Music - A War Essential

Email a Friend
Helen H. Hull as a young woman around 1915.

From the October, 1942 WQXR Program Guide:

We asked Mrs. Lytle Hull to write this because she is in close touch with efforts to bring more and better music to the public. She is the Director of the Philharmonic Symphony Society, the President of the New Opera Company, and the Acting President of the Musicians Emergency Fund.

In wars of the past, and even in the first World War -- though to a lesser degree-- music was used successfully to arouse the emotions and stimulate the courage and daring of the fighting man. The warrior of old marched off to war, and often advanced into battle, with the strains of martial music inspiring him to deeds of valor. Today the soldier fights to the deafening roar of mechanical implements of destruction --and the crash and turmoil of artillery and machine gun fire provide the motif.

In those other and possibly more romantic days, wars were fought by professional and semi-professional armies, and not often in history were entire populations involved. Today's great human maelstrom, on the other hand, is a war of whole peoples in which the stamina and morale of those behind the lines is as essential to success as is the sturdiness of the actual combatants. It is for this reason that those who control the destinies of the warring nations are providing governmental assistance for the dissemination of ever better and ever more music among the people.

Up until now, it would appear that the governments of England, Russia, China and Germany realize more than does our own the importance of the medium of music in building public morale. For the first time since the reign of the Tudors, four hundred years ago, the British Government has organized and subsidized a department of music--The Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts. This bureau sends symphony orchestras to perform in even the most remote districts of the British Isles. The Government also provides musical entertainment for factories during lunch hours, rest periods and night shifts. The London Philharmonic Orchestra gives daily performances; and the thrilling story of the "Myra Hess Concerts" -- held daily at noon in the National Gallery during the terrible bombing raids of 1941, and always filled to capacity--is well known. The Old Sadler's Wells Opera Company has created two additional companies in order to satisfy the rapidly increasing appetite for music in a race of people not heretofore considered particularly musical.

The Russian Government provides music both for its soldiers at the battlefront and for its workers on the production front. Ballet, opera and symphony concerts were "jammed to the rafters" all last winter--with the temperature sometimes thirty degrees below zero and the armies of Germany in the not-great-distance.

The Government of Chiang Kai-shek has recognized the value of music as a paramount builder and sustainer of public morale. During the past five harrowing years of warfare this Government has organized the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra, the Experimental School of Dramatic Arts Orchestra, and the National Conservatory Orchestra and sends them constantly to those districts where the stimulation of the populace appears desirable.

Germany, always teeming with music, has, from reports, made it a "must" wherever men and women work, and where soldiers gather.

We alone hold back, except for a start which is being made by civilian defense organizations in some localities, perhaps because we are still far away from the constant danger of sudden death, and, paradoxically, need no sedative to quiet our nerves. Some day, let us hope in the not too distant future, our Government will see fit to subsidize the big symphony orchestras and opera companies in this country. In these days of heavy taxation and patriotic calls upon the purses of all, it is difficult for a few public-spirited people to sustain the great organizations like the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. Yet such institutions are essential to our standards of life and they should be maintained by the music-loving public, aided by the City, State or Federal Government.

Of course the radio in this country is helping morale through music, and there is little need to tell WQXR listeners how much that station is contributing to wartime morale by broadcasting more good music than any other station in the United States.

The New Opera Company, organized last year and about to embark on its second season, filled a long recognized vacancy in the musical life of New York City. Intimate opera at moderate prices, performed by young Americans, found a ready and enthusiastic reception. These three above mentioned organizations and others similar to them throughout the country will mean increasingly more to the public as the war continues and as we daily become more conscious of the changes being brought about in the lives of us all.

The blood of many nationalities flows through the lifestream of America, and this fact doubtless accounts for the love of music which is so universal in our nation. One has but to be present at a few Carnegie Hall concerts and observe the rapt expressions and motionless concentration of the many men in uniform, who represent a complete cross-section of the nation, to realize what music must mean to a large percentage of Americans. It makes a stirring plea to lovers of music to do all they can, financially and in other ways, to maintain and encourage our existing musical organizations: a real war job, and of vital importance at this time.

Music stimulates and soothes, inspires and comforts. It is the staff of life to thousands; relaxation and pleasure to hundreds of thousands; and a sustainer, perhaps unconsciously, of morale to millions.


Poster released by Office for Emergency Management. Office of War Information. Domestic Operations Branch. Bureau of Special Services.(1941-1945) National Archives.