NABMSA is pleased to announce that the winner of the biennial Temperley prize for the outstanding student paper at the Seventh Biennial Conference in Syracuse is Christy J. Miller. Miller, a doctoral student at the University of Kansas, presented a paper entitled ““If They Can Do It, I Guess That We Can, Too”: Folk and “Folk-Styled” Music as Propaganda in The Martins and the Coys.” The abstract is below. Congratulations to Ms. Miller and all of the excellent student papers!
The Martins and the Coys is one of three ballad operas the BBC commissioned from American writers and musicians for radio broadcast in England in 1944 and 1945. The productions were modeled on the tradition of English ballad opera: they were plays with spoken dialogue, and popularly known songs and contrafacta were interpolated throughout. However, each uses an archetypal American topic: the Harlem Renaissance, a cattle drive across the untamed frontier, and—in The Martins and Coys—an Appalachian family feud. In addition to popular songs, they utilized folk, blues, and “folk-styled” songs not only because they were stylistically appropriate to the subject matter but also for the purpose of representing the American experience to English audiences. These ballad operas were part of a discreet propaganda campaign to encourage mutual understanding and solidarity between English and American citizens on the home front, and to promote transcultural understanding between England and the U.S. during and after the war.
Documentary evidence from the BBC Written Archives, Listener Research reports, and critical reviews reveal how The Martins and the Coys was received, and additional planning documents and correspondence help to reconstruct ideology surrounding the three ballad operas. Musically, I analyze performative aspects of the radio productions using extant recordings, considering how the choice of repertory, performers, and arrangement styles were intended to influence perceptions of international camaraderie. Through analytical strategies of propaganda theory and psychological warfare, I investigate American intentionality and English response to the ballad opera’s message of reconciliation and solidarity. Ultimately, examining the ballad opera with these frameworks contributes to our understanding of the relationship between the United States and England during World War II, and it adds to the scholarly body of knowledge concerning American radio propaganda as a part of British musical life.