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Resonant Spirits: Spiritualism, Music, and Community in Lily Dale, NY (1848-1920)

Spinner, Codee (2021) Resonant Spirits: Spiritualism, Music, and Community in Lily Dale, NY (1848-1920). Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This project is a historical study of sound and music in a Spiritualist community, Lily Dale, a place with both intellectual and personal significance. While studies of Spiritualism have emphasized the importance of sensorial experience, none has focused on the role of sound, music, and listening. “Resonant Spirits: Spiritualism, Music, and Community in Lily Dale, NY (1840-1920)” offers a corrective to the scholarship by studying sound’s influence and reflection of Spiritualism—a religion based on belief in spirit communication—and its accompanying epistemologies.
Using archival materials, periodicals, and songbooks, I reconstruct historical Spiritualist soundscapes experienced at Lily Dale and elsewhere. materials show that Spiritualists used sound as an important tool for ritually conversing with, identifying, and authenticating spirits. I argue, further, that predominantly white Spiritualists used sonic processes of identifying spirits to cement their own identity: in listening to spirits, sitters identified with those they sensed were like themselves while disidentifying with spirits they marked as different. As a result, Spiritualists formed a clearer picture of themselves and their place in the world. Listening to spirit thus provided Spiritualists with a vocabulary for locating themselves within their spiritual, social, and political culture.
Following the introduction, Chapter Two analyzes Lily Dale’s soundscape by drawing on aural performances of popular racialized theater and its effects on spirit communication. This chapter introduces the Spiritualist settlement of Lily Dale, which serves as a reference point for subsequent chapters. Chapter Three analyzes the songbooks held in Lily Dale’s historical music collection, positioning them within contemporary debates over Spiritualism’s relation to mainstream Christianity. In Chapter Four, I break down “Spiritualist acoustemologies” in the context of communal séances, a core setting for spirit communication. Chapter Five traces connections between Spiritualist mediumship and musicianship in séances and the career of one Lily Dale musician and healer, vocalist Oskenonton (Mohawk). Ultimately, this dissertation traces the development of a marginalized spiritual settlement’s communal modernity around listening. I demonstrate the importance of sound and music to the development of a religious and spiritual practice arising in the mid-nineteenth-century United States, one that continues into the present.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Spinner, Codee
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBloechl,
Committee MemberRoot,
Committee MemberHeller,
Committee MemberEyerly,
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 29 March 2021
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 8 April 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 301
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Spiritualism, American music, acoustemology, clairaudience, spirit communication, vernacular modernism, vaudeville, minstrelsy, nineteenth century, historical sound studies, Lily Dale, western New York, listening, seance, mediums, contrafact
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 15:18
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 15:18


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