Sounds of Change: US Reform Movements through the Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection

Brought to you by Hopkins at Home.

June 2, 2020 - June 30, 2020 (5 weeks)
Tuesdays, 11am-12pm EDT

The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection is a gem among our Special Collections holdings. This carefully curated collection of 30,000 pieces of popular sheet music is the perfect lens through which to explore US reform movements, including suffrage, emancipation, anti-war, prohibition/temperance, and labor.  

Each section will provide a brief overview of the reform movement, and dive more deeply into it through the lens of 3-4 historic songs, examining the history revealed by each song and the specific techniques used by composers to achieve the emotional affect needed to further their movement. 


Five pre-recorded lectures (20-30 minutes each) followed by a live Q&A. Courses will become available Thursdays at 11am, remaining available perpetually. This will be followed by a live question/answer session the following Tuesday at 11am (Zoom link to be provided)

Week 1: Introduction to the course; emancipation & abolition 

Pre - Recorded Lecture release date and time: Thursday, May 28; 11am 
Live Q&A: Tuesday, June 2; 11am  

Description: This lecture will briefly introduce users to the history of the Levy Collection and give an overview of the series before diving into the emancipation movement. The lecture will include songs by African American composers that reflect period attitudes towards slavery, the civil war, and the role of black composers and performers in minstrelsy. 

Week 2: Temperance & prohibition 

Pre - Recorded Lecture release date and time: Thursday, June 4; 11am  
Live Q&A: Tuesday, June 9; 11am 

Description: This lecture will examine the temperance and prohibition movements, examining songs including “I’ll Marry No Man If He Drinks,” and “America Never Took Water and America Never Will,” to illustrate opposing perspectives of these movements.  

Week 3: Labor 

Pre - Recorded Lecture release date and time: Thursday, June 11; 11am 
Live Q&A: Tuesday, June 16; 11am 

Description: This lecture will explore the rise and fall of the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, and the impact of railroad strikes.  

Week 4: Anti-war 

Pre - Recorded Lecture release date and time: Thursday, June 18; 11am 
Live Q&A: Tuesday, June 23; 11am 

Description: Songs will be chosen from the Civil War and World War I to explore music as an anti-war protest.  

Week 5: Suffrage 

Pre - Recorded Lecture release date and time: Thursday, June 25; 11am 
Live Q&A: Tuesday, June 30, 11am 

Description: This lecture will include pro- and anti-suffrage songs, focusing on songs composed by women.  

Headshot of professor

A native of Phoenix, Arizona, Sam Bessen is Assistant Curator of the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries. With a background in music performance, Sam completed his Master’s degree at the Peabody Conservatory in 2017. Sam is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the In the Stacks series at the George Peabody Library, named by Baltimore Magazine as one of eleven local institutions making classical music relevant in the 21st century. His programs have included explorations of ancient sculpture, neoclassical architecture, immersive theater, queer silent film, immersive theater, and research into university archives to uncover previously unheard works by women and African American composers. Sam’s work in performance, education, and public programming focuses on engaging with historic collections to uncover underrepresented stories. 

 Event Date
Tuesday, June 2, 2020
Start Time: 11:00am


Via Zoom
Baltimore, MD 21218

Hopkins at Home

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