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Music in America

Family dancing in a firelit room
[Detail] Power of music.
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Music... the favorite passion of my soul.~ Thomas Jefferson

Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.--E.Y. Harburg (Edgar Yipsel) (1898 - 1981)

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.--Victor Hugo

primary source set
This Primary Source Set includes sound files, images, maps and documents to help teach about the Civil War era through music.
online resources
Especially for Teachers...

Alan Lomax Collection - (American Folklife Center) Explore traditional music, dance, tales, and other forms of grassroots creativity in the United States and abroad collected by Alan Lomax during the 1930s and 1940s.

Amazing Grace - (Performing Arts) Explore the history of the hymn through items from the collections of the Library of Congress, from the earliest printing of the song to various performances of it on sound recordings.

American Brass Band Movement: A Historical Overview , The - (Special Presentation) This essay outlines the history of the American brass band movement from the 1850s through the post Civil War period.

American Choral Music, 1870 - 1923 - (Special Presentation) This collaboration of the American Choral Directors Association and the Library of Congress provides access to significant choral music in the public domain by the leading American composers of the time.

American Memory Sounds Off! - (The Source) This article offers three ideas for using American Memory’s sheet music and audio files with elementary students.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - (Exhibition) Enter the term “music” in the search box at the top of the page and explore America’s history through some of its music related treasures.

Celtic Roots: Stories, Songs and Traditions From Across the Sea - (Cybercast) View a cybercast of this 2002 Library of Congress children’s program celebrating Irish immigrants who arrived in America in the 1880s. Background information, activities and resources are included.

Century of Creativity: The MacDowell Colony 1907-2007, A - (Exhibition) Learn about the history of this creative sanctuary to artists, writers and composers. Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland both spent time working on their compositions at the MacDowell Colony.

Civil War Sheet Music - (Performing Arts) This collection of more than 2500 pieces offers a contemporary perspective from both sides of the conflict.

Development of an African-American Musical Theatre 1865-1910, The - (Special Presentation) This timeline offers a sampling of music from the period.

Folk-Songs of America: The Robert Winslow Gordon Collection, 1922-1932 - (Special Presentation) Listen to samples of wax cylinder recordings of folksongs collected by the first head of the Archive of Folk Culture, Robert Winslow Gordon.

Gender Issues, Race Relations, and Pastimes - (The Source) Students examine play scripts, baseball cards, sheet music, and more in this lesson developed by Claire McCaffery Griffin.

Gerry Mulligan Collection, The - (Special Presentation) Find scores, a discography and oral biography of this jazz legend and arranger, composer, performer and band leader.

Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, The - (Special Presentation) This Library of Congress award celebrates the work of an artist whose career reflects lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding.

Guarneri Twin Violins, The - (Performing Arts) These early 18th century violins made from the same piece of wood are now part of the Library of Congress collections.

Guide to Harlem Renaissance Materials, A - (Library of Congress Bibliography) This online guide presents the Library's resources as well as links to external Web sites on the Harlem Renaissance

In Performance: Choral Works from the Collection - (Special Presentation) Listen to twelve pieces selected from the collection Music For The Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 sung by Library of Congress "Music for the Nation" singers.

Internet Resources for Music, Theater and Dance - (Performing Arts) Link to selected Internet resources outside of the Library of Congress.

Jazz on the Screen - (Performing Arts) This searchable jazz and blues filmography documents the work of major jazz and blues figures in cinema, television and video productions.

Katherine Dunham Collection, The - (Special Presentation) Performer, choreographer, and teacher, Dunham changed the face of American modern dance. View videos of dance technique and performance!

Library of Congress Presents: Music, Theater, and Dance - (Performing Arts)This portal to the performing arts features music, theater and dance collections of the Library of Congress.

Literary Evening with John Prine and Ted Kooser, A - (Cybercast) Listen to the discussion between songwriter and poet as they compared and contrasted the emotional appeal of the lyrics of popular songs with the appeal of contemporary poetry.

Lyrical Legacy: 400 Years of American Song and Poetry - (Special Presentation) Explore eighteen songs and poems representing each of the nine eras of American history.

Making a Statement through Song and Poetry - (Professional Development) These online workshop materials will help educators use Library of Congress primary-source materials to explore the legacy of American song and poetry in their classrooms.

Ragtime - (Performing Arts) See, hear, explore and learn about ragtime, a uniquely American, syncopated musical phonomenon.

Roger Reynolds Collection, The - (Performing Arts) This collection includes a biography, manuscript sketches, audio files, and an interview with Roger Reynolds, winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize.

Scoring with Voices from the Dust Bowl - (The Source) Students use American roots music to score a retelling of Cinderella set in a migrant labor camp in 1940.

Sheet Music Gives Clues to Labor Conditions - (The Source) Librarian Nancy Woodward describes how sheet music from American Memory can be used to teach about the labor movement in the late 1800s.

Song of America - (Performing Arts)  View scores, hear recordings, and learn more about American art song in this companion to the 2005-2006 11-city concert tour featuring baritone, Thomas Hampson.

Song of America Teacher Institute: Making a Statement through Poetry and Song - (Special Presentation) Use Library of Congress primary source materials to explore the legacy of American song and poetry. A mixture of hands-on activities and informal tutorials model methods for researching in the Library

Song of America Tour - (LOC Event) Celebrate the history of creativity in America with the LOC and Thomas Hampson on this 11 city-tour featuring concerts, exhibitions, and teacher institutes.

Songs for Our Times - (Learning Page Activity) Songs express what people think and feel, even as they introduce people, places and events. In this activity, you can explore the past through songs of the time.

Spaelimenenir: Pan Scandinavian Music and Storytelling - (Library of Congress Live) Use this guide to learn more about Scandinavian music, story, and dance.

Spaelimenninir: Music and Stories from Scandinavia - (Cybercast) View a performance of traditional and contemporary folk music and song from Scandinavia.

Star Spangled Banner - (Performing Arts) Celebrate National Anthem Day on September 14th with song sheets, sheet music, sound files and historical information from Patriotic Melodies.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game - (Special Presentation) Learn the history of this popular classic, link to the sheet music, and access more than 140 other baseball-related songs.

Transit of Venus March - (Special Presentation) Celebrate the 2004 Transit of Venus with John Philip Sousa's 19th century march.

Using Sheet Music to Investigate the Reconstruction - (The Source) By guiding students in careful analysis of sheet music, library media specialist Donna B. Levene helps them gain deeper understanding of racial attitudes during Reconstruction.

Volcano of Delight - (Performing Arts) This sheet music collection consists of approximately 9,000 items published from 1800 to 1922.

West Side Story: Birth of a Classic - (Exhibition) This exhibition celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of this 1957 musical.

Western Social Dance: An Overview of the Collection - (Special Presentation) This guide to the An American Ballroom Companion collection includes the special presentation - How to Read a Dance Manual.

  Especially for your Students...

American Treasures: The Mighty Casey - (Exhibition) American composer and educator, William Schuman, spent from 1951 to 1953 working on his first opera based on the poem Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer.

American Treasures: The New England Psalm Singer - (Exhibition) Paul Revere illustrated the cover of this early hymnal.

American Variety Stage: Audio Sampler - (Special Presentation) Listen to ten sample recordings representative of the variety acts captured on wax cylinder discs by the Edison Company between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Brief Introduction to the Music of Aaron Copland, A - (Special Presentation) This essay covers Copland’s early years through his final accomplishments.

Children's Songs - (America's Library) Learn about and listen to favorite children's songs from America's past.

Dance Instruction Manuals: Video Directory - (Special Presentation) View over 75 video clips of dancers illustrating dances ranging from the Renaissance period to twentieth century Ragtime.

Dolly Parton and Country Music - (Special Presentation) Learn about Parton's musical roots, find out more about the history of country music and listen to several tracks from her albums.

Edison Sound Recordings: Alphabetical Title List - (Special Presentation) This page provides easy access to the 81 sound recordings in the Edison Collection.

Fascination for Flutes - (Wise Guide) Read about the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection at the Library of Congress.

Glossary of Musical Instruments - (Special Presentation) Link to a selection of musical instruments recorded, photographed, or sketched for the California Folk Music Project Collection.

Henry Reed: His Life, Influence and Art - (Special Presentation) Learn about Henry Reed whose fiddle music evokes the history and spirit of Virginia's Appalachian frontier.

Historic American Sheet Music Timeline - (Special Presentation) This timeline offers a selection of representative pieces for each decade between 1850 and 1920 and a chronology of major political and international events from each period.

Home Sweet Home: Life in Nineteenth Century Ohio - (Special Presentation) Learn how families entertained themselves by making music together . View sound recordings and sheet music from the period.

Jammin Jukebox - (America's Library) Listen to a tune from America's past.

Patriotic Melodies - (Special Presentation) See, hear and learn about the stories behind many of the songs that are now part of our American heritage.

See, Hear and Sing - (America's Library) Hear a song, play a tune or watch a movie from America's past.

She Wrote the Most Famous "Hymn" of the Civil War - (Wise Guide) Learn the story behind Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic.

This Land is Your Land! - (Wise Guide) Celebrate Independence Day with patriotic songs and other historic Library of Congress treasures.

Today in History (February 13, 1914) ASCAP - (Today in History) The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers was founded in New York City. Its purpose was to protect the copyright and performance rights of the works of its members and its first director was Victor Herbert.

Today in History (September 28, 1912) Father on the Blues - (Today in History) Read about the publication of William Christopher Handy's "Memphis Blues" and how it changed the course of American popular song.

Uncommon Instruments - (America's Library)Learn about and listen to sounds from several unusual musical instruments.

lesson plans

Use these lesson plans (created by educators for educators) to explore topics about science and invention with your students in your classroom:

Twain's Hannibal - (Grades 9-12) Using both primary source documents and print materials, students analyze life around Hannibal, Missouri, during the latter half of the 19th century to determine what effects this location had on the writings of Mark Twain. Part of this lesson includes sheet music analysis.

Stand Up and Sing - (Grades 7-12) Students analyze issues related to industrialization and reform by exploring sheet music and creating original songs.

Exploring Cultural Rituals - (General Reference,) In this lesson, students investigate rituals and customs of various cultures and then explore their own cultural rituals through interviews with family. Activity 3 includes an intercultural music activity.

America Dreams - (Grades 4-12) Students complete an interdisciplinary WebQuest to learn the story of a decade in American history, as they help define the American Dream. In this lesson, students can take the role of a musician.

Two Unreconciled Strivings - (Grades 11-12) Students examine the tension experienced by African-Americans during the Gilded Age. This lesson includes the study of sheet music as a reflection of cultural attitudes.

Nature's Fury - (Grades 6-8) Students examine accounts by Americans from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of their life changing experiences with nature. The artifact gallery includes songs that account nature

What are We Fighting for Over There? - (Grades 10-12) Students create World War I era newspapers with different perspectives on American involvement in the war. Lesson 1 includes World War I song sheet analysis.


Is there a title (or two) that you always read to (or with) your students when teaching about this theme? Are there invaluable reference books that you use? Staff from The Library of Congress have begun a collection of titles for the "Music in America " theme. We hope you will contribute your favorites to our growing bibliography!

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collection connections

Create your own collaborative lesson plans using material related to this month's theme assembled from The Learning Page Collection Connections:

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1820-1860 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection includes popular songs, operatic arias, piano music, sacred and secular vocal music, solo instrumental music, method books and instructional materials, and some music for band and orchestra.

Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music, 1870-1885 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection demonstrates how popular music reflected sentiments surrounding the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Development of the Industrial United States beginning in 1876

America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets - (Summary and Teaching Resources) The pieces in this collection reflect the attitudes of 19th century songwriters and their audiences and provide commentary on contemporary issues and historic events.

Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920 - (Summary Only) The collection is strong in antebellum Southern music and Confederate and Civil War songs. It also includes minstrel songs, patriotic and political songs, spirituals, dance music, marches, and songs from vaudeville, "Tin pan alley", and WWI.

African-American Sheet Music, 1850-1920: Selected from the Collections of Brown University - (Summary Only)

Now What a Time: Blues, Gospel, and the Fort Valley Music Festivals,1938-1943 - (Summary Only) This collection consists of approximately one hundred sound recordings, primarily blues and gospel songs, and related documentation from the folk festivals at Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia.

Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry - (Summary Only) The 108 sound recordings in this collection document the various kinds of material recorded in the 1890s – band and orchestra, instrumentalists, popular music vocalists, classical and opera.

California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties. Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This multi-format ethnographic collection contains more than 35 hours of recorded folk music.

Southern Mosaic: The John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection features 25 hours of folk music from more than 300 performers.

Leonard Bernstein Collection, ca. 1920-1989, The - (Summary Only) Over 400,000 items including music and literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings, fan mail, and other types of materials document Bernstein

Band Music from the Civil War Era - (Summary Only) This collection features over 700 examples of brass band music popular during the Civil War period.

Aaron Copland Collection, ca. 1900-1990, The - (Summary Only) This collection features music sketches, correspondence, photographs and diaries that document Copland

An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manual, ca. 1490-1920" - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Explore over two hundred dance manuals from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Irving Fine Collection: ca. 1914-1962, The - (Summary Only)

Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection - (Summary Only) This collection contains images of flutes and other materials donated to the Library of Congress by noted scientist Dayton Miller.

Florida Folklife from the WPA Collections, 1937-1942 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection documents the music, history and culture of Florida and includes access to 376 sound recordings.

Fiddle Tunes of the Old Frontier: The Henry Reed Collection - (Summary Only)

Woody Guthrie and the Archive of American Folk Song: Correspondence, 1940-1950 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection contains correspondence from Woody Guthrie written while he lived in New York and also essays and illustrations relating to his life and activities.

Hispano Music and Culture from the Northern Rio Grande: The Juan B. Rael Collection - (Summary Only) This collection documents 1940s religious and secular music of Spanish-speaking residents of rural Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.

We'll Sing to Abe Our Song Sheet Music about Lincoln, Emancipation, and the Civil War, from the Alfred Whital Stern Collection of Lincolniana - (Summary and Teaching Resources) This collection includes more than two hundred sheet music compositions about Lincoln and the Civil War as recorded in popular music.

Omaha Indian Music - (Summary Only) This collection features a hundred years of traditional Omaha music ranging from 1890s wax cylinders to 1980s powwows, speeches and interviews.

Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964 - (Summary and Teaching Resources) Explore this collection for images of choreographers, composers, conductors, dancers, musicians and singers.

Moldenhauer Archives - The Rosaleen Moldenhauer Memorial - (Summary Only) This collection contains approximately 3,500 items documenting the history of Western music from the medieval period through the modern era.

Captain Pearl R. Nye: Life on the Ohio and Erie Canal - (This collection contains captures the culture and music of the men, women, and children who worked and lived along the Ohio and Erie Canal.)

William P. Gottlieb: Photographs from the Golden Age of Jazz - (Sumary and Teaching Resources) Explore more than 1600 photographs of celebrated jazz artists taken in New York City and Washington, D.C. from 1938-1948.

search terms

These terms may be useful when searching for items related to this theme in the American Memory collections.

Ballad Folk music Names of songs
Ballroom dancing Jazz Opera


Big band music Minstrels Popular music

Blues (music)

Music Religious music
Campaign songs Music education Sheet music
Choreographers Music ensembles Singers
Composers Music festivals Slaves - songs and music
Concerts Music scores Song sheets
Dance manuals Musical instruments Songs
Dancers Names of dances Spirituals


Names of instruments War songs
Ensembles Names of musicians  

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Last updated 12/01/2005