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Voices of American Musicians

The only ongoing project of its kind in the field of music, OHAM collects audio and video memoirs in the voices of creative musicians. The sound of a voice can be a direct link to the past. Gestures, laughter, and quirks of speech are vivid reminders of a personality, and they reflect the atmosphere of one’s time and place in history.

Would you like to listen to Aaron Copland’s voice describing how Appalachian Spring was named? Or John Cage on mushrooms and musical form? Or Lou Harrison on the influence of Balinese Gamelan on American music? These stories and more are part of Yale’s collection of over 1800 audio and video recordings at the Oral History of American Music (OHAM) archive.

OHAM’s holdings include materials directly in the voices of composers and from their colleagues and friends, for example, commentary about figures like Charles Ives, Duke Ellington and Paul Hindemith. Many video interviews were filmed on location, including footage of Virgil Thomson in his New York apartment in the famous Chelsea Hotel.

To share the richness of its holdings with the public, OHAM has begun a multi-volume book and CD publication based on its collection of interviews. The award-winning first volume, Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored by Vivian Perlis and Libby Van Cleve, was published in 2005 by Yale University Press.