increased their presence in the music profession as a whole so that by 1910 they comprised 66 percent of those the census listed as music professionals.
Though determined to secure a place for themselves in the music world, professional female musicians provoked uncertainty within themselves and hostility among skeptics. "Any woman who wholly rejects the normal fulfillment of a woman's life for artistic or other mental development presents an abnormal spectacle," wrote a prominent music publisher in 1912.
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What People are Saying About This
This is an inspired and original work, bringing together three forms of musicopera, African American concert singing, and old-time fiddlingas a way to study conflicts and desires to smooth over those conflicts in the quintessential New South city of Atlanta.Ted Ownby, University of Mississippi