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Opening Concert from Town Hall

Friday, February 12, 1954

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Opening concert for the 15th Annual American Music Festival.

Seymour Siegel introduces the program by discussing WNYC's role in opening a "channel of communication in a democracy" and thanks the performers union.

Vice President of Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, applauds the work of WNYC and the American Music Festival in "furthering the cause of live music and professional musicianship."

Mayor Wagner remembers the "part music plays in the culture of our city" and thanks WNYC for the work done at giving musicians the opportunity of participation. "If we here in New York are to still be the cultural center of our country - and I sincerely hope of the world - because unless we retain that leadership, we are going to give up something that is so important in our life here, a very important part of making our city the kind of city that we love so much, the kind of city that we want to give to our children in the way of a fine heritage." Pays tribute to the staff of WNYC.

Concert performed by Orchestra of the National Orchestra Association, under the direction of Leon Barzin. Works of the 1953 award winners of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Siegel introduces Dr. Douglas Moore, president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, who explains the awards celebrated that evening.


Soloists:
Morris Wilk, violinist
William Hess, tenor

Arts and Letters winners:
Peggy Glanville-Hicks
Roger Goeb
Nikolai Lopatnikoff


Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection


WNYC archives id: 8523

Contributors:

Leon Barzin, Peggy Glanville-Hicks, Roger Goeb, William Hess, Alfred A. Knopf, Nikolai Lopatnikoff, Douglas Moore, Seymour N. Siegel, Robert F. Wagner and Morris Wilk

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About American Music Festival

Conceived in 1939, the first WNYC American Music Festival hit the air in February 1940. For more than forty years, it was a station tradition of live events and concerts, reflecting "the culture of a peaceful people, in a land where men and women of any race and creed were free to compose and perform music based on any and all themes." From Lincoln to Washington's birthdays the festival's concerts filled WNYC's airwaves, providing listeners with the full range of live American music from classical, to folk, to jazz and everything in between both in-studio and from concert stages around the city.

The festival was a response to the dominant Euro-centric musical attitudes of the time. Reflecting on the festival's birth, station Director Morris Novik wrote in 1945, "It was obvious that something should be done to fill the gap that was a serious hindrance to the furthering of the cause of native American musical genius. There were no provisions for encouraging and fostering this talent, and only a very limited means of presentation of Americans works that deserved to be heard."

Four Objectives of the American Music Festival

  1. Provide a sounding board for talented young American musicians.
  2. Grant a hearing and performance to any meritorious works or compositions of native composers.
  3. Promote the cause of American classical music, which is heard all too rarely on concert programs.
  4. Interest the public in the appreciation of good American music.

In its first six years, listeners heard Morton Gould, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles and Deems Taylor, some for the first time on radio. On the folk front, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger were regular performers. In jazz, listeners heard from the likes of Benny Goodman, Sam Price and Albert Ammons.

The first ticket, to a "POP CONCERT," was for the All Star Army Band with Private Johnny Messner conducting and Private Buddy Moreno as vocalist. Also performing was the U.S. Maritime Service Orchestra with Ensign Philip Lang conducting.

The second ticket, part of the closing concert for the series, was for admission to a concert featuring the music of Aaron Copland. This program included:

  • "Dance of the Adolescent" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smith, pianos.
  • "As It Fell Upon A Day" performed by Shirley Sinclair, soprano; Anabel Hulme, flute; and Meyer Kupferman, clarinet
  • "Three Pieces from Our Town" with Aaron Copland, piano
  • "Danzon Cubano" with Aaron Copland and Leo Smit, pianos and Isaac Stern, violin

During a concert intermission at one of the early festivals, (the final concert of the 1941 season), Aaron Copland stated that the radio audience was key to developing American music. In fact, he closed his remarks by hoping for "bigger and better WNYC festivals in the future." Following his intermission speech, the Brooklyn Academy audience heard a world premiere of a choral work by another American composer, Roy Harris.

By the mid-1980s WNYC's American Music Festival had run its course. The last few festivals were a shadow of their former glory as eleven days of live concerts were compacted into a day-long "Americathon". This single day of performances was sandwiched between broadcasts of American music from the studios on record only.

In the early 21st century the days between Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays were still a time for WNYC to focus on American music. In fact, in 2001 the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) recognized WNYC last year with one of their first-ever Concert Music Awards. It honored WNYC for "75 years of enlightened broadcasting featuring the music of our time."

Thanks to the NYC Municipal Archives and its Director, Kenneth R. Cobb, and to Andy Lanset for his research and preservation work.

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