Happy 90th to the Grand Ole Opry!

ernest tubb

On 28 November 1925 a white-bearded man sat down before one of the Nashville radio station WSM’s modern carbon microphones to play some old-time fiddle tunes. Uncle Jimmy Thompson played on the air for an hour that night, and throughout the region listeners took notice.

In Nashville the response at the offices of National Life and Accident Insurance Company, which owned radio station WSM, was dramatic. It was not long before the station manager was besieged by pickers and fiddlers of every variety, all wanting their shot at the Saturday night airwaves.

By 1940 the Grand Ole Opry had found its national audience and was poised to become the legendary institution that it remains to this day.

This according to A good-natured riot: The birth of the Grand Ole Opry by Charles K. Wolfe (Nashville: Country Music Foundation, 1999). Above, Ernest Tubb at the Opry. Below, Roy Acuff offers his imitation of a train whistle.

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Wampanoag music and dance

mashpee wampanoag powwow

On this U.S. Thanksgiving Day, let’s pay our respects to the Wampanoag people, who helped the refugees at Plymouth Colony through their first winter, taught them to fish and grow corn, and attended their celebration of thanksgiving after their first successful harvest.

Wampanoag music is wrapped up in dance. The beat of a hardwood stick, water drum, and corn rattles is the music of their lively social dances, while appreciation and gratitude are expressed in their ceremonial dances.

“It is part of our nature is to be in thanksgiving” said Ramona Peters, a Wampanoag woman. “It’s sort of our philosophy, so it gets threaded through both the social and ceremonial dances.”

This according to Music on Martha’s Vineyard: A history of harmony by Tom Dresser and Jerry Muskin (Charleston: History Press, 2014).  Above and below, the 2015 Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow.

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Journal of interdisciplinary voice studies


Launched by Intellect in 2015, Journal of interdisciplinary voice studies provides a platform for academics and practitioners involved in voice studies.

Voice is understood here as a phenomenon of different disciplines such as communication and performance, but also as a methodological tool and analytical mechanism. This journal aims to represent the wide variety of voice scholars and hopes to reflect the multifaceted nature of this subject.

Below, a project by the interactive theater collective non zero one, the subject of one of the articles in the inaugural issue.

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Gunther Schuller and the third stream


The term third stream was coined by Gunther Schuller in the late 1950s to describe the outcome of the merger of the African American improvisational tradition with Western art music.

Since then, the definition has been broadened to view third stream as a process rather than a style, in which the music is primarily improvised and becomes a deeply personal vehicle for soloists or collaborators.

This according to “Third stream and the importance of the ear: A position paper in narrative form” by Ran Blake (College music symposium XXI/2 [fall 1981] pp. 139–46).

Today would have been Schuller’s 90th birthday! Above, delivering the Cleveland Institute of Music’s commencement address in May 2015 (a video of the address is here); below, conducting his Monk, Bunk, and vice versa in 1989.

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Tommy Dorsey hits the screen

Tommy Dorsey's Band in Las Vegas Nights

Unlike his older brother Jimmy, who got his start in films with uncredited background music, Tommy Dorsey shrewdly bided his time until his band was famous enough to command a significant fee.

Unfortunately, his first film, Las Vegas nights, was a disaster. “A picture like that can come back and haunt you” admitted the film’s star, Bert Wheeler. Still, its place in history is assured as the first film appearance by Dorsey, Buddy Rich, and—as an uncredited chorus member—Frank Sinatra.

This according to “The Dorsey brothers: Filmdom’s favorites” by Robert L. Stockdale (The IAJRC journal XLI/2 [May 2008] pp. 46–57).

Today is Tommy Dorsey’s 110th birthday! Above, a still from Las Vegas nights showing Sinatra, far right in the back row (click to enlarge); below, an instrumental piece from the film.

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Paul Hindemith, visual artist

Apparently Hindemith seized every opportunity to draw, from early childhood until his last December, when he completed that year’s entry in a series of Christmas cards that spanned more than 20 years.

He used any medium that came to hand—including menus, advertisements, and paper napkins—and clearly never considered his drawings to be very important; they were carelessly preserved, and almost never dated or titled.

Most of Hindemith’s drawings are whimsical, often to the point of grotesquerie. He characteristically filled all the available space, often with impossible conglomerations of people, animals, and machines. The richness of his ideas and the skill of their expression bear witness to a truly original talent.

This according to Paul Hindemith: Der Komponist als Zeichner/Paul Hindemith: The composer as graphic artist (Zürich: Atlantis, 1995).

Below, part of Hindemith’s tribute to a great visual artist—the Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald. Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in Grablegung, the second movement of Symphony: Mathis Der Maler.

BONUS: Hindemith must have rotated the above drawing several times as he worked on it; it can therefore be viewed with any edge on top. Copy it into a picture editor and rotate it yourself to see the four different angles!

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Humor, Visual art

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel’s biography

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel

The idea that Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy prevented his sister, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, from publishing her compositions is not a feminist reinterpretation of her life; it can be traced to 19th-century publications by the Mendelssohn family that portray both siblings within socially acceptable gender roles. Centering Hensel’s biography on her brother’s influence oversimplifies the historical situation for women composers, replacing issues surrounding gender and class with a single male villain.

Current treatments of Hensel rely on Romantic stereotypes of the neglected genius; her life reveals a need for a feminist biography that balances larger cultural constraints with recognition of individual female agency.

This according to “The ‘suppression’ of Fanny Mendelssohn: Rethinking feminist biography” by Marian Wilson Kimber (19th-century music XXVI/2 [fall 2002] pp. 113–129).

Todays is Hensel’s 210th birthday! Below, Claudie Verhaeghe sings her Nachtwanderer.

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Neil Young and “Storytone”

In a 2014 interview, Neil Young discussed the making of his 35th studio album, Storytone.

“It was a great experience. I was in a room with all these musicians. We did it all at once. There’s no overdubs. ‘Be great or be gone’, that’s what my producer David Briggs always said. You only have one shot at a time and you can’t go fix it.”

“I knew where I wanted to go with the songs, and the orchestra had charts and an arranger and everything…It was done with up to a 90-piece orchestra. We did it live in the room like Sinatra.”

This accrding to “12 Things we learned from Howard Stern’s interview with Neil Young” by Andy Greene (Rolling stone 14 October 2014).

Today is Young’s 70th birthday! Above, Young in 2014 (photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage); below, one of the Storytone sessions.

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Bryn Terfel’s physical fitness


In a 2011 interview, Bryn Terfel noted that a strong constitution is essential for the role of Wotan in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, which he was currently performing at the Metropolitan Opera.

“If you’re not one hundred percent, there’s absolutely no way you can get through a piece like Die Walküre…if Rheingold starts there will probably be three or four performances, and you have to be very careful how you conserve energy during the period you’re there.”

“Mozart, for instance, is sociable—you do go to restaurants and theaters and anything the city has to offer. But with Wagner you seem to lock the door and take the low road. You’re more cautious: ‘No, I can’t come out to dinner—not this time.’”

Quoted in “The wanderer” by Brian Kellow (Opera news LXXV/11 [May 2011] pp. 22–27).

Today is Terfel’s 50th birthday! Above and below, as Wotan at the Met.

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Curios, news, & chronicles

Tristan chord

Established in 2015, Curios, news, & chronicles is the official blog of Répertoire International de la Presse Musicale (RIPM).

Currently posting about once a month, the blog explores topics through RIPM’s content, often with actual page views and illustrations from historical periodicals, and sometimes with whimsical asides.

Above, James William Davison, editor of The Musical World, reacting to the so-called Tristan chord (The Musical World LX/25 [24 June 1882] p. 385).

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