Federal Music Project (FMP) (1935)

(renamed WPA Music Program, 1939)

Developed in July and August of 1935, the Federal Music Project (FMP) became one of five programs under Federal Project Number One (itself part of the Works Progress Administration, or WPA). FMP was created to “employ professional musicians registered on the relief rolls…as instrumentalists, singers, concert performers, and music teachers” [1].

FMP “musical units” performed symphony orchestras, small orchestral ensembles, string quartets, chamber music, grand opera, light opera, vocal ensembles, vocal solos, dance orchestras, and theater orchestras. Venues included festivals, community centers, theatres, and military installations [2]. Nikolai Sokoloff, who had been the director of the Cleveland Symphony [3], was named head of the FMP and steered the project towards a heavy concentration of classical music [4].

Other projects of the FMP included: an Index of American Composers (not completed, but 20,000 entries were deposited into the Library of Congress); music education, including music at “public schools that did not provide regular music instruction for their pupils”; music copying and music libraries (which were ultimately incorporated into public and university libraries); radio programs; and music laboratories, which “consisted of the performance of a program by one or more contemporary musicians, preferably young musicians in need of a public hearing, who afterward took the platform, explained their musical purposes and views, and replied to questions by the audience” [5].

When Federal Project Number One was terminated in June of 1939, the FMP was renamed “WPA Music Program” [6]. From this point on it was no longer a nationwide program sponsored solely by the WPA. Music projects would now require local sponsors to contribute funding, just as they did with other WPA projects (roadwork, school construction, city park improvements, etc.). Many did, and WPA music projects were enjoyed for the remainder of the program (until 1943). For example, during January 1942, 2.4 million Americans attended WPA music performances across the nation [7].

The FMP and WPA Music Program employed thousands of jobless musicians and brought music to millions of enthusiastic listeners. Ordinary Americans were able to attend symphonies for the first time, receive music instruction in school, and even given opportunities to perform themselves, all at low or no cost. Professional musicians in the program had their skills preserved and enhanced, allowing them to continue their careers. Several major orchestras were saved from collapse under the financial stress of the Great Depression. In fact, several orchestras today can trace their origins to the WPA; for example, the Utah Symphony reports that their orchestra “was created as a WPA orchestra under Roosevelt’s New Deal…” [8].

Sources: (1) “Federal Music Project,” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/newdeal/fmp.html, accessed June 8, 2015. (2) Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-43, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946, pp. 63-64. (3) Sheila D. Collins and Naomi Rosenblum, “The Democratization of Culture: The Legacy of the New Deal Arts Programs.” In Sheila D. Collins and Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg (Ed.), When Government Helped: Learning from the Successes and Failures of the New Deal, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 217. (4) Nick Taylor, American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA; When FDR Put the Nation Back to Work, New York: Bantam Books, 2008 (p. 249, 2009 paperback edition). (5) See note 2 and, with respect to the “20,000” statistic, “Librarian MacLeish and the Library of Congress Project,” Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/fedtp/ftcole03.html, accessed June 8, 2015. (6) See, e.g., Leta E. Miller, Music and Politics in San Francisco: From the 1906 Quake to the Second World War, University of California Press, 2011, p. 216, and “Federal Music Project,” Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/newdeal/fmp.html, accessed June 7, 2015. (7) See note 2, at p. 134. (8) “Utah Symphony / Utah Opera,” http://usuo.org/files/resources/written_history.pdf, accessed June 8, 2015.