Before the jazz age: professional musicians
and good music
We often hear complaints from musicians, especially band and orchestral, that they do not receive as much consideration and respect from the public as men of similar social status, but in other trades or professions… The musician, who is worthy the name, devotes his time unremittingly to his art, hence slander, or misapprehension, goes on unrefuted, so far as he is concerned. He is generally a man of a speculative turn of mind, dwelling apart, in realms of fancy, from the hurry-scurry of the world, apt to be sensitive and feel slights easily, but withal a good, honest citizen, who attends to his own business; and does not interfere with that of his neighbor … let some of those gentlemen who despise the musician, or who think his calling is an easy one, take a violin, or any other instrument in hand for a moment, try the most simple tune, or endeavor to play a common scale, then give their opinion… For the unremitting toil of the musical career, as well as for the social qualities of the musician, we claim that true musicians are worthy of the highest respect and consideration.
Editorial, Metronome, May 1885: 4
The first issue of Metronome was published in January 1885 and quickly established itself as a major national magazine for professional musicians in the United States. The Carl Fischer Company, a supplier of musical instruments and music sheets, published this “ad sheet” in New York City. Metronome remained a major magazine for professional musicians for 75 years, charting the rise and fall of the professional musician in American popular music until finally ending publication in 1961. As the editorial in May 1885 suggests, professional musicians in the late nineteenth century felt unappreciated as respectable professional artists. They also felt less than respected as tradesmen working to secure a livable wage. As professionals and tradesmen these musicians also would confront the question of the place of “good” music in popular performance.
The growth of a professional class of musician in the United States centered on the bands and orchestras that performed in cities across the country in the nineteenth century. These bands and orchestras were based on their European equivalents and borrowed their instrumental