More About OHAM
Oral histories are a means of producing an aural portrait; they preserve the inflection, emotion, and intimacy of a subject’s voice. By transporting us to a specific time and place, these recordings paint a fuller, more nuanced picture of a person than is possible through more traditional written histories.
OHAM began in 1969 with the pioneering work of Vivian Perlis, who conducted a series of interviews with those who knew Charles Ives. After the success of the Ives Project in the early 1970s, Perlis recognized the value of oral histories to musicological research. For forty years, she conducted interviews with a remarkable range of leading musical figures.
Today, the OHAM collection is divided into several series. The archive’s core unit is the “Major Figures in American Music” series, consisting of over 1,100 interviews, primarily with classical and jazz composers. Included in the series are interviews with early 20th century luminaries such as Nadia Boulanger, Aaron Copland, and Eubie Blake; mid-century mavericks like John Cage and George Crumb; and present-day icons such as John Adams, Philip Glass, and Julia Wolfe. This collection also documents young musicians, with the intention of tracking their careers as they develop. Many of those included in this collection have since become celebrated, including David Lang, Michael Torke, and Aaron Kernis. Each story in this collection is fascinating in and of itself; taken together, they evoke a particular generation’s musical attitudes and aesthetics.
OHAM’s collection also includes several units focused on secondary source interviews. These include the aforementioned Ives Project, the Duke Ellington series, the Paul Hindemith series, and the oral history of Steinway & Sons. The archive also includes acquisitions from donors interested in preserving their holdings. These include the WQXR Great Artists Series, selections from the GRAMMY® Foundation Living Histories, the Margaret Fairbank Jory interviews, the Connor and Neff Blues Collection, the Varèse Oral History, and others.
OHAM recently embarked on a new project: the Yale Student Composers project documents the rising stars in our own community. These young artists are interviewed on video at the outset of their studies, and are asked about their work, education, and musical inspirations.