Students Investigate: A Deeper Dive into H. S. Perkins’s The Nightingale

William Oscar Perkins and Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale: A Choice Collection of Songs, Chants and Hymns, Designed for the Use of Juvenile Classes, Public Schools, and Seminaries; Containing Also a Complete and Concise System of Elementary Instruction (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1860)

by C. A. Norling

h s perkins the nightingale title page
Title page of Perkins’s The Nightingale

Advertised in University catalogues as providing “peculiar advantages to students,” the University of Iowa’s first music courses utilized a repertoire grounded in larger, nineteenth-century trends in American music education and represent the subject’s institutional foundation at the University prior to the establishment of a permanent School of Music.1 The academic sessions, held annually at the local Normal Academy of Music, were created to “give complete courses of instruction” in music performance, “both vocal and instrumental.”2 Written in part by the institution’s founding principal Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale demonstrates a direct connection to the beginnings of American musical education itself. Originating in the eighteenth century, singing schools flourished throughout the United States with the use of simple songs arranged in three or four parts, a method standardized by eminent music educator Lowell Mason of Boston in the 1840s.3 Perkins himself studied under Mason and operated singing schools nationwide and, as such, prefaced his manual with a course of instruction for music beginners.

Beyond its pedagogical contents, The Nightingale features nearly two hundred pages of part-songs composed by prominent American composers that often reflect nationalistic themes. From the patriotic “Hail Columbia” and “Our Country’s Flag” to hymns by Perkins himself, the academy founded its day-to-day music instruction on domestic educational methods and a national repertoire.4 Perkins’s own patriotic anthem, “My Native Hills” (shown here), is descriptive of both its American surroundings and democratic ideals when it asserts that “my native hills are thine.” In addressing the goals of the volume, Perkins wrote that the selections are “pleasing and practical in character . . . [and] may contribute largely to the pleasure and education of the rising public,” a testament to egalitarian impulses of the nation’s then-budding public music education.5

page from perkins the nightingale song my native land
Note the penciled annotation in the title of this song from Perkins’s Nightingale

1 Catalogue of the State University of Iowa for the Year 1866-67 (Davenport, IA: Lush, Lane & Co., 1866), 47.
2 Henry Southwick Perkins, “The Iowa State Normal Academy of Music at Iowa City,” Annals of Iowa 1872, no. 1 (1872): 62.
3 Edward B. Birge, History of Public School Music in the United States (Washington D.C.: Music Educator’s National Conference, 1966), 26.
4 Foundational American music historian Oscar Sonneck wrote extensively regarding the origins of “Hail Columbia” and overtly draws ideological associations between the anthem and the “Star Spangled Banner.” Oscar Sonneck, “Critical Notes on the origin of ‘Hail Columbia,’” Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft 3, no. 1 (1901): 139.
5 William Oscar Perkins and Henry Southwick Perkins, The Nightingale: A Choice Collection of Songs, Chants and Hymns, Designed for the Use of Juvenile Classes, Public Schools, and Seminaries; Containing Also a Complete and Concise System of Elementary Instruction (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1860), [3].

About the Author

cody norling headshotCody Norling is a PhD student in historical musicology at the University of Iowa. Apart from his research on American operatic traditions, he maintains research interests Midwestern History and has contributed writing to the Annals of Iowa and a forthcoming volume on nineteenth-century identity formation in the Midwest. Cody is currently the instructor for a course titled “Midwestern Identities” in the University of Iowa’s Department of Rhetoric.

image of philip bezanson, aaron copland, himie voxman, and james dixon

Students Investigate: A Deeper Dive into the SUI concert of Copland compositions, March 5, 1958

State University of Iowa Orchestra concert of Copland compositions, March 5, 1958
Represented by original concert program and picture of Himie Voxman and Aaron Copland from the composers 1958 visit to Iowa City

by Jenna Sehmann
photograph of copland visiting the university of iowa in 1958
left to right: Philip Bezanson, Aaron Copland, Himie Voxman, and James Dixon

On March 5, 1958, Aaron Copland attended a concert by the State University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra as an honored guest. Copland’s visit, culminating in this performance, reflected as much upon Copland’s achievements as it did upon the achievements of American Music, and the musical achievements at the University of Iowa.

Copland’s visit to the University was well received by students, faculty, and local residents. Attendance was at full capacity for the Symphony Orchestra concert as well as a lecture Copland gave titled “The Emergence of American Music.” In this lecture, Copland detailed that the “Emergence School of American Music” was “in the running,” implying that American Music could stand up to its European predecessors.1 This emergence that Copland referenced in his lecture is reflected in his own compositions performed by the SUI Symphony.

At this concert, the orchestra performed three works from a wide range of Copland’s compositional style and time periods: The Suite from the Ballet Billy The Kid, Copland’s Third Symphony, and a concert version of his opera The Tender Land. In a review by Donald Justice, the orchestra was praised for their performance, noting that Billy The Kid and Third Symphony were “two excellent performances.”2 The performance of Copland’s rarely performed opera The Tender Land was especially suitable for the composer’s trip to the Midwest. The opera is set on a Midwest farm, making it particularly reflective of the lives and upbringings of many students and community members.3

University of Iowa symphony concert program march 5 1958
State University of Iowa Symphony Orchestra concert program from March 5, 1958 featuring works by visiting composer, Aaron Copland


1 “Emergence School of Music In the Running: Copland,” The Daily Iowan, March 4, 1958,
2 Justice, Donald, “Chasing Billy- Copland’s Music- Pleases Audiences,” The Daily Iowan, March 7, 1958,
3 Perlis, Vivian, “The Tender Land,” Oxford Music Online, Grove Music Online omo-9781561592630-e-5000905177. (accessed September 10, 2018).

About the Authorjenna sehmann

Oboist Jenna Sehmann is a performer and teacher currently located in Iowa City, IA. Ms. Sehmann serves as the oboe studio teacher at Cornell College (Mount Vernon, IA) and Mount Mercy University (Cedar Rapids, IA). She is also the Teaching Assistant for the oboe studio at the University of Iowa, where she is pursuing her Doctor of Musical Arts in performance and pedagogy under Dr. Courtney Miller.

She holds a Master of Music degree in oboe performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music degree in both music performance and music industry from Eastern Kentucky University. Regionally, Jenna has performed with Orchestra Iowa, Dubuque Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic, Evansville Philharmonic, and the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas. To learn more about Jenna, visit her website

STUDENT EXHIBIT: In Our Lives: The Beatles Yesterday and Today


IN OUR LIVES was designed in the Fall 2018 offering of Donna’s “World of The Beatles” course. Participating students studied her materials–donated in Donna’s name to the Rita Benton Music Library–and worked together to flesh out the different themes that now define their multimedia, multidirectional account of the enduring legacy of The Beatles that stretches across each fin. The exhibit design is a tribute to the rich learning experiences Donna created for University of Iowa students, and a preview of the valuable learning experiences her collection will support for years to come.

We invite you to journey through the World of The Beatles in the following ways.


panel 3 from the in our lives exhibitsEach of the four exhibit panels represent the combined efforts of the corresponding topic subgroups (notated as “Deeper Dives” on the front of each Exhibit Panel).

The Musicians: Band Image/Identity, Working Together, Going Solo, Songwriting

  • Who were The Beatles as Public Figures? Do details of particular songs speak to their Personal/Public experiences?

The Music: Catalog Overview, Albums Early, Albums Late 1, Albums Late 2

  • What behind-the-scenes events became factors in the production of their albums?

Beatlemania!: Tours, Magical Mysteries, Yellow Submarines, Theories

  • What was a Beatles concert tour like? How did other types of Beatles media (e.g., fan newsletters, magazines, films, etc.) sustain mass interest in The Beatles? What does the “Paul is Dead” hoax teach us about Beatles fandom?

The Beatles of Today: Managing, Symbolizing, Celebrating, Recreating?

  • Who were the “fifth Beatles”? What can we learn from classic Beatles art/imagery about how The Beatles are remembered? What does it mean to pay tribute to a group like The Beatles?

Student Collection Highlights and Blog Posts

As part of their work on the exhibit, participating students familiarized themselves with the vast array of reference books, documentaries, and Beatles memorabilia that Donna’s family donated to the library in her name. Visit the Rita Benton Music Library website throughout the semester to read blog posts by the participating students, faculty, and library staff, which will examine the objects and themes of this exhibit in greater depth.