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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Music, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Eight facts about the waterphone

What in this galaxy is waterphone? You’ve might have not seen one, but if you’ve watched a horror or science fiction movie, chances are you’ve heard the eerie sounds of the waterphone. With Halloween around the corner and a spooky soundtrack required, I toured through Grove Music Online to learn more about the monolithic, acoustic instrument.

1. The waterphone was invented in 1967 and patented in 1975 by Richard A. Waters. It was manufactured individually to order by him (formerly under the company name Multi-Media in Sebastopol, California) so each was unique.

2. The Standard model is a stainless steel bowl resonator containing water. The dome-shaped top opens into a vertical unstopped, cylindrical tube that serves as a handle. Around the edge of the resonator are attached between 25 and 55 nearly vertical bronze rods, which (depending on the model) are tuned in equal or unequal 12-note or microtonal systems.

3. Various sizes have been produced; the earliest (‘Standard’) had a resonator 17.8 cm in diameter. Current models (‘Whaler’, ‘Bass’, and ‘MegaBass’) are constructed from flat, stainless steel pans.

4. The rods can be struck with sticks or Superball mallets or rubbed by a bow or the hands.

5. The movement of water in the resonator produces timbre changes and glissandi.

6. It has been played in a wide variety of musics, including rock and jazz, and featured in the compositions of Tan Dun and Sofia Gubaidulina.

7. It is an important element in the Gravity Adjusters Expansion Band founded by Waters in 1967.

8. It has been featured in many horror and science fiction film and television soundtracks, such as Poltergeist and The Matrix.

Headline image credit: Waterphone. Photo by Hangklang. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The post Eight facts about the waterphone appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. What American Orchestras Are Playing This Season: Crunching The Numbers

Orchestra-Season-Infographic_900x2092

“[We] gathered data on the 2014-15 seasons that have been programmed by 21 major American orchestras … [and] created a database.” Here are some early stats on how much music by female composers and American composers are being performed and which composers (living and dead) the orchestras are playing most.

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3. Franco Zeffirelli Threatens To Sue La Scala For Selling His Super-Deluxe Production Of “Aida”

aida

The 91-year-old director is furious that the Milan opera house packed off his gold-covered extravaganza, which opened La Scala’s 2006-07 season, to the opera in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Never mind that Zeffirelli is getting a share of the proceeds, or that La Scala can borrow it back for free whenever it wants.)

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4. Opera Fans Won: Joyce DiDonato Will Sing The National Anthem Before World Series Game 7

IMG_KAUF_2_1_K32RLI9L_L7_2_1_DE2SGLMH_L71578414

And at Game 6, the Kansas City Symphony performed. “‘I think it’s a magnificent statement about what Kansas City is and the importance of both major league sports and major league performing arts,’ Frank Byrne, Symphony executive director, said on Monday.”

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5. Met’s “Death Of Klinghoffer” Is Selling Tickets

klinghoffer sells tix

Despite protests, weak advance sales, interruptions, and all the other mishegas, the John Adams opera “has sold more tickets than any other opera currently at the Met. General manager Peter Gelb “expects the opera ultimately to earn 70 to 75 percent of its potential ticket revenue, about average for recent seasons.”

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6. Portland Opera Moves To Summer Season ‘To Avoid Death By 1000 Paper Cuts’

pdxopera

“The change, revealed as the curtain is about to rise on Portland Opera’s 50th season, is an attempt to stabilize the company after years of fluctuating finances. And it will affect all aspects of the organization, from audience experience to casting, marketing, production and budgets.”

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7. What’s Los Angeles Opera’s Vision For The Next Century?

la opera 2

“Because LAO is fairly young, it’s unencumbered by a tradition. ‘But we are stewards of a great tradition. You get into dangerous territory if you try to chase the cool.'”

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8. A composer’s thoughts on re-presentation and transformation

My father, Paul Bullard, was a landscape and portrait painter, and on family holidays he would sit and sketch, sometimes with me by his side, filling my music manuscript paper. As a child, I used to think that his task was easier than mine: all he had to do was to put on paper what he could see in front of him, whereas on the other hand I had to imagine a whole sound world, hearing music in my head, and then put it down on paper. Of course that wasn’t really correct: what I didn’t realize was that his task was to re-present the view in front of him in pen and ink, or oils, and not merely copy it. In other words it was an equally creative process to composing.

Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard
‘Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard

So what my father was doing, I suppose, was looking at an existing object from a different angle, ‘arranging’ it for pen and ink, and that just got me thinking about the way that composers often do that too. At the moment I’m reading John Eliot Gardiner’s book Music in the Castle of Heaven and guided by that I’ve been listening to some of J. S. Bach’s cantatas. In most of these, Bach takes a well-known melody and re-presents it, embroidering the material in a myriad of ways. It wasn’t a new idea of course: composers had been doing it for hundreds of years, but Bach’s skill and variety in transforming the ‘known’ material, both in his choral works and his organ Preludes, is breathtaking. And ever since, many composers have loved to re-present the old with the new in the same way.

And so when I came to write my recent Advent cantata, I found myself using the traditional hymn ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ as a starting point. I turn its phrase shapes into recitatives, and use it as a slowly moving melody in some voices against more decorative singing in the others, so that although the hymn is never sung in its complete form, it permeates the whole work and, I hope, gives the listener a sense of security and comfort. In a similar way, my Christmas cantata, A light in the stable uses the ancient hymn ‘Of our Maker’s love begotten’ as a melodic basis throughout, as well as using a number of Christmas carols, concealed in the background as well as in the foreground.

The post A composer’s thoughts on re-presentation and transformation appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. Atlanta Symphony Lockout: Musicians Partly Give In To Management Demands For Smaller Orchestra

atlanta symph

The players’ union has made a counteroffer accepting a count of 77 salaried musicians – a number management wants to make permanent – for this season, with the orchestra’s ranks increasing by roughly four musicians each of the following three seasons.

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10. JS Bach’s Wife Wrote Some Of His Most Famous Works, Claims Scholar

Mr-and-mrs-Bach_3085632b

An Australian musicologist and a forensic document examiner are arguing that Anna Magdalena Bach was not merely one of her husband’s copyists (that fact is well-established), but that – based on the characteristics of the handwriting in the manuscripts – she was composing some of the pieces on the spot.

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11. The Mom Who Was-Or-Wasn’t Ejected From A Concert By MTT Speaks

mom mtt

“He actually said, ‘You’re disturbing me. Can you move to the side?’ But we weren’t doing anything. … My child was not fidgeting. No iPad. No phone out. … My child was about to burst into uncontrollable crying, [so] I had no choice but to leave.” (In the comments, someone claiming to be an eyewitness gives a different account of the event.)

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12. It Worked! Joyce DiDonato Will Sing At World Series

joyce

Whether or not it was due to the social media campaign, the superstar mezzo and the Kansas City Symphony have been chosen to sing the National Anthem at the start of game six of baseball’s World Series on Tuesday. (If there’s a game seven, they’ll do it then, too.)

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13. Seville Symphony Players Make (Quiet) Onstage Protest Over Conductor

pedro-halffter

The musicians of the Royal Symphony Orchestra of Seville wore green ribbons to signal their unhappiness with an ongoing stalemate in the selection of their chief conductor. The city’s politicians voted to renew the contract of Pedro Halffter, who has held the post for ten years (and whom the musicians are said to oppose), but his re-engagement was vetoed by the regional government of Andalusia. (in Spanish)

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14. Taylor Swift Would You Rather

Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift ROCKS Would You Rather!

The youngest singer EVER to win a Grammy for Album of the Year.  The only female artist to chart at #1 with three consecutive studio albums. An album on Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Albums of All Time list. And . . . she writes her own music. And . . . she has a totally awesome fashion style.

TAYLOR SWIFT!!!

Check Ink Splot 26 very soon to watch an exclusive, up-close and personal chat with Taylor. She’ll share books that have inspired her, how writing has opened her world (a.k.a. becoming a rock star songwriter), and an exclusive never-before-seen video clip!

And enter the This Is How I Shake It Off Writing Contest. Taylor uses music to shake off tough moments in her life. You can share your story for a chance to win some amazing prizes. (Read the contest details here.)

So with all the Taylor Swift excitement around the STACKS this week, we want to know . . .

Would You Rather…

  1. Win a trip to see her concert OR win a guitar signed by Taylor Swift?
  2. Be in the room when Taylor was writing a new song OR when she is making a music video?
  3. Have Taylor’s long hair OR short bob haircut?
  4. Have front row seats in a giant concert stadium OR be one of 10 people hearing her play in a private coffee house?
  5. Have Taylor as your songwriting coach OR your fashion stylist?
  6. Have Taylor Swift as your BFF OR Ariana Grande? (too hard to choose?!)
  7. See Taylor guest star on Austin & Ally OR The Thundermans?
  8. Sing a duet with Taylor in front of your whole school to “Shake It Off” OR “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”?

We can’t wait to hear what you guys say in the Comments below! Rock on.

Ratha, STACKS Writer

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15. Taylor Swift Shake It Off Contest

Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift Shake It Off Contest

Taylor Swift uses music to shake off the things people do or say that could have the power to hurt her. We want to hear how you shake off the things that get you down in your life. Enter the Taylor Swift This Is How I Shake It Off Writing Contest for a chance to win these prizes . . .

  • Grand Prize: A trip for 2 people to Taylor’s concert including a meet & greet with Taylor Swift!
  • 2nd place winner: A signed guitar & 1989 CD
  • 5 Runners-up: A signed 1989 CD

Taylor Swift Shake It Off Writing Contest

Here’s how to enter!

  • The contest is open to students attending U.S. schools in grades 3 through 6 who are legal residents of the United States.
  • Students must write an essay or poem, no more than one page, which explores the question “How do you shake it off when someone says or does something that has the power to hurt you?”
  • Each entry must include student’s name and grade, teacher’s name, school name, address, and phone number.
  • Entries must be mailed to: This Is How I Shake It Off! Writing Contest, P.O. Box 714, New York, NY 10013-0714.
  • Entries must be received by December 11, 2014. No other means of entry accepted.

Leave a Comment telling us how YOU shake it off, and then send in your contest entry! Good luck!

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16. An inside look at music therapy

We have all experienced the effect music can have on our emotions and state of mind. We have felt our spirit lift when a happy song comes on the radio, or a pinging sense of nostalgia when we hear the songs of our childhood. While this link between music and emotion has long been a part of human life, only in recent decades have we had the technology and foundational knowledge to understand music’s effect on our brains in concrete terms. This knowledge has enabled trained professionals to use music therapy to help people with symptoms of depression, addiction, autism, and more.

I recently worked with a group, called Clarity Way, to put together an informative infographic all about modern music therapy and how it works. The infographic shows everything from how the field is growing–over 70 colleges offer a degree in music therapy–to how it can be applied to patients such as children with speech impediments.

Infographic by Clarity Way.
Infographic by Clarity Way.

While the concept of music therapy may be quite old, new techniques and applications are being discovered and developed all the time. We may even start to see more and more hospitals and medical institutions employ full time music therapists as part of their staff in the next few years. It will be interesting to see just how powerful music can be.

Headline image credit: Baby Bloo taking a dip. Photo by Marcus Quigmire. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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17. Once upon a time, part 1

I’m writing from Palermo where I’ve been teaching a course on the legacy of Troy. Myths and fairy tales lie on all sides in this old island. It’s a landscape of stories and the past here runs a live wire into the present day. Within the same hour, I saw an amulet from Egypt from nearly 3000 years ago, and passed a young, passionate balladeer giving full voice in the street to a ballad about a young woman – la baronessa Laura di Carini – who was killed by her father in 1538. He and her husband had come upon her alone with a man whom they suspected to be her lover. As she fell under her father’s stabbing, she clung to the wall, and her hand made a bloody print that can still be seen in the castle at Carini – or so I was told. The cantastorie – the ballad singer – was giving the song his all. He was sincere and funny at the same time as he knelt and frowned, mimed and lamented.

The eye of Horus, or Wadjet, was found in a Carthaginian’s grave in the city and it is still painted on the prows of fishing boats, and worn as a charm all over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, in order to ward off dangers. This function is, I believe, one of the deepest reasons for telling stories in general, and fairy tales in particular: the fantasy of hope conjures an antidote to the pain the plots remember. The street singer was young, curly haired, and had spent some time in Liverpool, he told me later, but he was back home now, and his song was raising money for a street theatre called Ditirammu (dialect for Dithryamb), that performs on a tiny stage in the stables of an ]old palazzo in the district called the Kalsa. Using a mixture of puppetry, song, dance, and mime, the troupe give local saints’ legends, traditional tales of crusader paladins versus dastardly Moors, and pastiches of Pinocchio, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland.

marina2
A balladeer in Palermo. Photograph taken by Marina Warner. Do not use without permission.

Their work captures the way fairy tales spread through different media and can be played, danced or painted and still remain recognisable: there are individual stories which keep shape-shifting across time, and there is also a fairytale quality which suffuses different forms of expression (even recent fashion designs have drawn on fairytale imagery and motifs). The Palermo theatre’s repertoire also reveals the kinship between some history and fairy tale: the hard facts enclosed and memorialised in the stories. Although the happy ending is a distinguishing feature of fairy tales, many of them remember the way things were – Bluebeard testifies to the kinds of marriages that killed Laura di Carini.

A few days after coming across the cantastorie in the street, I was taken to see the country villa on the crest of Capo d’Orlando overlooking the sea, where Casimiro Piccolo lived with his brother and sister. The Piccolo siblings were rich Sicilian landowners, peculiar survivals of a mixture of luxurious feudalism and austere monasticism. A dilettante and dabbler in the occult, Casimiro believed in fairies. He went out to see them at twilight, the hour recommended by experts such as William Blake, who reported he had seen a fairy funeral, and the Revd. Robert Kirk, who had the information on good authority from his parishioners in the Highlands, where fairy abductions, second sight, and changelings were a regular occurrence in the seventeenth century.

The Eye of Horus, By Marie-Lan Nguyen, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Casimiro’s elder brother, Lucio, a poet who had a brief flash of fame in the Fifties, was as solitary, odd-looking, and idiosyncratic as himself, and the siblings lived alone with their twenty servants, in the midst of a park with rare shrubs and cacti from all over the world, their beautiful summer villa filled with a vast library of science, art, and literature, and marvellous things. They slept in beds as narrow as a discalced Carmelite’s, and never married. They loved their dogs, and gave them names that are mostly monosyllables, often sort of orientalised in a troubling way. They range from ‘Aladdin’ to ‘Mameluk’ to ‘Book’ and the brothers built them a cemetery of their own in the garden.

Casimiro was a follower of Paracelsus, who had distinguished the elemental beings as animating matter: gnomes, undines, sylphs and salamanders. Salamanders, in the form of darting, wriggling lizards, are plentiful on the baked stones of the south, but the others are the cousins of imps and elves, sprites and sirens, and they’re not so common. The journal Psychic News, to which Casimiro subscribed, inspired him to try to take photographs of the apparitions he saw in the park of exotic plants around the house. He also ordered various publications of the Society of Psychical Research and other bodies who tried to tap immaterial presences and energies. He was hoping for images like the famous Cottingley images of fairies sunbathing or dancing which Conan Doyle so admired. But he had no success. Instead, he painted: a fairy punt poled by a hobgoblin through the lily pads, a fairy doctor with a bag full of shining golden instruments taking the pulse of a turkey, four old gnomes consulting a huge grimoire held up by imps, etiolated genies, turbaned potentates, and eastern sages. He rarely left Sicily, or indeed, his family home, and he went on painting his sightings in soft, rich watercolour from 1943 to 1970 when he died.

marina3
Photograph by Marina Warner. Do not use without permission.

His work looks like Victorian or Edwardian fairy paintings. Had this reclusive Sicilian seen the crazed visions of Richard Dadd, or illustrations by Arthur Rackham or John Anster Fitzgerald? Or even Disney? Disney was looking very carefully at picture books when he formed the famous characters and stamped them with his own jokiness. Casimiro doesn’t seem to be in earnest, and the long-nosed dwarfs look a little bit like self-mockery. It is impossible to know what he meant, if he meant what he said, or what he believed. But the fact remains, for a grown man to believe in fairies strikes us now as pretty silly.

The Piccolo family’s cousin, close friend and regular visitor was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, the author of The Leopard, and he wrote a mysterious and memorable short story about a classics professor who once spent a passionate summer with a mermaid. But tales of fairies, goblins, and gnomes seem to belong to an altogether different degree of absurdity from a classics professor meeting a siren.

And yet, the Piccolo brothers communicated with Yeats, who held all kinds of beliefs. He smelted his wonderful poems from a chaotic rubble of fairy lore, psychic theories, dream interpretation, divinatory methods, and Christian symbolism: “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.”

Featured image credit: Capo d’Orlando, by Chtamina. CC-BY-SA-2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

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18. Early blues and country music

Beginning in the early 1920s, and continuing through the mid 1940s, record companies separated vernacular music of the American South into two categories, divided along racial lines: the “race” series, aimed at a black audience, and the “hillbilly” series, aimed at a white audience. These series were the precursors to the also racially separated Rhythm & Blues and Country & Western charts, and arguably the source of the frequent racial divisions of today’s recording industry. But a closer examination reveals that the two populations rely heavily on many of the same musical resources, and that early blues and country music exhibit thorough interpenetration.

Many admirers of early blues and country music observe that black and white musicians from the 1920s to the 1940s share much with respect to repertoire and genre, and that the separation of the two on commercial recordings grew out of the prejudices of record companies. It becomes even more apparent how deeply intertwined the two traditions are when we examine blues and country musicians’ shared stock of schemes. Schemes are preexisting harmonic grounds and melodic structures that are common resources for the creation of songs. A scheme generates multiple distinct songs, with different lyrics and titles. Many schemes generated songs in both blues and country music.

There are several different types of blues and country schemes. One type is a harmonic progression that combines with one particular tune. The “Trouble In Mind” scheme, for example, generates both Bertha Chippie Hill’s “Trouble in Mind” (1) and the Hackberry Ramblers’ “Fais Pas Ça” (2). Both use the same harmonic progression, and the two melodies have relatively slight variation. Hill recorded for the “race” series, and the Hackberry Ramblers for the “hillbilly” series.

1. Bertha “Chippie” Hill, “Trouble in Mind” (Bertha “Chippie” Hill—Document Records)

2. Hackberry Ramblers, “Fais Pas Ça” (Jolie Blonde—Arhoolie Productions)

A second type of scheme is a preexisting harmonic progression that musicians associate primarily with a specific tune, which they set to lyrics about various subjects, but which they also use to support original melodies. In the “Frankie and Johnny” scheme, the same melody combines with lyrics about Frankie’s shooting of Johnny (or Albert) (3), the Boll Weevil infestation at the turn of the twentieth century (4), and the gambler Stack O’Lee, who shot and killed fellow gambler Billy Lyons (5). Singers also use the harmonic progression to support original melodies, with lyrics about Frankie (6), Stack O’Lee (7), or another subject (8).

In all of the examples, the same correspondence between lyrics and harmony is evident in the harmonic shift that accompanies the completion of the opening rhyming couplet, on the words “above” (3), “your home” (4), “road” (5), “beer” (6), the first “Stack O’Lee” (7), and “that line” (8), and in the harmonic shifts that accompany emphasized words in the refrain, on the words “man” and “wrong” (3, 5, and 6), “no home” and “no home” (4), “bad man” and “Stack O’Lee” (7), and “bad” and “bad” (8). Four of the recordings given here are from the “race” labels, and two are from the “hillbilly” labels, but the same scheme generates all of them.

Jimmie Rodgers. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Jimmie Rodgers. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Jimmie Rodgers, “Frankie and Johnny” (The Essential Jimmie Rodgers—Sony)

4. W. A. Lindsey, “Boll Weevil” (People Take Warning—Tomkins Square)

5. Ma Rainey, “Stack O’Lee Blues” (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—Yazoo)

6. Charley Patton, “Frankie and Albert” (Charley Patton Complete Recordings—JSP Records)

7. Mississippi John Hurt, “Stack O’Lee” (Before the Blues—Yazoo)

8. Henry Thomas, “Bob McKinney” (Texas Worried Blues—Document Records)

A third type of scheme is a preexisting harmonic progression that musicians use primarily to support original melodies. This type of scheme is the most productive, and often supports countless melodies. The most well-known and productive of this type is the standard twelve-bar blues scheme. All seven of the following recordings (9–15)—four from the “race” series and three from the “hillbilly” series—contain original melodies combined with the standard twelve-bar blues harmonic progression, and all demonstrate the AAB poetic form that typically combines with the scheme, in which singers state the opening A line of a couplet twice and follow it with one statement of the rhyming B line.

9. Ida Cox, “Lonesome Blues” (Ida Cox Complete Recorded Works—Document Records)

10. Charley Patton, “Moon Going Down” (Charlie Patton Founder of the Delta Blues—Mastercopy Pty Ltd)

11. Jesse “Babyface” Thomas, “Down in Texas Blues” (The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of)

12. Lonnie Johnson, “Mr. Johnson’s Blues No. 2” (A Smithsonian Collection of Classic Blues Singers—Sony/Smithsonian)

13. W. Lee O’Daniel & His Hillbilly Boys, “Dirty Hangover Blues” (White Country Blues—Sony)

14. Jesse “Babyface” Thomas, “Down in Texas Blues” (The Stuff that Dreams are Made Of) (White Country Blues—Sony)

15. Carlisle & Ball, “Guitar Blues” (White Country Blues—Sony)

A fourth type of scheme is a preexisting melodic structure whose harmonizations display considerable variance and yet also certain requirements. The following four examples—two by black musicians and two by white musicians—are all realizations of the “Sitting on Top of the World” scheme, and use the same melodic structure. Their harmonizations are in some ways quite similar—for example, all four harmonize the beginning of the second, rhyming line with the same harmony, and accelerate the rate of harmonic change going into the cadence—but the harmonizations vary more than the melodic structure.

16. Tampa Red, “Things ‘Bout Coming My Way No. 2” (Tampa Red the Guitar Wizard—Sony)

17. Bill Broonzy, “Worrying You Off My Mind” (Big Bill Broonzy Good Time Tonight—Sony)

18. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, “Sittin’ on Top of the World” (Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys Anthology—Puzzle Productions)

19. The Carter Family, “I’m Sitting on Top of the World” (On Border Radio—Arhoolie)

Finally, a fifth type of scheme is a preexisting melodic structure for which performers have little shared conception of the harmonic progression. The last four examples—one by a black musician and three by white musicians—are all realizations of the “John Henry” scheme, and use the same melodic structure, but very different harmonic progressions. Riley Puckett, in his instrumental version, uses only one harmony throughout (20). Woody Guthrie uses two harmonies (21). The Williamson Brothers & Curry also use two harmonies, but arrive at a much different harmonization than Guthrie (22). Leadbelly uses three harmonies (23).

20. Riley Puckett, “A Darkey’s Wail” (White Country Blues—Sony)

21. Woody Guthrie, “John Henry” (Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs—Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

22. Williamson Brothers & Curry, “Gonna Die with My Hammer in My Hand” (Anthology of American Folk Music—Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

23. Leadbelly, “John Henry” (Lead Belly’s Last Sessions— Smithsonian Folkways Recordings)

Record companies presented American vernacular music in the context of a racial divide, but examining the common stock of schemes helps to reveal how extensively black and white musical traditions are intertwined. There are stylistic differences between blues and country music, but many differences lie on the surface, while on a deeper level the two populations frequently rely on the same musical foundations.

Headline image credit: Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley. Asheville, North Carolina. Public domain via Library of Congress.

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19. Playing for the Commandant by Suzy Zail

In spring 1944, Hungary was occupied by German soldiers and in the city of Debrecen, a ghetto was formed at the end of April.  Thinking her family was lucky because their apartment fell within the walls of the ghetto, Hanna Mendel continued to believe she would be able to attend Budapest Conservatorium of Music, where she had just been selected for a hard won place as a piano student.

But in the middle of a night in June 1944, a knock on the door by officers informed them that the Mendel family,  parents, high-spirited, defiant older sister Erika and Hanna, 15,  was ordered to assemble outside the synagogue at 8 the next morning.   Before leaving, Hanna rips the C-sharp from her beloved piano and takes it with her.  The next morning the Mendels, along with all of Debrecen's Jews, begin their long trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.

Once they arrive at Auschwitz, the family is split up, but luckily Hanna, Erika and their mother are able to stay together in the same barrack, even sharing a bunk.  Put to work in the quarry, one day Hanna sees her music teacher playing piano with an ensemble made of up inmates and called the Birkenau Women's Orchestra.  Piri thinks that maybe she can get Hanna a place in it.

When that doesn't work out, Hanna is sent to audition with five other inmates for the camp's cruel commandant.  Believing she doesn't stand a chance at being chosen, the commandant leave the choice to his totally disinterested son, Karl Jager, who points to Hanna.

Day after day, Hanna trudges to the commandant's house to await the order to play for him and any guests he may have.  The only perks to playing for the commandant is a warm shower everyday (the commandant detests dirt), shoes, a warm coat and a warm house while she's there.  The only extra food is leftovers she must steal and risk getting caught and shot.

Gradually, however, she discovers that Karl Jager harbors his own dangerous secrets and is not as disinterested or as indifferent as she originally thought.  When he treats her kindly, Hanna finds herself more and more attracted to him.  But returning to the barrack at the end of each day, she sees that her mother and Erika are cold, starving and barely surviving.  To make matters worse, her mother, who had started going mad during the roundup in Debrecen, is having more and more trouble surviving the selections each time they are done.

Their one hope is that the Red Army is really moving east as rumored around the camp and that they arrive in time.

Playing for the Commandant is certainly a very readable book.  I read it in one day.  It is told in the first person by Hanna, a very observant 15 year old and on many levels her voice rings true.  Her descriptions of the camp, of the cruelty inflicted on innocent people are spot on.  When she talks about the lice, the smells, the moldy bread or about how skeleton thin her sister and the other women are becoming, you can clearly see and smell what she is describing.

Despite everything, Hanna'a father had told her to survive at any cost to tell the world what happened to the Jews of Europe and so, she is determined to do what her father wanted.

But when she talks about the danger of stealing scraps of leftover food, or of  living under the pressure of always having to please the commandant, Hanna's fate feels just as capricious or dangerous as her fellow inmates.  For example, when the gardener, a Jew, steps on the grave of the commandant's dog, he is shot in the head for it.  But, when a girl at the commandant's house drops a tray with tea and cakes on it, I thought for sure that when she is removed from the house, she is also killed, but she shows up later, and I have to admit, I was surprised to see her again in the novel.

But, Hanna's growing romance with Karl is very most disturbing and a real flaw in the novel.  I guess I thought Hanna should be thinking more about food than a boy.  She didn't get that much more to eat than her sister, and what she got, she shared with Erika.  Also, at one point, Hanna gets angry at the people, ordinary farmers, who watch her walk to and from the commandant's house every day and do nothing.  I got mad at Karl for being against what the Nazis were doing to the Jews, but who passively sits by and watches it all happen.  I would be curious to know how others feel about this part of an otherwise good novel.  

Yet, despite this criticism, in the end, I thought that Playing for the Commandant is definitely worth reading for its message of survival and hope, but not for its gratuitous romance.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This was an EARC received from NetGalley

Though Playing for the Commandant is a complete work of fiction, Jews actually were often used to play music for the Nazis.  Here is the obituary of Natalie Karp, a famous pianist who played for Amon Goeth's birthday on December 9, 1943.  She and her sister allowed to live because of the beautiful piano playing that night.  Goeth was the cruel commandant of the Kraków-Plaszów Concentrtion Camp in Poland (you may recall Goeth from Schindler's List).




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20. In person online: the human touch

What is the human touch in online learning? How do you know if it’s there? What does it look and feel like? My epiphany on this topic occurred when a student told me “I thought I would have done better if I had a real teacher.”

This pronouncement triggered a cascade of questions: Why didn’t she see me as real? Because we weren’t in the same physical space? The physical separation of instructor and students creates a psychological and communications gap, and the missing element is the perception of people as real in an online environment — the human touch. Did she think the computer produced the instruction and the teacher interaction? How could this happen when I felt deeply involved in the course — posting detailed reading guides and supplementary materials, leading and participating in discussions, and giving individual feedback on assignments? Was technology getting in the way or was it the way I was using it? In the online classroom we hope that the technology becomes transparent and that students just have a sense of people interacting with other people in an online learning community. And this issue isn’t limited to students. Instructors are sometimes concerned that they won’t be able to achieve the energy of the face-to-face classroom and the electricity of an in-person discussion if they teach online. It’s a matter of presence and personal style.

Internet Cafe after Jean Beraud
Internet Cafe after Jean Beraud. Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

We can create the human touch by establishing an online presence – a sense of really being there and being together for the course. To be perceived as real in the online classroom we need to project ourselves socially and emotionally, and find ways to let our individual personality shine through whatever communications media we’re using. We can look to our own face-to-face teaching style for ways to humanize an online course. What do we do in a face-to-face classroom to make ourselves more approachable? We talk with students as they arrive for class, spice up lectures with touches of humor and relevant personal stories, treat discussions as conversations, and sometimes depart from what we planned so we can follow more promising asides.

To translate these techniques for the online classroom we can look to the issue of physical separation. We use the terms “face-to-face” and “online,” but online isn’t synonymous with faceless and impersonal. In fact, faces can contribute to the human touch. Pictures of the instructor and the students, brief instructional videos, and video-enabled chat all provide images of real people. They add a human touch and contribute to a more vivid sense of presence — of being perceived as real. And posting short introductory autobiographies helps course participants establish personal connections that pave the way for open communication and collaboration. With the use of strategies like these the technology may begin to recede from consciousness, the focus can shift from technology to people, and ultimately the technology may even seem to disappear as people just interact with each other.

Once you’ve established a sense of presence, you want to maintain and extend it. Regular, brief, informal announcements like those we typically make in a face-to-face class — a welcome message at the beginning of a course, reminders of due dates for assignments, current news items relevant to course content — help make our presence felt and assure students that we’re there, we’re working along with them, and we’re interested in their progress and success. Using our normal conversational tone for any online instructional posts (the agenda for the week, descriptions of readings, instructions or prompts for discussion posts) reinforces that sense of personal style. A practice of poking your head in to asynchronous discussions and making brief comments lets students know you’re there and available for help, but avoids the impression of dominating the discussion. Audio or video-enabled synchronous meetings provide a place where people can be themselves, join in informal discussions, show their enthusiasm for their subject matter with individual presentations, or experience the energy of brainstorming sessions — much as they would in a face-to-face classroom. All these techniques can contribute to that human touch, helping us reveal our real selves and engage our students in a vital online learning community.

What personal touches have you used online? Have you found particularly successful techniques you’d suggest others try?

Headline image credit: Headphones. CC0 via Pixabay.

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21. An interview with Tracey Laird

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Austin City Limits, the longest running live music show on television, we spoke to author Tracey E. W. Laird, author of Austin City Limits: A History, about the challenges the show has faced, the ways that it has adapted to a rapidly changing music industry, and what makes ACL perennially appealing to viewers.

What is the biggest challenge that Austin City Limits (ACL) has faced over the years?

One of the show’s biggest challenges for the first 25 years was funding. In the ups and downs of the public broadcasting world, largely dependent on fundraising and philanthropy, Austin PBS affiliate KLRU could never be certain that the show’s current year would not be the last. This anxiety peaked during the mid-to-late 1990s with a change in structure for PBS program distribution. Stations that once received Austin City Limits as part of their basic subscription package suddenly had to pay extra for the show. To make matters worse, a PBS competitor, Sessions at W. 54th, launched around this time, with slicker production and full Sony underwriting (I still recall seeing Beck on that show, where his performance was interspersed with footage of him walking down the street, looking hip in an all-white suit). Ultimately, for reasons I talk about in the book, Sessions survived only 3 years. That whole crisis time — when Austin newspapers ran stories about whether or not Austin City Limits would endure — led to a major turning point when the people behind Austin City Limits made the radical decision to redefine its modus operandi.

How has ACL managed to transcend the many changes that have taken place in the way we listen to and discover music?

ACL producers made a conscious decision right around the 25th anniversary to operate differently, recognizing that changes in the television industry and in the way people engage with music demanded flexibility and openness to new ideas. The alternative was obsolescence. They very deliberately articulated the core vision and mission for the show in broad musical terms that crossed a wide range of genres. Sincerity and quality are characteristics that might apply equally to, say, Esperanza Spaulding and Brad Paisley, Grizzly Bear and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They also conceived ACL as a musical experience that includes the core television broadcast but expands outside it as well. Festival, venue, DVD, website, and so on, are all predicated on an outlook that is open to building on that core in new ways without diluting it.

How are the live performances on Austin City Limits different from other live performances?

That “live-ness” distinguishes ACL from other examples of televised musical performance. It goes back to the show’s beginnings. Its originators were motivated mainly by their own transcendent experiences seeing live music. Trying to capture that experience has been the central goal for Austin City Limits, despite any shifts in equipment, style, or genre. That differs from the central goal for most television productions, normally to produce a highly polished end result that fits the time constraints for commercial broadcasts. They require performers to repeat a song, sometimes multiple times, to allow the best possible camera angles and to tailor a song to fit time parameters shaped by commercial rather than artistic concerns. ACL, by contrast, lets its cameras and mics capture the music that has always been center. It is so unusual to see a televised performance unfolding according to the energy and communication between musicians and a live, interactive audience. It’s so simple, yet so rare.

What is your favorite ACL performance, and why?

If I had to pick one it would probably be Tom Waits in 1979 (Season 4). Most of all, it’s a fantastic performance, but it also represents an early turning point for Austin City Limits when it sloughed off any bounded, over-determined expectations for who might appear on its stage. It also shows how important the show’s PBS context is for its long and momentous history – no other media outlet in the United States would have aired an hour of Tom Waits. It is a treasure. But, then, over the years there are so many episodes about which I might say the same. Fats Domino is another one I will never forget. Oftentimes my favorite episode is the one I’ve just seen. I recently watched an episode with Raphael Saadiq that I had missed — they had it streaming on the “acltv” website — and I was excited about his music in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I had just heard a studio recording. I had a similar experience last year when I saw a DVD of a performance by Susan Tedeschi. This happens over and over again with Austin City Limits.

What’s one of your favorite behind-the-scenes stories about ACL?

I love the stories the crew tells about their work, like when sound engineer David Hough explained how they cover up the tally lights on the cameras so that performers never know which one is feeding into the master cut. A little trick like that helps insure that the performer stays focused on performing for the audience in the room. I also love to hear crew members talk about particular shows that stand out to them. To hear them talk underscores the very personal nature of musical performance; a performance that might leave me flat can deeply move someone else. Everyone there loves the work, so it’s a joy to listen to a staff member reflect. To return to Hough, for instance, when I interviewed him he went into a kind of reverie talking about his approach to mixing the sound for a given show. He’s a wizard – the end results sound good whether you listened through a mono TV speaker in 1976 (as in the first full season) or a digital 5.1 Dolby surround sound. He has been with the show that long, and listening to a wizard talk about his magic is fascinating. Many other crew members are equally inspirational to talk with. Outside that, there are well-traveled stories, the most famous of which describes how the electricity went off just as a performance (by Kris Kristofferson) was about to begin. 800 or so people filed down six flights of stairs and out the building via flashlights and cigarette lighters, amiably singing “London Homesick Blues” together. Anecdotes don’t get much better than that.

Featured image: Night view of Austin skyline and Lady Bird Lake as seen from Lou Neff Point. Photo by LoneStarMike. CC BY 3.0n via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. Call for Submissions: Lockjaw Magazine

Lockjaw Magazine is currently accepting submissions for its first issue! YES! 

Submissions email:

submissionsATlockjawmagazineDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . ) 


Website 

We're a biannual, online-only journal publishing literary ephemera, visual art, music, and video. Obviously we want your best work, it hardly needs to be said (but we'll say it, just to put you at ease.) Beyond that: we don’t care about genre. There are lots of places to get Poetry and Fiction and while we’ll almost certainly publish some, we’re more interested in your unclassifiables, your orphans. This isn’t to say we’re averse to stanzas or stories (we’re not), but if you’re sending us a formal sonnet about your dog because that’s what poetry is supposed to look like, we will probably acknowledge that your dog seems awesome and politely leave it at that. We’re interested in the words and the sounds and the images, not so much conventional interpretations of genre.

Hopping off the soapbox: submissions are open through November 30; please visit our website for detailed guidelines and other stuff. Or throw caution to the wind and send your stuff to:


submissions(at)lockjawmagazine(dot)com (Change (at) to @ and (dot) to . )

But yeah, read the guidelines first. They're kind of funny.

Lockjaw Loves You,

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23. R5 Halloween Traditions

r5R5 Halloween Traditions

We caught up with guys and girl of R5 to talk about their favorite Halloween memories. Just imagine one-year-old Ross Lynch in a little, baby bear costume. Do you have that image in your head? OK. Now you’re ready to read on . . .

Q: Do you guys have any cool Halloween costumes or traditions?Ross: When we were little, our mom used to match us because she wanted us to feel like a team. That was her idea behind it. And we all dressed up as Zorro, all together.
Rydel: I was the girl.
Ross: Oh, you were the girl. But we all had our hats and our swords and were all, like, sword fighting and all of that stuff. That was a good October.
Rocky: We kept that trend going. Actually just two years ago, we were all the Avengers.
Rocky: Except he wasn’t.
Ratliff: I wasn’t.
Rocky: But he [referring to his brothers] was Captain America. He was Iron Man. I was Thor.
Rydel: I was Black Widow and our little brother was the Hulk.
Rocky: Yeah. So, we kept it going. It was pretty fun.

R5

Image courtesy of Disney Channel

Rydel: Oh, my grandma also hand-sewed all these bear costumes. So there was one year . . . actually a few years in a row we were all bears.
Rydel: We were really little.
Rocky: I was probably, like, two years old.
Rydel: Ross was, like, one maybe, and I had a light fur and they all had dark fur.
Ratliff: Oh, that’s cute.
Rydel: I think even mom had one too. It was just a family of bears.

Ross: You know what I’ve realized about Halloween though? I’ve never been something scary.
Ratliff: I was something scary once. One time I didn’t know what to get so I got a big whoopie cushion.
Ross: That’s scary?
Ratliff: No, I’m getting to it. It was a big whoopee cushion and I filled it with something and then I put a mask on, and I would just act like I was asleep on my front lawn. And then people would come and I would be like, “Rahhhhh,” and I’d scare them. And they were like, “Ahh!” That was scary.
Ross: With a whoopie cushion?
Ratliff: It was a whoopie cushion but I had, like, one of those hockey masks on.
Rydel: They didn’t know he was in it.
Ratliff: Yeah. And then I acted like…I was just like a . . . a prop.
Ross: Dude, there’s better ones where people act like a scarecrow.
Ratliff: Oh yeah.
Riker: I love Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays.

Interview by Marie Morreale

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24. 2014 AES Convention: shrinking opportunities in music audio

Checking the website for the Audio Engineering Society (AES) convention in Los Angeles, I took note of the swipes promoting the event. Each heading was framed as follows: If it’s about ____________, it’s at AES. The slide show contained nine headings that are to be a part of the upcoming convention (in no particular order because you start at whatever point in the slide show you happened to log-in to the site).

  • Archiving & Restoration
  • Networked Audio
  • Broadcast & Streaming
  • Product Design
  • Recording
  • Project Studios
  • Sound for Picture
  • Live Sound
  • Game Sound

The list was interesting to me on many levels, but one significant one that struck me immediately was the absence of mixing and mastering (my main areas of work in audio). A relatively short time ago almost half of these categories did not exist. There was no streaming, no project studios, no networked audio and no game sound. So what is the state of affairs for the young audio engineering student or practitioner?

Yamaha M7CL digital live sound mixing console left half angled
Yamaha M7CL digital live sound mixing console left half angled. CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, of the four new fields mentioned, three of them represent diminished opportunities in the field of music recording, with one a singular beacon of hope.

Streaming audio represents the brave new world of audio delivery systems. As these services continue to capture more of the consumer market share they continue to diminish artists ability to earn a decent living (or pay an accomplished audio engineer). A friend of mine with 3 CD releases recently got his Spotify statement and saw that he had more that 60,000 streams of his music. His check was for $17. CDs don’t pay as well as vinyl records used to, downloads don’t pay as well as CDs, and streaming doesn’t pay as well as downloads (not to mention “file-sharing” which doesn’t pay anything). Sure, there may be jobs at Pandora and Spotify for a few engineers helping with the infrastructure of audio streaming, but generally streaming is another brick in the wall that is restricting audio jobs by shrinking the earning capacity of recording artists.

Project studios now dominate most recording projects outside the reasonably well-funded major label records and even most of that work is done in project studios (though they might be quite elaborate facilities). Project studios rarely have spots for interns or assistant engineers so they provide no entree positions for those trying to come up in the engineering ranks. Not only does that limit the available sources of income, but it also prevents the kind of mentoring that actually trains young engineers in the fine points of running sessions. Of course, almost no project studios provide regular, dependable work or with any kind of benefits.

Networked audio systems provide new, faster, and more elaborate connectivity of audio using digital technology. While there may be opportunities in the tech realm for engineers designing and building digital audio networks there is, once again, a shrinking of opportunities for those aspiring to making commercial music recordings. In many instances, these networking systems allow fewer people to do more—a boon only to a small number of audio engineers working with music recordings who can now do remote recordings without having to be present and without having to employ local recording engineers and studios to complete projects with musicians in other locations.

The one bright spot here is Game Sound. The explosive world of video games is providing many good jobs for audio engineers who want to record music. These recordings have become more interesting, higher quality, and featuring more prominent and talented composers and musicians than virtually any other area of music production. The only reservation here is that the music is intended as secondary to the game play (of course) and there is a preponderance of violent video games and therefore musical styles that tend to fit well into a violent atmosphere. However, this is changing with a much broader array of game types achieving new levels of popularity (Mindcraft!).

I do not fault AES for pointing to these areas of interest for audio engineers (other than the apparent absence of mixing and mastering). These are the places where significant activity, development, and change are occurring. They’re just not very encouraging for those of us who became audio engineers because of our deep love of music and our desire to be engaged in its production.

 Headline Image: Sound Mixing via CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

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25. Topo’s Piano, by Harvey Stevenson | Dedicated Review

Topo's Piano encourages and inspires young budding musicians to create their own melodies and discover the many joys and gifts of music.

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