Research Programs: Fellowships for University Teachers

Period of Performance

4/1/2008 - 9/30/2008

Funding Totals

$24,000.00 (approved)
$24,000.00 (awarded)

San Francisco's Musical Life, 1906-45

FAIN: FA-53011-07

Leta Ellen Miller
Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA 95064-1077)

The requested fellowship will support a book in progress on San Francisco's musical life from the 1906 earthquake to the end of World War II. Two world fairs bookend the period under consideration: the Panama-Pacific Exposition (1915) and the Golden Gate Exposition (1939). This period saw a changing aesthetic--from the emulation of East Coast culture to a more distinctive regional style embracing the area's inherent multiculturalism. In the immediate post-quake period, European-influenced arts predominated: the symphony and opera were founded, while a burgeoning jazz scene was stifled and Chinese opera (the colorful language of San Francisco's largest ethnic minority) languished. However, by the 1930s, San Francisco--which now rivaled New York in the new music scene--featured an experimentalism that included diverse traditions, particularly those of Asia. In 1940 American composer Henry Cowell praised an emerging local style fueled by individualism and cultural integration. This book will trace such changing aesthetic priorities, focusing on subcultures and their interactions. (Edited by staff.)

Media Coverage

History and Insight: Music and Politics in San Francisco (Review)
Author(s): Gereben, Janos
Publication: San Francisco Classical Voice
Date: 10/7/2011
Abstract: SF Classical Voice is an on-line classical music magazine. Gereben praises the book, which was just released a few days earlier. One notable quote: "Few histories or musicological studies provide as lively and entertaining reading as Music and Politics. Years of extensive research — through interviews, newspapers, archives — resulted in a mother lode of data, but the marvel of Miller's book is how she makes all that information coalesce in a colorful, memorable narrative. Besides many "scoops" of hitherto unknown or little facts, and impressive scholarly exposition, Miller offers such quirky connections between music and Chinatown, Henry Hadley, Henry Cowell, Harry Partch, Ernest Bloch, and Lou Harrison."

The political side of music history in San Francisco (Review)
Author(s): Stephen Smoliar
Publication: San Francisco Examier
Date: 12/27/2011
Abstract: Smoliar reviews and praises the book. One notable paragraph: "Through argumentation she establishes a claim and then sets about to marshal evidence to support the claim, summing up her findings in her final chapter just as a lawyer would deliver a closing statement. However, through exposition she embeds her evidence in a rich context of people, places, and things that fleshes out her reasoning and elevates it beyond the objective abstractions of mere logic. That context is then elaborated through a rich command of descriptive language (mastering what I have always believed is the most challenging of the text types). Finally, to emphasize that all of this involves “thinking in time,” she delivers the whole package with all the storytelling qualities of a good narrative."

Radio appearance-KZSC (Media Coverage)
Date: 12/27/2011
Abstract: Interview on Bruce Bratten's weekly radio show on Dec 6, 2011.

Musical Politics in Old San Francisco (Review)
Author(s): Ivry, Benjamin
Publication: The Jewish Daily Forward
Date: 1/13/2012
Abstract: A strong review of the book, emphasizing Jewish figures discussed in it.

Miller, Music and Politics in San Francisco (Review)
Author(s): W. K. Kearns
Publication: Choice
Date: 3/1/2012
Abstract: Strong review with evaluation a "highly recommended" for lower-division undergrads through faculty and professionals, as well as for general readers.

Associated Products

Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War (Book)
Title: Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War
Author: Leta E Miller
Abstract: San Francisco’s musical life in the period 1900–1940 was marked by virulent expressions of partisanship counterbalanced by a utopian vision that inspired its most successful cultural endeavors. These competing ideologies played out in the founding of the San Francisco Symphony (1911) and Opera (1923), and in the two-decade-long effort to build the country’s first municipally-owned opera house. Racism appeared as an unflattering element of the local scene: in the derision directed at the Chinese and in the competition between African-American and white musicians for jobs in night clubs, which resulted in a legal battle that reverberated nationally. Similar tensions characterized the WPA’s Federal Music Project during the Depression: public disagreements between administrators and artists threatened to undermine idealistic efforts to provide jobs for unemployed musicians. The utopian strain weaves a competing strand through these battles. Among its most idealistic advocates was composer Ernest Bloch (for five years director of the San Francisco Conservatory), who promoted cross-cultural and inter-religious exchange. A similar vision appears in the Asian-Western syntheses and interdisciplinary artistic collaborations of Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison; in the adventurous new music scene of the 1930s, which presaged developments elsewhere in the country; and in two world fairs (1915 and 1939/40) that celebrated California’s beauty and diversity while war raged in Europe.
Year: 2012
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: This lively history immerses the reader in San Francisco’s musical life during the first half of the twentieth century, showing how a fractious community overcame virulent partisanship to establish cultural monuments such as the San Francisco Symphony (1911) and Opera (1923). Leta E. Miller draws on primary source material and first-hand knowledge of the music to argue that a utopian vision counterbalanced partisan interests and inspired cultural endeavors, including the San Francisco Conservatory, two world fairs, and America’s first municipally owned opera house. Miller demonstrates that rampant racism, initially directed against Chinese laborers (and their music), reappeared during the 1930s in the guise of labor unrest as WPA music activities exploded in vicious battles between administrators and artists, and African American and white jazz musicians competed for jobs in nightclubs.
Publisher: University of California Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 97805202