Nancy Gisbrecht Bailey, Ph.D., who has taught for the Glasscock School for more than 25 years, will bring a piece of her personal history and her usual passion to her fall course, “America’s Music, 1910-1920.” Dr. Bailey explains below why she was drawn to this particular time period and why she is so looking forward to this class.
What sparked your passion for music and music history?
My interest in music has always been there – my earliest memories are of music. My favorite books as a child were “The Child’s Geography” and “History of the World.” I entered college as a French major, stumbled into becoming a music major, and ended up taking a lot of art history courses; I’ve always loved cultural history.
Can you share your first exposure to music from this time period or what drew you to it?
My father loves to drive and our family took frequent car trips. We sang on those car trips and a lot of what we sang comes from this time period. My grandmother played these songs without thinking – she would sit down at the piano, play an introduction and start singing. When I was in high school I found a songbook of Tin Pan Alley favorites from this decade and was blown away by the fact that I knew almost of all of them.
The image with your course in the catalog is of American sheet music from your own collection. Can you tell us about that collection?
My grandmother grew up in a very small town in northeastern Oregon. She was musically talented and, as the first child and only girl, she received special attention from an uncle who bought her one piece of sheet music every week. Her piano skills were such that she also functioned as the unofficial “song plugger” for the town; when someone wanted to hear a new piece of music, my grandmother would come to the store and play it.
My grandmother also never threw anything away. When she downsized, she gave her extensive collection of sheet music to my husband and me. This takes up two shelves in our Rice office; if it were placed in one stack, it would be as tall as I am.
Tin Pan Alley was a prolific industry, so this is by no means everything that was published. But my grandmother was especially interested in Hawaii, so I’m pretty sure she owned every single piece of music with a Hawaiian theme written during the time period in which she was buying music (from about 1912 to the early 1920s). Her collection is also skewed towards the west coast, which is unusual. She has many one-of-a-kind items, including the theme song written for the Calgary Stampede.
You mentioned that your grandmother ended up with large quantities of sheet music from a woman named Ruth McMahon, who left detailed notes on her music. Any interesting notes from her?
It is unfortunate that no one in our family knows anything about Ruth McMahon or how my grandmother ended up with her music. I say that because Ruth used her sheet music as an autobiographical memoir and she led a truly interesting life! This is one of her notes: “Bought on the Battleship Oregon Saturday July 24, 1915, after watching the sham battle between the Navy and the sailors, with Art Smith dropping bombs from his aeroplane.” The song she bought: “It’s only a Kodak picture of the old mill dam at home.” Somehow, her note, which has absolutely nothing to do with the song, makes it much more interesting!
Can you share anything about the musical performance that is a part of this course?
I am so pleased that the Glasscock School now has a venue for live performances. It’s one thing to talk about this music and play recordings of it in class. But it comes alive in a live performance by skilled musicians. Sonja, Tali and I have had a fantastic time putting it together! We started with stacks of music and have gradually pared it down, dividing it into groups of related songs and piano pieces. It is such an interesting period and so many different stories can be told through the music. And Sonja and Tali are great for this project; they transition easily from art song to cabaret to Tin Pan Alley, and you’ll hear them perform all types of music from this period.
What are you looking forward to during this course?
Sharing this repertory! It’s absolutely fabulous music and an amazing time period!
“America’s Music, 1910-1920” begins October 2, with sessions available in the daytime and the evening. We hope to see you then!