Charles Hiroshi Garrett

 Charles Hiroshi Garrett

Charles Hiroshi Garrett in the University of Michigan library with 1986's The New Grove Dictionary of American Music.

After nearly a decade of work, the second edition of The Grove Dictionary of American Music—often called AmeriGrove—is finished. In September 2013, shortly before publication, Editor in Chief Charles Hiroshi Garrett talked with Grove Editor Anna-Lise Santella about the project.

Tell us how you got involved with the second edition of AmeriGrove.

In 2004, I first learned about the possibility of updating AmeriGrove. The initial plan was for me to serve as an assistant editor to Editor in Chief Richard Crawford, one of the most esteemed scholars in the field of American music. After Professor Crawford decided to concentrate his energy on other projects, including a biography of George Gershwin, I was approached by Grove/OUP and invited to take on the role as Editor in Chief. By 2005, organizational and administrative planning was underway; by the following year, much of the project had begun to take shape. I was especially happy to accept the challenge in part because I enjoyed a personal connection to this project: I am a former student of H. Wiley Hitchcock, a pioneer of American music studies, who co-edited the original AmeriGrove dictionary with Stanley Sadie.

How did you go about creating the list of articles that were included in the dictionary? What role did the first edition play in the development of content for the second edition?

The shape of the updated AmeriGrove reflects a remarkable effort of teamwork and scholarly cooperation. Nearly seventy editors and advisors—specialists in American music representing top universities and research institutes from across the United States and around the world—devoted substantial time to the project. Each of these participants, each assigned to key subject areas, helped design the coverage, scope, and content of the dictionary. The editorial team also received and reviewed suggestions from Grove readers and many scholars of American music. Over the course of the project, the contents of the dictionary continued to expand as editors and contributors recognized potential areas of growth and commissioned new articles.

The original dictionary (1986) was extremely significant to our initial planning for the updated AmeriGrove in terms of design, content, and philosophy. It gave us a general blueprint, which transformed as the updated dictionary grew to twice its size, and we retained its inclusive approach to defining American music. Every article from the original dictionary was reviewed, and nearly all of them were retained and updated for the updated dictionary. Because the original dictionary was never digitized, we were especially keen on making the fruits of the original publication available to today’s online researchers. We also drew on American-related content of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001): many of these articles were updated by their original authors for inclusion in the updated dictionary.

Together, our editorial team decided which entries should be reprinted, which should be altered, which should be replaced, and which new topics should be considered for inclusion. As much as we consulted earlier Grove dictionary sources for guidance, the new AmeriGrove also contains thousands of originally conceived articles written by new contributors.

The first edition of the dictionary in many ways established a foundation for the field of American music study that has flourished in the years since its publication. How did you use it in your own work?

Even though it is nearing its 30-year anniversary, the first edition of the dictionary has continued to prove essential for readers because its coverage and depth in certain areas has remained unmatched until the new AmeriGrove. I have long consulted the first edition in the same ways I hope that readers will come to value the new dictionary—as a trusted source founded on scholarly expertise, as a first stop for bibliographical advice, and, through its many long and detailed articles on broad subjects, as a fascinating and fun way to expand my musical knowledge.

In the past few weeks, I’ve skimmed or read nearly every page of the dictionary and I was struck by how different the balance of content is in the second edition as compared to the first. Can you describe the areas you feel were most greatly expanded for the second edition? Was there anything in the first edition that you chose not to include?

The first edition of the dictionary is still renowned for its diversity and inclusiveness, and we attempted to follow the same philosophy in the updated dictionary. Because the new AmeriGrove includes entries on nearly every subject covered in the first edition of the dictionary, it is best characterized as a combination of a dictionary update and a massive expansion. Decisions about what subject areas to expand, which were made in consultation with the editorial team, reflected our hopes to 1) document significant musical activity over the last three decades—from the spread of hip hop to El Sistema USA, from the sharing of MP3s to laptop performance; and 2) to reflect the wide-ranging scholarly activity that was fostered by the first edition. While all subject areas have received close attention, coverage of certain subject areas has seen extensive growth, including choral music, cities and regions, concert music, film music, nineteenth-century music, music and dance, music education, music librarians and libraries, musical theater, opera, popular music, sacred music, and music technology. To give a sense of the scale of change, the first edition of the dictionary included a substantial article on “country music” as well as nearly 90 additional articles on country music figures and related topics. In response to the sustained impact of and scholarly interest in country music, the updated dictionary features a newly commissioned, extensive article on “country music” as well as nearly 300 articles dedicated to individual country musicians, groups, and subgenres.

One of the areas that have expanded is Hawaiian music, which I first read about from a scholarly perspective in your book Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century (U. California, 2008). Did your thinking in that book, which explores the way different American musics reflect and communicate different notions of and experience of Americanness, affect your approach to AmeriGrove?

I think that it would be more accurate to say that my approach to American music meshed well with the philosophy of the original dictionary. Both dictionaries take a very inclusive approach to defining “American” music. They address musical life and cultures within the region now covered by the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and US territories; they feature coverage of the music-making practices of native cultures whose occupation of these regions predates European contact; and they embrace music-making in the United States by Americans and by significant foreign musicians. Such an inclusive approach toward conceptualizing American music is part of the history of AmeriGrove, and one could say that I adopted that philosophy from teachers like Prof. Hitchcock who were so closely involved with the original dictionary.

That said, the editorial team took particular care to challenge the black-white binary that characterizes some scholarship on American music. Just as coverage of European American and African American topics was expanded in the dictionary, we sought to capture a wider spectrum of musical activity and to discuss musical practices often lost in the margins. The dictionary consequently devotes considerable space to Latino, Asian American, Native American, and Hawaiian music and musicians. Hawaiian music is an interest of mine, but I need to credit two members of the editorial team, Amy Ku‘uleialoha Stillman and Kevin Fellezs, for shaping and strengthening that particular area of the dictionary.

There were so many people involved in this project. Can you talk a bit about collaboration and the editorial process?

It quickly became clear that a project this large would require extensive coordination and communication between the various participants (70+ members of the editorial team, ~2000 authors, and OUP/Grove staff). Some of our initial conceptual work took shape at meetings staged at scholarly conferences; much of our communication was accomplished through phone calls and email exchanges. Advisors were mainly involved at the start of the process, whereas editors assumed responsibility for shepherding individual articles to publication. I handled a wide variety of tasks, from general consulting to conflict resolution to cheerleading, from recruitment (of contributors or editors) to resource management (of assistants), from database management to spot editing. My job involved managing people as often as handling dictionary content.

The scale of the project proved daunting since each article proceeded through many steps (e.g. topic suggestion, topic approval, contributor identification, formal contracting, article submission, editing/re-submission, editor sign-off, editor-in-chief signoff, payment, copyediting, selection of musical examples, figures, and images, contributor approval, editorial approval), the sum of which generated dozens of exchanges for each of the many thousands of articles. For this reason we designed an Internet-accessible, secure, and sophisticated tracking database that coordinated all facets of the project. The leader behind this effort was Mark Clague, a professor at the University of Michigan who served as Project Editor for Design and Development, and Jonathan Maybaum, the creator of UM.SiteMaker, which allows non-programmers to create and maintain websites built upon a dynamic database. The project database/website contained all kinds of information, including general guidelines and sample articles. Most significantly for the editorial team, it stored complete records for each entry in the dictionary (including information on the contributor, contact information, commission date, due date, word count, assigned editor, and so on). Contributors were able to submit their articles directly to the website. In addition, any editor or contributor could check the status of their assigned articles at any time from any networked computer, determining if they had been submitted, edited, completed, or forwarded to the press for publication. The website featured different portals for contributors, editors, and system administrators, which tailored access according to separate usernames and passwords.

In addition to substantial funding for publication costs from OUP/Grove, the AmeriGrove dictionary also received financial support from the University of Michigan, which offered sufficient funding for a few dozen students to work part-time on various aspects of the project. These included undergraduate students who served as administrative assistants and graduate students who worked as research assistants. Every semester at least two or three students contributed to the project in some capacity. A few of the most experienced students wrote or revised articles for the dictionary. The project thus turned out to be a learning experience at the same time it produced a publication that will be valuable to future students and researchers.

Was there anything that surprised you about the way the dictionary turned out?

I was shocked that OUP/Grove permitted the dictionary to grow from six planned volumes, to seven, and finally to eight volumes. It was an enormous luxury to be able to expand the dictionary in important directions, rather than feeling as if we had neglected major areas of musical life.

What did you find most challenging about the project?

Balancing work and life at home. My wife and my family members were extraordinarily supportive. I’m sure they’re glad we’ve reached the finish line.

What are you most proud of?

I am especially proud that the dictionary offers detailed, diverse, and expanded coverage in so many subject areas. And I am especially happy that the dictionary will be available in a print version and also an online version. I look forward to the experience of paging through the print edition, since I still prefer reading printed books. At the same time, the online version can be instantly accessed, it can be updated and maintained, and it has terrific search capabilities. For an editor, it is a relief to know that the online version can be expanded to include articles on subjects we may have overlooked or whose stature gains more prominence. It is similarly comforting that typos, errors, and reader suggestions can be addressed so easily. I envision that the dictionary will be able to grow and adapt in future.

My favorite thing about working on the dictionary involved building so many professional and personal relationships with members of the editorial team. They know how much went into the dictionary, and I hope they are equally proud of our accomplishments. After living with the dictionary for years, I am quite excited about having it become available to everyone else.

Do you have a favorite article?

Charles Conrad’s “Circus music,” because it’s entertaining, informative and distinctive, because it served as a milestone as one of the first AmeriGrove articles to be placed online, and because who doesn’t like the circus?

How has your work on AmeriGrove affected your scholarly work?

As could be expected, working on the project made me appreciate even more the wealth of American musical life. At the same time that I am sure this publication will forever identify me as an Americanist, the dictionary continually reminded me how music in the United States has been influenced by and in turn has influenced musical practices around the globe. I think my future work will aim to better recognize the interconnected nature of music history, the international roots of American music, and the concurrent need for cross-cultural understanding.

Reference works demand difficult choices, and they never offer enough space to paint a full picture. But we live in a musical world that is complex and rich, full of boundary-crossing, unexpected pathways, cross-cultural influences and collisions. I look forward to returning to some of my individual projects and exploring those interconnections and musical nuances.

Now that you’ll have all this free time on your hands, what will you do next?

I am currently writing a book about music and humor, which I find to be a continually challenging, enjoyable, interesting, and wide-ranging topic, yet one that is so seldom discussed that an entry on humor didn’t even make it into the AmeriGrove dictionary. Maybe next time.

Charles Hiroshi Garrett is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater and Dance, as well as a faculty associate of the university's American Culture Program. He is currently the president of the Society of American Music. He has served as review editor and assistant editor of American Music, the journal of the Society for American Music. His book Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century, which was awarded the Irving Lowens Memorial Book Award by the Society for American Music, was published by University of California Press in 2008. He is co-editor of Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries (University of California Press, 2012) and author of numerous articles, including "Shooting the Keys: Musical Horseplay and High Culture" in The Oxford Handbook to the New Cultural History of Music, ed. Jane F. Fulcher (Oxford University Press, 2013).

This interview is a part of a series of interviews with Grove Music contributors and editors. Click here to read more. If you would like to suggest a contributor to be featured in this space, please contact us at