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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Music, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. An inside look at AMS/SMT Meeting

In about a month, the American Musicological Society will again gather to confer, listen, perform, and celebrate. Our Annual Meeting this year will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s largest city. We meet from Thursday to Sunday, 6-9 November, downtown at the Wisconsin Center and the Hilton Hotel. This year we are joined by the Society for Music Theory in what promises to be a very special meeting.

Photo by Robert Judd of past AMS meeting
AMS Photo of 2009 Annual Meeting

The program committees of the AMS and SMT have been hard at work assembling a rich selection of papers spanning a wide array of topics, from chant and medieval motets to Steve Reich, Dolly Parton, and almost everything in between. The program is especially rich in sessions devoted to American music and music and politics, with two sessions on World War I to mark this year’s centennial. Among the newer approaches appearing on the program are sessions on music and activism, arts efficacy, and intellectual property. Joint sessions featuring collaborations between AMS and SMT members include a panel on Thomas Adès, alternative-format sessions entitled “Queer Music Theory: Interrogating Notes of Sexuality” and “Why Voice Now?”, and a how-to session on preparing poster presentations that includes examples: eleven poster presentations on empirical approaches to music theory and musicology. In addition to the usual wide range of evening sessions presented by AMS committees and study groups, other evening sessions explore such topics as hymnological research, post-1900 musical patronage, the pedagogy of seventeenth- century music, and digital musicology.

Special musical performances over the weekend include Milwaukee’s Early Music Now presenting Quicksilver (Boston/New York) in a program entitled “The Invention of Chamber Music,” the Milwaukee Symphony performing  Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony and a premiere of Marc Neikrug’s Bassoon Concerto, David Schulenberg in a lecture-recital on C. P. E. Bach (it is the 300th anniversary of his birth this year), and male soprano Robert Crowe and the group Il Furioso in concert entitled “From Carissimi to Croft: The Influence of the Italian Solo Motet in English Sacred Solo Music of the Restoration.”

There’s lots more at this gathering — book fair, professional development workshops, and (not least) dozens of alumni receptions. It’s like a big reunion at times! But the most important aspect: presenting the latest research in musicology and music theory — will be central, and will send ripples well beyond the meeting, as presentations are honed and prepared for publication at our blog, Musicology Now, or in our journal, JAMS. It’s an exciting time–please come join us!

Headline Image: Cello Detail Instrument String Musical. CC0 via Pixabay

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10. Temperamental artists, unexpected hits, and Bond

Today, 5 October, we celebrate James Bond Day, and this year has been a great one for 007. In January, both song and score for Skyfall won Grammys, and 18 September marked the 50th anniversary of the general release of the film Goldfinger in UK cinemas. Shirley Bassey’s extraordinary rendition of the title song played a key role in its success. In these extracts from The Music of James Bond, Jon Burlingame recounts the stories behind some of the great title songs.

Goldfinger

More significantly, the public seemed to be paying equal attention to Goldfinger’s bold, brassy Barry score. “The musical soundtrack is slickly furnished by John Barry, who also composed the title song,” noted Variety’s film critic; its music critic later praised the album as “the strongest Bond film score to date.” In the United Kingdom, the soundtrack album made the charts on October 31 and reached number 14. But in America, it appeared on December 12 and rocketed up the charts, reaching number 1 on March 20, 1965. It edged out the Mary Poppins soundtrack (which in turn had displaced Beatles ’65 at the top) and remained the most popular album in America for three weeks.

Goldfinger would be the only Bond soundtrack album to reach the top of the charts. Barry was nominated for a Grammy Award, and although there was no Oscar attention—for Barry, that would come later, and not for James Bond—there was the satisfaction of worldwide commercial success. United Artists Records released Barry’s driving rock instrumental of Goldfinger (with Flick on guitar) and, a few months later, an LP titled John Barry Plays Goldfinger (acompilation of his arrangements from the first three Bond films plus a handful of easy-listening tunes).

Thunderball

The whole song was written over a mid-September weekend. And Welshborn singer Tom Jones, an old friend of Black’s who had already had two top-10 hits earlier that year (“It’s Not Unusual” and “What’s New Pussycat?”), quickly agreed to sing it. Black liked his “steely, manly voice.” Britain’s New Musical Express announced Jones’s signing on September 24, and they went into the studio on October 11 to lay down the track.

“I was thrilled to bits when they asked me to do Thunderball,” Jones remembered many years later. “There was a connection, because Les Reed, who wrote a lot of my big songs, was John Barry’s pianist. The most memorable thing about the session was hitting that note at the end. John told me to hold on to this very high note for as long as possible.” Jones’s now-legendary final note lasts nine full seconds, and in the isolated vocal recording he can be heard running out of breath, although that last part is buried in the final mix with the orchestra. “I closed my eyes, hit the note and held on,” Jones said on another occasion. “When I opened my eyes the room was spinning. I had to grab hold of the booth I was in to steady myself. If I hadn’t, I would not have passed out, but maybe fallen down. But it paid off, because it is a long note and it’s high.”

Diamonds Are Forever

Eighteen years earlier, Marilyn Monroe had sung “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to iconic status in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Black’s words would make a Bond song equally famous. “Diamonds Are Forever” is more about fleeting relationships and less about the permanence of those shiny jewels that are often the remnant of a love affair—although one phrase in particular would result in the song becoming slightly infamous, and possibly costing it an Academy Award nomination.

It’s in the second verse: “hold one up and then caress it / touch it, stroke it and undress it.” “Seediness was what we wanted,” Black would later explain. “Sleaziness, theatrical vulgarity. It had to be over the top.” Or, as Barry himself would reveal in numerous interviews 20 years later, that particular verse was more about male genitalia than about precious stones: “Write it as though she’s thinking about a penis,” had been Barry’s advice to Black.

Moonraker

Williams met with Sinatra and his longtime aide “Sarge” Weiss at Sinatra’s office on the old General Services lot in Hollywood. “The amazing thing is, there was nothing there to play the demo on,” Williams recalled. “Sarge finally came up with a rusty old portable radio with a cassette player, mono, salty from the beach. And that’s what Frank heard the song on. And he loved it. ‘Marvelous, Mr. Paulie, marvelous.’ This from Music Royalty to me, and I was thrilled,” Williams said.

Sinatra opened a briefcase, which contained his datebook (and a .38, Williams noted), and they discussed possible dates for recording. “I left his office walking on air. We were all delighted. Then Frank was out. I don’t know what happened but, I was told at the time, Cubby and Frank had a big fight and he was history.”

No one remembers for certain why Sinatra ultimately declined to sing “Moonraker.” It may be that he had second thoughts, or that his ambitious Trilogy album was already in preparation and he preferred to concentrate on that. The story of a falling-out between Sinatra and Broccoli may be apocryphal, because Frank and Barbara Sinatra were all smiles at the New York premiere of Moonraker on June 28.

Skyfall

The final honors to come their way were the Grammy Awards, nearly a year later because of the later eligibility period of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Both song and score were nominated and, on January 26, 2014, both won. Newman was present to accept his award. Skyfall had been a worldwide sensation: it became the highest-grossing film ever in Great Britain, taking in over £94 million in just six weeks. It eventually earned more than $304 million in the U.S. to rank as the fourth highest-grossing film of 2012. Its final worldwide box-office tally of $1.1 billion propelled it to the no. 8 spot among all-time box-office leaders.

Its title song had become the first Bond music ever to win an Academy Award, its score only the second ever nominated. By the end of 2013, the Adele single had gone platinum, selling over 2 million units, while Newman’s score album had sold over 30,000. Sam Mendes was signed to direct the next Bond film, set for release in October 2015. Bond, and Bond music, was bigger than ever.

Image credit: Golden Girl © Eon Productions, 1964

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11. What is the most important issue in music education today?

Fall is upon us. The temperature is falling, the leaves are turning, and students are making their way back at school. To get a glimpse into the new school year, we asked some key music educators share their thoughts on the most important issues in music education today.

  *    *    *    *    *

“The history of music education in the United States is integrally linked to general educational policies and initiatives, as well as American culture and society. Rationales for why music is an important component of students’ education have utilized utilitarian, aesthetic, and praxial arguments, often attempting to connect the goals of music learning with the educational priorities of the day. In the “data driven,” high stakes testing milieu of today’s educational reform movement, music educators find themselves having to defend not only music programs, but also the teaching profession in general. Political rhetoric and shrinking budgets have too often resulted in the false choice of ‘basic subjects’ over other areas of study, such as music and art, that can provide meaningful ways of understanding the world and equipping individuals to live a ‘good life.’ In this environment it is important that music teachers remain strong, articulate advocates for the value of music in the complete education of children, and to not resort to superficial reasons for music’s inclusion in school curricula. All persons deserve the opportunity to experience a life enriched through active musical participation that includes creating, performing, and listening to music. Robust school music programs help to provide the foundational understandings to make that possible. As Karl Gehrkens, former president of the Music Supervisors National Conference, stated in 1923, ‘Music for every child; every child for music.’”

Dr. William I. Bauer, Associate Professor and Director of the Online Master of Music in Music Education program at the University of Florida, and author of Music Learning Today: Digital Pedagogy for Creating, Performing, and Responding to Music

  *    *    *    *    *

“Access to quality music instruction is the most important issue in music education today. Some American children have a daily opportunity to make music during school with a certified music teacher who assists them in creating music, performing music, and responding to music. However, many children do not have this opportunity. In some cases, children may have daily access to a music teacher, but that music teacher may not organize instruction in a way that offers the opportunity to create, perform, and respond to music. Many children have access to a music teacher only a few times per week and oftentimes the lack of resources for that music program leads to a subpar experience for students. Due to a lack of state level policy regarding music education, many children have no music teacher in their school building. Although there are rich opportunities for outside of school community music in the United States, many children cannot afford to pay for music instruction outside of the school setting. Citizens interested in making a difference in music education must advocate for a well-prepared, certified music teacher in every school building. Music needs to be mandated at least twice a week in a dedicated space at the elementary level and every secondary student should have the opportunity to participate in choral, instrumental, and general music.”

Colleen M. Conway, Professor of Music Education, School of Music, Theatre & Dance, University of Michigan, Editor-in-Chief of Arts Education Policy Review, and the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research in American Music Education

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“The most important issue in music education today is one that has existed for as long as has formal music education: assessment. The term raises many eyebrows, and I believe in viewing assessment for both its positive attributes and for the dangers it can present. Assessment of student work is vital for accountability, curriculum development, and instructional planning, but assessment can be dangerous when it accounts only for standardized measures, when it is used punitively, and when it does not properly inform educational decision-making. Good assessment of student work in music should help students to understand their own progress, and allow them to explore music creatively. Assessment of music teachers’ work is just as crucial because music teachers must be outstanding musicians, pedagogical thinkers, and instructors. Similar to assessment of student work, assessment of teachers should help to inform teachers of their strengths and areas for growth. Good assessment of teachers should provide feedback for improvement of planning and instruction, and should encourage teachers to incorporate new ideas, technologies, and types of interaction with their students. Assessments of teachers should be based on their actual performance rather than on that of their students, as is the unfortunate case in many high-stakes testing scenarios. Thoughtful, positively focused assessment can be a powerful motivator for educational progress and change, and can help students and teachers alike to participate creatively in music.”

Jay Dorfman, Assistant Professor in Music Education at Boston University, and author of Theory and Practice of Technology-Based Music Instruction

*   *   *   *   *

“With the current trend towards turning student evaluations into teacher accountability measures, we risk narrowly focusing music education to those skills based elements that can be easily measured.  As music teacher educators we need to resist the urge to succumb to the standardized testing movement and broaden our students’ notions of what it means to be musical. We need to ensure a learner centered music education for all students that fosters creative thinking and divergent outcomes, such as composing, improvising and other forms of sonic exploration and expression through traditional and non-traditional approaches to music making.”

Gena R. Greher, Professor of Music Education at University of Massachusetts Lowell, and co-author of Computational Thinking in Sound: Teaching the Art and Science of Music and Technology

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“The most important issue in music education today is the lack of understanding shown by policy makers, school leaders, local politicians, and governments of the value of systematic and successful music learning across the lifespan, especially for our children and young people. Engaging in active music learning over a sustained period generates measurable physical, psychological and social benefits (as well as cultural benefit) that are long-term for the individuals and groups involved. The scientific evidence of music’s value (from clinical science, neuroscience, and social science) is increasing every day. Although we don’t yet understand clearly all the mechanisms of how music learning can promote long-term benefit, there can be no doubt that music can make a powerful and positive difference to health (physical, emotional, cognitive), whilst supporting different aspects of intellectual functioning (such as literacy) and fostering social inclusion and cohesion amongst and across diverse groups. Investing in high quality music education should be a priority for all, not just the lucky few, because music can transform lives for the better, across the lifespan.”

Graham Welch, Professor, Institute of Education, University of London, and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Music Education, Volume 1 and Volume 2

Headline Image: music-classical-sheet-music-piano. Creative Commons License via Pixabay

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12. Piper at the Gates of Dawn Considered

Back when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd , the band recorded its first album at Abbey Road Studio at the same time as The Beatles recorded Sergeant Pepper’s there and The Pretty Things were recording S F Sorrow. They called it, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Flash forward to this century and a habit I picked up in Amsterdam and can’t seem to shake. The habit is listening to the World Service on the radio all night. It’s the CBC All Night Radio here, the BBC World Service there (I think). A lot of countries contribute reports to the World Service. I don’t really understand how it works but there’s nothing quite like laying snug in your bed, free to fall asleep or listen to Holland, Sweden, Korea or Poland talk about their news. For instance, the other night there was a report from somewhere near Alice Springs, Australia about a race they held between honey bees and homing pigeons. The bees won. Of course, it you’re tired and working and need to get up early in the morning, it’s unwise to indulge this habit. You lose too much sleep. At the moment, though, I am indulging this habit and the other night I must have dozed off and awoke to a female voice with an English accent declaring that the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows proved his hidden but genuine pantheism. Kenneth Grahame was born in Scotland and spent all of his working life in a bank in London. According to Wikipedia he died in 1932 and The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908. As I rolled around in the dark, it occurred to me that Van Morrison had included a song on The Healing Game cd called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The chorus is “The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn”. And Fred Armstrong out in Newfoundland actually talked on CBC radio about The Wind in the Willows. It was his opinion that the book was not a children’s book at all, that it was really written for adults. There was no script for the show but he said he went over the top a little when he called it, “Shakespeare with fur”. It’s probably the combination of poetry and music in Van Morrison’s song that appeals to me so much. When I actually read chapter seven which is called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Grahame’s book, I discovered poetic language there too. In fact, Van used several phrases verbatim from the book or almost verbatim. When Grahame uses “the daybreak not so very far off”, Morrison uses “the daybreak not so very far away” and when Grahame writes “the light grew steadily stronger”, Morrison sings “grew steadily strong”. And Fred, an old friend and veteran reporter (30 years) just published his first fictional novel, Happiness of Fish (Jesperson Publishing., 2007) in St John’s. He’s a creative soul, one who never gives up on his dreams. If he was interested in the book, there must be something to it. So I asked him and here’s what he said, “Wind in the Willows is a deep little book about a rather Taoist bunch of beasties sitting around writing poems and banqueting between adventures....” “Opinion seems to be split on the Pan chapter of WIW. People love it or hate it.... I think WIW is a comfortably sentimental look at nature as deity. I think anyone who has been scared at sea or lost in the woods and come home can handle the balance between a nature that creates us and takes us away or maybe doesn’t. There’s also something appealing about a deity that performs a Men in Black mind wipe after you trip over him. Ratty and Mole don’t remember him when it’s all over. They take the little otter off to breakfast rather than sitting down and writing the Book of Revelation.” The words in Van’s writing which are taken straight out of chapter seven are:” heavenly music” and “song-dream” though one doesn’t have a dash connecting them and the other does. Graham writes “when the vision had vanished” and Morrison writes “vision vanished” a difference in tense only. Here is the description of Pan in Wikipedia: ‘Pan: in Greek religion and mythology, is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. His name originates from the word paein, meaning to pasture. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. He is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of Spring. The wikipedia article goes on to say that “accounts of Pan’s geneology are so varied that it must lie buried deep in mythic time.” and that “panic” is derived from his name. The story recounted in Chapter seven of Wind in the Willows is a simple one: Mole and Ratty search for the lost Portly, son of Otter, and find him safe and saved by Pan after they are led there in their rowboat by his magical piping. Van Morrison uses words like “awe”, “wonder”, enchanted” and “spellbound” to describe the characters’ state as they follow Pan’s music to find little Portly. Grahame emphasizes Pan’s insistence that the wild creatures’ experience with him will be forgotten when it’s over. Like hypnotism, “You will awake and remember nothing” Wikipedia includes all kinds of interesting facts like, “Pan is famous for his sexual powers and is often depicted with an erect phallus.” and “Pan’s greatest conquest was that of the moon goddess, Selene.” along with references to the symbolism of Satan, Romanticism and Neopaganism and “A modern account of several purported meetings with Pan is given by R. Ogilvie Crombie in the books, The Findhorn Garden (Harper and Rowe, 1975) and The Magic of Findhorn (Harper and Rowe, 1975).” Pan is not named in the book, just described, but in the song Morrison calls him “the great god, Pan” when he echoes Grahame’s insistence that the animals were not afraid of him despite his reputation. It is the only song on The Healing Game (1997) which has no percussion in it. Just Van’s vocals as he plays acoustic guitar with a dobro (which I can’t hear probably because of the quality of my sound system), and a piano with Brian Kennedy’s vocal backings and Paddy Maloney on Uilleann pipes and whistle. The Uilleann Pipes, a type of Irish bagpipe, aren’t apparently related to the Pan Pipes but their effect in the song is an ethereal, delicate one. When you see the innocent willow leaves on the cover and the cartoon characters with which it’s illustrated, the same impression is left by the book as when you see Van Morrison’s black and white picture on the cover of the cd with a black fedora and shades, a black over coat and white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Neither give any hint of Pan’s magic. They bring to mind an old Willie Dixon song, You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.

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13. Austin City Limits through the years

Austin City Limits is the longest running musical showcase in the history of television, spanning over four decades and showcasing the talents of musicians from Willie Nelson and Ray Charles to Arcade Fire and Eminem. The show is a testament to the evolution of media and popular music and the audience’s relationship to that music, and to the city of Austin, Texas. In Austin City Limits: A History, author Tracey E. W. Laird takes us behind-the-scenes with interviews, anecdotes, and personal photographs to pay homage to this landmark festival. In doing so, she also illuminates the overarching discussion of the US public media and its influence on the broadcasting and funding of music and culture. This year, the festival celebrates its 40th anniversary with guests such as Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Sheryl Crow, and Alabama Shakes, which will air on PBS on Oct. 3 at 9pm ET.

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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14. Poetry Friday: Last Hope by Paramore

And the salt in my wounds isn't burning anymore than it used to
It's not that I don't feel the pain, it's just I'm not afraid of hurting anymore
And the blood in these veins isn't pumping any less than it ever has
And that's the hope I have, the only thing I know that's keeping me alive

It's just a spark
But it's enough to keep me going
(So if I let go of control now, I can be strong)
And when it's dark out, no one's around
It keeps glowing

It's just a spark
But it's enough to keep me going
(So if I keep my eyes closed, with the blind hope)
And when it's dark out, no one's around
It keeps glowing

- lyrics from the song Last Hope by Paramore



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View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

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15. Little Melba and Her Big Trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone  by Katheryn Russell-Brown illustrated by Frank Morrison Lee & Low Books, 2014 ISBN: 9781600608988 Grades K-5 The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher. "Spread the word! Little Melba Doretta Liston was something special."  The first line of this picture book biography announces to readers that they are about to meet an amazing individual.

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16. Seven fun facts about the ukulele

The ukulele, a small four-stringed instrument of Portuguese origin, was patented in Hawaii in 1917, deriving its name from the Hawaiian word for “leaping flea.” Immigrants from the island of Madeira first brought to Hawaii a pair of Portuguese instruments in the late 1870s from which the ukuleles eventually developed. Trace back to the origins of the ukulele, follow its evolution and path to present-day popularity, and explore interesting facts about this instrument with Oxford Reference.

1. Developed from a four-string Madeiran instrument and built from Hawaiian koa wood, ukuleles were popular among the Hawaiian royalty in the late 19th century.

2. 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago saw the first major performance of Hawaiian music with ukulele on the mainland.

3. By 1916, Hawaiian music became a national craze, and the ukulele was incorporated into popular American culture soon afterwards.

4. Singin’ In The Rain vocalist Cliff Edwards was also known as Ukulele Ike, and was one of the best known ukulele players during the height of the instrument’s popularity in the United States.

Cliff Edwards playing ukulele with phonograph, 1947. Photography from the William P. Gottlieb Collection. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Cliff Edwards playing ukulele with phonograph, 1947. Photography from the William P. Gottlieb Collection. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

5. When its sales reached millions in the 1920s, the ukulele became an icon of the decade in the United States.

6. Ernest Ka’ai wrote the earliest known ukulele method in The Ukulele, A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It, 1906.

7. The highest paid entertainer and top box office attraction in Britain during the 1930s and 40s, George Fromby, popularized the ukulele in the United Kingdom.

Headline image credit: Ukuleles. Photo by Ian Ransley. CC BY 2.0 via design-dog Flickr.

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17. Help! Beatles!!!

Hi!Classic is the New Black:

You may see Beatles as a bug but I see them as a band. At the age of 3, my father exposed me to a whole new world of classics. This is how I came to love the Beatles. I don’t know why I like the Beatles, but there was just a spark. Maybe it was their catchy lyrics or great melodies. It was something about the realness of the group.

In the 1960s, four young men from Liverpool, England formed a band, The Beatles, a.k.a. the Fab Four. The Beatles were a revolutionary band that mixed different styles of music like country, rock and roll, and rhythm and blues. Little Richard, my distant relative, was one of their influences. Most of their early songs were “feel good” music. Although, “Help!” is my favorite song, I also like “Yellow Submarine,” ” All My Loving,” ”Can’t Buy Me Love,”  and “A Hard Day’s Night,” which is the title of their first movie.

The Beatles were unique because they wrote their own songs. The Beatles made history because they were the first band to make a music video so they wouldn’t have to do as many live performances. Although the Beatles were British, they became internationally known. No wonder it was titled the British Invasion!

The original and ultimate “boy band,” the Beatles had a unique style of dressing, in similar clothing with long mop-top hairstyles. As a marketing strategy, they wore suits to win over parents’ approval. My father sure fell for that trick.

Out of all the members of the Beatles, my favorite is Paul McCartney because . . . actually, I don’t know why but I came to have a love for him. Paul is a very talented musician who wrote songs for the Beatles. Not only was he one of the main singers, but he played guitar, drums, piano, and the bass. Later, Paul collaborated with another of my favorite musicians, Michael Jackson. Now you can see why I love the Beatles so much!

Kennedy, Scholastic Kids Council Member

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18. On the Town, flashpoint for racial distress

When the first production of On the Town in 1944 featured the Japanese American ballerina Sono Osato as its star, as part of a cast that also included whites and blacks, it aimed for a realistic depiction of the diversity among US citizens during World War II. It did so at a time when African Americans were expressing affinity with Nisei – that is, with second-generation children of Japanese nationals who had immigrated to other countries. The two communities shared the struggle of discrimination by the majority culture.

In 1942, the Office of War Information conducted a survey in Harlem, trying to gain an African-American perspective on the war, and opinions about the Japanese emerged in the process. Many Harlemites communicated a feeling that “these Japanese are colored people.” That quotation comes from a letter written by William Pickens, an African-American journalist who worked for the US Department of Treasury during World War II. When asked “Would you be better off if America or the Axis won the war?” most blacks in the survey stated they “would be treated either the same or better under Japanese rule, although a large majority responded that conditions would be worse under the Germans.”

Yet relationships between these two marginalized communities were not always easy, and On the Town became a flash point for racial distress. A striking case appeared in the memoir Long Old Road (Trident Press, 1965), written by Horace R. Cayton, Jr. An African American sociologist from Chicago, Cayton attended On the Town soon after he heard about the bombing of Hiroshima, which occurred on 6 August 1945. He articulated a shared mission between Nisei and African Americans, yet he did so with considerable agitation. “Our seats were good, and the theater was cool after the heat of New York,” wrote Cayton. He responded positively to the opening number, “New York, New York,” then launched into an assessment of the racial and political complexities posed by Osato’s appearance on stage at that particular moment in time. He perceived her as racially accommodating.

Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.
Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

“It was a catchy tune with cute lyrics, but when the beautiful Sono Osato, who is of Japanese descent, appeared and frolicked with the American sailors, I was filled with anger and disgust,” wrote Cayton. “I care more about your people than you do, I thought, as I sat through the rest of the first act looking at the floor and wondering how soon I could escape to the bar next door.”

Cayton’s “anger and disgust” came from watching Osato engage directly and uncritically with white actors playing the role of sailors. At intermission, Cayton’s wife June, who was white, said to him: “This is the first good musical I’ve seen in years. Isn’t Sono Osato wonderful?” Cayton then recounted a tense conversation between the two of them:

“If I were half-Japanese I wouldn’t be dancing with three American sailors at a time like this,” I [Cayton] commented sourly.

“Why shouldn’t she? She’s as America as you or I.” June began to warm to her subject. “She was born in this country. She’s one hundred per cent American, doesn’t even understand Japanese.”

[Cayton replied:] ‘She’s a Jap, I’m a nigger, and you’re a white girl. Let none of us forget what we are.”

Cayton’s outburst comes across as a racial polemic. But there was deep complexity to his reaction, as he expressed solidarity with other non-white races as they confronted the hegemonic power of Caucasians. Even though his language is disturbing, it is extraordinarily frank, acknowledging the era’s venomous racism against the Japanese and the degree to which African Americans felt themselves to be backed against a wall during World War II. Cayton continued:

“I’m torn a dozen ways. I didn’t want the Japanese to win; after all, I am an American. But the mighty white man was being humiliated, and by the little yellow bastards he had nothing but contempt for. It gave me a sense of satisfaction, a feeling that white wasn’t always right, not always able to enforce its will on everyone who was colored. All those fine white liberals rejoicing because we dropped a bomb killing or maiming seventy-eight thousand helpless civilians. Why couldn’t we have dropped it on the Germans—because they were white? No, save it for the yellow bastards.”

Those multi-layered thoughts were unleashed by watching Sono Osato on stage, dancing an identity that was intended to portray her as “All-American” yet could not avoid the realities of her mixed-race heritage at a harrowing historical moment.

Headline Image: Sono Osato modeling a dress by Pattullo Modes, early 1940s. Dance Clipping Files, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

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19. In the Know: August 2014

I was having a serious Cady-with-a-d Mean Girls moment two weeks ago as I walked into my first day in a new Teen Librarian position. Would the teens like me? Would they pity laugh at my jokes like the kids at my old job did? Or would I be just another crusty shushing-machine to them? It’s the time of year when teens across the country make that same terrifying walk into new schools, new grades, and new hormone-fueled social challenges, so let’s give them some extra special love from the library this week.

As for me at my new job, I discovered that a level 50 in Skyrim and knowing the lyrics to “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” can get you a long way. Sometimes all you need is to know a little bit about one thing that interests a teen and you can spark a relationship. Learn a little more, and pretty soon they’ll be saying “hi” to you by name. Keep at it, and they might start liking you enough to actually take your reader’s advisory suggestions.

It’s good to be in the know. Here’s some stuff teens are talking about in August 2014.

The band Five Seconds of Summer, or 5SOS (pronounced “5 sauce”), is currently touring the U.S. with One Direction and gaining popularity. The band, comprised of 4 Australian teenage boys, is often compared to their British your-mates, though they seem to be attempting a more punk rock image. (Attempting is a key word here.) Their self-titled debut studio album was released in the U.S. on July 22, and hit number one on the Billboard 200. Learn more about them here.

The 2014 Teen Choice Awards aired on August 10. Big winners were The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Divergent (films); Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort (actors); Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, and One Direction (musicians); Pretty Little Liars, The Vampire Diaries, and The Voice (TV). Selena Gomez received the Ultimate Choice Award. The show also introduced a new set of web awards honoring a new breed of YouTube and social media stars. See the full list of nominees and winners here.

By now you’re not going to impress any teens by knowing what the Ice Bucket Challenge is, but you might earn some cool points by pointing out a few of the best examples of the fad. Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch gets naked in his (don’t worry, it’s safe for library viewing). Oprah Winfrey’s will appeal to those who enjoy a little schadenfreude, and Bill Gates works some STEM into his challenge. The Old Spice Guy, Homer Simpson, and Tina Fey are other winners. My personal favorite is Kermit the Frog. According to their website, donations to the ALS Association are at $94.3 million as of August 27. Looking for a research opportunity? Ask kids to find out how the Ice Bucket Challenge started; there’s plenty of info available online from reputable news sources.

The eighth season of the rebooted Doctor Who premiered on August 23, and was the first full episode in the run of the new Twelfth Doctor played by Peter Capaldi. Despite being “really old” (56) and less crushable than Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, most fans are optimistic about the well-respected actor’s prospects in the role. The jury’s still out on whether good acting will attract as much teen attention as good looks did.

On August 18 Taylor Swift premiered her new single “Shake It Off.” The song abandons her country roots in favor of a power pop piece about how “haters gonna hate.” (That’s an old web adage that means roughly, “People are going to criticize you no matter what, so just ignore them.”) Swift also announced a new album called 1989, set to release on October 27. You can view the video for “Shake It Off” here.

Two of the YA lit-inspired movies of the summer, If I Stay and The Giver, premiered this month, both to lukewarm reviews and box office numbers. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is the top movie of the month and has rocketed leading man Chris Pratt to fame (building on his recent success as Andy Dwyer on Parks & Recreation and as the voice of Emmet in The Lego Movie). Ninja Turtles is also going strong despite mostly bad reviews. Check out www.boxofficemojo.com for box office info.

Fans are gearing up for the release of The Sims 4 for the PC on September 2. The newest installment in the classic life simulation game comes 5 years after the release of the vanilla (that is, the original, expansion-free) version of The Sims 3. The new title will have to work hard to win over players, as there has already been outcry over the exclusion of several of the former titles’ features from the new game (most notably, toddlers and swimming pools). No OSX release date has been announced. Read more about the unhappy fans here.

Translation time: the slang of the month is “shade” or “throw shade” (verb), which means to criticize someone in an underhanded of passive-aggressive manner. This term has existed for a long time in LGBT communities but came into wider use apparently about a year ago (although I didn’t hear it until this month). It was recently added to Oxford Dictionaries (the online database, not the hoity-toity print version). For a list of recently-added words and, through it, a remarkably comprehensive overview of modern culture, check out this article.

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20. Mackenzie Bourg Interview

Mackenzie_BourgSinger Mackenzie BourgImpossible Things

?” Click on the title to take a listen!

We were able to ask the rising star some questions about what he does, and more. Check it out!

Q: What did you like best about your experience on The Voice?

Mackenzie: What I liked best about being on The Voice was getting to perform on the unique stages and set-ups. From the crowd pits to the huge platforms, it was awesome seeing the different stages each round. What surprised me the most was how much CeeLo [Green, a judge on the show] showed love for me. Going into the show, I would have never thought that over a year later, I’d still be keeping in touch with my coach!

Q: What is the best part of being a performer?

Mackenzie: The best part about being a performer is getting to put your entire heart and soul into something for people that genuinely love. The feeling I get when the audience is into what I’m doing up there is really special.

Mackenzie Bourg

Mackenzie Bourg

Q: Who was your first celebrity crush?

Mackenzie: My first celebrity crush was on two people, actually: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. As a kid, we had all of their VHS tapes, and something about solving any crime by dinner time really tugged at my heart strings even at such a young age.

Q: Funniest or most embarrassing that’s happened to you recently?

Mackenzie: Last week I was headed to the studio and had to stop at a music shop quickly to get a new set of guitar strings. As I got out of the car, I pressed “lock” on my door and closed it, not realizing I had left the keys on the seat. Needless to say I was a little late!

5. What’s the strangest fan encounter you’ve ever had?

Mackenzie: I haven’t had any really strange fan encounters, but I did tweet something randomly about Skittles and someone had about 100 bags sent to me! It was the first time anything like that had happened to me, so I guess it was strange and really cool all at the same time!

Q: What are you most excited for in the future?

Mackenzie: The thing I’m looking forward to most about the future is the future. Seeing where this journey takes me, if the hard work pays off, and if my music makes a connection with people as I hope it does. Everything truly happens for a reason, and when it does finally happen, I’ll be ready to take it in stride.

Awesome! Can’t wait to see what Mackenzie does next. He has an EP coming out soon, and I’m really excited to hear it when it’s released! What about you? Do you want to hear his new music, too? Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

image from kids.scholastic.com — En-Szu, STACKS Staffer

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21. On the Town and the long march for civil rights in performance

As we celebrate the golden anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a significant aspect of the struggle for racial equality often gets ignored: racial activism in performance. Actors, singers, and dancers mobilized over the decades, pushing back against racial restrictions that shifted over time, and On the Town of 1944 marked an auspicious but little-recognized moment in that history.

On the Town opened on Broadway in December of 1944 towards the end of World War II, and marked the debut of a dazzling group of creative artists: the composer Leonard Bernstein, the lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and the choreographer Jerome Robbins. All were the children of Jewish immigrants. Balancing left-leaning personal politics with the pressure of launching their first show, this team of twenty-somethings made a number of hiring decisions that boldly challenged racial performance practices of the day. Exploring those progressive choices opens a perspective on the racial climate for performers of the day.

One daring step was to feature the Japanese-American dancer Sono Osato in the starring role of Ivy Smith, a character shaped as an “All-American Girl,” while the United States was at war with Japan, internment camps established on the West Coast and Southwest, and government propaganda aggressively targeting the Japanese. Like thousands of Japanese nationals, the US government detained Osato’s father, Shoji, immediately after Pearl Harbor, and he remained on parole in Chicago for most of the war. As a result, he could not attend his daughter’s opening night on Broadway. Declassified FBI files tell the story of Shoji’s imprisonment and persecution, revealing no justification for the treatment he received.

As a result, On the Town—a show about three American sailors on a one-day leave in New York City—flirted with what was then called miscegenation. The pursuit of Ivy by one of those sailors — Gabey (played by Cris Alexander, an actor of Caucasian heritage) — was the central premise of the show. A promotional photo, now housed in clipping files at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, shows Osato standing seductively over Alexander, giving a sense of how brazenly their relationship was portrayed.

Photograph from the Souvenir Program for On the Town.
Photograph from the Souvenir Program for On the Town.

Equally audacious were staging decisions related to African Americans in the cast. On opening night, there were 6 blacks out of a cast of 56. By today’s standards, that number appears as tokenism. Yet these black performers directly challenged racial stereotypes of the day. On the Town eschewed blackface, steering clear of bandanas, maids, and butlers. It did not segregate the black performers on stage, as was often the case, but rather it modeled an integrated citizenry. Black dancers in sailor costumes stood comfortably alongside their white comrades, and there was mixed-race dancing, some of which required training in ballet. These staging decisions modeled a vision of urban interracial fellowship. They imagined an alternative to the segregated US military of World War II, and they offered an early case of what has become known as color-blind casting. The Times Square Ballet, which closed Act I (pictured here), was one of the principal showcases for these progressive racial statements.

In yet another gesture towards civil rights, Everett Lee took over the podium of On the Town, becoming one of the first African Americans to conduct an all-white orchestra in a mainstream Broadway production. Lee had been concertmaster of the show since opening night, and he became conductor nine months into the run.

The racial desegregation of performance on New York’s stages gained traction as the Civil Rights Movement grew more effective in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the advances were never completely game-changing, as has been the case in the culture at large. To its credit, however, the first production of On the Town yielded a site of opportunity, and many of its performers of color went on to distinguished careers in the theater and concert hall.

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22. KAWAKAWA

Here are some pictures from the album launch of Kawakawa's new album, "Island Species".
It's beautiful, and we had a great evening.
There were some very strange birds present...







All photos: Peter John Morgan

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23. The Little Melba Playlist: A Jazz Music Primer from Frank Morrison

Summer is coming to an end, but that doesn’t mean the fun stops! With cooler weather comes fun indoor activities, like catching a great jazz show. We asked Frank Morrison, illustrator of our new picture book biography, Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, to share some of his favorite jazz numbers with us. Many of the artists below played or arranged with Melba Doretta Liston; others inspired Frank while he created his illustrations. So sit back with your cup of apple cider and let the rhythm carry you away!

  • John Coltrane: “Out of This World,” plus Coltrane’s albums The Inch Worm, Big Nick, and Giant Steps
  • Thelonious Monk: “Well, You Needn’t,” “Ruby, My Dear,” “Off Minor,” and “Bemsha Swing”
  • Dizzy Gillespie: “52nd Street Theme” and “A Night in Tunisia”
  • Miles Davis: “Freddie Freeloader,” “Round Midnight,” “Airegin,” and “Blue in Green,” plus Davis’s album Kind of Blue 

little melba and her big trombone

  • Chet Baker: “My Funny Valentine”
  • Art Blakey: “Dat Dere,” “Moanin’,” “Blues March,” “The Chess Players,” and “Señor Blues” (performed with Horace Silver)
  • Abbey Lincoln: “Afro Blue”
  • Clifford Brown: “Daahoud,” “The Blues Walk,” “Jordu,” and “Parisian Thoroughfare”

little melba and her big trombone

  • Duke Ellington: “In a Sentimental Mood” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”
  • Stan Getz: “Corcovado” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
  • Louis Armstrong: “Summer Song,” “West End Blues,” and “I Got Rhythm”

Still can’t get enough jazz music? Here’s Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood.”

Have your own favorite jazz tunes? Leave ‘em in the comments!


Filed under: Art and Book Design, Lee & Low Likes, Musings & Ponderings Tagged: dizzy gillespie, Duke Ellington, Frank Morrison, jazz music, jazz videos, louis armstrong, melba liston, miles davis, Music, musical instruments, trombones

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24. The Last Waltz Considered

The Last Waltz was a revolutionary documentary. It was the first concert movie shot in 35 mm, the record of a celebration of the Band’s last concert on the site of their first show as The Band. It is the visual evidence that more than thirty years ago Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel had the good sense to go out on top. There are many examples of actors, politicians, athletes and rock stars who didn’t. The movie itself, I hour, 37 minutes, was directed by Martin Scorsese. No matter what you think of Hollywood, his credentials as a director are undisputed. His list of credits, accomplishments and awards means that Scorsese is a serious director, not one to waste energy. At the time, 1976, a time when the underground half of the 60's generation was realizing that the other half was following in the footsteps of their parents, embracing the values that their governments, their elders and betters, praised and promoted, Scorsese was in the middle of directing NEW YORK, NEW YORK, a huge, expensive Hollywood project. Unbeknownst to the New York, New York producer who would have had a heart attack if he’d known, Marty (as he is referred to by almost everyone in the movie) took a weekend off, filmed the concert at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, put together the rest of it in a week and filmed three more songs on a Hollywood sound stage a few months later. It was edited and released in 1978. The sets, lighting, photography, sound and all the myriad details that go into movie creation were taken care of by hook or by crook, often improvised by world renowned experts in their fields. The project took on a life of its own. It was not made for profit and grew into an important cultural event. Before Scorsese made The Last Waltz, there was WOODSTOCK (where he worked as an assistant director and editor and learned what not to do), GIMME SHELTER, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and an Elvis film, but no other single concert had been as carefully choreographed, as meticulously set and photographed as this. There were seven cameras shooting at times, each run by a professional and, in many cases, a world famous cinematographer. Bill Graham’s lawyers forced Scorsese’s assistant to negotiate each camera movement because he controlled the stage and insisted that nothing impair the sight lines of the live audience. It is best to mention here that the DVD of The Last Waltz is available cheap at your local DVD purveyor. This one only cost ten Canadian dollars to buy, a great bargain for musicians, writers and anyone else interested in rock ‘n roll and the making of movies. The “Special Features” additions on the DVD contain a lot of comical and serious comments by the movie makers, Mac Rebenak, Ronnie Hawkins, Mavis Staples and the band members which can be listened to as the movie plays. As each band member, song and guest performer appears, someone talks about them. The story of The Band’s creation and growth through sixteen years of living on the road unfolds through a series of interviews with band members interspersed among the songs, mostly answers to questions posed by Scorsese himself, questions provided by a professional screenwriter. Many of the answers are funny, some ironic, some poignant, but one feeling permeates the whole movie, a sort of good natured humour, an amused observation of the world at large and a sincere appreciation of the music. The Band were aware that the odds of survival for such a long time in such a high risk lifestyle, were against them. Robbie Robertson says, at the end of the movie, “The road has taken some of the great ones” and “You can push your luck”. Three of the Band’s songs were filmed on an MGM sound stage where Scorsese could control everything and was free to use a crane and a camera as in normal movies. The Weight, in which Pop and Mavis Staples sing verses and all four harmonize on the choruses with members of the band, Evangeline, which is filmed in stunning colour with Emmy Lou Harris doing an achingly sweet call and response with Levon, and The Last Waltz theme song which is a waltz written by Robertson who is playing a double necked acoustic guitar as he performs it with the Band, were all filmed on sets designed by Boris Leven, a friend of Scorcese and the production designer on The Sound of Music and New York, New York. It was Leven who was responsible for renting the San Francisco Opera’s set for La Traviata and setting it up in the beat up, spruced up, old Winterland Ballroom for the concert. His original idea was to fill the place with chandeliers but they couldn’t afford more than three. It’s fitting that while the rest of their generation was trying to deal with the post Vietnam world, the plan for The Last Waltz was hatching and growing between Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese in a couple of months of creativity and hard work. At first, there was no budget, just an idea. It was cobbled together by the seat of its pants, almost an afterthought. The Last Waltz began, in a way, underground, and became the standard by which all concert movies are measured. When the concert was over, Scorsese and Robertson agreed that through all the craziness and frenetic activity, through the power of the music and the personalities, maybe, just maybe, they might have produced a gem. The movie begins with Rick Danko telling Martin Scorsese that the game is “Cutthroat” and breaking the balls on a pool table. Then, in a way which makes sense only when you’ve watched the whole thing and listened to the commentary, The Band returns to the stage for an unplanned encore after the concert’s over. They play Don’t Do It and Robbie Robertson’s lead guitar places the viewer in a car travelling through a beat up neighbourhood of San Francisco to the Winterland Ballroom where crowds are lined up and the huge vertical sign above the entrance has half of its lights burnt out. A young couple waltzes gracefully across the screen against the backdrop of The Last Waltz logo as the names of the guest performers appear: Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Emmy Lou Harris, Muddy Waters, The Staples, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood. In the first interview Marty asks Robbie if they’re really “just friends” who showed up. Robbie tells him that no, the musical guests aren’t just friends, they’re probably the biggest influences in music to a whole generation. Michael McClure, the poet, appears on stage in a spotlight where he recites a short piece of Canterbury Tales in olde English, smiles and walks off. Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears at the end of the show, just before Dylan, with a quick, cool poem. They are the connection to the Beats, their presence welcomed. Kerouac’s spirit. As Robbie says, it isn’t about the audience so they don’t appear except for a few reverse shots which Scorsese loved. The concert itself is a mixture of Band originals beginning with Cripple Creek, interwoven with guests who play only one song each. Dr John displays that New Orleans piano style, slow drawl and dazzling smile on What a Night. Joni Mitchell’s strumming and phrasing make the room feel like everything’s in motion as she stands golden haired and innocent singing the naughty lyrics of Coyote. The floor shakes to the beat of everyone stomping to Muddy’s Mannish Boy. In the Special Features section there is a hilarious commentary on Van Morrison’s sequined outfit as he steals the show with his tour de force performance of Caravan and almost cracks a smile. He had lived in Woodstock when The Band lived there and was an old friend. Scorsese manages to get Joni’s profile in shadow when she sings an ethereal harmony to Neil Young’s Helpless. Garth Hudson’s head is suddenly illuminated as he stands to play a sax, trading solos with Robbie’s guitar in It Makes No Difference. Clapton trades licks with Robertson on Further On Up The Road after his guitar strap comes undone and Robbie picks up the solo without missing a beat. Neil Diamond, a companion from their Tin Pan Alley days, sings a song looking like he’s ready for Vegas. Paul Butterfield pulls off an amazing physical feat when he plays along with Muddy. Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy and Van the Man all exit the stage the same way, deliberately, with a flourish. In the commentaries Ronnie Hawkins tells the story of each band member as he was brought into The Hawks, Ronnie’s backup band which later became Dylan’s backup band, then The Band. He says he hired Robbie Robertson, the kid, to be a roadie as a favour to the boy’s mother. Robbie was hanging out with some guys who might end up in the penitentiary. Richard Manuel, quiet and gentle, always reminding me of The Furry Freak Brother comics in the interviews, roars the lyrics to The Shape I’m In with a strong singing voice made for the blues and slow dancing, rough and smooth at the same time. Levon Helm’s performance vocally and on the drums is hypnotizing . The physical energy required to play and sing that long and that hard is clear in the movie. Rick Danko’s voice is “mournful and strange with off the wall harmonies” as Mac Rebenak put it. It is sweet and harsh with power and feeling. Dylan (another funny commentary in the Special Features section) sings Forever Young and leads his former band into Baby, Let Me Follow You Down. The finale, with everyone onstage, is Dylan’s, I Shall Be Released. Robbie Robertson’s guitar playing is unique. He can play like a lot of people but no one ever plays like him, no one’s got his style , it’s really unique. Ringo and Ronnie Wood appear playing in an out take of a jam until, after 6 hours of filming, the cameras and people take a break. There may be better bands at some things but only these musicians could have pulled this off. A concert which requires a backup band for a variety of performers can be accomplished technically, but the life which The Band injected into the songs, the huge variety of styles they had to adapt to, could only have been done by them. They were a perfect backup band as well as the stars of the show. The sex is in the music. Understated and hinted at, never openly mentioned, the sex is in the music. In the interviews Scorsese asks about women on the road. The answers are, for the most part, as vague and euphemistic as the references to “fun” and other bad habits. Garth Hudson states with certainty that the greatest priests on 52nd street in New York were the musicians. Songwriters were the low men and women on the totem pole but the street musicians were the greatest healers. Thirty years after the movie was made, Martin Scorsese has done another concert film with The Rolling Stones called Shine a Light. Waiting to borrow my copy of The Last Waltz are a twenty year old drummer and a seventeen year old bass player. It means that Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson and everyone involved in the movie did produce a gem. And it means that all is not lost.

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25. My Writing and Reading Life: Andrea Pyros

Andrea Pyros’ debut novel is My Year of Epic Rock. Andrea has worked as a magazine editor, celebrity interviewer, and cookie wrangler.

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