Joseph Horowitz

 Joseph Horowitz
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“We took a trip back in time and learned more than any book or movie could offer.” –– Eleventh grade student, Columbia high School, Maplewood, New Jersey
“Dvorak in America” is a multi-media National Education Project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Designed for middle schools and high schools, the project uses a book, a DVD, poetry, and live performance to explore a spectrum of topics in American history, including the Indian Wars, slavery and the slave trade, Buffalo Bill, and The Song of Hiawatha. The essential context is the search for American identity at the turn of the 20th century. The essential questions are “What is America?” and “Who is an American?”
 “No less than Alexis de Tocqueville, Dvorak in America illustrates how an eminent foreign visitor could clarify the American experience” –– Jay Gavitt, Social Studies Subject Chair, Columbia High School
Middle and high schools integrate the materials into history, social studies, music, and language arts classes. As overseen and facilitated by Joe Horowitz, the project is tailored to flexibly address local needs and capacities. Horowitz supports curricular development, takes part as a classroom instructor, and helps to coordinate school activities with symphonic programming that brings the music to life.
“Dvorak in America” has been filed-tested by the NEH in both inner-city and suburban schools with multi-ethnic populations.
“Dvorak in America” was evaluated by the Center for Educational Partnerships in Music (Georgia State Unversity). The findings included:
  • “student and teacher enthusiasm, student learning, and positive changes in student attitudes toward music.”
  • “increased interest in music generally, and symphonic music specifically, as well as greater curiosity about music's role in American history and culture."
The evaluators praised “Dvorak in America” for furnishing “unique and effective tools for depicting the contribution of African Americans to American music and culture, and for studying the contributions of other minority groups.” 
“Learning about a founder of American music shed light on the music that we listen to today. This experience has been an unforgettable one that we will remember for years to come. Music is the international language and something everybody can connect with.” –– Claire Hyman and Alex King, Columbia High School
Horowitz has also overseen “Dvorak in America” instruction in History and Music classrooms in Boston, Brooklyn, and Elgin (Ill.). A similar outreach effort is pending in Bridgeport, Ct. (via the Bridgeport Symphony). His various “Dvorak in America” projects have been initiated by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, the Elgin Symphony, the Nashville Symphony (in association with the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University), the New England Conservatory, the University of Texas at Austin (in association with the Austin Symphony and the Bullock Texas State History Museum), the New Jersey Symphony, the Pacific Symphony (Orange Co., Calif.). In 2004, he received a certificate of commendation from the Parliament of the Czech Republic, “for his exceptional explorations – both as a scholar and as the organizer of Dvorak festivals throughout the United States – of Dvorak’s historic sojourn in America.”
Horowitz’s classroom work has typically linked to symphonic concerts – sometimes Young People’s Concerts, sometimes mainstream subscription concerts, sometimes in-school student concerts. Frequently, such concerts have incorporated the visual presentation for the Largo and Scherzo of the New World Symphony Horowitz created with Peter Bogdanoff of UCLA, and/or the seven-minute “Hiawatha Melodrama”Horowitz created with Michael Beckerman of NYU.
 ⇒   Use the controls below to listen to the Hiawatha melodrama

At the Schuyler Middle School in Brooklyn, students hosted their own “Dvorak in America” program, as performed by the school orchestra supplemented by members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic. One seventh grader impersonated Dvorak and declaimed his famous endorsement of “Negro melodies” as a sermon.
“The writer and consultant Joseph Horowitz has long urged orchestras to re-invent themselves as miniature conservatories and cultural centers. Horowitz and the musicologist Robert Winter have created a set of teaching tools, focusing on Dvorak’s American residency. The great Czech composer, who grew up in abject poverty, heard African-American spirituals in 1892 and predicted that African-Americans would shape the future of American music. Jeannette Thurber brought Dvorak to America, and invited African-Americans to study with him free of charge. One student was the composer Will Marion Cook, who later helped invent the African-American music, became an early jazz bandleader, and served as a mentor to Duke Ellington. Because one woman in the Gilded Age decided that music should be taught differently, a new tributary opened in American culture. More people should learn this story in school” – Alex Ross, The New Yorker (Sept. 4, 2006)


In Search of the New World

by Joseph Horowitz
Published by Cricket Books, 2003

A book for young readers

Antonin Dvorak's New World Symphony is one of the most popular classical works ever. In this spirited account of the story behind the composition, Joseph Horowitz brings to life the diverse musical and cultural influences that inspired the composer, who came from Czechoslovakia to America in 1892. Listening to his assistant, Henry Burleigh, sing slave songs, and visiting Wild West shows and the Kickapoo Medicine Show gave Dvorak the raw material from which to compose his masterpiece that, to both popular audiences and critics, captures the vibrancy and power of American music. Illustrated with archival black-and-white photos, and including index and source notes for further research, this book brings the dramatic and inspiring story of a musical masterpiece to life for young readers.

“Getting into the head of the man who brought American music to Americans”
Review in Gramophone Magazine

The fundamental irony that America needed the prompting of a white European to take its own indigenous music seriously has left itself open to a wide variety of readings over the years. For Joseph Horowitz, a critic and scholar of American music and more recently a prominent consultant to US orchestras, Dvork’s trip to America in the 1890s has become prime fodder for a broad multidisciplinary curriculum of American studies.

Horowitz has spent much time with this material over the years. For the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra he fashioned an audience-friendly festival out of current Dvork scholarship in the early 1990s (most notably that of Michael Beckerman) to mark the centenary of the New World Symphony, and later took the Dvork story into Brooklyn classrooms. Now, in conjunction with programming initiatives inspired by the centenary of Dvork’s death in 2004 (including a forthcoming interactive DVD by Robert Winter and Peter Bogdanoff entitled, From the New World: A Celebrated Composer’s American Odyssey) Horowitz returns to Dvork in this concise and informative account for young readers.

Both on the page and the stage Horowitz is a formidable presence whose ideology is hard to miss. At the root of his work, particularly his previous accounts of Toscanini and the early Wagner movement in the US, is his take-no-prisoners belief that American culture has been crippled by the New World’s unreflexive worship of Europe. In this case, however, Horowitz wears his learning lightly, pitching his account of Dvork to an age group looking for a good story with little patience for ideology.

Even before the great composer reaches New York, we’re introduced to Harry Burleigh, the young assistant who would become his guide to the slave songs that helped shape his impressions of America. Once Dvork takes control of the National Conservatory of Music, the reader gets caught up in his social circle with the likes of conductor Anton Seidl and critic James Gibbons Huneker. We even accompany Dvork on an 1890s tour of America, from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show to the Czech immigrant community in Spillville, Iowa.

While some of the book is in Dvork’s own words, taken from letters and journals reprinted either in whole or in part, much of Horowitz’s account relies on what he calls in his postscript ‘interpreting’ the written ‘score’. In truth, much of the book relies on a restrained use of fiction-writing techniques, such as taking a few documented events and filling in a few lines of dialogue. In the larger scheme, however, what holds this account together is a novelistic ability to show rather than tell. With minimal authorial intrusion, Horowitz gets into the heads of his characters and lets them make most of the discoveries themselves.

While the setting may be particularly American, the sentiments behind it – particularly that of temporary displacement and the need to find a new context – are rather universal. Horowitz has a gift for relating that condition smoothly in vocabulary that most 15-year-olds can easily grasp (he credits his son Bernie as his ‘guinea pig’). But beyond that, he shows a deep familiarity with his material, painting huge tapestries with a minimum of well-chosen words, that more writers for grownups would do well to emulate.

- Ken Smith, Gramophone