An early ethnomusicology symposium

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At a unique ethnomusicology symposium hosted by the University of Washington in 1963, presenters described their views of the discipline with particular attention to fieldwork. It was a heady moment in the discipline, one where there was a sense of a distinctive emerging disciplinary identity only a few years after the first conference of the Society for Ethnomusicology.

The event included debates about disciplinary identity, particularly the methodological division between those trained in music or anthropology.

In spite of traces of continuing interest in questions of universals, the terms of and reasons for their different positionings were presented as quite rigid and stark categorizations, binaries in most cases—simple/complex, fixed/improvised, tribal/urban, literate/non-literate, sonic structures/culture, musicologists/anthropologists, insiders/outsiders.

To our eyes over half a century later, various conflations of these binaries amount to highly problematic over-arching and totalizing constructs that are racist at worst and rigid at best. The entwined and porous processes of cultural production and reception that we more often focus on today would probably have been unthinkable for some of the 1963 participants.

This according to “Patriarchs at work: Reflections on an ethnomusicological symposium in 1963” by Beverley Diamond (Sound matters 27 July 2015).

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Ozawa arrives

ozawa 1975

A piano prodigy at an early age, Seiji Ozawa’s virtuoso career was cut short in his teens when he broke two fingers playing rugby. He switched to composition and conducting, and after graduating with honors he left Japan for Europe.

His rise was swift, and in 1973, at the age of 38, he became Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Sporting a Beatles haircut and Nehru jackets, he took Boston’s hyper-traditional classical music scene by storm; overnight, America’s most staid orchestra gained a hip new image.

This according to “Wild card” by Andrew Moravcsik (Opera news LXXIII/6 [December 2008] pp. 32–33).

Today is Ozawa’s 80th birthday! Above, the maestro with the BSO in 1975; below, a recording from 1974.

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Hjerterne opad

Mod lyset

In 2014 Taarnborg inaugurated the series Hjerterne opad with Mod lyset: Rued Langgaard, musikken og symbolismen by Esben Tange.

The book discusses how The Danish composer Rued Langgaard was very much fascinated by light, which runs as an important theme in his life and production. It is especially expressed in his symphony no. 1 (Klippepastoraler). In the symphony no. 10 (Hin torden-bolig) and symphony no. 12 (Helsingeborg), light is linked to its contrast–darkness–and in his last symphony, no. 16 (Syndflod af Sol), Langgaard makes the divine light shine through the music.

Below, a performance of Langgaard’s 16th symphony.

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The Fugs in the 1960s

fugs (1)

Few rock musicians have been as politically and stylistically radical as The Fugs were in their first incarnation, which ran from about 1964 to mid-1969.

They were the first group to shatter taboos against profane and obscene language and explicit lyrics about sex and illicit substances in rock music, predating even The Velvet Underground. They were also among the forerunners of the hybrid known as folk-rock.

They claim to have played more benefits for left-wing political causes than any other band of the era did. They suffered draining battles against censorship and harassment from politicians, law enforcement, and right-wingers.

They drew upon the poetry of William Blake, Allen Ginsberg, and others for some of their more literary lyrics. They were among the first rock artists to smash the barrier against songs running more than five minutes and, along with The Mothers of Invention and The Bonzo Dog Band, they were the funniest band of the time, couching their political and social satire in wit that could be both ferocious and gentle.

This according to “The Fugs” by Ritchie Unterberger, an essay included in Urban spacemen and wayfaring strangers: Overlooked innovators and eccentric visionaries of ’60s rock (San Francisco: Miller Freeman, 2000, pp. 94–108).

Below, The Fugs at the Fillmore East in 1968 (audio only).

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Doggies and politics


In music as in politics, dogs can be useful props.

Richard Nixon’s famous “Checkers speech”, which saved his vice presidential bid and set a new standard for emotional appeals in political advertising, made news the same year (1952) that Patti Page had a number-one hit with (How much is) that doggie in the window?

The subsequent 1952 presidential race included an ad for Adlai Stevenson that featured a saucy Patti Page lookalike addressing the camera and singing, “I love the gov, the governor of Illinois…Adlai, I love you madly.” This was the first presidential race to feature widespread use of the new televisual medium, and Dwight D. Eisenhower won both the ad war and the presidency.

This according to “Political machinations: How much was that doggie in the window?” by Philip Gentry (IASPM-US 1 October 2012).

Above, Checkers; below, Patti Page!

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Ballet manga

ballet manga

Ballet manga, in which the heroine withstands numerous trials to become a notable dancer, is very popular among Japanese girls and women, and has greatly contributed to the establishment of ballet in Japan.

The genre emerged during the 1950s; with an increase in its popularity, more children began attending private ballet classes, since Japan had no official ballet schools. After some decades now, many Japanese dancers have begun winning international dancing competitions.

While most ballet manga is fictional, some examples have been based on the lives of famous ballet dancers such as Vaclav Nižinskij and Maria Tallchief.

This according to “The relationship between ballet and manga in Japan” by Yukiyo Hoshino, an essay included in Writing dancing/Dancing writing (Birmingham: Society of Dance History Scholars, 2014, pp. 103–106).

Above, the first volume of Swan, a popular serialized ballet manga from the 1970s; below, the related genre of ballet anime.

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The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre


The inscription Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano on an early 18th-century Italian spinet in Edinburgh is identifiable with the second line of a riddling couplet found in Nikolaus von Reusner’s Aenigmatographia (1599). The literary ancestry of Reusner’s couplet is traceable to a traditional Greek riddle about the tortoise-lyre, where the tortoise becomes vocal only after its death.

Many examples from classical authors and imitators in later European literature and popular tradition can be found. The motif was transferred to instruments made of wood, and Reusner’s couplet was much used as a motto on early violins; the famous luthier Gasparo Duiffopruggar particularly appears to have been associated with it.

This according to “The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre” by Edward Kerr Borthwick (Music & letters LI/4 [October 1970] pp. 373–87).

Above, a harpsichord in the Flemish style that includes the inscription; below, an instrumental work inspired by the original four-line poem.

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Oscar Peterson’s aesthetics

Oscar Peterson

In an interview, Oscar Peterson discussed his aesthetics and teaching.

“I’m an admirer of the beautiful long line that starts out and then reaches a point of definition. If you reach a point of definition, it validates all the other aspects of the line.”

“One thing I try to convey to my students when I’m teaching is the relativity of notes. From a melodic standpoint there are wrong notes. But from a creative standpoint there are no wrong notes because every note can be related to a chord. Every note can be made part of your line, depending on how fast you can integrate it into your schematic arrangement.”

“It’s not a matter of technique; it’s time….You have an idea, and it’s confined to a certain period in a piece on an overlay of harmonic carpeting. You have to get from here to there in whatever time you’re allotted with whatever ideas you have.”

Quoted in “Oscar Peterson” by Leonard Lyons, an interview included in The great jazz pianists: Speaking of their lives and music (New York: Thomas Morrow, 1983, pp. 130–43).

Today would have been Peterson’s 90th birthday! Below, the pianist as jazz encyclopedia.

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Steve Martin, banjo ace

Steve Martin

Steve Martin’s love of the banjo dawned when he first heard Earl Scruggs on a record in 1962, when he was was 17 years old and living in the no-bluegrass-zone of Orange County, California.

Though the actor and comedian was drawn to the instrument’s high lonesome sound, it served as a prop in his early comedy routines. His influences included John McEuen (later a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Doug Dillard of the Dillards, and David Lindley (banjo player for the Mad Mountain Ramblers, an acoustic ensemble that Martin heard during a stint at Disneyland).

This according to “Banjo: Obsession is a great substitute for talent” by Mr. Martin, an article included in The Oxford American book of great music writing (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 2008, pp. 402–406).

Today is Martin’s 70th birthday! Above, with some friends in 1977; below, live in 2010.

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hymnal is an online hymn and worship music database for worship leaders, hymnologists, and amateur hymn lovers. The interface allows for browsing hymns by title, tune, meter, key, scripture reference, and more.

Incorporating the Dictionary of North American Hymnology in partnership with The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, it is the most complete database of North American hymnody on the planet.

Below, Jane Borthwick’s translation of Katharina von Schlegel’s Stille, mein Wille! Dein Jesus hilft siegen, sung to a melody by Jean Sibelius; the database’s entry for the work is here.

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