A “Virtual Séance” with the Founders of the American Music Center

4. The Center’s Difficult First Years

HARRISON KERR: When it became known that information and music could be readily obtained through the Center, conductors, performers and others interested in the field began to make frequent use of the Center’s facilities. 1

OTTO LUENING: The accumulated evidence of…service on the part of the American Music Center presents a picture of public service of such practical and material benefit to all concerned that it would be hard to find another organization that could match it. This has been accomplished on a microscopic budget and through the cooperative efforts of many in various ways. The benefits have been in the transition of dreams to dollars and not as is so often the case the other way around. 2

HARRISON KERR: Its sole purpose is to serve the cause of contemporary American serious music, wherever it may. It attempts to do this in as practical a manner as possible, offering…an information service in regard to this particular field… Every effort is also made to locate and furnish whenever possible to anyone interested, any American composition, published or unpublished… It offers its facilities to any competent composer, and he is free to volunteer his participation if he so desires. 3

OTTO LUENING: It functions as a center of information about American music, in effect like the cultural agencies maintained by the governments of all civilized countries in our time…It has in effect been catalyst for composers, performing institutions and performers, educational institutions, publishers and the public by supplying them with information and source materials needed to pursue their particular objectives…If it were not in existence it would have to be created for the public welfare. 4

HOWARD HANSON: I am very sorry that I have not been able to get to any of the meetings of the American Music Center. As you know, I am very much interested although I am afraid that my interest has not been very practical during the past year. 5

HARRISON KERR: I think you can imagine what sort of turmoil there has been here. Besides the Center, which has been keeping me plenty busy, ACA has been negotiating heavily with the radio interests. It looks as though the deal will go through, one way or another. Unfortunately, a large share of the work has fallen to me, as Aaron has hopped off to California to do another picture… Now about the Center. Everything progresses smoothily, if more slowly than one would like. 6

MARION BAUER: …I wish Aaron were here…7

AARON COPLAND: I understand the need for haste with the summer coming on…8

OTTO LUENING: The American Music Center…was incorporated September, 1942, as a non-profit organization. For the first four years the Center’s support came primarily from gifts and grants and from commissions as operating agent for the non-profit groups. 9

AARON COPLAND: We had a lot of trouble with publishers at first. They would not believe that we were nonprofit and refused to send us music, either on consignment or on a dealer’s discount. Schirmer was particularly resistant, and their influence spread to other publishers. Eventually, we came to terms. A rental library of orchestral manuscripts was established and composers were invited to place scores in it. 10

MARION BAUER: If I know publishers at all, Schirmer’s for instance, or probably Fischer‘s – with whom I have never had any dealings – they would turn down the best manuscript in the world if they didn’t have the full and free privileges to all rights, performance fees, rental fees, etc. I don’t see how there could be any compromise there. 11

QUINCY PORTER: I think the Center is going to be hotter stuff than we calculated on. 12

HARRISON KERR: My connection with the Center has decreased my income and led to an almost complete cessation of my activities as a composer. 13

MARION BAUER: I had a little talk with Philip James yesterday and I think that you had better see him as soon as you can. I believe there might be some possibility of help from the American Institute of Arts and Sciences. I hope I am not being too sanguine about it but he didn’t know very much about the society and I think it would be a nice courtesy if you would tell him about it, although I have every respect and regard for Harrison. 14

QUINCY PORTER: Let us suppose that Harrison doesn’t prove equal to the task of the putting things on its feet – in other words that he is not just the right person to get the whole world upset over the Center – do we have no way out?…You will forgive me for being so wicked as to bring up anything so unpleasant, but the only thing I feel we mustn’t do is to hang a heavy loadstone on the neck of the Center in such a way that it can’t swim unless it has a supersized life preserver. If Harrison succeeds, and if he really does a fine job, that is an entirely different matter, but we have got to have an out if he doesn’t. 15

HARRISON KERR: I assured [Quincy Porter], of course, that I did not intend to desert the cause at this point or at any other, but I also told him that it was physically impossible for me to give the same amount of time to the Center that I have been giving. This involves the neglect of too many other things that, unless some salary arrangement is arrived at, I am forced to continue doing…16

OTTO LUENING: We considered the possibility that the Center had outlived its usefulness and should close. After discussion we felt that the one aspect of it which is so lively that every effort should be made to explore it is this public interest in information. 17

HARRISON KERR: Be assured that I do not wish to see the Center closed, not do I wish to take advantage of a crisis in its affairs…However if by July first, it seems certain that it will be impossible for the Center to remain open, I hope that it will be closed as expeditiously as it may be to avoid unnecessary disbursement of remaining funds…If the campaign to put the Center in a firm basis should prove to be successful, I feel that we would wish to have my future connection with it defined. 18

OTTO LUENING: While demand on the Center for information of all sorts has increased enormously, there are no funds to carry out this activity now or in the immediate future. It was the opinion of the Board that every effort should be made to maintain this Information Service. Concrete suggestions were as follows… A first step would be to assemble a small manual of information about American music. A second step would be to explore the possibilities of a member organization with dues, of institutions using the Center for purposes of information. 19

QUINCY PORTER: I woke up quite early this morning, though I must confess I had not gone to bed until 2:68 AM (I know how to make figures talk too!) and had a little bit of a shudder…I will unladen myself, as I know you would have me…Supposing (and do you know how hard it is to raise money) we were able by crooked, amoral means to raise a sum during the summer…that means we can’t go on with it. 20

OTTO LUENING: At the annual federation meeting in Detroit in 1941, John Paine, secretary of ASCAP, Merritt Tompkins, president of BMI , Roy Harris and I as composer representatives presented a cooperative plan that ensured ongoing financial support for the AMC. Paine, a splendid gentleman, had worked hard for years to develop this idea. The federation members were enthusiastically in favor of our plan. Immediately after the meeting, Paine had a fatal heart attack; it was a great blow for American music, and we had to do everything over again. 21

HARRISON KERR: Unfortunately your fears concerning the safety of the Center cash by were well-founded. The thieves waited two weeks for us to get over the shock of their first visit and then did a very thorough job last weekend on the Center office. The broke open the cabinet in the which the cashbox was locked and carried off the cash box and its contents, and took all the sharpened pencils in the desk. The box contained $19.31 in cash and $16.41 stamps, at the time it was taken. 22

OTTO LUENING: …It looked many times as though we would have to close shop. Something always happened to save us at the last minute. 23

AARON COPLAND: From Harrison’s last reports…there doesn’t seem to be anything to cheer about…I’ve always been lousy at raising money – in fact, never have. If you feel reasonably sure about being able to raise some more dough…, I’d have no hesitation in advancing the Center…out of my own pocket to help tide things over…Harrison needn’t know where it came from. 24

OTTO LUENING: Your first step as a money raiser is good. First you loan it yourself, then you get somebody else to loan it, then persuade them to give it away, next let them in on a golden opportunity to do a good deed, final step is when you refuse money people want to give you. The last step is very high Yoga and gives a five sense of power and control. 25

HOWARD HANSON: I feel very guilty about my constant neglect of the American Music Center…I hate to seem to be uncooperative and I certainly do not want you to think that I am uninterested. 26

HARRISON KERR: Howard Hanson was in on Thursday and spent considerable time here. His attitude is very helpful and he says we can call on him for anything he can do. 27

OTTO LUENING: At the meeting of the Center Board on December 28, 1949, it seemed clear that the situation in regard to American music had changed radically during the first ten years of the Center’s existence. The non-profit groups which in 1939 were small and weak organizations had grown and in some cases allied themselves with commercial publishers. In other cases they were now exploring the possibility with no immediate decision in sight. 28

HARRISON KERR: Business is suddenly booming at the Center. 29

QUINCY PORTER: Let’s not give any Guggenheims to the American boys. If we do, they’ll be publishing some of their G.D. music, and then the damn catalog will be out of date. Let us prostrate ourselves and give over the green dollar bills with pictures of Washington on then to Krenek, Toch, Lourie, [Stanley] Bate and [Max] Brand. Why can’t we be more modest about ourselves? Or invite in Schoenberg, Hindemith, and Bartók. Lois thinks I’m going nuts with patriotic fervor. 30

HARRISON KERR: This really burns me up. I don’t know how much of this sort of thing it is necessary to undergo before something is done to straighten up things at the Music Center. 31

OTTO LUENING: The Center…has served most of the great musical organizations of our country at one time or another, including governmental departments…and was the first to set up musical libraries in South America and in Europe. It was actually the first Information Center in this field although now there is one in almost every country but government supported. 32

HARRISON KERR: I am afraid that the Center job will always be a difficult one to keep filled because it calls for initiative and intelligence on the one side, and willingness to do ordinary chores on the other side. 33

OTTO LUENING: The Center will go on because the public wants unbiased information and the composers want them to have it. 34



1. Cited from “The American Music Center” by Harrison Kerr, Music Librarians Association Notes 2nd Series I/3, June 1944; archived at the American Music Center.

2. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Carl Haverlin of BMI, October 16, 1955. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

3. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s Letter to the Editor in response to Olin Downes’ Sunday, July 9, 1944 column in the New York Times, probably Sunday, July 16, 1944. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

4. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Walter A. Dew, Executive Secretary Committee on Contributions and Membership, A. E. Dupont de Nemours & Co. Wilmington Feb 1, 1957, October 16, 1955. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

5. Cited from Howard Hanson’s letter to Otto Luening, November 26, 1940. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

6. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, March 15, 1940. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

7. Cited from Marion Bauer’s letter to Harrison Kerr, April 15, 1943; archived at the American Music Center.

8. Cited from Aaron Copland’s letter to Harrison Kerr, May 15, 1943; archived at the American Music Center.

9. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to John Marshall, Rockefeller Foundation, January 6, 1950. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

10. Cited from Copland: 1900 Through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984] Order from Amazon

11. Cited from Marion Bauer’s letter to Harrison Kerr, April 15, 1943; archived at the American Music Center.

12. Cited from Quincy Porter’s letter to Otto Luening, April 11, 1940. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

13. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s Letter to Otto Luening, September 24, 1941. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

14. Cited from Marion Bauer’s letter to Otto Luening, March 4, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

15. Cited from Quincy Porter’s letter to Otto Luening, March 3, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

16. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, May 2, 1940. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

17. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to John Marshall, Rockefeller Foundation, March 29, 1950. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

18. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, February 26, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

19. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to John Marshall, Rockefeller Foundation, January 6, 1950. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

20. Cited from Quincy Porter’s letter to Otto Luening, March 3, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

21. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order from Amazon.

22. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, September 9, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

23. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order from Amazon.

24. Cited from Aaron Copland’s letter to Otto Luening, April 1, 1943. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

25. Cited from Otto Luening’s letter to Aaron Copland, April 3, 1943. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

26. Cited from Howard Hanson’s letter to Otto Leuning [sic], September 25, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

27. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s Letter to Otto Luening, June 8, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

28. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to John Marshall, Rockefeller Foundation, January 6, 1950. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

29. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, October 7, 1942; archived at the American Music Center.

30. Cited from Quincy Porter’s letter to Otto Luening, March 3, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

31. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, February 10, 1950. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

32. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to John Fitzpatrick, Vice President of First National City Bank, June 1960. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.

33. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s letter to Otto Luening, September 11, 1942. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

34. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Carl Haverlin of BMI, April 17, 1957. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 5.