Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

The Big Four: Pennsylvania in Music

A 1926 book called Pennsylvania in Music has a chapter titled “The State’s Contribution to American Music” and in that chapter, there’s a subchapter titled “The Big Four.”

In considering America’s musical history there are four composers who must be accorded preeminent rank — Foster, Nevin, Cadman and Burleigh.  All are Pennsylvanians. … These four come from western Pennsylvania, having been born in Pittsburgh, Vineacre [the Nevin’s estate in Edgeworth], Johnstown and Erie, respectively. (p. 5)

You should already be familiar with Stephen Foster (1826-1864), but if not, we music librarians or the Center for American Music will enthusiastically put his music into your hands and ears.  As for the other 3, they are not as renowned these days so here’s a quick overview:

  • Ethelbert Nevin (1862-1901) — Don’t expect romantic era big works for big orchestras from Nevin.  He specialized in the small-scale and is most known for his solo piano pieces and songs.  From a musical family, Ethelbert’s brother Arthur Nevin (1871-1943) was also well regarded in his day.
  • Charles Wakefield Cadman (1881-1946) — Though he was born in Johnstown, Cadman was active in Pittsburgh as a young man as an accompanist, church organist, and music critic.  He is perhaps most well-known for his use of Native American melodies in his songs and operas.
  • H. [Henry or Harry] T. Burleigh (1866-1949) — as a singer in addition to being a composer, Burleigh was most celebrated for his performances and arrangements of African-American spirituals (and was African-American himself).  He was also a protégé of Dvořák but more about that below.

The context and connections between these composers is more than geographical.  Pennsylvania in Music states that “Foster’s music, for the most part, is of the folk type. Providence decreed, it appears, that a Pennsylvanian should make the transition from folk to art song, for Ethelbert Nevin forms the connecting link.” (p. 5)  When Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) visited the U.S. from 1892-1895, he wrote a piece for Harper’s where he encouraged American composers to utilize such things as the melodies of African-Americans or the chants of Native Americans to create a “truly national music.”  Clearly, Cadman and Burleigh carried on in the spirit of what Dvořák suggested.  (So did Arthur Nevin who lived for a time amongst the Blackfoot tribe.)  Finally, Deane L. Root’s essay “The Stephen Foster–Antonín Dvořák Connection” draws a line right through Burleigh.

As you might now be inspired to explore and listen to these “Big Four” American composers, let’s also take more inspiration from Dvořák about all the myriad music of America:

…it matters little whether the inspiration for the coming folk songs of America is derived from the Negro melodies, the songs of the creoles, the red man’s chant, or the plaintive ditties of the homesick German or Norwegian.  Undoubtedly the germs for the best in music lie hidden among all the races that are commingled in this great country.*

— Tim

* Dvořák’s 1895 “Music in America” essay from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine is reprinted in Appendix A of Dvořák in America: 1892-1895.

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Obstacles to Genealogy Research

A genealogical friend from Eastern Pennsylvania asked me recently what I might consider to be obstacles to research in Western Pennsylvania. I think that the number of minor civil divisions, neighborhood names, unincorporated villages, and railroad names that researchers encounter in Pittsburgh and Western PA is the biggest headache that many of my patrons deal with.

Unlike Philadelphia, Allegheny County still has 130 active minor civil divisions (cities, boroughs, townships). The City of Pittsburgh itself grew by annexation, so researchers are always finding references to long-gone places like Birmingham, East Birmingham, Temperanceville, McClure Township, Ormsby, Monongahela Borough, South Pittsburgh, West Pittsburgh, Allegheny City, etc. in their research. There were even two locations called Duquesne!

Pittsburgh in 1902, from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection.

The Pittsburgh city wards were re-numbered several times, most notably when Pittsburgh absorbed Allegheny City in 1907, which resulted in a major shift between the 1900 and 1910 census enumerations. Many duplicating street names in the two cities were changed at that time as well. Also, Pittsburgh has 89 (more or less!) neighborhood names still used within the city. Then we have the old unincorporated places in Pittsburgh such as Bayardstown, Cowansville, Minersville, Riceville, Sidneyville, Sligo, etc.

There are many similar place names in Allegheny County as well: post office names, railroad station names, clusters of houses with names which pop up on documents to confuse the researcher, such as Bakerstown, Barking, Ferguson, Library, Linhart, Option, Semple, Wildwood, and many, many more. The best thing researchers can do for themselves is make friends with maps – both current maps and maps of the time periods they are researching! Then, if they have a question, they should just call us; we can usually steer them in the right direction, right away.

Sometimes it’s as simple as interpreting old handwriting. I had a patron looking for “Millersville Cemetery” the other day, but I knew that wasn’t right. I looked at the document in his hand and saw that it was “Minersville Cemetery” instead. So just ask us – it saves wear and tear on everyone! Our sister organization, the Western PA Genealogical Society, also has several publications which can help: their reprint of the 1911 street atlas (which shows the street names and ward changes) and the Allegheny County Cemetery Directory, which they compiled.

There are very few older Pittsburgh records online as of yet; however, WPGS coordinated a project with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka, the Mormons) to index the Pittsburgh City death records for 1870 to 1905, and they are online via FamilySearch. The Allegheny County Courthouse only has indexes for marriages after 1995 online on their website thus far. The Carnegie Library’s Pennsylvania Department now has the vital records which the county used to have – they passed them on to us in 2006. We also do research in our collection for patrons for a fee–click here for details.

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to e-mail us at padept@carnegielibrary.org, or call us at 412-622-3154.



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A Well-Fueled Debate: Natural gas drilling in your backyard?

Marcellus Shale Gas Play, Appalachian Basin

Source: Energy Information Administration based on data from WVGES, PA DCNR, OH DGS, NY DEC, VA DMME, USGS, Wrightstone (2009). Only wells completed after 1-1-2003 are shown. Updated March 17, 2010. (Click image to go to EIA site.)

Natural gas drilling has become a hot issue recently in Pennsylvania, even as close as Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood and the Powdermill Nature Reserve.  The question of whether or not to drill raises a number of political and personal concerns as abstract as the economy and as immediate as the water we drink.

On one hand, companies and individuals could make substantial profits. Communities could benefit from job creation and funds from leases and taxes. On the other, they risk costs to enviromental and public health. Natural gas could bridge the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, since it releases 25% less carbon than coal. Extracting it, however, could also result in lasting damage to watersheds and public drinking water, and the people and wildlife who depend on them.

Typically, proponents of drilling include the companies, people, and organizations who hope to profit from the wells. Opponents include people wary of the risk to the environment and the danger of disasters. Recent accidents related to extractive industries have populated headlines with stories of  the catastrophic BP Gulf Oil spill, last Wednesday’s Clairton County coke works explosion, the Upper Big Branch coal mine explosion, and natural gas-specific incidents like the Clearfield County shale well blowout and an explosion at a two-day-old gas well near Moundsville, WV.  Given these events’ casualties and devastating impact and the many questions related to drilling, many politicians and citizens are calling for more studies, cautious timelines, and regulatory legislation before new drilling endeavors proceed.

The source of the gas is the Marcellus Shale formation, which extends about 1 to 2 miles below the surface of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. This shale contains natural gas. Break the rock, and the gas releases. Recent advances in drilling techniques have made accessible areas where drilling was previously too expensive. That means that areas above the Marcellus Shale are now appealing drill sites, and companies have been approaching landowners–even in highly-populated areas like Pittsburgh–for permission to drill below their properties.

To extract the resources, drillers combine two techniques. One is horizontal drilling, which makes more shale accessible than the old drilling technique. The other, and the more controversial, is hydraulic fracturing (also called hydrofracturing, water fracturing and fracking). In hydraulic fracturing, drillers blast a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the shale to fracture it, releasing the gas into a pipeline. The fracking process raises the most alarm among those opposed to shale drilling because of the chemicals in the frac fluid. In response to public concerns, in June the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released a list of the chemicals involved in fracking. Many are hazardous. Residents of Dimock, PA claim that methane released in a nearby drilling operation poisoned their well water, and some evidence suggests that fracking can also contaminate groundwater, but companies and government investigators maintain that the cause of such pollution is unclear. An article from The New York Times presents a thorough, well-balanced analysis of the many facets of the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania, including the influence of the region’s coal-mining history, the industry’s past in Texas, and New York State’s recent natural gas debate.

A source anyone reserching shale drilling is likely to come across is Gasland, an impassioned and controversial TV documentary that has sparked many people’s interest in the discussion of natural gas drilling. While the industry issued a rebuttal to the film’s claims, and some critics disagree with its approach, Gasland’s website does offer some informational material and advice about activism, and the film certainly appeals to the emotional side of the debate. (To get an idea of the radically different spins put on the issue, compare the Gasland site’s description of the fracking process with this one from an industry coalition.)

Links in this post connect to many articles and resources. For more information, also see NPR’s informative series discussing shale drilling. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette lists all of its coverage related to local natural gas issues. The PA DEP also offers several fact sheets about Marcellus Shale drilling on its website. Recently, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments developed a data-sharing tool called Fractracker to “provide citizens with a common place to share their experiences regarding natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale play.” The CLP Reference Department has compiled a comprehensive list of printed, audiovisual and web resources about energy, which is sure to be helpful to informing your opinion about natural gas drilling in PA and elsewhere.

Our city and county governments are currently planning their responses to demands for shale drilling in our community. Please do what you can to become informed and active. Whatever your stance on drilling, our drinking water, environment, and neighbors who work at these sites are too precious to take this issue lightly.



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Economic Stimulus Made Simple

So, I’m no economist, but I gather that this much-talked-about economic stimulus package that Congress passed on Friday, February 13 is kind of a big deal.  Because it’s so important, here are some articles and resources that provide basic information. 

You can read the full text of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009(ARRA) at whitehouse.gov (where you can also view a slideshow of  Callie Shell-eque photos of President Obama working to win passage of the ARRA).  The House Committee on Appropriations site also provides the bill’s entire text and related information as well as a summarizing press release.  

photo by ShellyS

"Fixing the Money Pipeline" by ShellyS

An important aspect of the ARRA is the government’s promise to be transparent about its use.  In that interest, the not-yet -active site recovery.gov will serve as part of “an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency and unecessary spending in our government” and allow taxpayers to see how and where the $787 billion are spent.

 News coverage that analyzes the package includes The New York Times, which published a chart, ” The Stimulus Plan: How to Spend $787 Billion,” that breaks down monetary allocations by category.  The Times also approached the plan from an individual perspective with its article “What’s in the Stimulus Bill for You,” as did the Associated Press in “How the Economic Stimulus Plan Could Affect You,” and USA Today in “How Will the $787 Billion Stimulus Package Affect You?”   

To find out how the ARRA will impact Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania, read this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that details the plans representatives submitted for infrastructure improvements in local and state transportation and construction.  It also links to some informative charts that list how PA will spend its $23 billion, a side-by-side comparison of other states’ allotments and more. 

With so much money and our economic livelihood at stake, there are nearly endless sources of information, controversial opinions and uncertainty.  Should you need help navigating them, you know what to do: Ask a librarian.




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Happy Trails

One of the things I love most about living in Pittsburgh is the abundance of nearby choices we have for hiking, camping, and backpacking (not to mention biking, horseback riding, or rafting!). There are books on every aspect of hiking, camping, backpacking (and more!), for both the novice hiker and the seasoned backpacker.  Below are a few that I turn to for inspiration or advice.

  • Anything by John Muir. If you weren’t already itching to go hiking or spend a night in the woods, you will be after reading his books.  The Yosemite is a classic, and Muir’s descriptions are so vivid that reading this is the next best thing to actually getting there.  For a selection of Muir’s writing, try Nature Writings.
  • Backpacking Pennsylvania: 37 Great Trails, by Jeff Mitchell: Divided by region, this book summarizes several trails throughout the state.  The trails listed are of varying difficulty and mileage, and the descriptions, though brief, give you just enough information to get a feel for each route. Some other books to look at for information on hiking in the area are 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles, by Donna L. Ruff or 50 HIkes in Western Pennsylvania, by Tom Thwaites.
  • Backpacking, by Adrienne Hall: Before you stumble out into the woods with your pack on, it’s probably a good idea to learn a little bit about some basic issues the backpacker might encounter.  There are hundreds of books that will give you the basics; I like Hall’s books because she writes specifically for the woman backpacker. 
  • A Field Guide to Eastern Trees: Eastern United States and Canada, by George Petrides: I love field guides, and this title could just as easily be subsituted with a title about mushrooms, or wildflowers, or birds, or butterflies…you get the idea.  Field guides are small and don’t take up too much space (or weight) in a pack, and they’re nice to have along on a hike so that when you see that plant with the beautiful flowers, you can figure out what it is.  

For more reading suggestions, check out one of our reading lists on the subject, or browse the library’s display (on the second floor hallway).


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