The Land that Enchants Me So: Popular Songs of New Mexico coming to New Mexico History Museum
November 19th, 2017
(Santa Fe, NM) — Before radio and television, when making music at home was the evening’s entertainment and playing the piano was considered an essential talent among the middle class, sheet music was the music consumer’s gateway to the world.” The New Mexico History Museum celebrates this era with sheet music of popular songs about the State of New Mexico, dating from the mid-19th through the mid-20th centuries, in the new exhibition The Land That Enchants Me So: Popular Songs of New Mexico, which opens on Friday, March 2, 2018. The show spotlights graphically striking sheet-music covers published from 1840s through about 1960, along with other printed materials, sound recordings, and memorabilia relating to New Mexico and its musical life.
“At a time before everywhere in America was pretty much like everywhere else, songs often gave voice to civic pride. During the 19th and early-20th centuries, people felt that their own home town was a place worthy of singing about,” said James M. Keller, who co-curated the exhibition with Meredith Davidson, the Museum’s Curator of Southwest Collections. “In the 19th and early-20th centuries, publishers understood that potential sheet-music buyers judged pieces of music—like books—by their covers. And so, they accordingly lavished care on the creation of vivid, original art and design for the sheet music they issued.”
These images often provided ingenious depictions of the song’s subject, and they include images by a number of recognized New Mexico artists, including Will Shuster, Norma van Sweringen, and Willard Andrews, as well as such specialists in sheet-music illustration as E.T. Paull, Frederick Manning, Edgar Keller, André De Takacs, and the Starmer Brothers
All the music in the exhibition is about New Mexico, rather than merely being music that was performed in the state. The exhibit includes about 80 pieces of sheet music organized to illuminate such topics as the territorial period, statehood, military history, transportation, songs involving Native Americans in New Mexico, and specific places around the Land of Enchantment.
A section is devoted to the official state song, “O Fair New Mexico,” composed in 1914 by the remarkable New Mexico composer Elizabeth Garrett; another looks at music inspired by the best-selling novel Ben-Hur, written by Lew Wallace when he was Territorial Governor of New Mexico.
The examples on display serve as an entertaining and surprising reflection of the state’s rich cultural history. The exhibition also includes many sound recordings of selected songs that are on display, some as early as the 1910s.
The decorative sheet music in the exhibit is drawn from the private collection assembled over the past three decades by James M. Keller, whose collection focuses on historical popular music from the era of vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley. The guest co-curator of the show, he is known to New Mexico’s music-lovers through his work as a staff critic at Pasatiempo/The Santa Fe New Mexican. He is also the Program Annotator of the New York Philharmonic, where he has served since 1995 and occupies an endowed chair, and (since 2000) of the San Francisco Symphony.
“Although some of the songs and piano solos in this exhibit would have been performed in theatres, bandstands, and other public places, many were crafted for domestic music-makers,” said Keller. “The American piano industry peaked in 1909, when nearly 365,00 pianos were built in this country—one newly purchased for every 55 households which many considered an ‘essential luxury’. The songs that were sung around the parlor piano reflected the attitudes of the day.”
About the New Mexico History Museum and Palace of the Governors National Historic Landmark: http://www.nmhistorymuseum.org - Opened in May 2009, as the state system’s newest museum, the New Mexico History Museum is attached to the Palace of the Governors National Historic Landmark, a distinctive emblem of U.S. history and the original seat of New Mexico government. The History Museum serves as an anchor of the campus that includes Palace of the Governors, the Palace Press, the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library, and Photo Archives. The Museum presents exhibitions and public programs that interpret historical events and reflect on the wide range of New Mexico historical experiences and serves as a history center for research, education and lifelong learning, delivering quality programs that encourage knowledge, understanding and appreciation of New Mexico’s diverse cultures. A division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. 113 Lincoln Ave. in Santa Fe, NM 87501. (505) 476-5200. Hours: 10 am to 5 pm daily, May through October; closed Mondays November through April. Events, news releases and images about activities at the History Museum and other divisions in the Department of Cultural Affairs can be accessed at media.newmexicoculture.org.
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