Within the last twenty years several historians, musicologists, and dance scholars have published their findings regarding the relationship between the U.S. government and its exportation of American culture through music and dance.1 This relatively recent body of work largely focuses on the Cold War period and understandably so as this was, by all accounts, the height of U.S. artistic exchange with other countries. Although these scholarly contributions exhibit a variety of ways of handling the intermingling of culture and politics, most authors neglect, and even ignore, the connections between the “cultural Cold War” and the events that preceded it in South America during the 1940s,2 when the State Department and the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA) initiated a program of cultural propaganda to strengthen alliances between the United States and South America.3 In this article I argue that the model for American musical diplomacy was established much earlier through the work of the OIAA Music Committee and that an examination of the precedent set by this committee results in a fuller understanding of the events that took place thereafter. I discuss the circumstances surrounding the creation of the OIAA Music Committee, as it was a relatively new initiative on behalf of the U.S. government; explore the objectives and artistic priorities of the committee members and the processes by which projects were selected for government funding; and conclude by looking at how the decisions of this committee, made with the input and the approval of the U.S. government, formed an unwritten policy for U.S. musical diplomacy that would be revisited during similar subsequent undertakings.
For much of their history, relations between the United States and Latin American countries have been fraught with tension broken by moments of repose, and by the 1930s these relationships had once again deteriorated substantially.4 Latin American economic prosperity depended heavily upon the financial stability of the United States, so the stock market crash of 1929 and the economic depression that followed wreaked havoc on the economic infrastructure of Latin America, generating distrust and strengthening existing hostility that the Latin American peoples and their governments held toward the United States. This increasing feeling of ill will concerned American officials, and, soon after taking office in 1933, President Roosevelt outlined his “Good Neighbor Policy,” a plan to strengthen trade and cultural relations within the Western Hemisphere that offered the first steps in rebuilding the United States' relationship with Latin America. The attention of the United States, and particularly of President Roosevelt, turned to the Latin American situation most dramatically when the Nazi and Fascist threats in Europe began to intensify. Disturbing reports about wellsprings of Latin American pro-Axis allegiance began to reach Roosevelt's office, causing U.S. officials to abruptly and aggressively look south. As a result of these concerns, the State Department announced the establishment of the Division of Cultural Relations in 1938, a unit largely created to counter the Nazi propaganda and anti-American sentiment that were believed to be building in several South American countries.5
The State Department's attempt to implement a kind of cultural propaganda was poorly funded and encumbered by bureaucratic red tape, but it served to stimulate support for another government office, one with the financial means to actually initiate a program of cultural exportation. This new, well-funded entity, originally christened as the Office for Coordination of Commercial and Cultural Relations between American Republics (OCCCRBAR) and later renamed as the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA), emerged in 1940 and was placed under the direction of Nelson Rockefeller (grandson of oil titan John D. Rockefeller) and the broader aegis of the Council of National Defense.6 Rockefeller initiated a program intended to woo Latin American republics into becoming inter-American allies; his planned cultural tactics included the exportation of music, art, and film, and he established advisory committees in each these areas shortly after taking office.
Charged with uniting North and South America through music, the OIAA Music Committee met for the first time on November 6, 1940. The committee served in more than just an advisory capacity, as it had an initial budget of $100,000 (almost 1.5 million today) to subsidize music projects geared toward strengthening inter-American relations, making it the first committee of its type to have dedicated funding to implement its ideas.7 The solidification of the financial component, however, did not necessarily expedite the committee's work; because cultural diplomacy was a new phenomenon in the United States, there were no clearly stated objectives for the program and no established protocol for the committee to follow. The only instruction previously agreed upon in government circles was that the musicians and music sent to represent the United States abroad must be the “best” of what the United States had to offer.8
Without a clear policy or instructions to guide them, the members of the committee were left to their own discretion to choose projects to be funded, and the diverse membership of the group meant that opinions about direction and overall purpose varied. Three of the five, Marshall Bartholomew, Carleton Sprague Smith, and Aaron Copland, were actively working in the field of music. Bartholomew was the director of the Yale University Glee Club, and Smith was the chief of the New York Public Library's Music Division and an active musicologist; Copland was the president of the American Composers Alliance, as well as a nationally recognized composer. These men primarily focused their efforts on promoting American art music—concert music in the classical tradition—largely to bolster American cultural prestige and to refute the widely held belief that the United States was a culturally and musically impoverished country. The two remaining members brought different professional backgrounds and varied personal interests to the group. William Berrien, who represented the American Council of Learned Societies, was not a professional musician, but rather an expert on Latin America and romance languages; Evans Clark was the executive director of the Twentieth Century Fund, a private research-based organization, and was interested in the commercial and lucrative possibilities of Latin American music.9
The differing interests of the five members gave rise to lively debates about the priority of potential projects, and the minutes of their meetings reveal the importance of an unwritten extramusical criterion that loomed over every decision: reputation. The committee's perception of the national prestige of a performer or ensemble played a hefty role in getting a favorable response from the members, and their deliberation over sending an orchestra to Latin America offers one example. When Mr. Coke wrote to the committee to recommend that the Dallas Symphony Orchestra receive funding for a tour in Mexico, Copland sought out some feedback from a personal friend. He wrote to Mexican composer Carlos Chávez about the idea; Chávez answered less than favorably, stating that “while [the orchestra] may be quite first class, it does not yet rate as one of the leading American orchestras.”10 Similar proposals for orchestral tours found their way into the committee members' hands. Mr. Bullitt of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association contacted the committee, desiring their support to help underwrite a trip to Havana, Cuba, by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.11 The Rochester Philharmonic, which would be accompanied by piano soloist José Iturbi, also requested funding for their South American tour.12 These proposals failed to impress the committee members, but the group did warm to the idea of investing government dollars to send an orchestra abroad and set aside $75,000 for a tour to take place.13 The committee eventually identified the Boston Symphony (BSO) as their orchestra of choice; one member described the group as “our [the United States's] most superior ensemble.”14 (And although the BSO's reputation was indeed outstanding, it likely helped that Serge Koussevitzky championed much of Copland's music and that the two were close friends and colleagues.)
A close reading of the Music Committee's minutes, then, indicates that they had an unofficial policy for choosing those who would represent the music of the United States to South America. For any promising suggestion, the committee evaluated the reputation of the performer or ensemble; if they deemed the prestige factor substantial enough, then the Music Committee members examined the proposed repertoire. In their first meeting, the members agreed that artists involved in performing American music abroad should “try to present at least some representative compositions or folk music on practically every program.”15 To this committee, “representative” meant art music or possibly folk music, but not jazz.16 By interpreting the word “representative” according to their preferences, and selecting groups accordingly based on their repertoire, the OIAA Music Committee was able to shape the type of American musical identity that it sent abroad. This identity was largely “highbrow” (meaning serious music by native American composers), but it was infused with leftist ideals that promoted accessible art music and folk song while rejecting highly dissonant, “elitist” music and the aforementioned, commercially tainted jazz. Music by American composers writing in the modernist or ultramodernist style of composition, such as Ruth Crawford Seeger, Carl Ruggles, and Wallingford Riegger, was generally avoided in favor of populist and stylistically conservative tonal works.
As the Music Committee meetings continued, it became evident that the larger the quantity of “representative” music in the repertoire, the better the chances of a performer or ensemble being selected for funding. The approval of a tour by the Yale Glee Club, for example, hinged on the committee's condition that a “considerable proportion” of every concert be dedicated to North American music.17 With regard to possible sponsorship of the Edwin Franko Goldman Band, the committee required that music from North and South America comprise exactly half the repertoire presented in each performance.18 In the case of Arthur Rubinstein, the members declined all support for a South American tour by the pianist, recommending instead that Rubinstein “interest himself” in performing works by American composers.19 By January 1941, the committee concurred that they would only consider artists and ensembles if the bulk of the planned repertoire represented North (and to a lesser extent South) America and if European classical music was kept to a minimum.20
In the end, the Music Committee underwrote, either partially or in full, the 1941 South American tours of three groups—the Yale Glee Club, the League of Composers Wind Quintet, and the American Ballet Caravan.21 These ensembles received financial support from the committee because each one proposed to perform a substantial portion of American music, either art music or folk music, at every concert. As evident in an extant program from a performance at the Teatro Odeón in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at least one-third of the selections presented by the Yale Glee Club represented the folk music of the United States, which on this particular occasion included five sea chanties, three spirituals, one work song (“This Old Hammer”), and one Appalachian tune (“Cindy”).22 Few details survive about the repertoire of League of Composers Wind Quintet, but Smith compiled a list 111 modern works, most by North and South American composers, from which the concert programs were supposedly drawn.23 As for the Ballet Caravan, the initial proposal emphasized the sheer quantity of American works that the company planned to perform, stating that eight of the twelve ballets were based on American themes with American music.24 The national character of the Ballet Caravan's repertoire resonated deeply with the Music Committee members, who felt this heavily weighted emphasis on contemporaryAmerican works provided a significant and necessary contrast to the European music performed by Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski during their South American tours in the previous year.25 The final list of works for the ensemble included ballets by Copland (Billy the Kid; Time Table), Virgil Thomson (Filling Station), Paul Bowles (Pastorela), and Alec Wilder (Juke Box).
Although the efforts of the OIAA Music Committee were largely aimed at promoting a pleasing and sophisticated image of U.S. culture to its Latin American neighbors, the committee's view of the relationship was not entirely one sided. According to the minutes of their meetings, the members believed that reciprocity—commissioning and performing South American music, and, when possible, bringing composers and ensembles north—was essential if the overall endeavor was to be effective. This emphasis on reciprocal exchange bore important weight during this time and was a characteristic of early cultural diplomacy that was later altered, disfigured, and even forgotten in future incarnations of the program.
Although the Music Committee pushed to bring Latin American music and musicians to this country, several obstacles prevented them from doing so. The most frustrating and complicated impediment to engaging South American groups involved labor unions, in particular the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The committee was advised that the AFM was “sympathetically aware” of the need for inter-American musical exchange, but the AFM declared it could not allow musicians from South America to perform for money because unemployment for musicians in North America was rampant, resulting in unrelenting pressure to restrict all available jobs to the union's membership.26 Because the direct and obvious path to musical exchange was out of the question, the Music Committee looked for alternative solutions.
Two of the groups sponsored by the committee embraced the members' philosophy of musical reciprocity and made a concerted effort to do their part for inter-American understanding.27 The Yale Glee Club performed music by contemporary South American composers, including works by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Alberto Williams, and Camargo Guarnieri, as well as the Brazilian national anthem.28 Lincoln Kirstein, director of the American Ballet Caravan, actively sought to purchase works by South American composers and artists. While in Brazil, for instance, Kirstein chose to support composer Francisco Mignone, purchasing his piano concerto Fantasia Brasileira, No. 4, for a new ballet that would be choreographed by George Balanchine and later premiered in Chile.29 Although the efforts by both groups were well intentioned and met with some success, the results paled in comparison to the grandiose ideas for inter-American musical exchange that the OIAA Music Committee had envisioned; this troublesome inequality, and the lack of power to rectify it, became a source of great frustration to the membership.
Although the OIAA Music Committee members primarily focused on issues of musical identity and selection process, the planning and implementation of the tours also created a precedent. Even in this early stage of cultural diplomacy, decisions about the location of performances were not the sole responsibility of the Music Committee but were partially influenced by other government officials who had specific criteria and motivations to send the performers to select countries. For instance, in planning the Yale Glee Club tour, Bartholomew, the director of the group, had decided not to perform in Ecuador, Colombia, or Venezuela because of the “inaccessibility of their principal cities and the difficult problems of transportation.” However, Bartholomew later reconsidered, seemingly having received some new information about the need to focus on these countries, noting: “Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador are of very particular interest to the United States at the present time because of their geography. There are many indications that it is of particular importance for us to leave no stone unturned which will develop a friendly spirit between these countries and ourselves.”30
Additionally, the person-to-person interaction that complemented these music tours also became important. Performers were expected to attend diplomatic functions and parties, play free concerts, reach out to the public, and essentially be ambassadors for the United States, a precedent set by the Yale Glee Club, whose itinerary was packed with social events, as well as by the Ballet Caravan, whose dancers were as busy attending parties as they were giving performances. Good ambassadorial behavior (i.e., positive interaction with the local residents) by U.S. performers was imperative, as indicated to Nelson Rockefeller in an anonymous report from an observer in Chile, detailing the actions of the Yale Glee Club: “Conduct of the boys was exemplary. They were quiet, refrained from getting stinko in public, and were the best ad the U.S. has had down here in a long time.”31 Being a good ambassador would become as important as being a good musician—perhaps even more important—and by 1961, it became official policy to require appropriate “off-stage” activities.32
In June 1941, State Department officials formed their own Advisory Committee on Music, marking the beginning of the end for the OIAA group, and by October 1941, the OIAA Music Committee was dissolved, and the potential for music tours temporarily faded along with it.33 The legacy of OIAA Music Committee members remained, however, as their actions confirmed to U.S. officials that music could provoke a response in the international community. The creation and financial security of the OIAA Music Committee had allowed, for the first time in U.S. government history, state and nonstate actors to experiment with how music might accomplish objectives in international relations. U.S. officials and OIAA Music Committee members hoped that inter-American musical exchange would increase understanding of North/South American music, which in turn could foster friendship between people of the continents through the recognition that all “Americans” share an emotional affinity for music that can be celebrated in spite of musical stylistic difference. There was no concrete proof, however, that this tactic would be effective until the OIAA Music Committee tours took place. The reports, newspaper clippings, and correspondence about these tours that reached the Music Committee members, Rockefeller, and other leaders in charge of U.S. cultural affairs were largely favorable, creating the superficial perception that the positive responses these musical events garnered were also pro-U.S. Although the South American reaction to the tours was far more nuanced, the generalized interpretation of this feedback broadly suggested that music indeed had power and that its power could be harnessed to elicit desired responses. This fundamental, even naïve, belief continued into the Cold War, when many state and nonstate actors harbored personal and political agendas and attempted to use musical diplomacy to accomplish their own goals.34
Several individuals connected to the OIAA committee and the tours it sponsored played a role in the resurgence of cultural diplomatic efforts during the Cold War, including Smith, Copland, and Kirstein, but perhaps the most influential figure was not an arts practitioner but a politician: Nelson Rockefeller.35 Writing to him in 1955, Kirstein acknowledged Rockefeller's influence on cultural exchange, saying “it was you who started this whole scheme of waging peace by the exportation of art, as far back as 1941; I know what foresight, what courage it took.”36 At the time of Kirstein's letter, Rockefeller was well into his position as special assistant to the president, having been appointed by Dwight D. Eisenhower in December 1954, and one of his primary duties was serving on the Operations Coordinating Board for the President's Emergency Fund. Created in 1954, this fund financed the exportation of American culture abroad, its coffers supporting tours by Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, the BSO, Martha Graham, and the New York City Ballet, in addition to many others. Although he somewhat surprisingly found himself dealing with the “soft-power” potential of culture when he stepped into his position as Coordinator of the OIAA, Rockefeller became in many ways the linchpin that helped the exercise of such power to continue.
In the history of U.S. musical diplomacy and international relations, the efforts of Rockefeller's OIAA Music Committee have remained virtually unrecognized until now. To be fair, this was a small program buried within the massive interior of the expansive New Deal government, and its contribution to the story of artistic exchange became quickly overshadowed in history by the flashier and often controversial cultural events that took place in the decades that followed. Every time there is a national conflict, however, the U.S. government pours money into cultural diplomacy and revives the process. From the early Cold War to today, panels of experts continue to use “best” and “American” as essential selection criteria, although perceptions and interpretations of those terms have changed over time; certain audiences in specific countries continue to be pinpointed; and tour groups are selected as much for the image they will portray to their audience as for their musical excellence.37 Although the OIAA Music Committee existed less than one year, the members, their motivations, decisions, actions, and perceived successes combined to form a groundbreaking paradigm.