Western classical music in San Antonio : performing arts in the context of urbanization, globalization, and nationalization




Alba, Ernest Isaiah

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Studies of the development of Western classical music in the United States have often argued that a cultural hierarchy exists in which popular culture (television, movies, and pop-rock music) and its consumers are culturally divided from “high” culture (avant garde art, theater, and symphony). In the last two decades or so, scholars have attempted to “rescue” high culture from this assumption by arguing alternatively that the roots of high culture in American culture are popular and that high culture was popularized in the years following WWII. I conduct an ethnographic investigation of Western classical music performance organizations in San Antonio, a major American city with a rich history in the performing arts, in order to assess the role that high art culture plays in the lives of informants. I argue that classical music, rather than playing the role of a subaltern form of cultural expression, instead is crucial in shaping the postwar national identity and the modern urban, gentrified living experience. Audience experiences of Western classical music – packaged as cosmopolitan and elite – are different from both the highly commoditized popular music tradition and the locally consumed folk music tradition. I contend that audience members, musicians, and managers and artistic directors, as three distinct groups of performers negotiate the tensions bound up in the circulation of Western classical music in different ways that reflect the role of ethnicity, nationalism, and capitalism in the development of Western Classical music in the early 21st century.



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