Date of Award

Fall 2007

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This study redefines popular music in early America as sacred music sung and performed in most churches and, starting in the 1790s, theater music imported from England. Rather than more static secular ballads and traditional dance pieces customarily understood as popular music, sacred and theater music intersected with more people more often and did so with more participation. Conflicting tastes of practitioners of religious music and secularizing influences from the theater created a series of reforms and counter measures that featured regional, as well as personal, fractures in American society. These personal and public debates, carried out in diaries, letters, hymnal prefaces, newspapers, and magazines, reflected larger divisions in an evolving American culture.

This research focuses particular attention on the process whereby a cohort of homespun American composers of psalmody in the northeast self-consciously sought to replace the new country's dependence on English sacred music with an indigenous style during the Revolutionary and Federal periods. This three-decade supremacy was countered by a redoubled return to European imported music, as well as standards of composition, brought about by a wave of immigrant professional European musicians who arrived during the 1790s to work in the orchestras of the nation's proliferating theaters. The return to a commodified importation of European-based music ramified in American culture through a greatly expanded repertory of sacred music types, instrumental art-music, and a new genre of simple sentimental popular songs. The diverse elements of this transformation explores the nature of continuities between colonial and independent status, further informing and complicating our understanding of early national cultural formation and state-building.