Out of many, one : Tin Pan Alley and American popular song, 1890-1920
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In the many years since the label and the origin story first emerged, a variety of scholars have used Tin Pan Alley as a means to engage with constructions of national and personal identity. Discussions have primarily focused on sheet music and industry, often discussed as aesthetically vacant products of a hegemonic culture industry. As a result, these studies have generally focused on the ways the industry reaffirmed, rejected, or capitalized on constructions of identity within and through the songs as cultural products. This dissertation builds on this understanding to account for these cultural products as music by exploring the construction, dissemination and performance of song at the turn of the twentieth century. In doing so, I reorient Tin Pan Alley scholarship away from its current focus on commercial products, and instead towards the people and sounds who collaborated to create the industry and its songs. I argue that song was actively assembled out of diverse musical practices including but not limited to composing, collaborating, arranging, performing, recording, listening, and consuming music. As such, these practices helped to continually form, perform, and reform Tin Pan Alley, as well as the various sounds, objects, and spaces identified with American popular song. Balancing the diverse commercial practices of the publishing and entertainment industries with the creative processes employed to create, perform, and consume these songs in various media formats, spaces, arrangements, and locations, we add another layer to the discourse of Tin Pan Alley. Ultimately, this dissertation is an intervention in the oneness of commercial popular song in the story of Tin Pan Alley, instead offering a broader, networked understanding of song that highlights the many avenues to and through song at the turn of the twentieth century. Refocusing on song rather than the discursive, product-oriented, and marginalized Alley allows a flexibility in both in scope and in view; we are able to, instead, see and hear song in moments of contact, creation, and performance.