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Performing Arts

Defining melodies

By Marilou Carlin


In the field of American music research, there is no more respected publication than The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. A team of University of Michigan music scholars contributed significantly to the first updated and revised edition to be published early next year.

Known as AmeriGrove, the dictionary was originally published by Macmillan in 1986 as the first comprehensive reference work dedicated to the music of the United States that was academically rigorous and written by a team of specialists. It quickly became the definitive scholarly resource on the subject.

Now, more than a quarter of a century later, the first revised edition of AmeriGrove is nearing completion, led by faculty members in the Department of Musicology and with strong support from the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Scheduled for print and online publication by Oxford University Press (OUP) early next year, The Grove Dictionary of American Music, second edition (AmeriGrove II) dramatically increases the breadth of coverage, growing from four to eight volumes, and affirms U-M’s role as one of the top research institutes in the world for American music.

Under the leadership of editor-in-chief Charles Hiroshi Garrett (associate professor of musicology) and project editor for design and development Mark Clague (associate professor of musicology and SMTD director of research), AmeriGrove II has been in development for more than six years. Utilizing the talents of U-M faculty, alumni and students, along with scholars of American music from around the world, the work now features close to 9,000 entries on the people, places, objects, practices, genres, concepts, themes and traditions that have forged America’s music.

AmeriGrove II sends a very visible sign to everyone that U-M remains central to scholarship on American music,” said Charles Garrett. “Michigan has a long tradition of studying American music. I think the dictionary will stand as a symbol of U-M’s strong commitment to treating American music seriously.”

The hardcover edition of AmeriGrove II will be published in January 2013, but more than 1,500 of the updated or brand new entries have already been incorporated into Grove Music Online (found at, the premier English-language authority on music, and arguably the most consulted resource in music research. Eventually, all AmeriGrove II entries will be incorporated into Grove Music Online.

Since a number of SMTD’s musicology faculty members have a primary or secondary research area in American music, many contributed to AmeriGrove II, along with faculty from the Department of Music Theory. In addition, faculty from other U-M departments and schools were also involved. Several were from programs at the School of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), including Women’s Studies, the Program in American Culture and several of its Ethnic Studies divisions, and the Department of Screen Arts and Cultures. At the same time, more than 20 graduate and undergraduate students acted as research assistants and, in many cases, contributed articles.

Thanks to the large number of Michigan scholars involved in the work, who have been communicating with outside experts for the last six years, a permanent U-M connection has been forged with the dictionary. “The whole process of building the dictionary could have quite profound effects on recruiting students and further raising the reputation of the school,” said Garrett.

“For the next three or four decades, the core knowledge in the field of American music will have been defined by researchers here at U-M, along with scholars from all over the world, so AmeriGrove II reflects a wide collaborative embrace,” said Clague. “It not only validates the tradition of American music scholarship at the university, but puts our department at the forefront of American music research and the way in which the field is defined and imagined, especially the inclusive values it embraces.”


Charles Garrett was initially brought into the AmeriGrove II project in 2004. The plan was for him to be co-editor with Professor Emeritus Richard Crawford, one of the key scholars in the field of American music. Crawford ultimately decided to pass on editing AmeriGrove II to concentrate on his many other projects, including a major biography of George Gershwin.

Garrett assumed that his involvement with the dictionary was over. But several months later, Oxford University Press proposed that Garrett take on the editorship solo and he accepted. With research and teaching interests that focus on American music as well as 20th-century music, jazz, popular music, music and racial/ethnic representation and cultural theory, his background was well suited to the job. He is the author of the award-winning book Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century, and he is also a former student of H. Wiley Hitchcock, a U-M alumnus (MA ’48, Ph.D. ’54), former U-M professor and co-editor of the original AmeriGrove. Garrett studied with Hitchcock as an undergrad at Columbia University in New York.

“Charles Garrett was the ideal person to choose as editor,” said Jim Borders, chair of the musicology department. “Not only because he’s a fine scholar of American music, but also because he’s very personable and able to work with a variety of scholars of different stripes. Because really, that’s what American music is all about: It’s about a combination of interests and it can take into consideration everything from shape note singing [a type of music notation, popular in the U.S., designed to facilitate congregational and community singing] to Frank Zappa.”

Garrett was excited to be named editor-in-chief, but was well aware of the challenges. “The immensity of the project became clear to me pretty quickly,” he said. “At first I would say it was pretty overwhelming.”

Fortunately, he found that he had tremendous support from OUP and from other scholars in the field. But, perhaps just as critically, he received great support from U-M, including the musicology department and Dean Christopher Kendall at SMTD, the Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP). These U-M entities provided Garrett and the project with professional support, scholarly advice and funding to cover computer costs and the hiring of research assistants.


Preparatory work on the new edition began in 2006 with a main outline devised by Garrett in collaboration with the first set of dictionary editors he had chosen. They looked closely at the 1986 edition and determined what it covered well, where there were gaps and what should be expanded upon.

Simultaneously, Garrett began actively recruiting the larger group of advisors and editors who were essential to creating the dictionary. The advisory board members would shape the tome by helping to design the initial headword list—the specific subjects to be covered. The senior editors would edit large or multiple subject areas throughout the project. Contributing editors would perform the same editorial function, but for smaller and more focused subject areas.

More than 30 advisors, 10 senior editors and 25 contributing editors were brought on board, representing top universities and research institutes from across the country and around the world, including the Library of Congress. The suggested list of topics was further developed and continually fine-tuned, and then writers were identified and assigned articles. Ultimately 1,500 writers would contribute to the dictionary, averaging about six articles each.

Managing the complex flow of writing and editing the encyclopedic work was a huge challenge. It was solved with the creation of an Internet accessible tracking database that would coordinate all facets of the project. The database was designed under the direction of Clague in the first of his two AmeriGrove II roles, as project editor. He used UM.SiteMaker, the ingenious computer program created by U-M’s Dr. Jonathan Maybaum that allows non-programmers to create and maintain websites built upon a dynamic database.

Featuring contributor, editor and administrative portals, Clague described the site as a tracking system that was “essentially a single spreadsheet that told us the status and content of each of the 9,000 articles and 5 million words.” When completed, an editor or contributor could check the status of an article at any time, determining if it had been submitted, edited, forwarded to OUP or completed. “It was very fine-tuned for the different roles everyone was assigned,” said Garrett. “And it was open on my computer for more than five years.”


As a scholar, Clague researches many forms of music making in the United States, particularly the classical tradition in Chicago, focusing on institutions, critical geography and the interrelationship of music and society, especially African American music. His research focus led to his other role on AmeriGrove II, as senior editor in charge of cities, regions and institutions.

Like all 10 of the senior editors, in this role he was responsible for creating a section and finding authors for its articles. Clague’s section focuses on dozens of American cities; regions such as the Mississippi Delta and New England; and institutions as diverse as the Apollo Theatre and musicians’ unions. A look at this section offers a microcosm of the new edition as a whole, especially in regards to how it has evolved since the 1986 edition.

“From a scholarly standpoint, the field of American music reflects the values of the field of music research as a whole,” said Clague. “Before the first edition of AmeriGrove came out in 1986, the values of the field primarily represented classical music. There was acknowledgment of jazz and awareness of folk music, but very little world or ethnic music activity was recognized.”

The original AmeriGrove was acclaimed in part for its remarkable diversity and for helping to expand the field in many new directions. But when it came to articles on “cities and regions,” only major metropolitan areas were represented and the coverage was mostly limited to their classical music connections.

“We expanded the coverage in the second edition of the dictionary, often by enlisting an additional author,” said Clague. “There was someone who was responsible for the more traditional, canonical knowledge about a city and its institutions—symphonies, opera companies, libraries, music schools, et cetera. Then we’d get a separate person, often younger, trained in a different approach about what music could be, and they looked at dance clubs, record companies, popular music traditions, ethnic choirs—they captured the diversity of music making that is in the U.S. and filled in major gaps in our knowledge, often doing new and pioneering work.”

This approach, of trying to be as inclusive as possible, became a guiding principle in the editing of the entire dictionary. Certain areas were expanded to reflect the growth of interest they’ve experienced, whether that was expressed through journalism, musical life or scholarly circles. “Country music” offers a perfect illustration: The 1986 edition contained a substantial article on country music and 90 additional articles on country music figures and topics. The new edition has a newly commissioned, updated and extensive article on country music, as well as nearly 300 articles on country musicians, groups and subgenres.

As Garrett explains, “We were intent on having nothing fall through the cracks.” One way of doing so was to intentionally have certain assignments given to advisors and editors overlap. An example is the subject area of “African American music.”

“African American music could be said to apply to a third, a half, or even more of the dictionary’s entries,” said Garrett. “We split the subject of ‘African American music’ between two advisors, but we also had other advisors working on jazz, hip hop, popular music, classical music. So all of their planning lists produced substantial overlap. The process of reconciling the different lists was time-consuming, and difficult conceptually … sometimes it meant trying to figure out who should handle, say, Louis Armstrong, for example. But we now have an end product that, while perhaps not exhaustive, is far more inclusive than a very bounded subject area dictionary.”

“America is a place of transplantation,” said Clague. “Most people here are from someplace else, so the United States is an incredibly rich experiment in cultural interaction, synthesis, collision, chemical reactions between all these different traditions. We were trying to capture some of that excitement. The cultural magic that really defines American life often doesn’t fit into the typical categories that we have used to study music—it’s not just about composers and masterpieces, although it’s about that, too. We were trying to look much more broadly than that, and explore the cracks between the normal categories to find things we hadn’t paid attention to 30 years ago. And that’s really where the expansion of the dictionary is, and what its real contribution is to the field. In many ways, it redefines our awareness of what music is in America.”


Among the benefits of having a top reference work edited at the university are the opportunities it provides both undergraduate and graduate students. Depending on their skills and background, students were charged with a variety of responsibilities including basic research, updating bibliographies, copyediting, and/or seeking out and contacting scholars active in certain areas of study. In some instances, students worked as research assistants for a pool of editors, including scholars across the country, providing valuable networking experience.

Some students were invited to update existing articles. The opportunity to write new, original articles, under close editorial supervision, was offered to a number of students who had writing experience and/or a large knowledge base on a specific topic, and who had also proven themselves adept at research.

“We have some students who wrote 15 or 20 articles each, and now that’s part of their permanent record,” said Garrett. “The students are going to be able to see their work side-by-side with those of more well-established scholars, and integrated into Grove Music Online. In terms of practical experience, it’s been tremendous.”

Leah Weinberg, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology with a concentration in 20th-century music and American music, worked on the dictionary over the course of two summers. She started as a copyeditor but also wrote two articles, one of which was a lengthy regional entry on New England. She described it as “an incredibly valuable project.”

“As an Americanist, it was great to be able to extend my knowledge of American music, especially since New England’s musical life was so prominent up to the beginning of the 20th century,” said Weinberg. “It was really helpful, not just to learn more about a region that I wasn’t intimately familiar with musically, but it also gave me experience in a pre-20th century context.”

Weinberg is delighted to add her work on AmeriGrove II to her CV. And although she appreciates being published, she is also just excited to have her work being utilized by other scholars. “The source is consulted incredibly often,” she said, “and if the work that I’ve done is valuable to someone else, that in itself is enough.”

Though most of the student researchers were musicology majors, some came from other schools through the UROP program. One of these was Andrew Scott Hoppert (BA, ’13), a psychology major at LSA with a passion for music and a writing background. After signing up with UROP, which, he says, “gives undergrads the best possible introduction to what research would be like for a grad student,” Hoppert discovered the project description seeking research assistants for AmeriGrove II and jumped at the opportunity.

Hoppert networked with scholars who the editors were interested in securing for the project, then moved to bibliography and article updates. In time, he was offered his first full article, on the groundbreaking marching band director George Edwards.

“At that point, I was giddy,” said Hoppert. “It goes to show the opportunities that U-M and UROP gives students. I’m a sophomore transfer student from a small community college and I’m going to be published—that’s amazing.”

According to Clague, working on the book provided excellent growth opportunities for the students. He pinpoints three key areas: as researchers, developing information management skills; as interpreters, trying to understand the significance of a topic; and as writers. “They learned to communicate to a really broad audience very efficiently—providing the facts, and their view of them, without a lot of floral language,” said Clague. “It’s a difficult, but transformative task.”

Clague notes that writing for an encyclopedia is in some ways harder than writing a book. With the latter, writers have a couple of hundred pages to explain what they’ve learned on a topic. With a guide like AmeriGrove II, they might have just a couple of hundred words. The art of distilling information becomes all important.

Hoppert feels that this challenge honed his skills as a research writer. “It’s not only finding what are the most important points, but finding what points will give your reader enough to start their own research,” he said.


It is very possible that this will be the last time that The Grove Dictionary of American Music will be published as a set of print volumes. Already, most people use the online version, which is part of Grove Music Online, with the majority of researchers accessing it via library and school subscriptions. So the upcoming print edition, with its Michigan origins, may be the last to sit on library shelves around the world.

Meanwhile, at a time when quick information on almost any subject is a click away on the computer, AmeriGrove II offers that rare commodity in the “instant-answer” age: trustworthy, accurate, scholarly, well-written and carefully edited information. In the expansive and ever-changing field of American music, and the corollary over-abundance of information available online, having such reliable and succinct source material is perhaps even more critical. It is designed to be the “first stop source.”

“Grove is the premier reference work that music historians and students will go to for years,” said Garrett. “Many tens of thousands of people will be using it on a regular basis. It has inspired new research, and I hope and expect that it will continue to do so for years to come.”

Historical sheet music covers and music provided by and used by permission of William Clements Library, University of Michigan.

Marilou Carlin is a writer at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

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