CHICAGO–(ENEWSPF)–February 5, 2016. Roosevelt University music history professor Thomas J. Kernan has studied more than 1,000 pieces of music composed over 144 years about Abraham Lincoln, concluding that music made about the President informs our understanding of ever-changing American attitudes and priorities.
In conjunction with Lincoln’s birthday on Feb. 12, Kernan will be recognized by the Abraham Lincoln Association (ALA) in Springfield, Ill. and the Abraham Lincoln Institute (ALI) in Washington, D.C. for his groundbreaking research on the music about one of America’s icons. Everything from campaign rally songs to marches and top 40 hits are part of the study.
“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a project that explores how music about Abraham Lincoln is central to our understanding of different periods of American history,” said James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Collection at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.
Kernan, an assistant professor of musical history at Roosevelt, began studying music about Lincoln as a University of Cincinnati PhD student. During his research, he listened to and chronicled piece of music composed for and about Lincoln from the time of his death in 1865 through his 200th birthday in 2009. Music composed during Lincoln’s national funeral, Reconstruction, periods of mass immigration, the Civil Rights movement and the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday are included in his study.
“The many pieces of music allow us to track changes in how we understood Lincoln and used his legacy in national discussions,” said Kernan, whose dissertation, “Sounding the Mystic Chords of Memory: Music Memorials for Abraham Lincoln” will be awarded the Hay-Nicolay Prize (named for Lincoln’s two White House secretaries) by the ALA and ALI on Friday, Feb. 12 in Springfield.
Kernan will receive the award during a banquet celebrating Lincoln’s 207th birthday at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Hotel by Doubletree, 701 E. Adams Street, Springfield. Keynote speaker for the event will be Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr. For information on the evet, visit http://www.abrahamlincolnassociation.org/Symposium.aspx
Kernan found that when the nation was preoccupied with fighting World War I and World War II, Lincoln was portrayed by composers of the day as a great commander in chief and military leader.
When the U.S. civil rights movement was in full swing, that music of that time period presented Lincoln as the great emancipator, Kernan said.
And when immigration to America was at its peak during the 1920s, music told stories of Lincoln’s impoverished childhood and his success in rising up from humble beginnings to reach great heights of achievement, especially his becoming President.
“I looked at a lot of different moments when music about Lincoln was composed, and I found that through the music, we can see major topics of concern at specific time periods in our nation,” said the Roosevelt professor, who believes Lincoln has been more of a canvas and springboard for discussing issues of the day than an icon who is simply being memorialized.
In contemporary music about Lincoln, the President has become a means for composers to discuss topics like the Arab-Israeli conflict and gay rights, according to Kernan.
“Lincoln is more of a touchstone today than he’s ever been, yet he still remains a figure whom all of us, including composers, portray as what’s best about America,” he said.
An expert on American music of the 19th and 20th centuries, Kernan teaches survey courses and graduate seminars in music history at Roosevelt’s music conservatory. He is currently at work on building a large online data base of music about Lincoln.
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