Tin Pan Alley’s greatest hits highlight CWRU’s Popular Music symposium

Flier for Tin Pan Alley event at CWRUFrom Broadway to New York City’s beer gardens, popular songs written between the 1880s and 1930s ignited the American popular music industry.

In the two-day symposium, “Sing Me That Song Again: The History and Impact of Tin Pan Alley,” Case Western Reserve University’s Center for Popular Music Studies will explore how the music of that era launched an industry.

Presenters will explore some popular Tin Pan Alley myths and reveal new discoveries about some of the era’s top songwriters, including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Charles K. Harris.

The event, free and open to the public, is from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, April 12, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 13, in Harkness Chapel.

Tin Pan Alley started as an enclave of music publishers packed into buildings along New York City’s West 28th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, according to Daniel Goldmark, a Case Western Reserve associate professor of music and organizer of the center’s first symposium. Over time, the “Tin Pan Alley” moniker became synonymous with the business of writing and publishing music.

These publishing houses produced and promoted the popular music of songwriters like Berlin, Gershwin, George M. Cohan, Harry von Tilzer and hundreds of others. It created a market for their work and expanded sales by the hundreds of thousands—and even millions—in the form of sheet music, piano rolls, and recordings for public events, radio, movies or parlor entertaining, Goldmark said.

To illustrate this era’s music, singer Joan Ellison of the performance ensemble Circa 1939 will be on hand to demonstrate some of the many songs that will be explored during the day.

The presentations will include:

  • Richard Crawford, emeritus professor from the University of Michigan, will present “Writing For Your Next-Door Neighbor: Scenes from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.”
  • Walter Frisch, professor at Columbia University, will discuss “If Ever a Wiz There Was: Harold Arlen and American Popular Song.”
  • Keir Keightley, associate professor at the University of Western Ontario, will discuss “From Hogan’s Alley to Tin Pan Alley.”
  • Jeffrey Magee, professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, will present “From Flatbush to the Sea: The Cozy Cottage Trope on Tin Pan Alley and Broadway, 1910s-‘70s.”
  • Gillian Rodger, associate professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will discuss “When Singing was Acting:  Song and Character in Variety Theater.”
  • Rose Rosengard Subotnik, professor emeritus at Brown University, will present “My Father’s Musical Time-Capsule:  American Songs, Sheet Music, and the Dream that Got Away.”

The symposium is held jointly with a graduate seminar taught by Goldmark this semester on the history and legacy of Tin Pan Alley. To learn more about the conference, call Goldmark at 216.368.2526, or email daniel.goldmark@case.edu.