Stephen Foster in American Cultural History: A Symposium


April 23, 2010 - 1:00pm to April 24, 2010 - 9:00am

The University of Pittsburgh’s Music Department, in collaboration with the Center for American Music, the Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre (PICT) and Opera Theatre of Pittsburgh (OTP), is pleased to announce a symposium on Stephen Foster in American cultural history. The symposium brings together national and international scholars for the first-ever scholarly gathering on Foster, timed to coincide with the premiere of a theater work based on his music. The Symposium will examine the songs’ meanings and role in culture of the United States and as an American export abroad, during the composer’s lifetime (1826-86) and subsequent generations.

The symposium is scheduled to complement the April 2010 premiere of a new play, Beautiful Dreamers: An American Odyssey, by Martin Giles. Cast as a music drama set in the United States just before the Civil War, the story incorporates many of Foster’s most beloved songs and ballads. The symposium will highlight the historical context of the play, while it expands on our understanding of Foster and his songs. It will feature a special introduction by the playwright, Martin Giles, and presentations by Thomas Hampson (participating via weblink), and Ken Emerson, the author of Doo Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture.

The Symposium will focus on the cultural roles of Foster’s music with presentations considering what Pittsburgh was like when Foster was alive, how his music was performed, and how it reached its public. The impact that Foster’s songs have had internationally will be considered (including a presentation by Japanese Foster scholar, Kazuko Miyashita), as well as his influence on popular culture, and how his songs have been reinterpreted in other media and in recent recordings. Presenters will include Deane Root, Mariana Whitmer, and Kathryn Miller Haines from the Center for American Music; Susan Key (San Francisco Symphony); Dale Cockrell (Vanderbilt University); Steven Saunders (Colby College); Kazuko Miyashita (National Institute of Fitness in Sports, Kanoya, Japan); Joanna Smolko (Independent Scholar); David Macias (Thirty Tigers Music Marketing) and Joe Weed (Highland Records).

For a detailed schedule, list of topics, and description of other events related to the Symposium visit: The symposium is co-sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Arts and Sciences Faculty Research and Scholarship Program.


Free and open to the public