Learn About George Balanchine One Tweet at a Time

When you’ve been working on a book like Balanchine and Kirstein’s American Enterprise, the real story of what happened during George Balanchine‘s first decade in the United States, you accumulate a lot of information. To give you an idea of what I mean, below is a screenshot of my Finder window. This is the “periodicals” folder of my dissertation files, showing all of the newspapers and magazines I consulted. And in this frame you can can see all of the clips I downloaded from just one newspaper, the New York Herald-Tribune (published from 1924 to 1966). You actually can’t see all of the clips in this shot – you would need to scroll up and down to see them all! While gathering all of this information is important for the overall research process, when it comes time to write you can’t include every single detail or you’d get in trouble with your editor for blowing past your word count!

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Similarly, when you go to look at sources in an archive you can sometimes get really lucky. Almost too lucky! One of my most important sources was one held at the New York Public Library’s Jerome Robbins Dance Division at Lincoln Center, one of the world’s largest archives for dance research. These were scrapbooks collected by Yvonne Patterson and William Dollar, two dancers who worked closely with Balanchine in the 1930s. They kept hundreds of clippings, programs, photographs, advertisements, and fliers about the many projects and performances they were involved with. Many of these items are in quite fragile condition so I felt fortunate to be able to consult them first hand. But as you can see from this screenshot showing all of the reference photos I took, I could have written a whole book just from this one collection if I had used every last bit of info I found! (Most archives thankfully allow researchers to take photos of items like these, so you can gather information efficiently and consult and process them later. However, these photos are for each researcher’s personal reference only.)

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My book is going to be over 300 pages long, and has over 1,300 footnotes, so it’s not as all of this research was for naught! But since my editor gave me a word limit of 120,000 words, I had to make choices and leave some details out. But to make myself feel better about having collected all this information, I’ve decided to embark on a special Twitter project for the next few months. You can follow me @jpsteichen to join the journey.

What I’ll be doing is tweeting “On this day…” updates on a semi-daily basis. I got a head start yesterday on the Fourth of July, when I tweeted this:

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So starting Sunday, July 8 I’ll be doing more of this, telling you what George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein were up to on any given day between 1933 and 1940, the years covered by my book.  It might seem like a lot of random information–I’ll be telling you when Balanchine and Kirstein traveled and had planning sessions, what high school gymnasiums and vaudeville theaters the American Ballet and Ballet Caravan performed in, and when now-lost ballets were danced for the first or last time. But this is what the research process is all about–finding and making sense out of a lot of small bits of information and sorting through to figure out which ones are most important. And most important, as a writer you then have to weave them into a narrative that makes it possible for a reader to understand why they are important. So I hope you enjoy seeing all of the small bits of data that went into this new story. And there is even more where these came from.

To make sure you don’t miss any “On this day…” tweets about George Balanchine’s career in the 1930s, follow me today @jpsteichen.

Taruskinfest Lives On!

Coming soon to a library or JSTOR platform near you! Two special issues of the Journal of Musicology in honor of Richard Taruskin. These six contributions were first presented at “After the End of Music History” (aka “Taruskinfest”), the conference for which I was co-organizer in February 2012 at Princeton. Special bonus: the first issue includes a response from RT himself, with a Wizard of Oz allusion in its title, no less!

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Society for American Music 2014

What a fantastic meeting of the Society for American Music this past weekend! And what fun to get to present about one of Ballet Caravan’s last gigs, their performances for the 1940 World’s Fair Pavilion of the Ford Motor Company, starring Dobbin the horse! (Yes that’s two men in the costume…) Although it might seem silly at first glance, A Thousand Times Neigh, a short ballet that told the story of the transition from the horse to the automobile, was universally praised by critics. Variety called it an “ace attraction,” and the New York Sun predicted that “Dobbin is destined to be one of the great names in American ballet.” John Martin in the New York Times was also quite taken by the ballet, arranged by William Dollar, praising it as “choreography that clings to the academic ballet tradition without being in the least highbrow.” Whether this had any bearing on the decision by Ford Foundation to make major grants to ballet in the late 1950s remains to be seen!

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Catholic University of America – Musicology Colloquium

Many thanks to Andrew Weaver and the Catholic University of America Musicology Colloquium for inviting me to present today! I spoke about my ongoing research on two of George Balanchine’s early American ballets, Serenade and the Ivy League satire Alma Mater. This picture of part of the Alma Mater cast shows the football Hero with his bride and groomsmen and is from a photo spread done by the American Ballet for Vanity Fair in 1935.

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Cannibals at the Met – from the Oxford University Press Blog

I’m a guest blogger today for the Oxford University Press blog or “OUPblog” as they call it. They invited me to offer some additional thoughts on my article about the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcast initiative. I am grateful for the opportunity to muse on some of the more recent developments of this ever-evolving phenomenon! Read my post here.