Cadman’s musical education, unlike that of most of his American contemporaries, was completely American. Born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, he began piano lessons at 13. Eventually, he went to nearby Pittsburgh where he studied harmony, theory, and orchestration with Luigi von Kunits and Emil Paur, then concertmaster and conductor, respectively, of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This was the sum of his training. He was a member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.
In 1908 Cadman was apointed the music editor and critic of the Pittsburgh Dispatch.
He was greatly influenced by American Indian music and went so far as to travel to Nebraska to make cylinder recordings of tribal melodies for the Smithsonian Institute. He lived with the Omaha and Winnebago tribes and learned to play their instruments and later was able to adapt it in the form of 19th century romantic music. He wrote several articles on Indian music and was regarded as one of the foremost experts on the subject. He toured both the States and Europe giving his then celebrated "Indian Talk". But his involvement with the so-called Indianist Movement in American music made it difficult for his works to be judged on their own merits.
His early works enjoyed little success until the famous soprano Lillian Nordica sang one of his Indian songs, "From the Land of Sky Blue Waters". Another Indian song which became well-known in the 1920s was "At Dawning".
Cadman eventually moved to Los Angeles where he helped to found, and often was a soloist with, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. He wrote the scores for several films including The Sky Hawk, Captain of the Guard, Women Everywhere, and Harmony at Home. Along with Dmitri Tiomkin, he was considered one of Hollywood’s top composers. But Cadman first and foremost was a serious composer who wrote for nearly every genre. His chamber music works are generally considered among his best. There, he tried to introduce elements of Ragtime music into the classical music format thus anticipating Gershwin, Stravinsky, and Milhaud, among others. It was his Piano Trio, Op. 56, composed in 1913, that drew the critics' attention and praise to what he was trying to do.
300 Songs including Four American Indian Songs, At Dawning, From the Land of the Sky-Blue Water, Sayonara, and The Willow Wind.Orchestral