Posted by: bluesyemre | April 24, 2020

#OHAM Yale’s Oral History of American Music (3,000 Interviews, 50 Years, Listen to the History of American Music)


In 1968, Vivian Perlis, a research librarian at Yale, knew that she needed to talk to Julian Myrick. A man who had spent his life in the insurance business was not the most likely of musicological sources. But Myrick’s business partner had not only been significant in the field of life insurance, but was also one of the most important figures in American music history: the composer Charles Ives, who had died 14 years earlier.

Myrick was only the beginning of what became Perlis’s landmark resource, celebrating its 50th anniversary this season: Yale University’s Oral History of American Music. Over the following years, Perlis sought out more of Ives’s friends and acquaintances. “I searched for the oldest and most fragile Ives survivors and often found myself in hospitals and rest homes waiting for an aged Yale classmate or Ives relative to wake from a nap to tell his story,” she would later recall.

For the most part, the Oral History of American Music, known as OHAM, has focused not on insurance salesmen or barbers, but has instead gone straight to the source: living American composers, who sit for interviews that can last many hours. The archive has grown to encompass recordings of around 3,000 interviews with major voices in American music.

For many years, OHAM was located in a basement at the Yale School of Music, stuffed with shelves of tape. Today, its headquarters is tucked away on the third floor of the university’s Sterling Memorial Library, through a series of corridors that wind past an Egyptology reading room and an archive for the papers of James Boswell. A blown-up photograph of a young, suave-looking Aaron Copland greets visitors.

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