February 20: Katherine Preston

Professor, William and Mary


I decided on a “career” in musicology rather late in my college career: as an undergraduate, I had never heard of the discipline. I was always interested in the idea of connection, however, and discovered musicology as a discipline that has the potential of being inherently interdisciplinary. The field also allowed me to combine, quite nicely, my interests in music, history, and writing.

I have also always been interested in the idea of American music. I remember as child taking piano lessons and asking my teacher why she never gave me any compositions by Americans to study. Her response, “there aren’t any”, reflects a general American ignorance about our own musical heritage that persists to this day. I hope, through my work as a musicologist, to help illuminate the rich and unique musical heritage that all Americans share.

My particular fascination is with the place of music in the lives of Americans of the nineteenth century. I’ve studied the performance history of opera in the antebellum period, the work of journeymen musicians in Washington, D. C. during the last several decades of the nineteenth century, and the pioneering musical theatre work of Tony Harrigan and David Braham in the 1880s and 1890s.

Areas of Specialization

I teach all aspects of music history, but have recently been concentrating on music of the 18th and 19th centuries, the areas of my research strength. I teach survey courses in the Baroque and Classic Periods (MUS 383), Music in the Romantic Period (MUS 385), Music in the United States (MUS 373), American Popular Music (MUS 271), and Problems and Methods in Music History (MUS 345), on a regular basis.  I also teach  a very popular course on Music in Film (MUS 375), which is cross-listed with American Studies and Film Studies. In addition, I teach various topics courses as upper-level and freshman seminars, the focus of which is frequently music of the nineteenth century. Some examples are MUSC 345 (Spring 2008): “Musical Life in 1853: London, New York, Berlin, Paris, and Vienna; and MUSC 150W (Fall 2008): “The Piano in the Nineteenth Century,” and “Music of the Civil War Era.”


I’m currently working on a book on the performance of English-language opera in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century (and the role that women played in the dissemination of that music, as prima donnas and managers of opera companies).

I am also very interested in concert life at mid-century, and recently completed an edition of Symphony No. 2 (The Jullien Symphony), written by the New York composer George Frederick Bristow in 1853. This edition, which is part of the forty-volume series Music of the United States of America, includes a monograph-length introduction that places this orchestral work into the context of American and European concert life at mid-century. MUSA is being published by AR Editions of Madison, Wisconsin, and my volume was published in May 2011. I also recently co-edited a facsimile edition of a bound volume of sheet music assembled by a young woman in Albany, New York in 1853. This work, titled Emily’s Songbook. Music in 1850s Albany, also appeared in 2011, and makes available to teachers, students, and scholars of music, dance, American Studies, and American history, a perfect example of mid-century American popular music. My interest in musical theatre of the nineteenth century also translates into a fascination with Broadway musicals and film music of the twentieth century, but as yet I have resisted the lure of scholarship in twentieth-century topics.