In the 1980s I was a graduate student in musicology at the University of Toronto, specializing in Canadian music. A visit by Richard Crawford was one of the galvanizing moments in my education. He spoke on the theme of "Studying American Music" (the talk was later published in the Newsletter of the Institute for Studies in American Music, vol. XIV, no. 2, May 1985), but his ideas proved to be applicable to any field of music study. I know I have certainly made generous use of them in my own work. So it was with particular interest that I turned to this book, his magesterial (nearly 1,000 pages long!) summing up of a career devoted to the subject.
In the epilogue to the book, Crawford states that the historian is motivated by a disagreement with received ideas - "the gut-level feeling that says, 'It wasn't like that.'" In 40 chapters covering the entire history of music in America chronologically, from pre-historical to modern times, Crawford tells us how it really was. One tribute to the quality of this book is that the chapters on music in which I thought I had no interest (e.g., 18th century psalmody or 19th century minstrel shows) I found to be every bit as engaging as those on music that I love and cherish.
Crawford establishes his theoretical basis in a section titled "Notation, the Great Divide, and American Musical Categories" (p. 227). Previous historians (notably Charles Hamm and H. Wiley Hitchcock) have proposed a binary opposition in American music between Classical and Popular, or Cultivated and Vernacular. In place of this dualism, Crawford proposes a richer three-tiered categorization: Composers' music, which aims for TRANSCENDENCE (i.e. lasting value); Performers' music, which values ACCESSIBILITY; and Traditional music, ruled by CONTINUITY. The first two are notated traditions, the last is transmitted orally. These categories arise initially from considering the classical, popular, and folk traditions respectively.
Crawford later develops his thesis to show that considerable overlap and bleeding between categories has been characteristic of American music, especially in the 20th century. A chapter on the Beatles (No. 38, which otherwise seems glaringly out of place here - why an entire chapter on a British group?) makes the point that popular music since the 1960s has achieved transcendence. At about the same time, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and other composers in the Classical sphere were aiming for accessibility in preference to transcendence. Similarly, jazz arose from popular roots but achieved transcendence, primarily through recordings rather than notation, however.
Crawford's democratic approach gives equal time to the most widely varied styles and genres of music. He treats everything, from hymns to hip-hop and beyond, with scholarly attention that is balanced, scrupulous, and passionate. In the Epilogue, he admits to a grounding in the Classical sphere (and relays a charming story about travelling to a small town to hear his wife Penelope Crawford perform as piano soloist with a community orchestra), but he obviously has a passionate interest in jazz and a respectful attitude towards all types of music. You might want to turn to Hitchcock's *Music in the United States: A Historical Introduction* for a shorter treatment of the subject, or Hamm's *Music in the New World* for a more argumentative approach, but I feel that Crawford's book in time will take its place as the most thoughtful and the most comprehensive of all surveys of American music.