A New Society is Born

The Society for Eighteenth-Century Music (SECM) was founded in November 2001 at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society held in Atlanta, Georgia. The gathering at Atlanta was the final step in a series of discussions that had begun several years before. The actual genesis of the organization dates back to the mid 1990s when Mara Parker and I were attempting to organize a panel dealing with music at small German courts during the late eighteenth century. In the course of trying to compile a list of potential panelists, we became aware of the work of several colleagues about which we were previously unaware. It seemed clear that those of us working in eighteenth-century studies would benefit if we could at least identify ourselves to one another and perhaps even join together in some sort of interest group.

Mara organized a session on court music for the annual meeting of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies in Philadelphia in April 2000. The session included papers by Paul Corneilson, Bertil van Boer, and me. Even before the meeting, Mara and I had determined to use this gathering to test the waters and see if there might be support from others for the creation of an interest group. After the session, we adjourned to the historic City Tavern to explore some of the problems and possibilities of forming such a group. In addition to those who read papers that afternoon, this group also included Bruce Brown, Paul Bryan, Margaret Butler, Adena Portowicz, and Laurel Zeiss.

We could not have selected a more appropriate location for our discussions. In the eighteenth century, City Tavern was one of the popular lodging and dining facilities in the city and a favorite meeting place for delegates to the Continental Congress and participants in the framing of the Declaration of Independence. City Tavern also played a significant role in the musical life of eighteenth-century Philadelphia, being the scene of the "City Concerts" from 1786 to 1788. Today the building has been restored to its eighteenth-century appearance and operates as a restaurant (see illustration). There was universal agreement among those who participated in the discussions that forming a group devoted to the study and encouragement of eighteenth-century music was an excellent idea whose time had come. As the discussions continued, the initial notion of an informal interest group was quickly replaced with that of a formal Society for Eighteenth-Century Music. Sitting around a table in the impressive surroundings of the tavern's eighteenth-century tap room, we began to compile a list of others who might be interested in the formation of such a society. We came up with almost 150 names. I agreed to try to contact as many as possible, inviting them to share their ideas about a society for eighteenth-century music. The interest level was high, and, based on this initial enthusiastic reception, we decided to attempt a larger gathering to continue our discussions in more detail. The logical place was the meeting of the various professional organizations in Toronto in October 2000. About 50 people attended this meeting, and the discussion was lively. It was clear that there was strong interest in the formation of a society. An email list of those interested in becoming members of such a society was compiled, and this served as our initial mailing list. A small group of those who had been present at the Philadelphia meeting constituted themselves as a nucleus to write a set of by-laws and to explore other details necessary for the founding of a professional society. The by-laws went through several drafts, and by the fall of 2001 they were ready to be shared with those whose names were on the mailing list. During the AMS meeting in Atlanta, the by-laws were discussed and unanimously approved. We are off and running.

Sterling E. Murray

Back to About SECM