Performing Tsarist Russia in New York: Music, Emigres, and the American Imagination
Offering a rare look at the musical life of Russia Abroad as it unfolded in New York City, Natalie K. Zelensky examines the popular music culture of the post-Bolshevik Russian emigration and the impact made by this group on American culture and politics. Performing Tsarist Russia in New York begins with a rich account of the musical evenings that took place in the Russian emigre enclave of Harlem in the 1920s and weaves through the world of Manhattan's Russian restaurants, Tin Pan Alley industry, Broadway productions, 1939 World's Fair, Soviet music distributors, postwar Russian parish musical life, and Cold War radio programming to close with today's Russian ball scene, exploring how the idea of Russia Abroad has taken shape through various spheres of music production in New York over the course of a century. Engaging in an analysis of musical styles, performance practice, sheet music cover art, the discourses surrounding this music, and the sonic, somatic, and social realms of dance, Zelensky demonstrates the central role played by music in shaping and maintaining the Russian emigre diaspora over multiple generations as well as the fundamental paradox underlying this process: that music's sustaining power in this case rests on its proclivity to foster collective narratives of an idealized prerevolutionary Russia while often evolving stylistically to remain relevant to its makers, listeners, and dancers. By combining archival research with fieldwork and interviews with Russian emigres of various generations and emigration waves, Performing Tsarist Russia in New York presents a close historical and ethnographic examination of music's potential as an aesthetic, discursive, and social space through which diasporans can engage with an idea of a mythologized homeland, and, in turn, the vital role played by music in the organization, development, and reception of Russia Abroad.