Professor George List (1911-2008) is best remembered for his academic work on the music of the indigenous people of South America and the Southwestern United States, his professional work as Director of the Archives of Traditional Music (1954-1976), and his role in founding the ethnomusicology department at Indiana University. However, long before joining the faculty here at IU, he was a music teacher, composer, and performing musician whose works were published, recorded, and performed by symphony orchestras.
In 1933, List graduated from The Julliard School with a diploma in flute performance then going on to spend most of his early professional career as both an aspiring musician and a music educator. He established and directed the Madison Square Boys Club, a music school for underprivileged children in Manhattan from 1934-1937 where he organized a children’s performance of Haydn’s “Toy Symphony,” which, along with typical instruments like the piano and violins, uses a rattle, toy trumpet, cuckoo, nightingale, and quail as musical instruments. In addition to this project, List was a music teacher, director, and conductor for several bands and orchestras in public schools in New York City between 1939 and 1943. During this time, he was also the conductor for children’s ensembles and a private music instructor for the International Workers Order, an organization that offered insurance, medical care, and cultural activities to various ethnic groups in New York City.
Along with his teaching, Professor List was also active as a performing flutist, playing with orchestras in New York City and Denver throughout the 1930s and 1940s. He also found time to compose original music. His largest work is an unpublished symphonic piece titled Marche O’Malley, which was performed by the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra in 1947, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in 1949, and later by orchestras in Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Other published titles include “Come Bring With a Noise” (1948) for mixed chorus which was based upon a poem by Robert Herrick, Jugoslav Polka for band (1950), Memoir and Scherzino for flute and piano (1950), and Music for Children (1952), a songbook for young pianists.
Throughout the course of his career, Professor List composed for all levels and types of musicians, from children beginning to play the piano to professional violinists, from choral works to woodwind quintets. While the majority of his compositions were never published, it appears that he never completely gave up his musical aspirations. When Professor List began teaching at Indiana University in 1954, and throughout his years in academia, his composing greatly slowed down, but he never fully gave it up. In 2001, 25 years after his retirement, he wrote Gadgets, which he dubbed “A Comic Opera” in three acts. Up until his death in 2008, he continued to write to publishers, record companies, and orchestra conductors, trying to get his compositions recorded or performed.
The IU Archives holds the George List papers which include the sheet music, including revisions and unpublished pieces, of Professor List’s compositions, as well as four compact disc recordings of their performance.