The short argumentative essay “Menace of Mechanical Music” written by John Phillip Sousa elaborates on why he believes that the rising innovations made in recorded music are actually hurting the industry rather than supporting it. One of the first arguments he makes in the piece is how the soulful expression of an artist has been reduced to a “mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylinders, and all manner of revolving things.” Another worry that Mr. Sousa has is how these recording devices will be revolutionary for the worse. Having music so readily available for common folk would change the perspective of music as a whole. Whereas before, music was only heard live by people who have spent hours practicing at honing their skills in instrumentation. With the introduction of recorded music, the showmanship of skill has been replaced by the effortless recording which spews out the repetition of a song over and over. I find these two arguments highlighted in the essay to be very interesting. I find lots of truth in the first point made by Sousa, even today. When technology was so limited back in the day and the recordings were still not nearly as advanced as they are today, I can see how there would be a large discrepancy in musicality, performance, and overall enjoyment when listening to a song on a phonograph vs hearing the artist live. Even today, I find concerts to be a lot more enjoyable rather than just listening to recordings of them, even when todays technology has nearly perfected capturing crystal clear sound from the likes of talented musicians. Watching performances of music live can not nearly compare to the single recording of the song.
I was not able to attend the class visit to the Occidental Special Collections so I made an appointment during the day to come in and meet with the Special Collections librarian and gain a little insight to some of the artifacts on my own time. When I visited the Special Collections, I was quickly fascinated by the extensive collection of artifacts Occidental held in their possession. The attendant was very helpful and brought out a few artifacts that she believed would help me garner greater insight towards the era that we are currently studying in class. I chose this artifact of “Minstrel Songs Old and New” which appears to be published by Oliver Ditson & Co. The worn cover displayed the obvious aging of the book full of sheet music. Gothic style font was popular for the 19th century also showcasing the time period the book was published. As shown above, I have selected the first song of the book called “Old Folks at Home,” written and composed by S.C. Foster. There are many features of this sheet of music that I find quite interesting at first glance. For one, the notes and rhythm can be easily decoded as it seems that the notation for music theory has remained consistent even to this date. Symbols such as half-notes and quarter notes are quite simple, yet easy to understand for any competent musician even today. One element that is excluded in this early sheet of music is the time signature at the beginning of the bars. I question the composer’s exclusion of this element as it is quite vital in today’s music to understand how the composition is counted through the measurement of certain beats.
In “Opeener Papers” written during the advent of the phonograph, many aspects of society’s reaction towards such a profound device can be highlighted throughout this text. From the first chapter, we see Mr. Openeer head to a house party where he was welcomed by the sound of not the hostess of the house, but rather the voice of a phonograph. Much to the delight of the party goers, many people found this device quite the entertainment. This written work showcases the many uses of the phonograph during this time period and how society reacted to the many uses for it. These reactions are quite interesting given the tone of the speaker as the paper is filled to the brim with flowery language with the highest esteem praising this newfound device. Given as it was written by the National Phonograph Company, this is not a surprise but has the ability to fool any person that is unaware of this knowledge.
Another use, other than entertainment, for the phonograph is the idea for keepsake of voices for those that have passed away. This is almost revolutionary in the sorts for those that are mourning the death of a loved one. Whereas before the phonograph, most keepsakes of memories of people were hand written documents or belongings. However with the introduction of the phonograph, this adds a layer of almost “realism” to having a deceased loved one speak again. Hearing someone’s voice can be very impactful as it is how humans connect through communication. Having the phonograph reproduce human voices even after death was a very special use for those that have lost loved ones.