Making Daily Life Sublime

Verse and Rhythm “Never to Abase or Degrade”


In 1837, when a select panel of citizens filed their report to the Boston School Committee recommending public vocal instruction, their main concern was how singing lessons would introduce fine music to schoolchildren and contribute to character building by staving off the degenerative influences of other forms of music: “[Reprehensible music] … would call forth the sentiments of a corrupt, degraded and degenerate character” (Boston School Committee 1837, 35). As the preface to Lowell Mason’s Songbook of the School Room states, ten years after the committee report, “Songs … should ever… not a base or degrade … [nor songbooks include] any song corrupted by mean human experience” (Mason 1847, ii). The purpose of moral uplift encouraged inclusion of many songs like “Our Pleasant School,” in which school resembles the Garden of Eden.


Human Type Music Instruction Future Citizen Racial Hierarchy American Landscape 
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  1. 11.
    See chapter titled “A Motley Crew” in Ernst Krohn, Music Publishing in St. Louis (Warren, MI: Harmonie Park, 1988), 37–40.Google Scholar
  2. 28.
    See Charles White, quoted in Gossett, Race: The History of an Idea in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 49.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Gustafson 2009

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