The Role of America in the Development of Twentieth-Century Music

The 20th century marked a period of significant growth in the music sector. Composers felt at liberty to experiment with a variety of styles in order to establish new or unique art forms. As they created diverse music, they managed to set aside some traditions that characterized specific genres. The deviation from particular formats led to the adoption of new compositional approaches. Thus, western musicians turned to Africa for reaffirmation of a lost ethnic heritage or inspiration (Rockwell, 1981). One of the nations that contributed to the diversification of style was the United States. It influenced the creation of a significant number of genres that became very popular across the world. Thus, the US played a central role in the growth and development of 20th-century music as well as its acceptance around the globe.

Growth and Expansion of the US

At the beginning of 1900, the US was still a relatively young economy. It had not experienced economic growth and population expansion as it had only existed as an official country for 100 years. The state was far from becoming an influential international political force given the difficulties that Americans had endured during the previous century such as the Civil War (Jacobson, n.d. 1). Sections of its population had suffered various injustices such as racial segregation caused by lack of enlightenment. The development of infrastructure systems like the transcontinental railroad opened up organizations to a world of new possibilities. The state could now export and import products across regions such as Europe and Asia (Jacobson, n.d. 2). Thus, it developed a thriving economy that cemented its place as a leading nation.

During the 20th century, the country expanded due to the addition of new states. Individuals from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds inhabited various regions across the US. The immigrants were from areas like England, France, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia. Each group had a unique musical tradition that distinguished it from other migrants (Jacobson, n.d. 2). A significant section of the population that influenced music was Africans and Cubans who settled in the southeastern US. The two communities played a crucial role in the development of music as their traditions and culture impacted the creation of different genres styles during this era. Thus, the movement of different ethnic communities to the region influenced the growth of the country’s music industry.

The US attracted immigrants from different regions across the world. Interactions amongst members of similar as well as diverse backgrounds impacted music styles that became popular among the populations. The 20th-century music often termed as “American,” was primarily native to the US. The different music forms developed from foreigners’ traditions and practices led to the emergence of exceptional art. Cultural interaction led to the establishment of three distinct genre categories that include American Roots, Popular, and Classical Music (Jacobson, n.d. 3). The categorization, which was based on the style and purpose of the music, sought to place related genres in their appropriate groups. Besides contact with diverse cultures, the history and politics of the 20th century was a source of inspiration that influenced the works of pioneer composers like Elgar and Britten (“20th-Century and Beyond,” n.d.). Thus, cultural interaction led to the birth of major American genres.

Categories of Music

American Roots

The genre allows people of different backgrounds to enjoy art developed by professionals in the industry. Some of the music forms under this group include blues, spirituals, gospel, bluegrass, Appalachian, and Cajun (Jacobson, n.d. 3). As the name suggests, the genre was first established in America. Over time, the original styles influenced the patterns of other people’s lives, leading to the creation of genres such as jazz, rhythm, blues, country-rock, and folk-rock. The message conveyed in roots music does not primarily seek to entertain the listeners; instead, it strives to connect with the target audience by communicating various concepts such as hopefulness (Jacobson, n.d. 4). The folk is passed down from generation to generation through oral tradition, words, and melodies. Therefore, given its popularity, roots music impacted other music styles.

American Popular

The genre gained popularity during the 20th century. Most songs under this section are composed and performed for commercial purposes. A majority of them are ideal for large mainstream audiences such as people in concerts or clubs. The types of songs under the popular category include pop songs, ragtime, barbershop, musical theater and film, rap, as well as the various dance music classes (Jacobson, n.d. 4). Due to the continually changing needs of the audience as well as trends in society, the genre has continued to evolve. Although the category comprises performances that often reach out to large audiences, it captures specific, informative elements, thus leaving out some themes. Hence, it is a popular style that appeals to a particular group.

American Classical

The classical genre is a specific European art-music style. Some of the notable composers recognized for their role in creation of this category include Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. They composed the collection between c1750-1820. Classical performance has a western art-music tradition that entails six stages of growth. The first age, Medieval came into existence between c450-1450. It was followed by “Renaissance” that occurred between c1450-1600 (Jacobson, n.d. 4). The “Baroque” was written between c1600-1750 while the “Classical” followed around c1750s. The “Romantic” period occurred between c1820-1900.  The last phase “Modern” version of classical music came into existence since 1900 (Jacobson, n.d. 4). Understanding the changes witnessed in modern classical performance requires one to review the shifts that have occurred between 1900 and 1999. The transformations that led to the growth of the genre are attributable to the relief it provides from hectic schedules. Classical music was often presented in concert halls and theatrical performances, an aspect that made it attract the interest of many people. Therefore, throughout the 20th century, composers experimented with the genre and came up with unique styles such as chamber and orchestral music. As a result, broader varieties of music forms were created.

Influence of the African American Community

Before the 20th century, some genres had already spread across some parts of the US. A good example is the blues music; which had already established its roots in the area. As slaves in a new environment, the African Americans needed to practice their traditional way of life in order to remain connected to their ancestral origins. Therefore, as they went about their duties, they came up with various compositions sung during tasks. Musicians would later draw inspiration from this familial connection to Africa (Lewis, 2016). The slaves only performed traditional African spirituals, work calls, love and sorrow songs, as well as chants (Moore, 2014). The selection formed the framework for the blues genre that later grew and attracted a broad audience within the borders of the US and beyond. Thus, the African American community, alongside its exceptional culture and appreciation for music, impacted the developing genres. Its influence is present in jazz, rock, country music, rhythm, and blues, as well as classical music (“20th Century Music,” n.d.). Therefore, African American subcultures significantly impacted the industry.

Apart from impacting the 20th-century blues performance, the American community influenced the development of jazz. Southern states had a relatively large population of African Americans due to the slave trade. The subpopulations played a significant role in the growth of jazz music. The genre grew to become a transformational force that further influenced the adoption of a variety of styles in other categories (“20th-Century Music,” n.d.). The slaves in the south incorporated rhythms that reflected the cultural diversity that captured the differences in compositions of the community. For instance, it accounted for the cultural influence of people from West Africa to the Indies region. The continuously evolving style contributed to its impact on other classes such as soul and cool jazz as well as rock and roll. Good examples of composers and artists whose work reflected influences of blues and jazz include Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry (“20th-Century Music,” n.d.). Their creations and performances heavily borrowed from the blues genres. Thus, by relying on diverse subcultures, composers were able to create unique tunes.

African American music also influenced the growth of soul music. The community’s gospel was a central part of the lives of the different groups that worked in the plantations. They used religion as a means of coping with harsh working conditions and separation from their families due to the slave trade. The communities used rhythm and creative wording to express their pain and frustration in life. However, gospel songs were a means of conveying and sharing hope for a better tomorrow. It united people of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds by appealing to their anger against the state of affairs in the US. Soul music borrowed some concepts from African American gospel, as well as rhythm and blues traditions (“20th Century Music,” n.d). Singers, composers, and arrangers used techniques employed by the African American community to improve the performance and presentation of music-art. Some groups such as New Edition used these styles to develop popular music versions (“20th Century-Music, “n.d.). Thus, the soul genre was formed by combining different elements of African-American gospel performance.

Changes in the Music Industry

The process of making music in the 20th century changed due to various factors. Some of the underlying forces that led to constant experimentation and expression of artistic art forms include hostile political climates, advancements in technology, and freedom to deviate from traditional styles. For instance, political activities around the world during the 20th century motivated composers to create pieces that would reflect the tense political atmosphere. Events like the Holocaust and World War II had long-lasting impressions on American composers (“20th Century and Beyond,” n.d.). They enabled them to find advanced ways of capturing or reporting problems affecting people. Composers responded to the disastrous events by being creative and working toward the establishment of musical patterns and trends that were more exciting (“20th-Century and Beyond,” n.d.). As a result of exercising their freedoms and active participation in matters affecting societies, they contributed to the expansion of music-art forms. Therefore, the liberty to experiment and deviate from previous models and musical practices led to further development in music.

Other composers relied on their native music to develop different styles. Their creations contributed to the expansion and uniqueness of 20th-century music. For instance, the Native American jazz experience was instrumental to the development of other genre forms. Some artists drew inspiration from personal interactions. Excellent examples include American composers George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. Creators embraced jazz styles and used them to develop and advance specific music elements. Besides native jazz music, folk songs also inspired various composers (“20th Century and Beyond,” n.d.). For instance, Gershwin created a jazz piece titled “Rhapsody in Blue.” It premiered in 1924 at a New York concert hall. The performance titled “An Experiment in Modern Music” that included other classical artists was a success (“Twentieth-Century Music,” 2007). Adoption of advanced technology enabled producers to record classical and jazz genres in an organized way. Besides, composers and artists were able to enhance their production and distribution processes (Scaruffi, 2005). Technology allowed them to break away from traditions that had held back rapid expansion. For instance, using Arnold Schoenberg’s atonality and the twelve-tone technique, American composers like Scott Bradley incorporated the scores of the famous Tom and Jerry cartoons (“Music of the 20th-Century,” n.d.). Thus, by relying on native experiences and changes in technology, composers enhanced the quality of some genres.

Overall, the 20th century was an era of remarkable growth, changes, and expansion in the American music industry. It was also a period of economic development for the country, which attracted different ethnic communities from Africa, Europe, and Asia. Each group brought its music, and the cultural interaction led to the establishment of new forms of genres. African American immigrants and slaves introduced unique music cultures that significantly impacted existing music styles. They used art to express their sufferings, loneliness, and to air their grievances. Thus, the US played a significant role in the creation and development of 20th-century music.





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