Amateur music-making in the early republic

Glenda Goodman, an assistant professor of music, explores how hand-copying musical compositions and amateur performance shaped identity and ideas in the post-Revolutionary War period.

After the Revolutionary War, Americans were shook after experiencing an intense period of violence and change. In her new book, “Cultivated by Hand,” Glenda Goodman, assistant professor of music, looks at how white Americans in the early republic used amateur music-making—the process of hand-copying musical compositions into bound books and performance—as a means of making sense of their role in a new nation as educated and culturally sophisticated citizens, documenting their lives, and forming ideas about gender, social class, and race.

Glenda Goodman stands at a desk looking at an antique book on a stand.
Assistant professor of music Glenda Goodman

While conducting archival research from the 18th and 19th century, Goodman found detailed, annotated manuscripts of bound music, each distinct with their own stories to tell about an often underexamined period in American music scholarship. This discovery birthed the idea for her book.

“I set out to understand why individuals during this period would undergo the laborious task of copying other peoples’ music by hand, particularly when printed music was available,” explains Goodman, who rarely found original compositions in the archival books. “What did hand-copying music and the performance of those compositions signify to these amateur musicians at that time?”

“Cultivated by Hand” is organized around the experiences of real people, focusing on six white women and three white men whose lives were influenced by and documented through their amateur music-making. Goodman maps the characters’ lives—education, courtship, marriage, child-rearing, family obligations, death, and mourning—through music-making. She probes her characters’ motivations, including societal influences, identity formation, and the desire for themselves (and their new nation) to appear pious, tasteful, or learned.

This story is by Katelyn Silva. Read more at Omnia.