Bicentennical Home
Special Programs
- Library of Congress

American Music for the Library of Congress Bicentennial

A three-year series of concerts, recordings, and educational programs was launched with the 1999-2000 concert season. Taking its title from Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing," the Bicentennial music series explores America's musical heritage from colonial days to the end of the 20th century. This nationally significant series will be excerpted for radio broadcast nationally and internationally, with selected events also available via cybercast.

The World's Greatest Collection of American Music Comes to Life

The music collection of the Library of Congress demonstrates its commitment to preserving American culture for future generations. Annually, the Library presents a wide range of events, embracing chamber music, jazz, dance, and American music theater. Performances in the "Concerts from the Library of Congress" series are based on the collections of the Library's Music Division, and often feature commissioned works by some of the nation's most distinguished composers. Presentations to mark the Library's Bicentennial celebration bring to life selections from a variety of genres spanning America's history.

Popular Song

Music has marked the triumphs and defeats and the joys and sorrows of American life. From Stephen Foster to Steven Sondheim, from minstrel to Motown, from Yiddish theater music to Broadway musicals, the series highlights the popular songs that have consoled, amused and inspired generations.

Sacred Music

The series presents a rich repertory of sacred music in tribute to the principle of religious freedom on which America was founded. Included will be the hallowed hymns of the Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in North America), deeply expressive African-American spirituals and gospel songs, and the sacred-harp traditions of the countryside.

Band Music

Before the advent of recording and broadcasting, Americans learned the classics from touring performances of the great wind ensembles of Gilmore, Sousa and others. The series includes marching band compositions that have delighted audiences from the Revolutionary period through the brass bands of the Civil War era to the U. S. Marine Band today.

Choral Music

Among the nation's thriving social and musical organizations are many choruses and glee clubs whose repertories were built by some unsung heroes of our culture--composers and arrangers whose art taught us to sing popular folk and theater music during our school years. In addition to the performance of classics from this choral music tradition, a cantata on the artistic partnership of Jenny Lind and Phineas T. Barnum, "Barnum's Bird," has been commissioned by the Library of Congress and the Plymouth Music Series of Minnesota.

Chamber Music

America's growing interest in chamber music has been nurtured by the popular concert series of the Library of Congress. The Library is adding to the great body of its now-famous commissions with four newly commissioned fanfares in honor of Aaron Copland's centennial. The Library has partnered with National Public Radio in broadcasting an all-Copland concert by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on Copland's birthday, November 14th.

The Americanization of European Music

Numerous great American compositions were written by immigrants. The works of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith, and others are being revisited in the Americanization of European Music series. Chopin, Verdi, and European composers who influenced Walt Whitman and his contemporaries are also being performed.

America's Voice: Rhythm and Blues, Country, Rock & Roll to Rap

The three-year Bicentennial celebration explores the mosaic of musical expression that is uniquely American--jazz and its birth from ragtime and rhythm and blues; a scholarly look at the country and western music of America's heartland; the African American contribution to American popular music; and the explosion of rock and roll, rap and other musical genres that continue to dominate the international music scene.

Folk Music

A wealth of folk music by Native Americans, coal miners and blues singers, among others, has been recorded in the field under the auspices of the Library of Congress since 1928. The recordings have inspired composers and performers from Burl Ives to Harry Bellafonte. Concerts performed by talented artists celebrate this monumental legacy, the fruit of the collective efforts of such pioneers as John and Alan Lomax.

An Historical Venue

The Library's newly refurbished Coolidge Auditorium, renowned for its acoustics and as the birthplace of America's chamber music renaissance, is the site of the Bicentennial music series, I Hear America Singing. The Coolidge has seen legendary performances by the Budapest Quartet, Leonard Bernstein, George Szell and other greats. It also hosted the world premieres of Copland's Appalachian Spring, Stravinsky's Apollo and many of the masterpieces of 20th century music.

The Widening World: Music and Media
Multi-Media Premiere

Based on works by Euripides and Aeschylus, composer Roger Reynolds' multi-media opera, Justice, explores the combination of the human voice with multitrack electronic playback equipment. Justice features appearances by acclaimed soprano Lauren Flanagan and actors from Japan's Tadashi Suzuki Company of Toga. The presentation takes place in the extraordinary space of the Great Hall.

The Music Division of the Library of Congress

The Bicentennial music series is being presented by the Music Division of the Library of Congress, which was inducted into the Cincinnati Classical Music Hall of Fame in April 1999, and received the ASCAP-Chamber Music America award for adventurous programming for its concert series in 1997-98.

Among the performances of I Hear America Singing during the 1999-2000 season were Bobby Short & His Orchestra featuring songs by Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Harold Arlen. New York Festival of Song artists John Hancock, Judy Kaye, and Jennifer Aylmer, with pianists Michael Barret and Steven Blier, presented an evening of snapshots by the "Great American Songwriting Teams." The season's finale celebrated the 70th birthday of Stephen Sondheim with performances of his favorite songs by guest artists and Mr. Sondheim's personal commentary and a concert version of the 1974 musical, The Frogs, based on a comedy by Aristophanes.

"I Hear America Singing" concerts during the 2000-2001 season include the Copland Centennial Concerts and live NPR broadcast; music of the trumpeter-composer Dave Douglas; a commission by Don Byron; the music of Irving Fine; and a new song cycle by William Bolcom, bringing to life an imaginative re-creation of a complex, vital Sally Hemings.


-About the Bicentennial
-Commemorative Items
-Local Legacies
-Special Programs
-Gifts to the Nation
-America's Library
Library Home