Although he began his musical career as a composer and conductor, Charles Seeger
would become a pioneer in the field of musicology (the systematized study of music). His work for numerous universities and the federal government helped to preserve and promote American folk music, and several of his children, Pete, Mike, and Peggy
, played important roles in the American Folk Revival. After graduating from Harvard in 1908, Seeger
traveled to Europe to conduct the Cologne Opera (1910-1911). He returned to the United States in 1912 and received a position as chairman of the department of music (1912-1919) at the University of California. In 1916 he would give the first American course in musicology. He lost his position in 1919 due to his opposition to World War I, and relocated to New York City where he became a lecturer/instructor at the Institute of Musical Art (later Julliard) from 1921 to 1933.
Between the mid-'30s and early '50s, Seeger
worked in a number of positions for the federal government, including technical advisor for the Resettlement Administration (1935-1938), deputy director of the Federal Music Project (1938-1941), and chief of the music division of the Pan-American Union (1941-1953). In these positions, he promoted fieldwork, publications, and recordings in both North and South America. He worked with his wife, Ruth Crawford, and Alan
and John Lomax
, to produce the influential Folk Song: USA in 1947. "Charles Seeger
was deeply involved in the early attempts at unearthing and preserving our folk heritage," wrote Samuel L. Forcucci in A Folk Song History of America. "As a trained musicologist, he gave his scholarly attention not so much to the Bach
s and Beethoven
s of classical music but rather to American music per se."
During the '60s and '70s Seeger
served in a number of positions that aided in the promotion of ethnomusicology (the comparative study of music from different cultures). In 1960 he was elected president of the Society of Ethnomusicology, in 1967 he became the first ethnomusicologist delegate to the American Council of Learned Society, and between 1960 and 1970 he served as research musicologist at the Institute of Ethnomusicology at UCLA. He remained active in the later years of his life, developing the Seeger
Melograph, a tool that allowed researchers to compare variations of singing styles in different ethnic cultures. Seeger
, like the Lomax
s, and John Jacob Niles
, proved a major force in laying the groundwork for the Folk Revival of the late '50s, and proved central in helping Americans recognize the value of their own folk culture.