Soundscapes of Jefferson's America - Symposium & Concerts

March 30, 2012 - 6:00pm

SCHEDULE: Click here for the full schedule of events
PRICE: all events are FREE except Free Bridge Quintet Jazz Meets Jefferson (tickets)
REGISTRATION: (requested for attendance purposes, but not required): Please fill out this form to pre-register for the Soundscapes in Jefferson's America symposium.
Directions to Kenwood/Montalto for Saturday's events

It is no secret in Charlottesville that Thomas Jefferson played the violin well, claimed to practice the violin three hours a day, and had a special relationship with the singer/composer Maria Cosway. Music was, in his own words, “the favorite passion of my soul,” and the familiar image of music at Monticello includes violin sonatas, harpsichords, and lady singers. We also know that Jefferson owned slaves, and that they not only had their own rich music cultures, but also did the work which allowed Jefferson to enjoy his musical “passion.”

Yet despite these well-known sound bites, the actual soundscape of Jefferson’s America remains elusive. If you listen carefully, the story becomes more textured and dissonant. To begin with, Jefferson suffered a wrist injury probably rarely played the music he owned—though he did tell his daughters to practice three hours a day. As for Maria Cosway, when she left Jefferson she did so in the company of the famous Italian castrato Luigi Marchesi. When Jefferson’s daughters wanted music for dances they regularly called on the sons of Sally Hemings.

Soundscapes of Jefferson’s America—a series of lectures, concerts, and an exhibition—shows that Jefferson’s America was a noisy place, reverberating with thunder, violin sonatas, work songs, revolutionary speech, bawdy drinking songs and more.  In fields and towns, churches and taverns, slave cabins and plantation manors, sounds defined spaces and made the interactions across race, class, and gender audible. In this diverse soundscape, our current musical boundaries between classical, folk, and popular music would have made little sense; eighteenth-century musical events regularly featured violin sonatas alongside rousing fiddle tunes.

Soundscapes of Jefferson's America brings together scholars and performers from history, literature, theater, and music, who together will reconstruct the sounds of Early America and reflect on their meaning. There will be presentations on the music of slaves, musical amateurism, the sound of oratory, the origins of the banjo, the popularity of Scottish music, the political and social dimensions of hearing, and more. Concurrently with the symposium, an exhibition devoted to Sound in Early America will be on display in the Small Special Collections Library at UVa.

The international roster of speakers includes Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family;Fred Moten (Duke University); Peter Onuf (UVa); Mary Hunter (Bowdoin College); Daniel Preston (University of Mary Washington); Katherine Preston (William and Mary); Cecelia Conway (Appalachian State University); Sophie Rosenfeld (UVa); Cynthia Wall (UVa); Shane White (University of Sydney) and Daniel Preston.

It is of course impossible to present a soundscape without sound. The weekend features a concert of classical, popular, and folk music presented by Harmonious Blacksmith, early-music specialists from Baltimore, New York, and Charlottesville. The group will present a program that bridges the gap between Western Art music and popular song, juxtaposing tavern songs and string sonatas.  And bringing the historical imagination into the present, a Saturday evening concert by the Free Bridge Quintet called Jazz Meets Jefferson. The conference feature a new piece by John D'earth entitled Into the House, inspired by music of the era including spirituals, fiddle laments, and Corelli sonatas.

Organized by UVa Music professors Bonnie Gordon and Richard Will, this weekend is the culmination of a two-year educational and scholarly intiative funded by the Jefferson Trust of the University. Working in close collaboration with the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, the faculty have directed undergraduate and graduate classes and research projects intended to reveal the hidden soundscapes of historical Charlottesville.

We would like to thank the Co-Sponsors for this symposium: The Jefferson Trust, an initiative of the UVA Alumni Association; Robert H Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies; UVa Corcoran Department of History; UVa Department of English; Eleanor Shea Music Trust; Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature, and Culture and WTJU 91.1 FM.



REGISTRATION requested, but not required



McIntire Department of Music
112 Old Cabell Hall
P.O. Box 400176 Charlottesville, VA 22904-4176