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Helen Chandler Ryan New Mexico Federal Music Project Collection

Identifier: MSS-721-BC

Scope and Content

The collection is divided into two series: an administrative series, and a series containing materials related to the folk music project. The administrative series primarily contains reports and correspondence. Helen Chandler Ryan's monthly narrative reports detail the program's activities, attendence, accomplishments, problems, and frustrations. The reports contain the names of employees as well as updates on the various projects that were undertaken in nearly every county around the State. Documented projects include music classes and instruction, formation and performances of tipica orchestras, bands, glee clubs, and choruses.

The folk music series contains copies of sheet music and song texts to "Spanish-American folk songs collected throughout New Mexico, largely by Hispanos, as part of the Project. Songs were collected, then transcribed, mimeographed, and distributed to Federal Music teachers, who taught the songs to singing and string orchestra groups. These groups would then give free public performances and provide entertainment for events. Sheet music and lyrics for singing games, children's games, and folk dances are included in the collection. Compilations of Spanish American folk songs, dance tunes, and singing games were produced for distribution. The collection lacks the compilation of singing games and one volume of folk songs, which can be found catalogued in the Center for Southwest Research book collection, M1629.7 N57 S83 1936. Folk music projects also included performances of Christmas music and of the play, Los Pastores.


  • 1936-1943


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publications or distribution.

Institutional History

The Federal Music Project (FMP) was organized in 1935 as an agency of the Works Progress Administration to provide work relief for unemployed musicians. The project was headed by Nikolai Sokoloff until his resignation in May 1939, after which time it underwent a major reorganization. Subsequently, the program became known as the WPA Music Program. At its peak in 1936, the program employed almost 16,000 people. The program lasted until 1943.

The FMP was administered through offices in each of the forty-eight states. Federal relief efforts focused on New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston, traditional centers for musical activity. However, one third of federal relief was divided among the remaining states, including New Mexico. The Federal Music Project organized orchestras, bands, dance bands, chamber music ensembles, opera and choral units, and composers' forums across the country. Putting resources into music education in rural as well as urban areas, the FMP provided jobs for music teachers. To avoid competing with self-supported music teachers, music classes were offered to those who were unable to pay. Classes offered included composition, theory, appreciation, history, vocal and instrumental music. These classes reached almost 14 million students nationwide, many of whom never had taken music classes before. FMP offered programs in public schools, parks, hospitals and many other places. Preservation of folk music was another important goal of the FMP, which provided copying, researching, arranging, binding, and other services for the performing units.

Administration of the Federal Music Project in New Mexico was directed by Helen Chandler Ryan. The program operated between 1936-1943. By October of 1939, the program became known as the New Mexico Music Project, and by September 1942 it became the War Services Program - Music Phase. The New Mexico project focused on music education, performance, and preserving local musical heritage, especially Hispanic folk music. According to the "Evaluation Report of Music Project in New Mexico," January 1943,

"The Project, sponsored by the State Department of Education, took music into isolated rural communities, into C.C.C. and N.Y.A. work camps, and into State institutions whose budgets were too low to employ music directors. It gave instruction in applied music to persons living in urban communities who could not afford private lessons. It supplied leadership and direction for countless community activity, choruses, orchestras, and bands that, in turn, offered wholesome leisure time activity to the participants and relaxation and entertainment to the public. It revived interest in Spanish American folk lore by collection and arranging it for use and placing it in permanent records of Americana. Furthermore, it renewed a pride in the hearts of New Mexicans in their folk heritage so that folk-singing, -dancing and -playing are now more popular with the young generation. It did much to bring the maligned guitar back into its own right as the local accompaniment for Spanish folk music, by giving proper instruction, and it organized numerous tipica orchestra groups that played for community dances and fiestas."


1 box (.45 cu. ft.)


The Federal Music Project was an agency of the Works Progress Administration that sought to provide work relief for unemployed musicians. This collection documents the activities of the Federal Music Project in New Mexico. Music education and preservation of Spanish-American folk music were two primary goals of the project, which was directed by Helen Chandler Ryan.

Related Material

John Donald Robb Papers Center for Southwest Research. University Libraries. University of New Mexico. John Donald Robb Field Recordings Center for Southwest Research. University Libraries. University of New Mexico. Jenny Wells Vincent Recordings Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Relevant Secondary Sources

  • "FEDERAL MUSIC PROJECT." The Handbook of Texas Online.
  • Moore, Earl V. "Final Report of the Federal Music Project submitted to Lawrence Morris, October 10, 1939.
  • Canon, Cornelius B. The Federal Music Project of the Works Progress Administration: Music in a Democracy. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Minnesota, 1963.
Finding Aid of the Helen Chandler Ryan New Mexico Federal Music Project Collection, 1936-1943
Processed by Beth Silbergleit
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Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 721 BC::Helen Chandler Ryan New Mexico Federal Music Project Collection)//EN" "nmu1mss721bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131