The many music genres associated with Motown—R&B, soul, rock, and jazz—existed simultaneously with a European-based art music tradition. That these musics have historically been studied independently is no surprise, given their supposedly distinctive aesthetics, audiences, performing forces, artistic aims, and economic goals. But with this oversimplification comes the risk of ignoring or isolating certain musical traditions, and unnecessarily (or inaccurately) segregating the practice and reception of popular and classical music in Detroit. Indeed, Detroit’s reputation as a city divided has in part inspired this paper, which seeks to question the conventional cultural divisions that characterize the city’s twentieth-century identity. 3 Beneath this imbedded tradition of segregation are a series of unexpected interactions, resulting in an ongoing dialogue between cultural scenes that make Detroit’s story one filled with nuance and intrigue. This article will question the notion of division and segregation in twentieth-century Detroit, expanding it to the cultural sector, and exploring if and how di ff erent musical traditions interacted and influenced one another. By focusing on the physical and theorized spaces that fostered these interactions—performance venues and institutions—the relationships between and among multiple arts scenes, including the seemingly self-marginalized classical music community, paint an urban soundscape more sophisticated and intertwined than previously thought. The theorization of “place” as an integral determinant and representation of cultural practices is essential to this narrative. Focusing on how physical space and the discourses surrounding it have fostered di ff erent musical traditions within the city highlights the omnipresence of this interaction. Through generations of experience, patrons and passersby of particular performance venues undergo a process of enculturation defined by tacit “transactions” between place and person. 4 When viewed as a shared experience, “place” quickly becomes a valuable construct imbibed with meaning that can tell us a great deal about a community. As the architect David Canter points out, “the social and cultural processes at work in individual 2. 2 See, for example, Farley, Danziger, and Holzer, Detroit Divided . 3. 3 Although twentieth-century Detroit culture includes significant contributions from a number of ethnic groups, including large Mexican-American and Arab-American communities, this article focuses on the perceived opposition between the city’s African-American and European-based art music scenes. In so doing, I explore the division and interaction between black and white culture more deeply, modeling my argument on previously published studies of Detroit (see Farley et al., Detroit Divided and Bjorn, Before Motown: A History of Jazz in Detroit, 1920–1960 ) while recognizing that further research must be done on cultural traditions that do not fit neatly into this polarized discourse.
- Winter '13
- The American, Orchestra Hall, Detroit Symphony Orchestra