Made in America: The Federal Music Project in the Midwest

2019-10-17T18:26:11Z (GMT) by Renee D Gaarder

The 1930s to 1940s saw an upsurge in nationalism and the quest to define American identity. The federal government sponsored and sanctioned a specific nationalist narrative within the programs of the Works Progress Administration, later renamed Works Projects Administration. Very little attention has been paid to the Federal Music Project (FMP) yet this program was an integral part of constructing American identity both nationally and regionally. In conjunction with popular music, and at times in opposition to it, the FMP formed the “soundtrack” of American life.

Although the messages were not as overt as those in other programs, such as the Federal Writers’ Project or Federal Theatre Project, the Federal Music Project played a large part in disseminating American ideals and identity, primarily through classical music, and to a lesser extent, popular, folk, and indigenous forms of music. The Federal Music Project strove to uncover, and at times create, America’s “genuine” musical heritage. The ideals of the New Deal took root in the musical expression of the FMP and impacted the development of American identity both musically and socially. It was not merely a relief program for those on its rolls; it was intended as an education program for the nation. Amid the push and pull of politics, war, and class conflict, American musicians forged and defined a unique style of music that was accepted by the American public.

The dissertation focuses on the FMP activities in the Midwest, or Region IV. Focusing on the Midwest as a region demonstrates how the FMP was interpreted and practiced and allows for a conversation with other the reginal studies of the FMP. Three case studies of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan provide a more detailed analysis of the activities and contributions of each state, and thus the region, offering depth over breadth. Each of these states had dedicated and active symphonies, teaching projects, community outreach, radio broadcasting, and music therapy projects.