The 13-week Song of America radio series, which was released, co-produced, and distributed by The WFMT Radio Network in Chicago in October 2011, is a documentary series which explores the history of American culture through the eyes of American poets and the ears of American composers. Developed and hosted by baritone Thomas Hampson, the series treats American classic song – poetry set to music by American composers – as a vibrant diary of the American experience. Each program focuses on a particular topic that sheds light on a larger theme in American history, and includes approximately 40 minutes of music drawn from archival and modern song recordings, plus stories and insights about the people and events that inspired those songs. Some programs also include lively interviews with experts from various fields.
The Song of America radio series has proven extremely popular, having aired on more than 300 radio stations in the United States. Song of America was also made available by the European Broadcasting Union to its 48 member stations in 2012. Stations outside of the United States, which aired the series, have included Raidió Teilifís Éireann (Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster), New Zealand Public Radio (NZPR), and public radio stations in Croatia, Romania, Denmark, Latvia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Germany.
The WFMT Radio Network is the international syndication division of award-winning classical music station 98.7WFMT and is one of the world’s most well-regarded sources for fine arts radio programming.
Front Image: Jasper Johns’ Map (1961), Museum of Modern Art
“Stephen Foster’s music is the trunk of the tree of American song, sturdy with songs we love to sing,” says Thomas Hampson. In this program we explore Foster’s music, the varied artistic roots he drew from, and the musical branches that grew from his work.
Whitman, the “Bard of Democracy,” was the founder of a new American language. With music built deep into his poetry, it’s no surprise that Whitman has been a beacon for American composers.
Many Americans have had to raise their voices to be recognized or even heard in America. In this program, we hear songs of African Americans and Native Americans; women, immigrants, and war resisters; and voices from the labor movement and the gay rights movement.
Throughout our history, America has gone to war with bravado and with anguish. Songs have helped shape those emotions, and express them-—inspiring us to battle, sustaining our courage, giving us a way to lament our losses.
Charles Ives was unprecedented at suiting his musical style to the story he wanted to tell, and he created dozens of surprising “snapshots in song” of what it was like to be alive in America during his lifetime.
Over the course of the 20th century, our classical singers were enthusiastic advocates for songs by American composers. In this program, we hear the music they brought to far-flung audiences through recitals, phonograph records, and radio broadcasts.
Deeply influenced by Dvorak’s challenge to Americans to find their own musical voices, Arthur Farwell used music of Native Americans and words of American poets as inspiration for his own unique voice. He also pioneered the publishing of American composers and poets through his famed Wa-Wan Press.
The reclusive poet explored all of life’s emotions, and there are hundreds of compelling settings of her poems, by composers from Ernst Bacon to André Previn to Ned Rorem.
Aaron Copland’s “Old American Songs” have become recital standards, but traditional texts and tunes have attracted many other classical composers, including John Jacob Niles, George Crumb, and Jake Heggie.
Langston Hughes, one of America’s great poets, gave jubilant voice to the lives of African Americans. His poetry has inspired settings by dozens of composers; we hear some of that music and learn about the world that inspired him.
There are places in the American landscape that are part of our collective consciousness, thanks to music. In this program, we listen to songs that have helped shape the way we see our country.
Images courtesy of the Library of Congress.
…Music gives us ontological messages which non-musical criticism is unable to contradict, though it may laugh at our foolishness in minding them. There is a verge of the mind which these things haunt; and whispers therefrom mingle with the operations of our understanding. — William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience