The P.S. 102 Playlist

Back in the day (1949-1952) the New York City public school I attended taught Music Appreciation in Grades 5-8. Probably about 12 or so pieces were taught per year. The teachers would play a few minutes of the selection (probably on 78 RPM records, remember them?) and we were required to learn the titles.

For the uninitiated perhaps puzzled by the title, New York City, then as now, operated so many public elementary schools that it was inconvenient to name them all. Instead, they were given numbers. Moreover, since there were (are) 5 boroughs in the city, the schools were designated , for example, Public School #102 Queens (there were probably at least 100 schools in each of the boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens; much fewer in Staten Island). You get the picture. To the best of my recollection, here are some of the selections:

J.S. Bach, Air on a G String; (arranged by Charles Grounod), Ave Maria

Beethoven, Minuet in G

Brahms, Lullaby

Chopin, Minute Waltz; Waltz in Csharp Minor

Schubert, Flight of the Bumble Bee; Ave Maria

Rossini, William Tell Overture

Liszt, Lieberstraum

Dvorak, Humoresque; 9th Symphony (New World)

Bizet, Carmen Overture

Saint Saens, Danse Macabre

Rachmoninoff, Prelude in C Sharp Minor

Tchaikovsky, Marche Slav

Mendelssohn, Spring Song

Grainger, Country Gardens, Shepherd’s Hey

Von Weber, Invitation to the Dance

Major omissions to the Dead White Europeans listed above: Joseph Haydn, W.A. Mozart. And, a point was made by a teacher that Dmitri Shostakovich would have been included, but “he’s a red” (this was, after all, the beginning of the Cold War and McCarthyism).

A couple of Americans made the list:

MacDowell, To a Wild Rose, and varoius songs of Steven Foster. Numerous omissions: George Gershwin, Aaron Copeland, Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington. Couldn’t include everybody!

Some of the selections claimed a niche in popular culture. Danse Macabre was a fixture in Halloween rituals (and still is). The Finale from the William Tell Overture was part of the theme music for the radio program “The Lone Ranger (remember that?). Then, as now, the Largo movement from Antonin Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony almost seems like a second National Anthem. (Musically, it would be a considerable upgrade to “The Star Spangled Banner”, based as it is on an (at best) vocalist challenging English drinking song).

If the aim of all this was to instill a love of “classical” music, it certainly worked with me, although I was raised in a musical family, where I was exposed to this type of stuff from infancy. To this day, whenever I hear one of these pieces, I still recall it was from the P.S.102 Playlist seven decades ago.

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