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American Music Month 2017

Revolutionary Musical Exchanges
November 1 – 30, 2017
School of Music, University Library, and Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
University of Illinois
Urbana, Illinois
Events Calendar

In his 2006 Reith Lecture, Daniel Barenboim said, “in times of totalitarian or autocratic rule, music (indeed culture in general) is often the only avenue of independent thought. It is the only way people can meet as equals, and exchange ideas. Culture then becomes primarily the voice of the oppressed and it takes over from politics as a driving force for change.” With each new social upheaval over the last century music readily has been used to give voice to different communities’ shared experiences of oppression, discontent, and social unrest. Through these musical expressions of revolution and cultural exchange musicians have strengthened the ideological bonds of each new movement through sound.

This year marks the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Prior to this political coup music and other arts from Western Europe were openly accepted by Russia’s monarchy.  After this political upheaval opportunities for intellectual and music exchange were severely limited.  John Philip Sousa’s tour of St. Petersburg in 1903 provided opportunities for his band to play American music and portray American idealisms in Russia.  American music was not openly heard in Russia again until 1952 with the first U.S. State Department jazz tour by Dizzy Gillespie.

In the midst of America’s Great Depression, Letritia Kandle, a Hawaiian steel guitarist from Chicago, developed the revolutionary idea of constructing the first 26-string console steel Hawaiian guitar to be played while standing. This innovative electronic music instrument propelled her to international fame with performances alongside musical stars such as Paul Whiteman. Her groundbreaking performances on Chicago’s WGN Radio Station and as director of the Chicago Plectrophonic Orchestra provided her a special forum to expose American audiences to her unique music performances.

In 1968, during the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, John Garvey, a professor of music at the University of Illinois, led the University of Illinois Jazz Band on a ‘revolutionary’ tour of Russia. After hearing Russian folk music performed for his ensemble on this tour he was inspired to introduce Russian folk music to the University of Illinois.  He used this tour and two others the following years to learn more about Russian music and to begin building America’s first university Russian folk orchestra program.  This orchestra provided students interested in Russian music the opportunity to openly study it without having to travel to the Soviet Union.

Similarly, the tumultuous 1960s and 70s in America gave rise to the country’s growing anti-Vietnam War movement on college campuses. Here at the University of Illinois, music was used in 1970 by revolutionary figures seeking to rebel and protest against the United States’ involvement in this political police action.  However, by 1972 groups like Medicare 7, 8, or 9 used music as a tool for healing the growing rift between student revolutionaries and campus faculty members.

While today’s growing social and political unrest throughout America may eventually give rise to a new generation of resistance songs, the Sousa Archives’ American Music Month exhibits this year offer signs of hope. Each exhibit shows that through revolutionary exchanges and revolutionary music, we may be able to foster a dialog between contrary viewpoints. The four exhibits featured this November include: Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: an Unexpected Tour Adventure; “From Russia with Love:” John Garvey’s Russian Folk Orchestra; Letritia Kandle and the Grand Letar: Hawaiian Music on Illinois’ Grand Prairie; and Illinois’ Anti-Establishment Soundscapes: Troubled Waters in 1970. In addition, the Sousa Archives is again sponsoring the children’s programming for the 2017 Folk and Roots Festival, and Illinois leading contemporary composers including Philipp Blume, Sean Harold, John Nichols, and Scott Wyatt. The final concert, MANDEL-FIELDSTEEL-WAHLS: Retrogression and Evolution, features Nathan Mandel, Chad Whals, and special guest performances by Eli Fieldsteel and Guido Sanchez Portuguez.

School of Music
Sousa Archives and Center for American Music

Champaign-Urbana Folk and Roots Festival
Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center
Sousa Archives and Center for American Music
University of Illinois Library

We invite you to join our musical exploration of the music and revolutionary dialogues of John Philip Sousa, John Garvey and the University Russian Folk Orchestra, Letritia Kandle and her Grand Letar, and the University of Illinois’ Medicare 7, 8, or 9 Dixieland jazz band through new concerts, children’s programming, and exhibitions for the coming year.