Major Figures in American Music is the core unit of Oral History of American Music. It consists of about 1,500 interviews with composers, performers, and other significant musicians. The first subjects were those most fragile in terms of age and health, such as Eubie Blake, Nadia Boulanger, Aaron Copland, Harry Partch, Charles Seeger, Claire Reis, and Virgil Thomson. Among other senior composers interviewed during the OHAM's first decade were John Cage, Lou Harrison, Ernst Krenek, Leo Ornstein, and William Schuman. As OHAM proceeded, composers actively involved in their careers were included and have been updated periodically. To name a few: John Adams, Anthony Braxton, David Del Tredici, Lukas Foss, David Lang, Steve Reich, and Julia Wolfe. OHAM's program also includes oral histories with emerging young talents, with the plan to track their careers as they unfold in the future. In addition to interviews with primary subjects, the core unit includes testimonies from secondary sources about George Gershwin, Henry Cowell, Harry Lawrence Freeman, Percy Grainger, and Arnold Schoenberg.
The Paul Hindemith Oral History is about the celebrated German composer, who fled from Germany to the United States during World War II. Seventy-five interviews with students, performers, colleagues, and friends of Hindemith serve as the prototype for studies of the émigré composer. As with the Ives series, the Hindemith oral history adds a dimension to the Hindemith Collection of papers and manuscripts at the Yale Music Library.
The Charles Ives Oral History was the first documentary oral history of an American composer. Interviews with sixty people who knew and worked with Charles Ives were conducted between 1968 and 1971, and this unit was the impetus for the founding of Oral History of American Music. Family, friends, neighbors, business associates, and musicians reminisce about one of the most significant artistic figures of the century. Some of the musicians are: Arthur Berger, Elliott Carter, Lehman Engel, Lou Harrison, Bernard Herrmann, John Kirkpatrick, Goddard Lieberson, Darius Milhaud, Jerome Moross, Dane Rudhyar, Carl Ruggles, Charles Seeger, and Nicolas Slonimsky. Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History (Yale, 1974; Norton paperback, 1978) received the Kinkeldey Prize from the American Musicological Society in 1975. Excerpts from the taped interviews were used in a five record package, "Charles Ives 100th Anniversary" (1974) and in a film documentary, "A Good Dissonance Like a Man" (1977).
The Duke Ellington Oral History comprises ninety-two interviews with and about Ellington, one of America's greatest composers. Included are many of the foremost artists of the century, such as Alvin Ailey, Amiri Baraka, Dave Brubeck, Sonny Greer, John Hammond, Al Hibbler, Sy Oliver, Max Roach, Billy Taylor, Randy Weston, and Mary Lou Williams. A series on Billy Strayhorn, Ellington's elusive and talented colleague, has evolved from the Ellington Project.
(Note: For additional research material on the work of Duke Ellington, see the Stanley Dance and Helen Oakley Dance Papers in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library archival collections.)
The Steinway & Sons Oral History traces the history of Steinway & Sons through its years as a family business until its acquisition by CBS in 1972. 120 interviews provide a multi-level look at a major musical institution whose impact on musical culture in the United States and abroad has been significant. Included are Steinway family members, piano technicians, factory workers, Steinway agents, and concert artists. To name a few of the last: Claudio Arrau, Arthur Balsam, Lazar Berman, Alfred Brendel, Van Cliburn, Misha Dichter, Gary Graffman, Lorin Hollander, Grant Johannesen, Lili Kraus, William Masselos, Garrick Olsson, Murray Perahia, Charles Rosen, Artur Rubinstein, Rudolf Serkin, McCoy Tyner.
The Aaron Copland Oral History comprises approximately 75 interviews with colleagues, friends, and family of Aaron Copland (note: for interviews with Copland himself, see the Major Figures in American Music collection). OHAM founder Vivian Perlis first became friends with Copland while working on the Charles Ives Oral History. Copland later wrote the preface for her book, Charles Ives Remembered. As the Ives project finished, Perlis focused on Copland as her new subject. From 1975 to 1976, she conducted many hours of interviews with Copland and those closest to him. Finally, in 1984 and 1989, their efforts culminated in the autobiographies, Copland: 1900 through 1942 and Copland: Since 1943, co-authored by Perlis.
The Yale Student Composers Oral History documents the graduate student composers of the Yale School of Music. These promising young artists are interviewed at the outset of their studies at Yale, and they speak about their work, musical education, inspiration, and other subjects. Their testimony is filmed by a professional videographer.
Music and the Black Church is a collection of video interviews with leaders of music in the Black church, including pastors, music ministers, gospel artists, and choir directors. These interviews were conducted by students in Professor Braxton Shelley’s gospel courses at Yale University. This is an ongoing and ever-expanding effort. Please note: interviews with other gospel figures may be found in OHAM’s Major Figures in American Music collection.