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What does achievement sound like?

By Alyssa Baljunas

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Noises often signal that we have achieved something, whether it is applause after a performance or a triumphant tune at the end of a video game. Although the persistent industrial noises of 1940s Pittsburgh may have been perceived as noise pollution, they were also an audible reminder of the city’s booming steel production which was a source of pride for the region. The sounds of business have the potential to generate feelings of accomplishment as the noises symbolize the productivity and financial success of that work. While the hum of a steel factory could be deafening, a similarly productive, but less intrusive, sound could be heard at the Pace Music Store on 2209 Center Avenue. It was the noise of a 14x22 platen printing press that Charles Henry Pace operated to print music scores. Is it possible that an everyday sound like this could signify success?

When Charles Henry Pace moved to Pittsburgh in 1936, he was already operating his Old Ship of Zion Publishing Company. In the Hill, he quickly established himself as a musical leader and founded the Pace Choral Gospel Union, a local choir that united singers from churches throughout the Hill District. Rather than taking the spotlight as a performer, Charles Henry was the artist that made the music – literally. Working from the Pace Music Store, Charles Henry composed, arranged, and oversaw all aspects of his sheet music production by acquiring a printing press, a tremendous mark of prestige for his business. Small businesses like Pace’s would have had to reach a level of profitability and stability before investing in such equipment. For instance, it was not until the Pittsburgh Courier’s 22nd year that the newspaper invested in their own high-volume printer that reproduced twenty-four pages at once. Artist and printmaking expert Sean P. Morrissey deduced that Pace’s printer was most likely a model either created by Chandler & Price or Kluge. This printer would have costed around $500-800 at the time – an item worth several thousand dollars today.

In 1947, Pace posted advertisements in the Post-Gazette and Courier

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Today, we might consider printing to be as easy as pressing a few buttons; however, printing in the 1940s was much more involved. Before even touching the printer, Pace would use stencils to trace every bit of musical notation and text onto paper. Second, he developed negatives of these pages, in which the written elements were transparent while the blank parts of the page were opaque. Then, he laid these negatives on steel sheets, exposed them to light, and treated them with a chemical wash. This resulted in the steel hardening in the places with transparent notes and the rest of the plate being eroded. Finally, after attaching the plate to a block of wood, Pace essentially had a “musical stamp.” These inked “stamps” were inserted through the printing press, and he could finally print his music. In the corresponding clip, you will hear the sound of a roller applying ink to a plate followed by operational sounds of the platen printing press.

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Ink roller on a plate, followed by the operational sounds of a 1960s printer in University of Pittsburgh’s Text & ConText Lab. Recorded in April 2024.

Such printing sounds might seem innocuous and commonplace, yet they signify the impact of Pace’s work. His influence was documented in one of the Pace Gospel Choral Union concert programs from 1948: Mrs. Sisco wrote that “[C. H. Pace’s] achievements in Pittsburgh for the past ten years has no equal… If you would like to feel music, get music and be musical – see Prof. Pace.” In the same program, Rev. Cornell E. Talley claimed that Pace inspired “people to singing in days of darkness” and his music “relieved the strain.”

Pace’s printer ultimately made it possible for us to recognize his accomplishments today. Pace collaborated with other publishing companies to place his most popular songs in songbook anthologies. Some editions omitted his name and listed his most famous song “He Said if I Be Lifted Up” as “traditional.” When well-known country-rock artist Emmylou Harris covered this song in 1987, Pace was again uncredited. It was only when Pace’s early editions were discovered – the ones that Pace had created on his printer – that Pace could be credited for his work.

Pace was often not credited as the author of the song “He Said if I Be Lifted Up”

Charles Henry Pace and Frankie M. Pace Gospel Music Collection, 1822-1958, ULS Archives & Special Collections, Pittsburgh University Libraries

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While we might associate success with thunderous applause or a cork popping on a champagne bottle, perhaps the mundane noises of work might also be heard as the sound of accomplishment. Without playing undesirable notes, a musician could never refine their craft. Though hammering and drilling can sound harsh, this work may produce a house or a skyscraper. Consider how sounds might celebrate our successes at any point in the process – we just have to recognize them.

Hand-written, stenciled music (left) and photo negative of music (right).

Charles Henry Pace and Frankie M. Pace Gospel Music Collection, 1822-1958, ULS Archives & Special Collections, Pittsburgh University Libraries

Which of these sounds do you associate with success, if any?
Select all that apply:

Thanks for your feedback!

SOURCES

Anon., “Determining the value of a press and other printing equipment.” Briar Press. Accessed 1
May 2024. 

 

Marovich, R.M. “Sacred Music in Transition: Charles Henry Pace and the Pace Jubilee Singers.”
       In A City called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music. Urbana: University of
       Illinois Press, 2015, 48-57.

 

Whitaker, Mark. Smoketown: The Untold Story of the Other Great Black Rennaissance. New
       York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

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