Most folk think the New Deal ended with WWII, but actually many of the projects had energy that just kept them going. And while these are not exactly world shattering, I thought I would just review a list of some of the survivors that lots of folk have probably used without knowing their origin.
Let me begin with High School Bands and Orchestras. The work for Music Copyists and arrangers was rock bottom during the Depression, and one of the more obscure WPA projects employed them to simplify, re-arrange and then copy the work of masters as well as military bands so that limited talent high school level music groups could perform it. You know, the kid who borrowed his horn from a school collection, and wanted to march with his high school band. Not someone who had heavy investment in private music lessons. Not really a candidate for Julliard.
In fact much of the music used today in such organizations was the product of the WPA Music Project. Between Mozart and Sousa, the project provided full scores and simplified instrumental parts, all free of copyright and royality, and at least initially, all about encouraging the employment of High School Band Directors and Music arrangers, and as a side benefit, the value of music in the schools to the students themselves and to the community for which they played this music.
How many people know about the "American Guide" series, produced and published by the WPA American Writers' Project. Totally there are about 52 volumes in this series, One for each state, and several for individual cities such as New York and Washington DC. They are organized as "tours" from a central point in each state, with each point of interest that sustained a historical review, described in full. The project managed to debunk many "Indian Leaps" -- places where either Indians had lept to avoid capture, or Indian Maidens had chosen to leap off cliffs to their death, but it highlighted the economic development of the country, industry started that failed, industry that bloomed. It did architecture, arts and design, patterns in home crafts, it dealt with local religion and local commerce. It researched and dealt with local geography and geology that underscored how and why development had occured as it did. Over the years, the series has become the secret source for many writers of Fiction, needing a reliable source for setting, and it is still used today. No author names are associated with the pieces, but many were later famous. For instance you have Richard Wright (Then working short hours at the Post Office) working on the manuscript for Chicago's South Side -- but also working on Mississippi. Not enough authors made it clear that the WPA guide series were really their cheat sheet, when they needed local color. Again -- people who could write were also unemployed, and 22 dollars a week for writing tour guide pieces verified by careful research, was a way to "put food on the family." (where did that quote come from? Not a WPA writer I assume.)
And while the OSS eventually benefited from it, another small WPA project at Columbia has always intrigued me. Translations of underground German Opinion survey materials, and German demography (1936- 38) based on and linked with these attitude surveys, crude though they were in the larger picture of what was happening in methods of such social research. Recent Refugees such as Adorno, Hockheimer, and Hans Eisler were paid 22 dollars a week to work on these materials -- and funds were sent to Paris where the underground could arrange to quietly and carefully collect more data. And yes, they were classified as just translators. Just WPA Translators. I've read their typescript, but I still wonder what that project was all about.
So from translating German attitudes and demography to ramping up school orchestras and bands, or providing local color for fiction writers, the WPA and other New Deal programs were all over the map trying to both do something of value and, at the same time, inflate the American Economy with the same projects. And while many created longstanding and important value -- why are they so ignored?
I am not suggesting any of these should be reconstructed or repeated, the times, the technology is different today. Taste differs. But the point is this was all actually done by Government, and with all the comprehendable objections that somehow if the product was not ordered from the market, it is worthless.
But when I hear a High School band doing a familiar March tune, sometimes I can vaguely hear what in the long gone days was "level of difficulty" in the on offer arrangement, and quietly I remember that in those days Harry Hopkins was running the WPA for FDR, and they invented all this stuff, and paid hungry musical types to create the resource.