In 1954, using money from his emergency fund, President Dwight D. Eisenhower deployed his first Cold War musical ambassadors to foreign countries. Publicly he asserted that the President's Special International Program for Cultural Presentations, to which he voiced a strong commitment, would “contribute to the better understanding of the peoples of the world that must be the foundation of peace.”1 In private correspondence, however, he expressed additional strategic goals, depicting music as a psychological tool that could counteract the stereotypical perception of Americans as “bombastic, jingoistic, and totally devoted to the theories of force and power.”2 To this end, he urged Secretary of State John Foster Dulles to include “the singing of a beautiful hymn” within his conception of psychological warfare.3 Other influential figures in Washington spoke with similar enthusiasm about music's potential in a Cold War context, including National Security Council executive officer Elmer Staats, who described it as “a secret weapon.”4 Official reports meanwhile referenced music's ability to demonstrate the most attractive elements of the United States to foreign peoples and thereby build “respect and prestige.”5
Eisenhower charged the American National Theatre and Academy (ANTA) with the task of organizing the Cultural Presentations Program. Congress had established this New York–based institution in 1935 to serve as the United States' national theater company. From 1954 to 1963 ANTA provided a home for the program's advisory committees in music, dance, and theater, while the State Department arranged financing and travel logistics. The Music Advisory Panel was responsible for around 65 percent of the tours ANTA organized and a sizeable proportion of its $2.5 million budget.6
Scholars examining this music diplomacy campaign have been particularly interested in the differences between the political objectives that motivated it and the personal agendas of the funded musicians.7 In the process we have largely overlooked the important role played by ANTA's Music Advisory Panel, a group of private citizens who selected musicians and repertoire for the State Department's tours. This panel, as I show in this article, had a significant impact on the program. Despite the scholarly emphasis placed on the State Department's jazz tours,8 the Music Advisory Panel in fact ensured that musicians with a classical training received a majority of the funding. At the same time, the panel created and enforced a strict requirement that all funded ensembles would have to perform American music in every tour concert. This rule, when combined with their prioritizing of classical ensembles, allowed the panelists to bring classical music by American composers to a new global audience.
The Music Advisory Panel brought together a variety of experts from the music world, including critics such as Jay Harrison (New York Herald Tribune) and Olin Downes (retired, New York Times); prominent music librarians Carleton Sprague Smith (New York Public Library) and Harold Spivacke (Library of Congress); musicologist and journalist Paul Henry Lang; and National Music Council President Edwin Hughes. Nevertheless, the three members that brought about the panel's most significant policies during its ANTA years were all composers: Howard Hanson, Virgil Thomson, and William Schuman. These men had much in common, musically speaking. Each had avoided the widespread fascination with serial and twelve-tone composition methods and built successful careers writing tonal music for traditional ensembles such as orchestras and choirs. All three also enjoyed significant positions of influence within the musical community. Hanson (1896–1981) was a panelist from 1955 to 1966. He wrote music in a neo-Romantic style, directed the Eastman School of Music (1924–64), and was a well-known conductor and writer. Thomson (1896–1989), a panelist from 1954 to 1967, had first received recognition for his opera Four Saints in Three Acts (1927–28), which combined an experimental libretto by Gertrude Stein with a more traditional musical sound world that employed quotations from American hymn tunes, airs, and dances. In 1940, Thomson became a music critic at the New York Herald Tribune, where he established himself as one of the United States' most provocative and widely admired cultural commentators. Finally, Schuman (1910–1992) was a panelist from 1954 to 1960. He was well known during his lifetime for his compositions, particularly his orchestral works, which use a range of harmonic languages but are mostly tonal. Schuman was president of both the Juilliard School (1945–62) and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (1962–1969). These composers served on the panel with a host of other experts from the music world—up to sixteen at any one time. Yet the minutes make plain that the three composers dominated discussions and frequently initiated the group's major changes in policy.
The general manager of ANTA's International Exchange Program, Robert Schnitzer, liked to assert that decisions made by the Music Advisory Panel were “exemplary in their integrity” and that ANTA's separation from the State Department ensured “that there cannot be the least suggestion that [the panelists] are controlled by anything but their artistic consciences.”9 Yet in his desire to avoid accusations of inappropriate political involvement, Schnitzer ignored the possibility that the panelists might have agendas of their own which, as I will show, they most certainly did.10
This empowerment of a professional group by modern democracy's emphasis on citizen-experts fits many of the characteristics of an epistemic community, defined by Peter Haas as “a network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue-area.”11 Under normal circumstances, such experts would be unable to use their knowledge to affect change at a national or international level, but through the mechanism of an advisory body their viewpoints can quickly come to be seen as universally held positions by policymakers. As a result, they enjoy a particularly influential role in government policy formation. Through their service as essential advisers to government, Haas writes, members of these communities “may succeed in imposing their views and moving toward goals other than those initially envisioned by the decision makers.”12 The concept of an epistemic community thus serves as a useful mechanism to interpret the impact of the panelists' biases and decisions.
An analysis of the Music Advisory Panel's approvals and rejections while it operated under ANTA demonstrates that the vast majority of those approved for a tour were classical musicians—83 percent (or a total of 341 soloists or groups) over the entire decade.13 Particularly favored were orchestras, such as the New York Philharmonic; choirs, like the Robert Shaw Chorale; chamber music groups, including the Juilliard String Quartet; and renowned soloists, like soprano Leontyne Price. The chart in Figure 1 demonstrates the remarkable extent of this bias towards classical musicians. Jazz was the next most funded category, but jazz ensembles never made up more than a third of the groups approved in any given year—and typically they constituted a much smaller proportion. The only other types of musicians funded were folk groups (3 percent of those funded over the course of the decade); variety groups (1 percent); and a very small number of other types of ensembles, including the Clara Ward Singers gospel choir, Tex Ritter's American Cowboy Caravan, and a jazz and pop vocal group called the Delta Rhythm Boys.
The panel's preference for classical ensembles was not for want of applications from groups playing other types of music. The panel rejected thirty-four proposals from groups playing Latin American and Native American music, country, blues, gospel, rock and roll, close harmony, and doo-wop. Such decisions demonstrate that the panel was uninterested in presenting a representative sample of American musical styles.
It was only under great pressure from ANTA, the State Department, and Congress, where there were many who supported the idea of jazz tours in particular, that the panel agreed to consider any nonclassical musicians for the program.14 Indeed, for Virgil Thomson, the only reason to support tours by jazz musicians was “because the State Department boys have a mania for it.”15 In 1955, the panel recruited jazz critic and musicologist Marshall Stearns to help select jazz musicians but, as Ingrid Monson has pointed out, practicing jazz musicians of equivalent stature to Hanson, Thomson, and Schuman were apparently never asked to join.16 A Jazz and Folk Subcommittee was not established until 1964, and it was 1967 before an African American became a panelist.17 The panel's somewhat reluctant promotion of jazz resulted in just twenty-eight State Department sponsored tours by jazz and R&B groups between 1956 and 1969.18
To justify their marginalization of jazz in comparison to classical music, the panelists argued that it was their job to “send only remarkable achievements abroad rather than presenting a realistic picture of culture in America, regardless of quality.”19 Furthermore, they stated, “Jazz is certainly no substitute for the great symphonies, but must be kept in its own context.”20 Schuman went yet further by emphasizing that “some people feel that we are selling out on the more serious work [in promoting jazz].”21 Most problematic for the panel was the idea of sending jazz to Europe, an act that they believed would encourage Soviet-exploited stereotypes of American culture as entirely market-driven.22 Indeed, the panel frequently referenced the Soviet enemy to bolster their case, asserting, for example, that “Russian propaganda plays on jazz-crazy Americans.”23
When it came to the repertoire performed by approved classical ensembles, the panel similarly allowed self-interest and cultural prejudices to influence their decisions. Unsurprisingly, the composer-panelists were the most vocal on this topic: Hanson, Schuman, and Thomson worked from the outset to find ways to obligate classical musicians to play music by American composers. In 1955, Thomson wrote up a statement on repertoire, which required every artist applying for tour funding to submit programs with their application. Each concert now had to include one or more “representative American compositions of musical distinction.”24
The panelists allowed themselves to interpret this requirement according to their own tastes and needs, thereby dictating the kinds of American music to which both touring musicians and their audiences were exposed. Since the panel initially avoided creating a list of “approved works,”25 prospective musician-diplomats could only discover what would prove acceptable by proposing repertoire and awaiting the panel's response. It quickly became apparent that the panel would not approve any American classical work that they perceived to be “light” or “middlebrow,” to use their terminology. Musicians were repeatedly asked to do away with arrangements, folk songs, spirituals, and “pops” repertoire and to replace such works with sonatas, symphonies, and song cycles, all of which were seen to demonstrate more effectively the full weight of America's contribution to classical music. For example, the Westminster Choir College's proposed program was rejected for the following reason: “[The panelists] believe that show tunes and folk music should be discouraged, as there are no standards by which to judge ‘light music’ except ‘charm’. . . . Mr. Thomson will help them to plan their programs.”26 Consistently refused were the orchestral and theatrical contributions of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein—two of the United States' best-known composers in the 1950s. In 1957, the panel asked the Philadelphia Orchestra for a “more important substitute” for Gershwin's An American in Paris—elsewhere referred to as a “second class piece.”27 His Piano Concerto in F was dismissed simply as “not representative.”28 When the Cleveland Orchestra proposed Bernstein's Overture to Candide and a selection of works by Gershwin for their tour, the panel responded that such works were “pop concert repertory” that should be replaced with “serious American compositions.”29 Leonard Bernstein's musical theater works were also denigrated. Regarding a proposed tour of West Side Story, the panel offered a political rationale: “showing the gang warfare in New York will not help our cultural relations.”30
The panel's rejection of a proposal from the Boston Pops Orchestra in March 1959 demonstrates the extent of their opposition to popular classical repertoire. The minutes record the following:
Mr. Thomson does not think it appropriate to spend our money on middlebrow commercial ventures, which are inappropriate for our program. Dr. Schuman moved we do not approve the project, advising the orchestra that although we admire them, they are not suitable for the purposes of the program.31
As Ayden Adler has shown in an analysis of Boston Pops concerts, between 1945 and 1949 this orchestra typically played more music from the United States than from any other single country: it made up 27 percent of their repertoire. This number contrasts starkly to the twice-funded Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), which during the same period played just 7 percent American repertory (and that was, of course, constituted of many of the same musicians).32 Thus, the panel's antipathy toward “pops” repertoire outweighed their politically justifiable commitment to promoting groups that played American compositions.
The BSO, which toured Europe in 1956 and the Far East and Australasia in 1960, can serve as a case study for assessing how the panel's repertoire policy affected what was played. Thanks to the panel's programming policy and in contrast to the orchestra's usual repertoire in Boston, works by American composers made up 28 percent of the pieces the BSO played on their 1956 tour, a figure that rose to 38 percent for the 1960 tour. On both tours, each concert included at least one work by an American composer.33 The panel's rules had a similar impact on the programs of the other major orchestras who undertook State Department tours, including the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Symphony, Symphony of the Air, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, among others. Inevitably the requirement also affected performances in the United States, since these orchestras would perform tour repertoire during the season before their departure.
The specific American works approved for the two BSO tours are illustrative of the style of music the panel sought to promote. The 1956 tour featured symphonies and overtures by composers who were all contemporaries of the panelists: Leroy Anderson, Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, Paul Creston, Isadore Freed, Howard Hanson, and Walter Piston. Works by Easley Blackwood and Leon Kirchner were added to the 1960 repertoire list. Anderson was the only composer consistently associated with “pops” repertoire whose music was performed during these tours, but this only occurred once, with a performance of his Irish Suite in Ireland. None of Copland's jazz-inspired works were performed. The BSO performed these American pieces alongside well-known European repertoire from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries by composers such as Haydn, Schumann, Bartók, Schubert, and Ravel. The panel did not attempt to control the selection of more standard, European works.
The BSO's American repertoire for these tours makes clear what the panel meant by “representative American compositions of musical distinction.” All the approved works are written in a tonal language and do not explore recent harmonic or experimental innovations. All except the Anderson work fall within the panel's stated definition of a “serious” work: that is, they use the traditional European orchestral forms (symphony, overture, etc.) and do not reference popular styles. The presence of a work by Hanson on the list also deserves comment. In fact the minutes of the panel make plain that touring musicians frequently performed music by the three composer-panelists. There is no evidence to suggest that the composer-panelists themselves encouraged this outcome, but one assumes that applicants proposed such works because they knew the panel would consider works by their own members to be “representative.”
The composer-panelists obviously saw in the Cultural Presentations Program an ideal opportunity to promote the kind of music they wrote and supported. Yet I believe that a need to rebrand their style of music also inspired their efforts. Back in the 1930s, a number of American classical composers, including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and Charles Seeger, had been influenced by the radical Left while composing some of the first great American classical works—pieces like Copland's El Salón México and Harris's Third Symphony.34 Over the next few decades, as the Soviets created an entire repertoire of musical expressions of their aesthetic ideal of Socialist Realism, any tonal classical music that overtly sought accessibility ran the risk of being identified with communism. For politically centrist composers active during the Cold War like Thomson, Schuman, and Hanson, this kind of association between the burgeoning repertoire of American tonal music and communism was very problematic, especially given the impact of McCarthyism in the early 1950s, a movement that was ensnaring many of their more left-wing colleagues. Many composers responded to this situation by turning to twelve-tone music and serialism in search of “a no-spin zone, a haven of political nonalignment and implicit resistance,” to use Richard Taruskin's phrase.35 Yet the three composer-panelists (among many others) neither wanted to go this route with their own writing nor see the finest examples of the American concert tradition discarded. Thomson, Schuman, and Hanson may well have seen an opportunity in the Music Advisory Panel to rescue contemporary nonserial concert music from its communist associations and transform it into a politically neutral exemplar of American cultural achievement.
To help initiate this rebranding the composer-panelists exploited a long-standing system of cultural values that viewed achievement in the realm of high art as evidence of an advanced society. In this context, they argued that government officials should consider high art the most useful tool to facilitate their quest for global respect. Since the nineteenth century, European music from the high-art tradition had been construed by many as “morally pure and edifying.”36 As Jessica Gienow-Hecht has shown, nineteenth-century Americans embraced German orchestral music in particular as a universal and positive force. In this context, she suggests, it is unsurprising that American orchestras would perform so many classics from the German repertoire during Cold War tours.37 Yet this was not the whole story. The panelists were also able to use classical music's reputation in the United States and their government's recognition of its political power to encourage the State Department to allow them also to showcase American contributions to this genre. By using words typically associated with the European classical tradition such “serious,”“important,” and “great” to describe the American repertoire they promoted (usually in contrast to other styles), this music's previous political associations would be neutralized.
Of course, when the panel used these adjectives, it was consistently in order to elevate the music they favored in relation to music that they deemed unserious and unimportant. Thus, it was primarily by denigrating other styles that they ensured that their music remained the central focus. By repeatedly urging the State Department that jazz “should be kept in its own context” and by refusing to promote American classical works influenced by jazz, the panel played to existing opposition to interactions between high and low culture. As musicologist Anne Shreffler has written, the United States' Puritan heritage had historically encouraged the idea that “high art needed to be isolated and guarded against any impurities. . . . Jazz . . . flew in the face of all these efforts to establish a respectable, European-oriented culture.”38 Such attitudes had solidified by the mid-twentieth century. Cultural critic Russell Lynes's famous 1949 Harpers article titled “Highbrow, Lowbrow, Middlebrow” wittily evoked the defenders of highbrow culture who, he wrote,
stand as a wavering bulwark against the enticements of Hollywood and the advertising agencies, and they are saddened by the writers and painters who have set out to be serious men, as Hemingway did, and then become popular by being taken up by the middlebrows.39
According to Lynes, the highbrow artist believed that middlebrow culture had the power to dilute high art and divert its audience. This perception of the middlebrow as a danger to high culture was also a feature of Clement Greenberg's work, which Lynes quotes in his article:
Middlebrow culture . . . presents a more serious threat to the genuine article than the old-time pulp dime novel, Tin Pan Alley, Schund variety ever has or will. . . . Insidiousness is of its essence, and in recent years its avenues of penetration have become infinitely more difficult to detect and block.40
In describing the cultural middlebrow as an “insidious”“threat” in this 1948 Partisan Review article, Greenberg employed the kind of language that had been used to describe the threat of fascism during World War II and increasingly was used to denote the threat of communism in the United States. Indeed, the middlebrow's commercial success was consistently denigrated in overtly political terms. Martin Brody has observed that many Cold War cultural leaders in the West considered overtly populist art to be open to political appropriation for propaganda purposes. It was thus implicitly associated with totalitarianism.41 This attitude would have motivated the panelists to present their own music as noncommercial and apolitical, that is, as the American inheritor of the European tradition of “art for art's sake.” We are finally left, therefore, with an intriguing proposition—that the composer-panelists used a government propaganda program that sought to defeat communism in order to cleanse the American tonal tradition of its associations with communism.
The panel's efforts to prioritize their own brand of classical music were largely successful, even though they frequently met resistance. After the New York Philharmonic's 1955 tour of Europe—one of the first under the new repertoire policy—Schnitzer read to the panel a memo from Julius Seebach, a consultant at the U.S. Information Agency. The memo urged the panel to reconsider their programming policy, arguing that the works of American composers “are just not good enough and the European critics hold them in very low esteem.”42 For Seebach, the panel was actually diminishing the United States' global reputation by insisting on the performance of an American work on every program. He believed the United States would be better served if musicians simply performed European canonical compositions to the highest level.
A few months later, Schnitzer himself voiced similar frustrations about the repertoire policy, reminding the panel of its function: “The panel seemed to feel that the purpose of the program is to further American music, which is not the case. Our purpose is to use musicians as a means of attaining good will.”43 Schnitzer also described significant resistance from the foreign impresarios who made the tours possible: they sought only marketable programs.44 Schnitzer's concerns also went beyond classical repertoire. He was very troubled by the degree to which the panel sidelined other musical styles, telling a colleague, “ANTA has so far failed to represent American culture as it really is.”45 Nevertheless, these repeated accusations that the panelists were overstepping the bounds of their advisory role fell on deaf ears.
It was not until 1963 that the panel finally had its reach reduced. The change came about as a result of public criticism of the program, specifically of the immense cost of sending symphony orchestras on tour and of the consistent avoidance of amateur groups, musical theater, and opera.46 The Kennedy administration initiated a substantial review of the arts diplomacy programs, which recommended severing the relationship with ANTA and bringing the advisory panels into the State Department. Although most of the criticisms were leveled at ANTA, the choices made by its panels were actually the root cause of most of the complaints. As a result of this restructuring, according to Virgil Thomson, the Music Advisory Panel lost some of its power to shape the outcomes of American musical diplomacy. As he wrote in his autobiography,
When ANTA was relieved by the State Department ten years later, the morale of . . . [the panelists] was undermined. . . . Afterwards the meetings of the music panel were not lively any more and for decision making scarce worth going to. Those of us who have continued to attend do so, I think, in the hope that some day our authority may be restored.47
He went on to express his sense of why the panel had been so significant until that point:
Those meetings are an exercise in group criticism, and the program they serve should implement the group decisions. To be effective, all such decisions must be professional, independent, and without any possibility of being bypassed—a point of view as applicable to art as to shipbuilding.48
Between 1954 and 1963, the panel had managed to make nearly all of the important decisions about the U.S. government's most visible music propaganda program. Its members had agreed to promote jazz in a limited capacity, recognizing that their power might be reduced if they refused, but in return they had been permitted to institute a repertoire policy unpopular with many of their superiors. Furthermore, even as the program's financial resources diminished along with the authority of the panelists, the repertoire policy was retained. During the panel's history, no one at ANTA or the State Department ever overturned one of its decisions.
As philosopher Stephen Turner has argued, “expert knowledge masquerades as neutral fact, accessible to all sides of a debate; but it is merely another ideology.”49 When such ideologies are propounded through epistemic communities, Turner argues, they are usually accepted as truths by both government and the public, although they actually express little more than the biases of the experts involved. As a result of the work of the Music Advisory Panel, audiences in cities as far flung as Reykjavik, Tokyo, Leningrad, and Sydney were exposed to American high culture, often for the first time, through a government program made in the image of the musician-experts who controlled it. While their government sought to create a program that served foreign policy interests, this small group of men turned their nation's Cold War agenda to their own advantage.