Tin Pan Alley
So many of the songs we use at the Institute for our programs, teaching, and training are of the genre known as Tin Pan Alley, that is, American popular songs from the period 1910-1950. This era, which has been termed “The Golden Age of American Popular Song,” is produced what is arguably the greatest popular music in American – indeed in any – culture. Many of the names of its creators are well-known, such as George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin, but there are dozens of composers whose names are now forgotten, yet whose songs live on.
We focus on this material for several reasons.
First, the music of Tin Pan Alley is intensely singable. The songs are usually comparatively easy to learn, and their essential friendliness makes them universally accessible. This contrasts with more recent popular music where the melodies are generally hard to sing except by professional-level singers, or often lack a melody altogether, and classical styles such as opera or lieder, which are usually not only technically demanding, but also often require foreign language skills.
Second, the music is jazzy in style. Again this makes it easy to sing, but, more importantly, encourages individual approaches to interpretation, far more than in classical music. This develops the student’s sense of freedom and confidence, and nurtures their creativity. This sense of ease is enhanced by the forward-moving rhythmic drive, which, whether subtly present as in a Sinatra ballad, or more explicit in an up-tempo swing number, is the omnipresent propulsive force in this genre of popular music.
Third, these songs have not only great quality (for this reason they have endured) but also cover a remarkably wide emotional range. They cover everything from fun songs like Five Foot Two Eyes of Blue, to torch songs which plumb the depths of feeling, such as Arlen’s Over the Rainbow or Carmichael’s The Nearness of You; from the sophisticated, witty songs of Cole Porter to out-and-out love songs like Berlin’s Always. What is more, so many of these songs are highly personal, encouraging deep involvement by the singer. In fact, the repertoire as a whole covers the entire spectrum of human emotions.
Fourth, and perhaps most important, the research of our founder, John Diamond, M.D., suggests that Tin Pan Alley songs have relatively high Life Energy, making them particularly suitable for our ultimate goal in using, and encouraging others to use, music for life enhancement, not just for entertainment.
Naturally we do not limit all our teaching only to these songs. We encourage our students to nurture their relationship with many other styles including folk music, blues, classical and so on. But our experience, and Dr. Diamond’s research, suggests that Tin Pan Alley is so often the best place to start.
To see some of the specific songs we recommend, see here.