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When Did Country Music Begin to Evolve into an Industry

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Essay title: When Did Country Music Begin to Evolve into an Industry

American music of today has spawned from music of the past. As explained in chapter four of the A History of the Music in American Life by Ronald Davis, Jamestown is the founding spot of American music. Yet compositions were not conceived until the early eighteenth century with the musical compositions by the drastically differing composers, Billings and Hopkinson. Francis Hopkinson was a popular composer of the time but does not change or influence music in society of today. William Billings is an original composer, writing from the heart, appealing to all classes and very influential in the furthering of "American" music. The venues playing these two types of music differ in the past as they still do. The distinction between “European” music and “American” music in the present day, lends itself to an age old dichotomy of musical correctness that can be traced back to Hopkinson and Billings.

Mozart, Handel, Pergolesi, Corelli, and Hopkinson all produce “European” music and emulate the correctness and standard of traditional music. Hopkinson strictly wrote in a “European” style. He ironically wrote broadside ballads mocking the British and aimed to instill excitement in the patriot cause such as “The Battle Keg”. Instead of seeing these broadside ballads he wrote as a noteworthy style, he instead thought of them merely as propaganda. Although at the time of creation, Hopkinson’s music was well received, “Hopkinson’s way of life would vanish…his music remained a fragile reminder of a colonial aristocracy of that time and an industrialization social system had left behind” 1. “Using the European masters as his model” 2, his music lacked originality. “His songs began no trend, laid no foundation on which future composers could build, but merely perpetuated a dilettante tradition rooted in the past” 2. Even his inventions were obsolete after his generation. A leather or cork pick instead of a quill pick for the harpsichord failed to make a difference in that a few years later, the piano replaced the harpsichord. His music was purely a social luxury of the rich. He lacked expression of the time and his surrounding as Davis reiterates, “Their gentile music and gentile lyrics were meant to be reminders of the placid civilization far removed from the turmoil of revolutionary America” 3. Traditional classical music played today very similarly is thought to be for the scholarly and as background music or only performed in the concert hall. This music in a sense holds its nose up to any new innovative music of the time just as Hopkinson and other aristocrats did to Billings and any other new form or style of music. Although still in existence today, popular/ “American” music seems to lie in the forefront of today’s society.

A new age of music created by William Billings lacks the social grace, delicacy, and refinement that music of the time was supposed to have. Being “primarily self taught,” 4 he seemed to have a grasp on the idea of “American” music and originality each composer should have. Billings believed as he stated, “for every Composer to be his own Carver” 5. He wrote his music for all to enjoy and to sing. “Billings aim was to teach musical notation without robbing his students of the joy of singing, and he represents the peak of the singing school tradition” 6. He wrote hymns and anthems as a glee. Billings is noted for writing the first music book filled only with American music. He was able to use pre-existent forms and add his own personal touch and feeling. Unlike Hopkinson, Billings' music was not clearly rooted in “European” musical law and did not strive to enhance individuals with correctness of the gentlemanly image. Billings as a base created and “permitted the freedom for growth” 7 or in other words the foundation of American music and how it came to be. His main vehicle of writing was a musical style originating from a European style of music ironically. This style of music was called fuging tunes and became the first musical trend in America. “Much of their appeal seems to lie in the independence they provided the different vocal parts and in the excitement and sense of rivalry they stimulated among these parts” 8. This style of music traveled very south and became closely related and associated with the Scared Harp style of singing. Even those opposed to his music found it difficult to pay no heed to the fact that “he injected a vitality and cheer… filled with dramatic contrasts that result in emotionally exciting performances” 9. Music of the time should follow the “European” code of music; his music was crude and lacking. His belief was that nature was the best dictator. His music style led to the concept an idea of “American” music. He ‘won out’ in a sense that his music led to the creation of popular music of today.

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