American History in the
Mahoney Music Collection
This week we celebrate the birth of our nation, with this Friday marking the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout those two centuries, music has played a key role in shaping our American culture, and the Mahoney Music Collection is lucky to hold some of the best of our American music history. I poured through records, combed the stacks – and even got caught in the back room during a power outage! – to compile this feature on American music from the Mahoney Music Collection.
Beginners’ method book containing small exercises, music theory basics, and simple, two-part tunes. It gives information about the instrument’s construction, great violinists, playing in groups, and using the violin for teaching vocal music. Also has a supplement of Jacob Augustus Otto’s treatise.
Fisher traces music printing in the U.S. from through the centuries. The very first book of music, though “crudely-printed”, was 9th edition of The Bay Psalm Book in 1698 Massachusetts (previous versions only contained text). Included are stories of prominent publishers such as Schirmer, Lyon & Healy, and Witmark, plus numerous maps, portraits, and other illustrations.
With a forward by Carl Sandburg and almost a thousand pages of tales, this book is really a gem of Americana. It covers everything from Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan to nursery tales and ghost stories. The reason it is part of the Mahoney collection is the large section of ballads and songs, arranged into chapters with titles like “Songs of Sailormen and Rivermen”, “Cowboy Songs”, and “Hobo and Jailhouse Songs”. Each individual song has a verse and chorus written out on the staff, then printed lyrics for the (abundant) remaining verses. Some even have a brief history of the tune. I didn’t recognize many of the titles, but just sight-reading some them was fun.
These two volumes are amazingly not about the same person. I was stunned to find Ten Years a Cowboy and learn about the legendary Tex Bender, and was even more excited to come across Cowboy Fiddler. Actually, there are four books in the collection about fiddling cowboys! Apparently there is an American tradition of cowboys playing the violin. Harmonica? – sure, they’re rather portable. But violin…? Cowboy Fiddler is the memoir of Frankie McWhorter, a cowboy who played in Bob Wills’s band. The other, Ten Years a Cowboy, is more mysterious. I couldn’t track down who this legendary fiddler was, or how he got his nickname, but this is another beautiful example of Americana. Fantastic illustrations accompany “the story, romance and adventures of a life on the plains with the varied experiences as cow-boy, stock-owner, rancher”.
Among all our musician biographies, I felt I had to include Maud Powell in this salute-to-America post. For, not only was she “America’s first great master of the violin” when much of classical music was imported from Europe, but she was also a woman. Even today, there is a huge gender disparity in professional orchestras. At the turn of the 20th century, there was an even larger bias toward women performers. Maud Powell is a chapter in American history not only about music but also about feminism. She broke barriers to bring American musicians on par with European, and to bring female musicians on par with the men. One of my heroes.