Voices of American Music concert pays tribute to the Oral History of American Music project on its 40th anniversary
10 Mar 2010
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“…The world’s definitive archive of historical material on American music.”
– The New York Times

Vivian Perlis interviews Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein in Copland's home.

The Yale School of Music presents Voices of American Music, a concert tribute to the legendary Oral History of American Music (OHAM) project at Yale. The concert will take place on Tuesday, April 6 at 8 pm in Sprague Hall (470 College Street, New Haven) as part of the Chamber Music Society at Yale.

The works of some of America’s most important composers will be heard in a rare program that joins music with footage from OHAM’s archives. Founded by Vivian Perlis, one of the foremost historians of American music, OHAM is dedicated to collecting and preserving audio and video memoirs of notable figures in American music. The musicologist H. Wiley Hitchcock called OHAM “an incomparable resource, the most extensive ongoing oral history project in America.”

Historic video and audio interviews and photographs relating to each composer on the program will be presented as fascinating entr’actes between performances of their music. In the opening segment, Vivian Perlis recalls her first interview forty years ago with Charles Ives’ business partner, Julian Myrick. This interview was her inspiration for the Ives oral history project, a groundbreaking look at the Connecticut iconoclast and Yale graduate. The Ives project, in turn, was the cornerstone of the magnificent collection of interviews that would later become the Oral History of American Music project.

After Ives, the concert continues with words, images, and music of eight other prominent composers from the archive, which today boasts over 2,000 interviews. While interviews with and about American composers form the core, OHAM has specialized collections to preserve the voices of those associated with Duke Ellington, Aaron Copland, and Paul Hindemith.

The musical selections by Aaron Copland, Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Steve Reich, Jacob Druckman, and John Cage reflect the breadth of the archives, and will feature performances by artist faculty from the Yale School of Music along with students, alumni, and special guest artists. Among the performers are clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, a graduate of the School of Music, and faculty artists Willie Ruff (French horn and bass), Wei-Yi Yang (piano), Allan Dean (trumpet), William Purvis (horn), and Scott Hartman (trombone).

Tickets to the performance are $20-$28, $14 for students. The concert will also be presented on Thursday, April 8 at 7:30 in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City. David Shifrin is the artistic director of both the Chamber Music Society at Yale and the Yale in New York series. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call the Yale School of Music concert office at 203 432-4158.

Oral History of American Music

Oral History of American Music (OHAM) is the preeminent organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of recorded memoirs of the creative musicians of our time. OHAM’s origins can be traced back to 1969 when Vivian Perlis, then a reference librarian at Yale’s Music Library, started to conduct interviews with those who had known and worked with the composer Charles Ives. Her award-winning book resulting from those interviews, Charles Ives Remembered (Yale University Press, 1974), was quickly hailed as an exemplar of how oral history could illuminate the activities of musicians. Several composers had spoken about Ives, and in so doing, about themselves. These interviews formed the nucleus of the Oral History of American Music project, which has continued to focus on composers. To date, OHAM holds over 2,000 interviews with over 900 subjects. It also functions as an archive, providing primary source materials to scholars, arts presenters, and media producers. OHAM operates under the aegis of Yale’s Irving S. Gilmore Library, one of the preeminent music research collections in the United States.

About Vivian Perlis

Vivian Perlis is a historian in American music, specializing in twentieth century composers. She is widely known for her publications, lectures, and recording and film productions. On the faculty of the Yale School of Music, Perlis is the founding director of Oral History of American Music. Her publications include Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History (Yale University Press, 1974), for which she was awarded the Kinkeldey Prize of the American Musicological Society. With composer Aaron Copland, Perlis is co-author of Copland: 1900-1942 (St. Martin’s/Marek, 1984), which garnered a Deems Taylor/ASCAP award, and Copland: Since 1943 (St. Martin’s, 1989). Her most recent book is Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored with Libby Van Cleve. Perlis has also produced recordings of the music of Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives, as well as television documentaries on Ives, Eubie Blake, Aaron Copland, and John Cage. Among her honors and awards are the Charles Ives Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972); a Grammy nomination for “Charles Ives 100th Anniversary” (1974); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); and the Irving Lowens Award (1991).

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