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Censored Music is the topic of a Master’s Thesis

Nathanial L Gailey-Schiltz, a graduate student in the UMD’s Ethnomusicology program, chose the Prange Collection’s music-related materials as a topic for his Master’s thesis. His thesis can be found  (full text) in the Digital Repository at the University of Maryland (DRUM).  Below, Gailey-Schiltz discusses the music materials in the Prange Collection.  

“One part of the Gordon W. Prange Collection that might be easy to overlook is its extensive musical material holdings.  There are close to 15,000 individual items categorized by Prange Collection staff as either music literature or various collections of sheet music or music instructional materials.  It is this collection that I, a graduate student in the University of Maryland’s Ethnomusicology program, decided to explore for my Master’s degree research.  The process has been a challenging and fulfilling one, and has given me a chance to not only embark on some truly unique research, but also to reach outside of the School of Music and make ties with colleagues across campus.

The music materials in the Prange Collection encompass a wide range of subjects and styles.  As a player of the koto (琴, a 13-stringed zither) as part of the University of Maryland’s Koto Ensemble, I was first introduced to the collection’s numerous koto scores.  There are over seventy pieces of koto music by composers such as Miyagi Michio (宮城 道雄), who in the early twentieth century revolutionized koto tradition through innovations in instrument construction and song style.  Apart from notation for the koto, there are pieces for the shakuhachi (尺八, a bamboo flute), scores for nagauta (長唄, the music of kabuki theatre), and folk songs.


One example of Prange holding materials : MT-2682 “Uta no Hanataba “

For my own research, however, I decided to focus on the less traditional materials in the collection.  By the time of the Occupation, Western-style music had been present in Japan in one form or another for the better part of a century.  Starting with military marching band music, European and American music styles like classical art music, Tin Pan Alley, and swing all found play in Japan and influenced Japanese music-makers.

A style of music called ryūkōka (流行歌), later known as kayōkyoku (歌謡曲), and a precursor to today’s karaoke favorite, enka (演歌), formed from around the 1920s.  Its production and popularity were intricately bound up with the emergence of a number of related phenomena that occurred during the same time period: consumer culture, an empowered middle class, the recording industry, and the commodification of music.  It would go on to be bound up with the film industry, so that through the 1930s and ’40s movies, title themes songs, and recordings of those songs became big business.


Ryukoka example: Prange Call Number: MT-2820 “Aishosuru ryukoka uta no hanakago”

There was also a market for sheet music to hit songs, so that consumers could learn their favorite songs and emulate the talents of their favorite film stars.  A collection of publishing houses devoted to music publishing cropped up to cater to that market.  Two main broad categories of publications of ryūkōka were popular by the Occupation era: small (what I call “pocket”) collections of lyrics to hit songs, which may or may not have any music notation; and sheet music for individual songs.  Music notation is predominantly in typical staff notation for voice and piano, reflecting that by that point in history, the piano had become the ubiquitous household musical instrument—just like in Europe and the U.S.—supplanting instruments like the koto.

Example of music note that received a censorship action.  Prange Call Number: MT-2734 "Kayo Gakufu"

Example of music note that received a censorship action. Prange Call Number: MT-2734 “Kayo Gakufu”

The ryūkōka in the Prange Collection reflect Occupation censorship and the negotiation of power between publishers and censors just as newspapers and magazines do.  For example, censors disapproved of published songs that were overly fervent in nationalist sentiment, had a sense of militarism, or espoused Japan’s presence in other nations in Southeast Asia and the South Seas.  The majority of items in the collection did not have actions taken, but still provide a valuable window into the popular discourse of the time.  Popular subjects ranged from melancholy topics (like rain, tears, and departing home) to romance (like love, roses, and “the girl from ___” formula) and the lighthearted (like boogie-woogie, shopping, and the big city).

Again, this is all just in one part of the Prange Collection’s music section.  There is much left to be explored!”


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