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On this day in 1984, musical aficionados from the worlds of pop and rock came together to record the iconic ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ single for Band Aid. The single has gone down in history as an example of the power of music to help right the wrongs in the world. The song leapt to the number one spot over the Christmas of 1984, selling over a million copies in under a week and totalling sales of three million by the end of that year. The Band Aid super-group featured the cream of eighties pop, including David Bowie, Phil Collins, George Michael, Sting, Cliff Richard and Paul McCartney.
The sales target for the single was £70,000, all of which was to be donated to the African famine relief fund. With support from Radio 1 DJs and a Top of the Pops Christmas Special, sales sky-rocketed and Geldof, feeling the strength of public opinion behind him, went toe-to-toe with the conservative government in an attempt to have tax on the single waived. Margaret Thatcher initially refused the plea, but as public outcry grew, Thatcher caved-in to public demands and the tax on sales worth nearly £9 million was donated back to charity.
Bob Geldof and a host of artists old and new have re-recorded the single to help raise funds to stem the Ebola crisis. Our infographic marks the 30th anniversary of the original recording and illustrates the movers and shakers that made this monumental milestone in pop history possible.
What is a keytar, anyway? Well, along with being (to me) the coolest electronic instrument ever, it’s a midi controller-sometimes-synthesizer that you can wear over your shoulder like a guitar. The Grove Music Onlinearticle on electronic instruments says that “Lightweight portable keyboard controllers, worn like a guitar, became popular with rock and jazz-rock keyboard performers around 1980, since they enabled the player to walk round the stage.”
While some use it to simulate the sound of a guitar, as in this laudable “Little Wing” cover:
Others embrace its synthesizer side, as in this lovely Michael Jackson medley:
One can find photographic evidence of several prominent musicians playing the keytar, such as Herbie Hancock, Rick Wakeman (Yes), James Brown, Matthew Bellamy (Muse), and Lady Gaga, who seems to have a penchant for custom-designed keytars. And lest you think that keytars are largely a curiosity of the late twentieth century (why would you think that?), new models are still being introduced: Japanese synthesizer giant Korg released one this year.
Though it’s possible the initial makers of keytars were unaware of it, the instrument actually has an acoustic predecessor in the orphica. As you can read in the just-published second edition of the Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, the orphica was a miniature piano that could be worn over the shoulder with a strap:
Its name and shape was meant to recall the ancient Orphic lyre, and it was known in England as the “weekend piano.” Patented in 1795, nearly 200 years before the keytar came into existence, there are only about forty extant orphicas. The instrument’s greatest claim to fame is that, according to an 1827 letter written by a childhood friend, Beethoven may have composed a piece for it (possibly WoO 51). Which makes me wonder: had Beethoven been alive in the 1980s, what kind of keytar-led band would he have formed?
Headline image credit: Piano keys picture. Photo by Truls. CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Richards, Keith. 2014. Gus & Me: The Story of my Granddad and my First Guitar. Hachette Audio.
Keith Richards, the rough-edged, raspy-voiced, Rolling Stones guitarist, is hardly the man that comes to mind for a picture book writer and narrator, but then again, who better to tell the story of his first guitar?
Richards wins the listener over immediately with his folksy, working class Estuary English accent (think dropped h's and "intrusive" r's) and unmistakable fondness for his topics - his first guitar and his beloved Granddad, Gus. It was the musically talented Gus who introduced a young Keith Richards to the guitar, teaching him how to 'old it, and suggesting the classical Malagueña(r) as the pinnacle of guitar mastery.
I have yet to see the print version of this story, but I don't believe it could surpass the audio book. A story with music at its heart needs music to be understood. Richards plays bits from Malagueña in appropriate spots throughout the story, and during a visit to a music shop in London, we hear Steve Jordan on drums. Once, the listener even hears a little chuckle - not musical, but surprisingly sincere. Richards collaborated with other authors, but this is obviously his story, and he delights in telling it.
(Run time: about 7 minutes)
My review of Gus & Me for AudioFile Magazine appears here with a small excerpt. Take a listen!
The last Thursday of November freshmen are returning home to reunite with their high school sweethearts. Except not all are as sweet as they once were. Your old flame may show up with a new admirer or give you trouble because you didn’t spend enough time on Skype on Saturday nights while away at college. Be prepared: pack an arsenal of tunes that catch the sad and sometimes mixed feelings you may have after Turkey-Dumping Day. For your convenience, a list of the 10 great breakup songs for a post-Turkey recovery:
10. Pink’s “Blow me (One Last Kiss)”
One of the more lighthearted tracks to make the list, Pink’s lead single from her sixth studio album The Truth About Love (2012) nonetheless gets the message across: After too much fighting, tears, and sweaty palms, the time comes when turkey is not the only thing you have finally had enough of.
9. Passenger’s “Let Her Go”
Passenger’s second single from the album All the Little Lights (2012) made the list not only because of the soul-wrenching, melodic tune but also because of its spot-on content. Looking into the heart of a dumper, the lyrics forcefully delineate the paradox of love: you don’t really know whether or how much you love someone, until he or she is gone.
8. Christina Perri’s “Human”
The lead single from Perri’s second studio album Head or Heart (2014), this pop power ballad features almost no drumsticks (pun intended). Instead it showcases the American singer’s ethereal voice. And the lyrics hit the nail on the head: Being happier and hotter without your ex may be the best way to get even. But don’t worry if you fail spectacularly, ’cause you’re only a little human.
7. Hilary Duff’s “Stranger”
Tapping into the style and sound of Middle-eastern belly-dance music, Hilary Duff’s single, recorded for her fourth studio album Dignity (2007), is a bouncy yet husky song about suddenly seeing an unkind stranger in the torso of your beloved. After listening to this tune, put on the dumper’s apron before slicing the turkey.
6. Jaymes Young’s “Parachute”
Despite its blunt language, Seattle-born singer Jaymes Young’s fragile ballad made the list because of its lyrics about being lied to and instantly knowing that it’s time to take the “l” out of “lover.”
5. Taylor Swift’s “I knew you were trouble”
Taylor Swift’s bass-heavy dubstep drop, recorded for her fourth studio album Red (2012), is aptly warning us about the trouble-makers–those types that make you fall in love only to leave you behind.
4. Sam Smith’s “Stay with me”
Although it’s not quite a turkey-dumping song but rather a desperate-for-love ballad, this gospel-inspired hit from British songwriter Sam Smith’s debut studio album In the Lonely Hour (2014) still made the list. Critics deemed it overly sentimental, but “brutally honest” is evidently a better description.
3. David Guetta’s “Titanium”
French DJ and music producer David Guetta is hard to pass over when it comes to ferocious breakup songs. This 2012 hit from his album Nothing But the Beat gives you relationship hardship and a shot of resilience to help take the pain out of Turkey-Dumping Day.
2. Fefe Dobson’s “Stuttering”
“Dobson can sing,” say the critic. Yes, indeed. The tune and the debated music video leave you stuttering and wondering: Can the green-eyed monster make you that crazy? Yes, it can, not least when the cheater isn’t your man.
1. David Guetta’s “She Wolf”
Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” gets an honorary mention for its heartening lyrics but it’s David Guetta who takes the first place with another ballad, featuring vocals from Australian recording artist Sia. Reflecting on the most poignant of breakups, this impassioned chorus on the feeling of being replaced takes us inside the mind of someone who is “falling to pieces.”
Today we’re here to talk about the word bae and the ways in which it’s used in hip hop lyrics. Bae is another way of saying babe or baby (though some say it can also function as an acronym for the phrase “before anyone else”). Here are some examples:
Childish Gambino’s “The Palisades”
In this song, Donald Glover sings “Now why can’t every day be like this…Hang with bae at the beach like this.” Judging from the rest of the lyrics and recent pictures of him with a young woman on the beach, I’d say he’s talking about a girlfriend in this case.
Jay-Z’s “30 Something”
In the chorus of this song, Jay-Z repeats the line, “bae boy, now I’m all grown up”. The overall song reads like an updated version of 1 Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was a child, I talked like a child…When I became a man, I put away childish things”). Here bae seems to be standing in for the word baby, as in baby boy.
Pharrell Williams’ “Come Get It Bae”
The video pretty much makes it crystal clear what the use is here: babe, referring to all the dancing ladies presumably.
Lil Wayne’s “Marvin’s Room (Sorry 4 the Wait)”
Bae shows up right at the end of the track, in the line “She call me ‘baby’ and I call her ‘bae’”. Here it’s clear that Lil Wayne’s bae is an alternate version of her baby.
Fifth Harmony’s “Bo$$”
Ok, I know this is actually pop, but I wanted to include it because it’s so catchy. The overall tone of the lyrics is classic girl power, including the line “I ain’t thirsty for no bae cuz I already know watchu tryna say”. Given the content of the rest of the lyrics, it seems like bae is being substituted for the sense in which babe can refer to boyfriend.
It will be interesting to see what kind of cultural capital bae will accrue in the coming years. Will it thrive, or go the way of flitter-mouse? For more on the many and varied terms of endearment the English language has offered through the ages, check out these unusual terms of endearment in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Headline image credit: Post-Sopa Blackout Party for Wikimedia Foundation staff by Victor Grigas (Victorgrigas). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
In celebration of tonight’s Latin Grammy Awards, I delved into Grove Music Online to learn more about distinct musical styles and traditions of Latin American countries. Colombia’s principal musical style is the cumbia, with its related genres porro and vallenato. In the traditional cumbia proper, couples dance in a circle around seated musicians, with the woman shuffling steps while the man moves in a more zigzag pattern around her. The cumbia usually takes place at night while women hold bundles of candles in colored handkerchiefs in their right hands. Although traditional cumbia is now primarily performed by folklore troupes at Carnivals and other festivals, cumbia has contributed significantly to the development of related musical styles. Below are ten interesting facts about the cumbia.
The cumbia is accompanied by one of two ensembles: the conjunto de cumbia (also known as cumbiamba) and the conjunto de gaitas. The former consists of five instruments, while the latter includes two duct flutes, a llamador and a maraca.
The conjunto de cumbia includes one melody instrument called the caña de millo (‘cane of millet’), locally known as the pito, which is a clarinet made of a tube open at both ends with four finger holes near one end and a reed cut from the tube itself at the other end.
Other instruments include the gaita hembra (‘female flute’) and the gaita macho (‘male flute’). While the gaita hembra is used for the melody, the gaita macho provides heterophony in conjunction with a maraca.
The bullerengue and the danza de negro are two other musical genres of the region, which have African characteristics. The bullerengue is an exhibition dance, filled with hip movement, performed by a single couple. Meanwhile, the danza de negro is a special Carnival dance performed by men who paint themselves blue, strip to the waist, dance in a crouched position with wooden swords, and demand money or rum from passerby.
In the early 20th century, town brass bands began adapting the cumbia to a more cosmopolitan style. Between 1905 and 1910, musicians in numerous towns began these adaptations, which were strongly developed in the town of San Pelayo. Thus, the terms pelayera or papayeraare commonly used in reference to this type of ensemble.
Vallenato, a genre related to traditional cumbia, also originated in the Colombian Atlantic region. Performed by an ensemble consisting of accordion, vocals, caja (a small double-headed drum) and guacharaca (a notched gourd scraper), vallenato is similar to cumbia in accenting beats 2 and 4, but places a stronger emphasis on the crotchet-quaver rhythmic cell.
Another style of music related to cumbia is Música tropical, which developed from the dance band arrangements of Afro-Colombian styles during the 1930s and 40s. Música tropical is similar to the ballroom rumba popular throughout the Americas and Europe, although with it maintains a simpler rhythmic base and more florid melodic style.
Música tropical also offered a response to the international vogue for Cuban Music, which was both Caribbean and uniquely Colombian at the same time. By the late 1950s, música tropical had found its way into the leading social clubs and ballrooms of the country.
Throughout the 1960s, música tropical remained the national Colombian style. Recordings by groups like La Sonora Dinamita, Los Corraleros de Majagual and Los Graduados enjoyed a brief national popularity, but had a greater impact outside the country, spreading a simplified form of cumbia to Mexico, Central America, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile, where the style became very important.
During the 1940s and 50s the musical pioneers Lucho Bermúdez and Pacho Galán composed and arranged big-band adaptations of cumbias, among other genres, popularizing the sound which became the new national music of Colombia.
Finally, watch a well-known cumbia — La pollera colera:
Eric Weisbard’s Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Musicconsiders the shifting terrain of the pop music landscape, in which FM radio (once an indisputably dominant medium) constructed multiple mainstreams, tailoring each to target communities built on race, gender, class, and social identity. Charting (no pun intended) how categories rivaled and pushed against each other in their rise to reach American audiences, the book posits a counterintuitive notion: when even the blandest incarnation of a particular sub-group (the Isley Brothers version of R & B, for instance) rose to the top of the charts, so too did the visibility of that group’s culture and perspective, making musical formatting one of the master narratives of late-twentieth-century identity.
In a recent piece for the Sound Studies blog, Weisbard wrote about the rise of both Taylor Swift and, via mid-term elections, the Republican Party:
The genius, and curse, of the commercial-cultural system that produced Taylor Swift’s Top 40 democracy win in the week of the 2014 elections, is that its disposition is inherently centrist. Our dominant music formats, rival mainstreams engaged in friendly combat rather than culture war, locked into place by the early 1970s. That it happened right then was a response to, and recuperation from, the splintering effects of the 1960s. But also, a moment of maximum wealth equality in the U.S. was perfect to persuade sponsors that differing Americans all deserved cultural representation.
And, as Weisbard concludes:
Pop music democracy too often gives us the formatted figures of diverse individuals triumphing, rather than collective empowerment. It’s impressive what Swift has accomplished; we once felt that about President Obama, too. But she’s rather alone at the top.
The Venezuelan youth orchestra scheme El Sistema is perhaps the world’s most famous music education program today. It’s lauded as a revolutionary social program that has rescued hundreds of thousands of Venezuela’s poorest children. Simon Rattle has called it “the most important thing happening in music anywhere in the world.” Classical music education is back in vogue, now aligned with the rhetoric of social justice.
However, the training of social or ethnic Others (the poor, the destitute, the non-white) as classical music performers is hardly a new idea, and delving into its long history may improve understandings of El Sistema outside Venezuela, which are currently very limited. While this training might have provided a helping hand to the most disadvantaged in society, it also had less benevolent aspects.
The music conservatoire has its roots in the conservatorios, or orphanages, of Renaissance Venice. Young female orphans were trained in music at institutions such as the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi worked. These institutions served a clear charitable purpose, providing for destitute children and aiming to turn them into productive citizens. Yet it’s worth noting a couple of further points: discipline and profit.
The Ospedali Grandi’s purpose was primarily to regulate the city’s social environment, and along with the opportunities provided to impoverished girls went strict control over their day-to-day lives. As Vanessa M. Tonelli notes, the young musicians had to submit to an inflexible monastic routine: silence, lots of work, and little leisure time. When the English music historian Charles Burney visited in the eighteenth century, he noted “good discipline observed in every particular,” and he described the orchestra as “under the most exact discipline,” with its musicians “under that kind of subordination which is requisite in a servant to a superior.” Clearly, then, musical training was an extension of the Ospedali’s social control. It also had an economic angle: concerts by the orphan girls became a major attraction, and the Ospedali were thus able to turn their musical talents into profit, enriching the institutions and their administrators by eliciting larger donations.
Naples, too, had a conservatorio system, in which, as David Yearsley writes, music “was drummed into thousands of children in a system of forced labor…. There was huge international demand for the fashionable Neapolitan style, and the conservatories fed it.” Employing a training system that was “often cruel,” these “music mills” forged highly trained performers for export across Europe. Their art “belied the inexorable regime of study, discipline, and punishment that lay behind it”: Burney described sweatshop-like conditions, with students practising ten hours a day with only a few days off per year.
Yearsley posits a “dialectic of musical enlightenment: on one side of the split screen was the musical workhouse of the poor orphans, on the other, the courtly chamber filled by the most elegant music played by bewigged and fully-trained instrumentalists.” Enchanting music emerged from conditions of control and exploitation.
The alliance of coercion and beauty was not limited to Europe. The Spanish Conquest of the Americas saw missionaries fanning out across the continent and founding schools that taught music as a core subject. A key aim was to instill in the indigenous population what the Spaniards called policía–order, Christianity, and civilization. Music education thus served as a handmaiden of colonialism.
In nineteenth-century Britain, music education was promoted among the poor as part of a drive for moral and religious improvement. Howard Smither argues that a key motivation was the political protection of the upper and wealthy middle classes. Music was seen as a way of keeping the workers out of taverns, increasing their productivity and decreasing their opportunities to discuss revolutionary ideas. Similarly, David Gramit underlines how nineteenth-century educational reform in Germany reaffirmed the social and economic order; music education proponents “sought to create a disciplined but docile labor pool” and thus promote more efficient capitalism. Grant Olwage explores how the perceived efficacy of music education as social control in Britain made it an obvious tool for disciplining and “civilizing” the black population in its colony in South Africa.
What all these programs had in common was an attempt to order and control social Others. They reveal music education in its guise of disciplinary practice, and thus as profoundly ambiguous. As Michel Foucault argues, discipline is effective and productive, as the high level of performing skill attained by many of these musical trainees attests. But discipline also “imposes unequal, asymmetrical, non-reciprocal relations” (James Johnson), and produces docile, apolitical subjects. Music education thus brings benefits, but they often accrue as much to the educators as the educated (as economic and symbolic capital) and may be accompanied by significant (if hidden) costs.
Training, discipline, profit: these three threads run through the history of music education of social or ethnic Others. Let’s now turn to Venezuela.
El Sistema has been lionised by the international press as a revolution in artistic education and a beacon of social justice. Clearly, then, there has been a failure to connect it to similar music education initiatives stretching back half a millennium and to take account of the darker side of music education. For all the contemporary talk of a “revolutionary social project,” El Sistema offers little that is new—its core ideas were presaged in sixteenth-century Latin America and nineteenth-century Europe–and such programs have historically been reactionary, not revolutionary.
Historical precedents alert us to the possibility that alongside El Sistema’s undoubted productivity lie discipline and profit. And indeed, the Venezuelan program displays a familiar urge to control social Others and benefit from their musical activities. Founder José Antonio Abreu has said: “As an educator, I was thinking more about discipline than about music.” Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, meanwhile, have become mainstays of the global music industry, attracting the kind of international praise and wonder that Venetian orphan musicians did centuries earlier, and generating considerable revenue in the process. Like the Neapolitan conservatorios, it drills young performers intensively to fulfill the desires of audiences across Europe; once again, the musicians’ “naturalness” is celebrated, their unbending training regime overlooked.
To understand El Sistema, we need to remember music education’s two faces. The press and public have fixated on one–“rescuing” and training the poor–and have largely ignored the other: discipline and profit. Only when the second is fully grasped can a proper assessment be made.
Headline image credit: ‘Maestro. Orchestra. Conductor’. Public domain via Pixabay
The question is not whether it was appropriate for the Metropolitan Opera to stage this important and controversial piece, but rather, did they do it right? Did they mount it so that its poetic, dramatic and musical potential was well realized?
The challenge is great. Poet Alice Goodman’s libretto operates on multiple levels. Using poetic imagery, she not only explores the stories of the individual characters and some elements of the complex relationship between Jews and Palestinians but also larger human dilemmas. She sets the specifics in the context of the elements: earth (desert), water (ocean) and the sun (which effectively burns with fierce intensity throughout much of the second act of this production.)
The director, Tom Morris, has added the plant kingdom. Building on the Exiled Jews’ line, “the forest planted in memory,” he has the chorus bring on a small forest of young saplings – many of which are produced from large trunks. In so doing, he adds additional layers of meaning and memory – both that of the reforestation of Israel, but also that of the baggage of refugees everywhere, and specifically of the luggage lugged with false hopes to the camps.
It is at once a piece recalled in memory and an evocation of a present reality. As a memory piece Goodman does not need to tell the story sequentially and is free to present the events from multiple perspectives.
Here, too, Morris and his set designer, Tom Pye, have effectively amplified the libretto. By manipulating the set pieces they show us the killing of Klinghoffer first from the back and then from the front – vividly embodying different views. They also chose to portray the moment when Omar, a young terrorist, shoots – shifting our perspective in a different way. It effectively destroys any sympathy that we might have developed for him in his earlier aria/dance.
The success of this production stands on three pillars. One is the strong and subtle conducting of David Robertson. A second is the casting. The singing was uniformly excellent and the principals were believable. Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer (Alan Opie & Michaela Martens) presented a particularly interesting casting challenge, since it is crucial that their voices are beautiful and yet have an appropriately mature timbre. Both these demands were satisfyingly met. The third pillar of the success lies in the decision to reject the more abstract and cerebral approach taken in the original productions and to ground the work in particular and recognizable locales with the performers costumed in character-appropriate clothes.
The production team also chose not to represent Leon and Marilyn with dance doubles as was originally done, which increased our ability to empathize with their suffering. The convention was, however, retained for Omar. His is a mute role but for one major aria in which the piece takes the irredeemable step from threat to murder. The aria was sung by a woman in a dark burqa. However, she was not alone with him. On a receding diagonal behind her stood a line of identically dressed women evoking generations of tradition handed from mother to son. As she sang, Omar went through painful convulsions–of indecision? of fear? After the aria, he began his fateful walk towards Klinghoffer, gun in hand.
The set established three different locales – the first two were fluid and sometimes simultaneous. One was a lecture hall (or theater) represented by a lectern stage left; the other was the cruise ship, Achille Lauro, represented by railing pieces, deck chairs and by two moveable double-level ship’s deck units. When the Captain lies to the authorities about the violence onboard, the lectern becomes integrated with the ship as a stand for the phone. This choice effectively forces him to move out of memory to re-living one of his most painful choices during the high-jacking.
The final scene, in which the Captain admits to Marilyn that the terrorists have killed her husband, has a setting all its own. Inexorably, two giant panels close in – reducing the stage to a triangular space empty but for a single chair. Are we in the ship’s hold? Are we in a truth chamber or one of horrors? We don’t know, but it is a formidable and unforgiving space. And, indeed, neither the Captain nor Marilyn can escape.
Over a period of two dozen years, the director Peter Sellars brought together the team of John Adams and Alice Goodman to co-create three vitally important works: Nixon in China (1987), The Death of Klinghoffer (1991) and Dr. Atomic (2005). All are based on recent events with profound implications for our times. All three are oratorio-like. The stories are dramatic but their form is static. And yet we are drawn to these pieces. Confronted by the issues they embody – as we are in our media, our wallets and in the political choices made by our leaders, do we cry out for a distanced format? Do we seek a cool presentation that gives us time to review and reflect? Surely. And yet, in these quasi-operas, I miss the visceral excitement generated by works in which conflicts between unique individuals are directly portrayed in singing and acting. For me, the success of the Met’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer is that it restores some of this urgency, vitality and feeling.
Headline image credit: Full House at the Metropolitan Opera. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
We asked our composers a series of questions based around their musical likes and dislikes, influences, challenges, and various other things on the theme of music and their careers. Each month we will bring you answers from an OUP composer, giving you an insight into their music and personalities.
Charles Ives, when I was twelve or thirteen. I think Anthony Hopkins introduced the Concord Sonata in his BBC Radio ‘Talking about Music’ series, from which I learned so much about aesthetics and the craft of composing.
Can you describe the first piece of music you ever wrote?
The first piece I ever wrote was called ‘The Chinese Bridge’, I was just over 4 years old, and had been told the ‘story’ of the willow-pattern pottery. The piece was one line long, clumsily pentatonic, and all in the middle octave of the piano. I thought my mother’s sister had kept the music-book it was written in, but in several moves of house it got lost.
Have the challenges you face as a composer changed over the course of your career?
The main challenges for a composer, to maintain integrity and authenticity, take quite a battering from the UK ‘music business’ — pressures to conform, to be intelligible, to be ‘amusing’. Teaching keeps me up to speed, but I still suffer terrible uncertainties and depressions. Being stubborn, intensely obsessive and passionate probably helps. None of this ever seems to get any better.
What is the last piece of music you listened to?
The last thing I listened to properly was some Chinese traditional music, wonderfully played on a recent visit to Taipei. But I am half-way through watching a DVD of a slightly irritating production of Richard Strauss’s ‘Die Liebe der Danae’, having to close my eyes to focus on the sound.
What might you have been if you weren’t a composer?
You don’t choose to be a composer, it’s what you are put here to do. My parents wanted me to teach English. I had to fight.
Is there an instrument you wish you had learnt to play and do you have a favourite work for that instrument?
I only played the piano ‘by accident’, and if I had chosen the viola (the sound of which I love), could I have endured the stupid jokes and insults? I would have liked to sing well, but was told I sounded like a corncrake.
What would be your desert island playlist? (three pieces)
How has your music changed throughout your career?
Oddly enough I never intended to write the same piece over and over again: so of course I think my music, and my life, has changed, and I’ve been lucky enough to get older and research a bit more deeply. But in other respects it is said that ‘leopards don’t change their spots’. I am thinking about the NEXT piece, not my ‘career’! Working in a university has made me aware that there are many people better qualified than I am, and musicians who – if they are interested – can better tell you HOW my music (and anyone else’s) has changed.
Headline image credit: Music Piano Keys by geralt. CC0 via Pixabay.
The collapse of the Berlin Wall twenty-five years ago this month prompted a diverse range of musical responses. While Mstislav Rostropovich celebrated the momentous event by giving a very personal, impromptu performance of Bach’s Cello Suites in front of the Wall two days after it had been breached, David Hasselhoff regaled Berliners from atop of what remained of the Wall on New Year’s Eve of 1989 with a glitter-studded rendition of his chart hit “Looking for Freedom.” The values ascribed in the West to the demise of communism were captured especially clearly in the role assigned to Beethoven during this heady period. From the free concert of the First Piano Concerto and Seventh Symphony that was offered to the newly-liberated East Germans by West Berlin’s flagship Philharmonic Orchestra three days after the fall of the Wall to Leonard Bernstein’s performances of the Ninth Symphony in the East and West of the city a month later, the message was consistent; Beethoven’s music was deemed to embody both the triumph of liberal democracy and the unification of a once-divided people. This symbolism was particularly apparent in Bernstein’s two concerts. While the emancipation of East Germany was reflected in his substitution of “Freiheit” (freedom) for “Freude” (joy) in the choral finale, the performances themselves staged a musical act of universal brotherhood; the orchestra compromised of musicians from both Germanies and all four of the Allied powers, and the events were broadcast live across the globe.
Such unironic celebrations of the universal Beethoven obscured the complex relationship that East Germans had with the composer. Cultural policy in the German Democratic Republic was driven by an Enlightenment conviction in the transformative, unifying, and humanizing powers of art, and from the outset the government had harnessed Beethoven as a pivotal figure in their plans to implement state socialism. His revolutionary zeal was hailed as a template for East German citizens and his heroic style as the ultimate expression of socialist ideals. This narrative persisted in official portrayals of the composer for the duration of the state’s forty-year existence. Beyond the sphere of official rhetoric, however, Beethoven’s reception was far more conflicted. As the promised socialist utopia failed to materialize and the chasm widened between the rhetoric of revolution propagated by the party and the realities of life in the socialist state, Beethoven was approached increasingly not as an iconic statesman but as a vehicle for exploring of the problematic position of art and the artist in East German society.
An early example of this phenomenon can be observed in Reiner Kunze’s 1962 poem “Die bringer Beethovens” (the bringers of Beethoven), in which Beethoven serves as an allegory for totalitarianism rather than Enlightenment humanism. Published in the 1969 collection sensible wege, the poem relates the battle of “the man M.” against the faceless “bringers of Beethoven,” who inculcate the masses by subjecting them to a recording of the Fifth Symphony. The man attempts to resist this indoctrination by retreating inside his house only to have the bringers first fix loudspeakers over his windows, and then force their way in armed with the record. He responds by beating them with an iron ladle. A trial follows at which he is judged to be redeemable. Redemption, however, inevitably lies in the Fifth Symphony to which he is sentenced to listen. His punishment kills him, but death provides no release: at his funeral his children request that none other than the Fifth Symphony be played.
In the years that followed, alternative readings of Beethoven became increasingly prominent. Characteristic, for instance, is Reiner Bredemeyer’s short piece for orchestra and piano Bagatellen für B. of 1970, which sets the opening chords of the “Eroica” Symphony against the Bagatelles op. 119, no. 4 and op. 126 no. 2. Bredemeyer’s focus on the Bagatelles was a pointed challenge to the socialist Beethoven. Grounded in the femininity of the nineteenth-century drawing room rather than the revolutionary public sphere, these piano miniatures represented a significant affront to the one-dimensional heroic portrayals of the composer that dominated in the German Democratic Republic. A similar confrontation can be observed in Horst Seemann’s 1976 biopic Beethoven – Tage aus einem Leben. Here Beethoven is depicted not as a socialist deity, but as a very human and conflicted individual, plagued by failed love affairs, domestic ineptitude, and an inability to reconcile himself with society around him.
Driving these works was a pointed questioning of the social and political efficacy of art. Striking in this context are the opening scenes of Seemann’s film, which cut between a live performance of Beethoven’s “Battle Symphony” and a gory re-enactment of the Battle of Vittoria itself. Far from heralding the symphony as a revolutionary force, however, this juxtaposition of concert hall and battlefield exposes the fallacy of the Beethoven myth. Graphic images of wounded and dying soldiers sit uncomfortably with frames of the concert audience, who clap delightedly in response to the music and eat chocolates as they listen. Art serves here not as a harbinger of political change but simply as a mode of entertainment.
The demise of the German Democratic Republic did little to quell this disillusioned perspective, and the triumphant narratives of Beethoven that resurfaced in 1989 stood decidedly at odds with the prevailing mood among East German artists. Crucially, the euphoria that accompanied the fall of the Wall was tempered for the latter group by a sense of a loss, a loss not for their repressive country but for the ideals and hopes that this country had once promised. Key among these was the notion that art could serve as a force for good and play a profound role in effecting social reform. From this perspective, the failure of the German Democratic Republic was not just a failure of socialism. It was also a failure of art. As Bredemeyer observed in a 1992 interview with reference to the East German composer Hanns Eisler: “If music is an instrument of intervention in the sense of Eisler … then I have to say, very well then. Eisler lost, I too; it doesn’t work anymore.”
Headline image credit: Partly destructed Berlin Wall with border police, view from west, Brandenburg Gate in the background in November 1989. Photo by Stefan Richter. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Rollicking, rowdy, and introspective, five big rockers record their memoirs and reminiscences in big books this season.
Mick Fleetwood’s Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac (Little, Brown), shares his life as a drummer and bandleader and sheds new light on Fleetwood Mac’s raucous history and his lifelong friend John McVie. In the New York Post, Larry Getlen said, “”In his new memoir, Fleetwood documents his wild life, including how the creation of 1977′s Rumours, one of the best-selling albums of all time, almost drove the band insane.”
Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page (Genesis) is a photographic autobiography. Jimmy Page has chosen hundreds of photographs from his career as a celebrated guitarist: from a schoolboy with a “Rockabilly” forelock through his extensive work as a session musician; including The Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, ARMS, The Firm, Outrider, Coverdale & Page and Page & Plant; playing with Roy Harper and The Black Crowes; collaborating with P. Diddy, and performing with Leona Lewis at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In his autobiography Dancing with Myself (Touchstone), Billy Idol is candid, brash, and lively. He says, “I am hopelessly divided between the dark and the good, the rebel and the saint, the sex maniac and the monk, the poet and the priest, the demagogue and the populist. Pen to paper, I’ve put it all down, every bit from the heart. I’m going out on a limb here, so watch my back.”
Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian brings us the fast-paced, funny, and revealing I’m the Man (Da Capo). He includes tales from first hearing Kiss on the radio, backstage with Metallica, and the complete history of Anthrax, to interviewing Ozzy Osbourne for “The Rock Show” while dressed as Gene Simmons (and going undetected), marrying Meatloaf’s daughter, singer-songwriter Pearl Aday, becoming a fully functioning adult, and more. And, as Newsday’s David Criblez points out, his memoir comes with a comic book in the center.
In Rocks (Simon & Schuster), Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry paints an insider’s portrait of the rock-and-roll family, featuring everyone from Steven Tyler and Jimmy Page to Alice Cooper, Bette Midler to Chuck Berry, John Belushi to Al Hirschfeld. He takes us behind the scenes at unbelievable moments such as his appearance with Tyler in the movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (they act out the murders of Peter Frampton and the Bee Gees). Jimmy Page said of Rocks: “Rocking Joe Perry ‘rocks’ again!”
Grove Music Online presents this multi-part series by Don Harrán, Artur Rubinstein Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the life of Jewish musician Salamone Rossi on the anniversary of his birth in 1570. Professor Harrán considers three major questions: Salamone Rossi as a Jew among Jews; Rossi as a Jew among Christians; and the conclusions to be drawn from both. The following is the second installment, continued from part one.
By introducing “art music” into the synagogue Rossi was asking for trouble. He is said by Leon Modena (d. 1648), the person who encouraged him to write his Hebrew songs, to have “worked and labored to add from his secular to his sacred works” (“secular” meaning Gentile compositions). As happened when Modena tried to introduce art music into the synagogue in 1605, he and Rossi feared the composer’s works would awaken hostility. To answer prospective objections, Modena added to Rossi’s collection of “songs” the same responsum he wrote, many years before, on the legitimacy of performing art music in the synagogue. He said:
It could be that among the exiled there are sanctimonious persons who try to eliminate anything new in the synagogue or would prohibit a collection of Hebrew “songs.” To avoid this, I decided to reproduce here in print what I wrote in my responsum eighteen years ago with the intention of closing the mouth of anyone speaking nonsense about art music.
To quiet these same “sanctimonious persons” Rossi was in need of a patron. He found him in Moses Sullam, whom he described as a “courageous, versatile man, in whom all learning and greatness are contained.” Sullam encouraged Rossi to overcome the obstacles in the way of composing Hebrew songs, as it was not easy to write to Hebrew words with their accentual and syntactic demands so different from those in Italian. “How many times did I toil, at your command,” so Rossi declares, “until I was satisfied, ordering my songs with joyful lips.” Sullam had his own private synagogue, and it was there that Rossi probably first tried out the songs to gauge the reaction of singers and listeners. His efforts were favorably received. “When people sang them,” Modena reports, “they were delighted with their many good qualities. The listeners too were radiant, each of them finding it pleasant to hear them and wishing to hear more.” Rossi must have taken heart from these and other “friends”—thus they are called in the preface to the collection.
But it was not enough to have the influential Sullam, “highly successful and well known in Mantua,” behind him. Rossi needed rabbinical support, and here Modena, who followed the progress of the collection from its inception, rushed to his defense. For Modena the collection marked the resuscitation of Hebrew art music after its being forgotten with the destruction of the Second Temple. Modena exalted the composer, noting his importance in what he described as a Jewish musical renascence. He wrote that “the events of our foreign dwellings and of our restless running are dispersed over the lands, and the vicissitudes of life abroad were enough to make them [the Jews] forget all knowledge and lose all intellect.” Yet what was lost has now been recovered. “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for Solomon [= Salamone, in reference to King Solomon] alone is exalted nowadays in this wisdom. Not only is he wiser in music than any man of our nation” but he restored the once glorious music heard in the Temple.
Rossi, who was scared to death over how his Hebrew works would be received, asked Modena to prepare them for the printer; in Rossi’s words, “I asked him to prevent any mishap from coming to the composition, to prepare it [for typesetting], embellish it, proofread it, and look out for typographical errors and defects.” Modena composed a foreword to the collection and three dedicatory poems; he included, as already said, the early responsum from 1605 together with its approval by five Venetian rabbis. The collection went out into the world with as much rabbinical support as any composer could hope to receive.
The major problem for Rossi and Modena was how to narrow the gap between contemporary art music practiced by the Christians and Hebrew music practiced in the synagogue. To do this, Modena resorted to a clever remark of Immanuel Haromi, who wrote around 1335: “What will the science of music [niggun] say to others? ‘I was stolen, yes stolen from the land of the Hebrews’ [Genesis 40:15: gunnov gunnavti mi-eretz ha-‘ivrim].” If the Christians “stole” their music from the Hebrews, who, in their wanderings, forgot their former musical knowledge, then by cultivating art music in the early seventeenth century the Jews in a sense recuperated what was theirs to start with. In short, the only thing that separates the art music of the Jews from that of the Christians is its language: Hebrew.
When he composed his Hebrew works Rossi seems to have had one thing in mind: he was interested in their beautiful performance. Christians, who were familiar with Jewish sacred music from their visits to the synagogues, were usually shocked by what they heard. Here is how Gregorio Leti described Jewish prayer services in Rome in 1675:
No sooner do they [the Jews] enter their sanctuary than they begin to shout with angry voices, shaking their heads back and forth, making certain terribly ridiculous gestures, only to continue, sitting down, with these same shouts, which “beautiful” music lasts until their rabbi begins his sermon.
Even Leon Modena, who was a cantor at the Italian synagogue in Venice, was disappointed with the way music was performed in the synagogue. He rebuked the cantors for being so negligent as “to bray like asses” or “shout to the God of our fathers as a dog and a crow.” Oh, how the Jews are fallen, for “we were once masters of music in our prayers and our praises now become a laughingstock to the nations, for them to say that no longer is science in our midst.”
Both Modena and Rossi were concerned over how Christians would respond to Jewish music. They wanted to prove that whatever the Christians do, the Jews can do equally well. They may not be physically strong, Modena explains, but, in the “sciences,” they are outstanding:
No more will bitter words about the Hebrew people
be uttered, in a voice of scorn, by the haughty.
They will see that full understanding is as much a portion
of theirs [the people’s] as of others who flaunt it.
Though weak in [dealing] blows, in sciences
they [the people] are a hero, as strong as oaks.
“Dejan Lazic calls Midgette’s column “slightly defamatory” and argues that such criticism can have damaging effects beyond his own career. Midgette counters that she does not write reviews for musicians but for the benefit of her readers, and she hopes that her criticism will spark enlightened discussion.”
“Gary Hanson, executive director of the orchestra since 2004, announced Tuesday, Nov. 4, that he will retire from the post in October 2015. When he retires next fall, Hanson will have worked with the orchestra for nearly 28 years.”
“Music-evoked sadness can be appreciated not only as an aesthetic, abstract reward, but (it) also plays a role in well-being, by providing consolation as well as regulating negative moods and emotions.”
I just reviewed yet another “hot off the press” piano composition. It was posted on Facebook by someone I don’t know – either as a person or by reputation. It looks good, but that is only because note-writing software has become so easy-to-use that anyone with the most basic knowledge can quickly crank out a “could-have-been-published” looking piece.
This particular piece doesn’t sound very good. It is mismatched. The notes themselves are at an upper-beginning level, yet it’s written with a complicated key signature and accidentals only an advanced student could understand. There are notational errors. Yet, I know that many unknowing teachers will print it off and rush it to their unfortunate students before the day is out without knowing better.
My professional life is better because of my Facebook presence that I control from the comfort of my hilltop home in a small town. I have made connections with numerous wonderful teachers I might not have met otherwise. I have discovered new books and interesting repertoire and also have contributed my two cents when I felt called to do so. I recognize, however, that I have been thrown without rank or file, onto a massive heap of piano teachers. Perhaps I stand out because of my reputation, but probably not. Up until recent times, the gatekeepers of quality have included respected publishers and one’s reputation through professional associations. Facebook’s format equalizes everyone regardless of accomplishment or education. There is no gatekeeper here.
I work in an unregulated industry as an independent music teacher in the United States. No professional degrees, training, or licensing of any kind is necessary to start up a studio. One simply needs to hang a sign and gather willing students. While this has been a longstanding issue in our field, recent trends in social media have combined with advances in technology to make everyone look equally valid on the screen. It is impossible to discern from a glance whether one’s content is senseless, stellar, or stolen.
With the ease of creating websites, music teachers have jumped into the writing arena. No credentials are needed to set up a site, write something, and post links in every professional music group on Facebook. The volume is overwhelming and often includes blog posts that are only copies or rewrites of someone else’s work. From appearances on screen, there is no way to sort the good from the bad and unethical.
Likewise, when questions are posed in groups, anyone can answer. There are no algorithms measuring the veracity or usefulness of an answer, or even the level of competence of the person responding. Running parallel to this is an anti-educational drumbeat that attempts to elevate those who have no formal education in their field to the highest level of achievement simply because they have passion for what they do. “People don’t know what they don’t know” as the old saying goes, and on Facebook no one seems bashful in rushing to confirm the truth of this statement. On the ubiquitous blue and white screen we all stand as equals — or at least we look like we do.
Adding to this are the wearisome writers who purport that “having fun” should supersede the steady and sturdy learning that is required to gain success in any field. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with fun, but students subjected to a form of “teaching” with only pleasant, mindless activities devoid of content or educational merit will never see a reasonable level of achievement — certainly not enough for them to gain entry into a respectable music school.
Untrained teachers whose main goal is keeping kids happy are falling into this trap by droves by using well-marketed, but substandard and mostly self-published literature that is woefully lacking in sound pedagogy. There is a bandwagon mentality of rushing to download the latest composition or method, which leads to a sense of belonging to the coolest group in high school – I mean – on Facebook. But, when one method advertises that “Our teachers do not need to possess advanced playing skills, prior teaching experience or a music degree. They must simply love to play the piano…” where is it all headed?
Parents would never allow their children to study math with someone who simply had a passion for adding up numbers, yet many sign them up for music lessons without researching the qualifications of the instructors or the soundness of the materials. The books are slick, the websites dynamic, and the appearances on Facebook omnipresent. But does the emperor actually have any clothes?
With 8,000 piano teachers in one group and several thousand in others, it is an unmanageable task to separate the wheat from the chaff. I suspect that these groups will have short shelf lives moving forward as their members begin to realize the unreliability of the information and the questionable value of material shared. What this backlash will create is yet to be determined, but I trust it will be a positive, quality-driven platform. For me, this can’t happen soon enough.
“The Ulster Orchestra is hanging in the balance because of cuts in the arts sector over the past three years. The orchestra, which costs around £4.6 million a year to run, has appealed for £500,000 from Belfast City Council to help keep it afloat.”
Muti: “To take another position as music director of an opera house means that your life is finished. You have to deal with problems with singers, the chorus, the theater in another part of the world.”
“On Oct. 30, [Dejan Lazic] sent The Washington Post a request to remove a 2010 review by Post classical music critic Anne Midgette that – he claims – has marred the first page of his Google results for years. It’s the first request The Post has received under the E.U. ruling. It’s also a truly fascinating, troubling demonstration of how the ruling could work.”
Called the Warner Music Prize and funded by industrialist Len Blavatnik, who purchased Warner Music Group in 2011, the award “is expected to be given out annually to an instrumentalist or singer between 18- and 35-years-old who shows strong career potential.”
After looking at the arguments and evidence, Ross writes, “No one is well served by wild speculation that distorts the historical record – or, for that matter, ascribes a piece of music to a woman on the grounds that it lacks maturity.”
Tim Page profiles 91-year-old Chou Wen-Chung, who recalls his reaction, at age 14, on learning of Ravel’s death: “I thought composers were a gift from nature and that music was written by dead people, because every composer I had heard of, Chinese or Western, was dead. And I thought, ‘Could I become a composer? How wonderful!'”