Everyone Appreciates Music

Anthony Cochran, 11am Class Period

The Modernism movement was largely driven by groups from different backgrounds being brought together by the close quarters of cities developing at the time. The rise of industry during the beginning of the 20th was the largest factor in driving people into different cities around the world. The blending of culture that would then take place in these densely populated areas drove major social change and several unique cultural movements. Most distinctly, these changes were focused on a divergence from the established norms of the previous century. These changes can be observed in nearly any form of art as individuals sought to express themselves more deeply and capture the turbulent time they were living through. While these changes were diverse, music was commonly appreciated within each movement and is similarly appreciated today.

In the United States, a prominent example of the shift toward cities is the well known cultural hub, New York City. During the Modernist era, New York City experienced several demographic changes that began the process of developing into the melting pot we know today. In the year 1919, New York City experienced an influx of individuals returning from service in World War One, immigrants seeking a better life, and African American populations seeking refuge from the racist institutions of the south. This rapid influx forced people together physically and created an environment for major ideologies to merge. An example of a cultural movement arising out of this cultural amalgam was The Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance represented one of the most culturally intense and expressive times for African American populations in the United States. As housing in New York City was highly dense, individuals with similar backgrounds would live close together, creating microcosms  within the city where specific groups thrived. In the case of the Harlem Renaissance, the lack of space drove a sense of community that led to commodities that were previously withheld from African-American populations to arise. For example, performance venues, a concept that had previously been reserved for the wealthy, non-persons of color in the south, were created allowing for African-American performers to express themselves and providing non-white individuals another way to appreciate the music. This newfound freedom provided by these secluded areas of New York City drove a wave of cultural expression in many forms. 

Generally, music venues are vital to the appreciation of music as a community. The above images show examples of two venues in Atlanta  where deliberate steps have been taken to enhance a pedestrian experience through music. The leftmost image shows a band performing live to restaurant goers as a source of entertainment as they enjoy their meals. The right image depicts a rooftop patio where a group has gathered to experience the atmosphere created, in part, by live performance. In either case, the musicians are able to attain a wider audience and have a greater social impact as a result of the venue they were provided. The creation of venues through which musicians were able to grow their audience during the Harlem Renaissance allowed for major musical trends to form.

One of the most iconic trends to arise out of these circumstances was jazz music and dance. This music form incorporated traditional African musical aspects dealing with rhythm and specific percussive style. While jazz was a complete divergence from what was considered standard for music at the time, it became wildly popular and representative of the social changes taking place in and around Harlem at the time.

From Slavery To Reconstruction, 1934, Aaron Douglas

The above painting is titled From Slavery to Reconstruction by Aaron Douglass, and is well known for capturing the essence of the movement developing in Harlem during this time. At the bottom of the painting, cotton plants are depicted, a reference to the common task of those in bondage being forced to pick cotton. However, the rest of the painting depicts a larger rejection of the referenced state of subjugation. The depictions of people in this work are shown celebrating, with their arms raised and several musical instruments being played. This state of rejoice highlights the rise in African-American expression that swelled during this time. From this image we can appreciate the critical role that music played in this expression. Douglass choses to use brighter colors to highlight instruments on the right side to emphasize the change and growing role of music that came with this time period. 

Similar to the changes experienced in New York City during the time of modernism, soon to be metropoles of Europe would experience changes that shaped the cities we know today. The population shift we see in areas across Europe were largely driven by the rise of industry across. Workers were needed to run factories to keep up with the growing demand for mass produced goods. As such, droves of individuals seeking financial stability flocked to fill these roles. This shift toward urban life created an environment for deep ideological merging to take place. Similar to the movement taking place in New York City around this time, artists and musicians were inspired to break away from previous artistic norms. This led to a series of unique artistic movements such as cubism, Dadaism, Futurism, and many more that all carried with them unique style and form. Along with each of these movements came groups of artists and manifestos that outlined the purpose behind their work. Two such movements took a special appreciation for music in these communities.

Chanteurs de rue, 1950, Kees van Dongen

Above we see the painting Chanteurs de rue by Kees van Dongen, a famous Impressionist painter of this time period. The goal of Impressionist artwork was to capture the feeling of a scene rather than any particular feature or aspect of what was taking place. In the image above we see several people with instruments and several others holding pamphlets in a semi-circle. The feeling given by the painting is that of a nighttime ambiance for street performance. The title of the painting Chanteurs de rue translates roughly to “singers of the street”, allowing us to assume this work tries to capture the feeling of a group of musicians performing their works on the street at night. This scene reveals that in certain cities, music became an appreciated part of the cultural changes taking place to the point that others hoped to capture its essence in other mediums.

Similarly, the Futurists hoped to capture the emotions evoked by musical development taking place as a result of the cultural convergence we saw across Europe. The Futurists were a group largely based out of Italy fixated on capturing ideas of destruction, industry, and rapid change. This drove many Futurist works to include elements of motion and project the feeling of intensity.

A Futurist Evening in Milan, 1911, Umberto Boccioni

The above painting is titled A Futurist Evening in Milan by Umberto Boccioni, depicting the interaction between a band and its audience. This work includes the depictions of motion and disorder that are common to Futurist paintings, while also providing an interpretation of the music and performance of this time. This painting conveys the unique perspective that while the Italian Futurist movement was focused on generally extreme ideals about structure, their form was used to appreciate the vibrancy of music.

From the modernist era to now, this overwhelming appreciation for music still holds true. In the Atlanta area, there are no shortage of places to experience live music and examine how it brings individuals together in this community. In my experience of simply walking down the Beltline path, I was able to listen to and even meet with a musician who has made himself a part of the musical community in Atlanta.

Depicted above is street performer Joseph Davis playing guitar outside of Ponce City Market on the beltline trail. Despite the usual bustle of individuals passing by, a significant number of people had stopped to listen to him perform. Davis has had the opportunity to play in venues all around the country and has now been a part of the music environment of Atlanta for several years. He describes the role of music in the Atlanta community as a uniquely healing presence that works to bring people together. As I observed him continue to play, it became very clear that almost anyone passing by was willing to take a moment to appreciate his work, even if for just a moment.

In comparing the wild changes of the modernist time period to now, it is clear that the appreciation of music in a community is nearly universal. Musical performance was able to inspire Impressionist and Futurist artists to make it the focus of their work. For those experiencing the cultural liberty of the Harlem Renaissance, the growth of jazz music was nearly the foundation for other cultural changes taking place. Even today, there is no shortage of people willing to take time to appreciate the musical talents of others, whether in a particular venue or simply on the street. Music uniquely drives people together, providing an unmatched sense of appreciation in those who feel its impact. 

Works Cited

Barris, Roann. African Art in the Early Twentieth Century. www.radford.edu/rbarris/Women%20and%20art/amerwom05/harlemrenaissance.html. 

Bérubé, Michael. “Masks, Margins, and African American Modernism: Melvin Tolson’s Harlem Gallery.” PMLA/Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 105, no. 1, 1990, pp. 57–69., doi:10.2307/462343.

Conrad, Peter. “In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 Review – ‘You Might Need Sunglasses’.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Aug. 2014, www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/17/in-montmartre-review-picasso-matisse-modernism-paris-sue-roe. 

History.com Editors. “Harlem Renaissance.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/harlem-renaissance. 

Kuiper, Kathleen. “Modernism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2009, www.britannica.com/art/Modernism-art. 

Savage, P.E. Cultural evolution of music. Palgrave Commun 5, 16 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-019-0221-1

Sotheby’s. “Rhythm & Form: Cubism’s Love Affair with Music.” Sothebys.com, Sotheby’s, 17 July 2018, www.sothebys.com/en/articles/rhythm-form-cubisms-love-affair-with-music. 

Waterman, Richard Allen. 1967, “African Influence on the Music of the Americas” in Acculturation in the Americas: Proceedings and Selected Papers of the XXIX International Congress of Americanists, Sol Tax, ed., Cooper Square Publishers, pp 207­217.

Wolfman, Ursula Rehn. “Picasso and Music.” Interlude, 11 Nov. 2019, interlude.hk/picasso-and-music/.

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