Violin Online: American Amateur Musicians

History of Violin Pedagogy: How Did They Learn?

Amateur Musicians in America

by Dr. Robin Kay Deverich

The popularity of amateur instrumental music was not limited to Europe. Compton chronicled the musical activities of amateur instrumentalists in America in his dissertation, Amateur Instrumental Music in America 1765 to 1810. He noted that amateur musicians flourished during this time period and played a large role in shaping the musical culture in America. Compton grouped amateur players into four categories:

  1. Informally trained players with music serving recreational needs.
  2. Wealthy young ladies (and gentlemen) for whom music was primarily a social accomplishment.
  3. Bandsmen and members of instrumental clubs who joined together for performances, group instruction and social reasons.
  4. Serious amateurs who found intellectual and aesthetic satisfaction through music.

Compton observed:

American amateurs formed a diverse and active group. Music was of more importance to some than to others, but for all it was a valued part of life, a pleasure well worth its cost in time, effort, and money. The activities of the amateurs were supported by, and in turn supported, a sizable group of teachers, music stores, importers, and publishers.[64]

Eddy, author of the article "American Violin Method-Books and European Teachers, Geminiani to Spohr," also examined the role amateur violinists played in the development of American culture in early America. Eddy noted that amateur violinists included: wealthy plantation owners, Moravian settlers, poor Southern families and prominent political leaders such as Thomas Jefferson. Eddy described the likely use of the violin by such amateurs:

In addition to providing music for their own families, some of these players would have been members of social orchestras, playing quicksteps, waltzes, polkas, quadrilles, galops, marches, and contradances for special social occasions. Others would have learned simply in order to play hymns, opera tunes, and other well-known melodies purely for their own enjoyment.[65]

Eddy stated that American publishers capitalized on the interest of amateur violinists: "From 1769 on, numerous method books were published in the United states for amateurs desiring to learn to play the violin. . . and, if numbers mean anything, the violin was popular indeed."[66] Eddy provided an example of how popular these amateur violin publications were by citing the number of violin tutors sold by Elias Howe: "His influence in the area of amateur violin playing was immense: his many tutors for the violin sold more then 500,000 copies."[67]


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