Billy ColemanNov 6, 2020
Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788-1865
University of North Carolina Press 2020
CAN you hear the people sing? Political music is often understood as the property of the commoners, used as a potent (and noisy) weapon against the interests of the powerful. This is particularly true within the unruly context of the early American republic, when rowdy public demonstrations typically went along with democratic politics.
In Harnessing Harmony: Music, Power, and Politics in the United States, 1788-1865 (UNC Press, 2020), Billy Coleman pushes back against such assumptions, revealing an important strand of conservative music-making that exerted influence on public life from the beginning of Washington’s government until the Civil War. Tying musical practice to visions of natural hierarchy, an intergenerational group of elites employed tempo and melody in an effort control the disorder they saw threatening the nation. Expanding our understanding of both the cultural and political dynamics of the early republic, Coleman provides a deft and theoretically innovative account of an underexamined intellectual tradition, challenging numerous assumptions about the meaning and importance of music along the way.
Sam Backer is a PhD candidate in History at Johns Hopkins, where his work focuses on the intersection of art, culture, and capitalism. He is also a freelance journalist and a podcaster. He is currently a host on “Money 4 Nothing,” a podcast about music and capitalism.