Cover image for High-minded and low-down : music in the lives of Americans, 1800-1861
High-minded and low-down : music in the lives of Americans, 1800-1861
Tawa, Nicholas E.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Northeastern University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiii, 350 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3917.U6 T39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML3917.U6 T39 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Non circulating

On Order



From America's beginnings, our homes, churches, and public spaces have resounded with music. A preeminent musicologist now explores the relevance of music to Americans during the country's formative years, from the dawn of the nineteenth century to the Civil War.Rather than reexamining composers or musical compositions, Nicholas E. Tawa focuses instead on the cultural interests and values of antebellum Americans -- men and women, white and black, wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated, sophisticated and uncultivated -- to show how their tastes in music reflected their times. By looking back at how people thought about music, what they expected of it, how they acquired it, and how they employed it in their daily activities, Tawa seeks to determine how music enriched their lives and helped establish the national identity.Distilling thirty years of research in a vast array of primary sources, Tawa depicts scenes of domesticity and worship, wooing and recreation, toil and travel, illustrating how the music of a citizenry struggling to define its government evolved from ordinary, everyday experiences. His book recreates the spirit that helped bind a young nation together and holds up a new and valuable mirror to early American musical life and society.

Author Notes

Nicholas E. Tawa is Professor of Music, Emeritus, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and the author of numerous articles and books on American music history, including Arthur Foote. A Musician in the Frame of Time and Place, American Composers and Their Public, and Mainstream Music of Early Twentieth-Century America. He lives in Boston.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Early Americans had to work hard to survive. What little time was available for recreation was often spent at parties and church. Music was mostly homemade. Except in East Coast urban centers, where European music was sometimes performed by professional musicians, Americans sang songs that reflected their lives, made their own instruments to accompany dancing, and joined with choirs to sing hymns. Music soothed hearts and communicated stories through the generations. As transportation improved, itinerant musicians brought new music to the frontier. Today, with music seemingly ubiquitous, a homogeneous culture has replaced the individualistic one of antebellum America. Extensively quoting both famous writers and plain folk of the time, Tawa explores all facets of music as it spread westward with the people who settled the new land and, thereafter, absorbed elements of music and rhythm from immigrants into their own cultures. Tawa captures the essence of American music remarkably well in an easily read, though somewhat dry, book that adds much to the understanding of pioneer life in America. --Alan Hirsch

Library Journal Review

Here, Tawa (music, emeritus, Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston) documents the refined and primitive musical interests of the newly formed United States and describes music-making practices that are as varied as its regions and inhabitants. Using an impressive collection of contemporary documents from newspaper articles to personal diaries, Tawa highlights the similarities of and exchanges among apparently diverse cultural groups and provides a historical context for many attitudes about music prevalent today. One of the book's strengths is the adept handling of personal accounts by recognized historical figures (e.g., Julia Ward Howe) and others like Charles Duncan, a music teacher in South Carolina. Rather than use a chronological approach, Tawa organizes his text by cultural activities, using primary source materials to relate a coherent, fully developed history of many aspects of musical life. Written in a matter-of-fact tone, without apology or effusive explanations, this work is a solid introduction to, and exploration of, music in early 19th-century America. Recommended for public and academic libraries.--Teresa M. Neff, Music Lib., Boston Univ. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In the same vein as the author's other sociological studies of US musical life--e.g., The Coming of Age of American Art Music (CH, Oct'91); American Composers and Their Public (CH, Dec'95)--this work examines the attitudes about music and music-making in the antebellum US (c.1800-61), using mostly (published) anecdotal, eye-witness accounts, and narratives as evidence. Although attractive as sources because of their personal and immediate nature, some of the quoted letters, memoirs, and writings lead to eccentric points of view or sweeping generalizations. Tawa pays insufficient attention to the authors' regional, class, and gender biases--factors that render them interesting as testimony but not necessarily viable as proof of the real nature of plantation musical life, specific musical tastes, or actual stereotypes. Of note is the attention paid to the topics of music education and such musical-party venues as the frolic and rout; however, these discussions do not include much detail about what musical subjects were taught or about what pieces were studied or performed. Useful to the general and undergraduate reader interested in US social history, the book provides little on musical repertory or music analysis. A. M. Hanson St. Olaf College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Chapter 1 Shaping Music for an American Societyp. 3
The State of Musical Culture
Art Music and Opera in the Young American Democracy
Common Patterns of Thought and Feeling
To Serve a Useful Purpose
The Shaping of Lyric and Tune
Chapter 2 Why Americans Did or Did Not Cultivate Musicp. 32
Americans Who Shunned Music
Superficial Justifications for Music
An Agreeable Recreation
The Emotional Side to Music's Cultivation
Therapeutic and Other Reasons for Music's Cultivation
Songs for Remembrance
Musical Transcendence
Chapter 3 Becoming Acquainted with Musicp. 68
Musical Instruments in the Home
Discovering Music in the Domestic Circle
Discovering Secular Music outside the Home
Discovering Sacred Music outside the Home
The Influence of Education
The European Impact
Interracial Exchange
Chapter 4 Listening to Professional Musiciansp. 112
Listening to Popular Singers
Listening to Oratorios
Listening to Opera and Other Imported Vocal Music
Listening to Instrumental Art Music
Chapter 5 Amateur Music Making at Homep. 142
The Nonprofessional Approach to Musical Performance
Eulogies to the Home
Secular Music within the Home Circle
Religious Music within the Home Circle
Chapter 6 Parties, Frolics, and Other Celebrationsp. 176
The Customary Evening Parties at Home
The More Imposing Parties
Frolics: Revels for Commoners
Excursions and Picnics
Other Causes for Musical Celebration
Chapter 7 Education and Religionp. 210
Music at School
Sunday Schools
White Church Services and Prayer Meetings
Black Church Services and Prayer Meetings
Camp Meetings
Funerals, White and Black
Chapter 8 Serenades and Other Outdoor Musicp. 246
Other Street and Outdoor Music
Chapter 9 Music for Work and Public Placesp. 271
Work and Song
Bees, Huskings, and Barn Raisings
Music in Public Places
Amateurs in Public Performance
Chapter 10 Denouementp. 289
Notesp. 299
Bibliographyp. 333
Indexp. 345