CSP 64 - Spring 2019

From the Phonograph to Auto-Tune...

Author: jshwayder

The Marvel of Mechanical Music

John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor during the Romantic era. He wrote hundreds of marches, dances, and operas many of which are still utilized today in American military forces. While Sousa was an original and imaginative musical creator, he detested the creation and influence of the modern phonograph on music composition and culture. Sousa worried that the replication of music would diminish the effect of the “expression of soul” and reduce the emotional expression of music down to something mathematic and passionless. Sousa was also troubled by the possibility of Americans no longer valuing the traditional study of music; claiming that when music can be easily accessed, people will become indifferent to the practice of honing musical skills themselves. In modern American, recorded music has become a source for the creation and dispersal of emotive art. Though music is not coming directly from the artist/composer to the listener, recorded music has not lessened the effect that music can have on a persons emotional and physical status. The broad availability of music has allowed modern day listeners to broaden the style, type, and time of the music they are listening to and find pieces that they can more deeply connect with. Similarly, while music is not as readily taught in schools as it once was, the ability to find recorded works of musicians has allowed children and adults to learn music and instruments from those who have already developed their musical skills via recordings. While I agree with Sousa regarding the importance of live music, I believe that the invention of recorded music has worked to benefit musicians and the music community.

More Than a Ticket Stub

Occidental Colleges infamous special collection library is home to obscure and unknown treasures alike. In the special collection, one can find century-old records, sheet music handwritten on vellum, and an Edison phonograph amongst the thousands of relics. If you are lucky, Dale Stieber the college archivist will exhibit her handmade Beatles scrapbook. The red leather bound book is occupied with newspaper clippings of news about concert release dates, new songs, and mobbed stadiums. The scrapbook also includes her indispensable ticket stub from when the Beatles played in her hometown and a one of a kind piece of tobacco from George Harrison’s cigarette. The Beatles had and continued to have an immense influence on music. The Beatles had a unique ability to speak to individuals through their music and lyrics, allowing people like Dale Stieber to commemorate her appreciation for their devotion to music. Dale’s book not only offers us memorabilia from news in the ’60s and ’70s but it reveals the culture, art, and activities that music lovers prioritized in that era. Though I personally lack a handmade scrapbook of my favorite band, I too have a collection of ticket stubs from my favorite concerts along with thousands of photos and videos. While the means of collecting memories from our favorite musicians have changed, the love and appreciation for music has not.  

The Importance of Preserving Sound

The Opener Papers (1900) explain the many uses and future uses of the phonograph. These include the recordings of songs by famous singers, speeches by influential thinkers, lessons in foreign languages, and even sermons. Though the phonograph was not able to fulfill Edisons initial wishes of voice-mail via phonograph, the phonograph, in my opinion, was able to perform a more meaningful accomplishment. With the manageability of recording oneself, many found the task fun and amusing. Friends would gather to have phonograph parties, families would record songs together, and parents were able to record their child’s first words. The phonograph became a mechanism to bring people together. Whether a voice guessing party or a makeshift symphony, the phonograph gave people an instrument to stretch their imaginations and invent and try new things. Furthermore, in times of strife, the phonograph was able to preserve the most precious of memories from those who recently passed away. For parents who have lost children, hearing their voice can be, “one of the greatest consolations.” While having recordings of a loved one who passed away will not bring them back, hearing their voice can be comforting to those experiencing grief. The phonograph was not only successful in bringing new music and ideas to people, but it also worked as a medium to bring people together for celebrations and offer comfort during times of despair.