Preparing for concerts and competitions using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text: A performer’s perspective

The Schoenfeld International String Competition is a prestigious event that challenges musicians to deliver exceptional performances, often requiring deep cultural and historical understanding of the pieces they play. One such piece, “陕北民歌-山丹丹开花红艳艳(编曲:薛澄潜;配器:朱彬 (Shǎn běi míngē-shān dān dān kāihuā hóngyànyàn biān qǔ: Xuēchéngqián; pèiq: Zhū bīn [Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies])”, arranged by Xue Chengqian and orchestrated by Zhu Bin for the 2023 violin competition, demands a nuanced interpretation rooted in the rich traditions of Chinese folk music. The song, as indicated by the competition, features a strong Chinese folk style, with sound effects imitating the morin huur (horse-head fiddle) and a timeless, beautiful melody. Using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text can provide invaluable resources for better understanding and preparing this piece. 

Researching Shanbei folk music

To begin, it is crucial to understand the cultural and historical context of Shanbei folk music. Shanbei, or northern Shaanxi province, is known for its distinctive folk songs, characterized by unique melodic structures and singing techniques. Articles like “陕北民歌演唱技巧探究 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu [Singing technique in northern Shaanxi traditional song])” by Wang Xinhui (Yuefu xin sheng: Shenyang Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/The new voice of yue-fu: The academic periodical of Shenyang Conservatory of Music 1:75 [spring 2002] 54-59; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-23054) provide an excellent starting point. The abstract indicates that the article delves into the vocal techniques specific to Shanbei folk songs, such as the use of pingqiang (平腔, “flat singing”) and gaoqiang (高腔, high-pitched singing), as well as the balance between true and falsetto voices. Accessing the full text allows for a deeper understanding of these techniques, which are essential for delivering an authentic performance.

Additionally,“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Cong hechang “Shanbei min’ge wu shou” kan Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui de lishi yingxiang [History and influences of Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui: Shanbei min’ge wu shou as an example])” by Liao Jianbing Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 2:140 [summer 2013] 85-90; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-8124) offers insights into the historical significance and adaptation of Shanbei folk songs. The abstract and full text discuss how these songs were arranged for choral performances, providing context that can inform the interpretation of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies.

Analyzing the composition and arrangement

Understanding the specific arrangement and orchestration by Xue and Zhu requires examining the compositional techniques they employed. Articles that discuss the arrangement and orchestration of similar pieces can offer valuable parallels. For example, examining how traditional elements are maintained or transformed in contemporary settings is crucial. 

The article “从陕北民歌同源变体关系看苦音宫调的构成 (Cong Shanbei min’ge tongyuan bianti guanxi kan kuyin gongdiao de goucheng [An exploration of the form of the kuyin mode in terms of the homologous variant relationship in northern Shaanxi folk songs])” by Yang Shanwu Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 3:137 [autumn 2012] 17-24; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2012-18701) is particularly relevant. It discusses the kuyin mode, a modal system characterized by slightly sharped fourth and flatted seventh degrees, which is prevalent in Shanbei folk music. This modal understanding can be directly applied to the analysis of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies, aiding in grasping its melodic and harmonic structure.

Synthesizing information for performance

Having gathered detailed information on the cultural context, vocal techniques, and compositional structure, the next step is to synthesize this knowledge into a cohesive performance strategy. This involves integrating the historical and theoretical insights into practical applications during practice sessions.

For instance, incorporating the singing techniques discussed in“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu)” can enhance the authenticity of the performance. Practicing the transitions between pingqiang and gaoqiang will help in achieving the characteristic sound of Shanbei folk music. Additionally, understanding the kuyin mode from the article by Yang Shanwu can guide the interpretation of the melodic lines, ensuring they resonate with the traditional Shanbei sound.

In a similar way, instrumental musicians and performers can leverage the extensive resources available through RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text to deepen their understanding of the pieces they play. By accessing scholarly articles that provide historical context, technical analysis, and cultural insights, musicians can enrich their interpretations and performances. This scholarly approach not only enhances their technical proficiency but also allows them to connect more deeply with the music’s heritage and artistic intentions, ultimately leading to more informed and compelling performances.

–Written by Laurentia Woo, a RILM intern and currently a junior at Columbia Preparatory School. Laurentia also studies violin with Professor Li Lin at the Pre-College division of the Juilliard School.

Below is a performance of Xue Chengqian’s Song of praise by South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim at the 2016 Schoenfeld International String Competition.

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Microaggressions and mental health risks faced by LGBTQ+ music teachers

Music teachers are generally exposed to work-related stressors sufficient to negatively impact their mental health, and both the COVID-19 pandemic and culture wars have amplified the likelihood of teacher-targeted bullying and harassment. LGBTQ+ teachers, however, have been historically more likely to experience workplace discrimination, and many are even more at risk since the advent of the third wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States. For instance, 588 antitransgender laws were introduced across the United States, 85 of which passed in 2023.

Given the absence of a body of LGBTQ+ music teacher mental health research, a review of the literature on teacher mental health, music teacher mental health, LGBTQ+ teacher mental health, and LGBTQ+ music teacher studies reveal the threats to mental health that LGBTQ+ music teachers may encounter as a result of their work. Microaggressive stress theory is used to consider the ways that harassment and discrimination can lead to mental distress. Microaggressions can be delivered verbally, nonverbally, and environmentally. Although verbal and nonverbal microaggressions are more easily defined and noticed, environmental microaggressions include demeaning and threatening social, educational, political, or economic cues that are communicated individually, institutionally, or societally to marginalized groups. Microaggressions may be conveyed both consciously and unconsciously and can take the forms of microinsults, microassaults, and microinvalidations. Recommendations to prevent such stressors include implementing microintervention education and expanding access to mentorship, support groups, and mental health care.

This according to “Microaggressive stress and identity trauma: The work-related mental health risks of LGBTQ+ music teachers” by Tawnya D. Smith (Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education 238 [fall 2023] 7–22; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 2023-19631).

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The schola cantorum in Nantes

By the 18th century, the port city of Nantes had become an important transfer point in the Atlantic triangular trade, as ships carrying African slaves docked in the port, one of the first instances where this was allowed in France. The city’s strategic location was evident again during the French Revolution, when Nantes served a base in the battle against Vendée and royalist armies in 1793 Battle of Nantes. Like other French port cities, Nantes industrialized rapidly during the 19th century and specialized in the textile and food trade. The new economy contributed to the modernization of the city so that by 1879 one of the first trams powered by an air compressor engine was put into operation. The city’s development, however, was severely disrupted by several catastrophic floods in the early 1900s which led to the closure of several large manufacturing sites and factories.

In 1913, the Schola Cantorum de Nantes was founded under the direction of Marguerite Le Meignen (1878–1947), the first official statutes of the music association are dated 1920. It corresponded to the expectations of the new concert associations, such as the Concerts populaires (1910), as well as those of various choirs, including A Capella (1908) or Les Chanteurs de Notre-Dame (1902), that emerged across the city in the early part of the century. The Schola brought about musical innovation by establishing a large mixed choir, which included a symphony orchestra. By the first decade, the efforts of the concert associations appeared to wane. Although opera still flourished in the city theaters (despite a fire in the Théâtre de la Renaissance in 1912), choral singing flourished in the Maitrise de Notre-Dame or in amateur ensembles. The press and critics regularly pointed out that Nantes did not have concert companies like Angers.

Learn more in a new entry on the musical life of Nantes in MGG Online.

Below is a 2019 performance of Jubilate Deo by the Schola Cantorum de Nantes, directed by Thierry Brehu.

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A military brass band in the Riau Islands

The “Sultan of Lingga’s brass band”, as it was dubbed by the Singapore press, or korps musik as it was known locally, was a European-style military band located in the former Netherlands East Indies, owned and operated by the Sultan of Riau-Lingga, not by the colonial Dutch regime. Formed in the 1820s, the band was particularly prominent from the installation of the last sultan, Abdulrahman Mu’azamsyah, in 1885 until he was deposed in 1911.

Despite this history, there is no surviving tradition of military band music practiced in the band’s former home on Penyengat Island and few discernible traces of the band exist in the cultural memory of the Riau region. After reaching its height of prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the history of the Sultan of Lingga’s brass band is now all but forgotten. In this regard, the Sultan’s band differs from examples of military band traditions elsewhere that have grown and thrived long after the withdrawal of colonial regimes that introduced them.

Below: The last Sultan of Riau-Lingga, Abdul Rahman II.

This according to “The sultan of Lingga’s brass band: Music, politics and memory in the Riau-Lingga sultanate” by Anthea Skinner, Performing arts and the royal courts of Southeast Asia I: Pusaka as documented heritage, ed. by Mayco Santaella (Leiden: Brill, 2023, 239–258; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2023-13007).

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The Hawaiian queen composer

Queen Liliʻuokalani was born into an extraordinarily musical family and was probably the most musically gifted of her class and time. She became Queen of Hawai’i in 1891 and reigned for two years, until she was deposed by the U.S. settlers under Sanford B. Dole, a Hawaii-born lawyer and judge who advocated for the Westernization of Hawaiian culture and government, and who later became the first and only president of the Hawaiian Republic. Under Dole’s orders, Liliʻuokalani was arrested in January 1895 and sentenced to life imprisonment; however, she was kept under house arrest in lolani Palace until her release in September of the same year.

Liliʻuokalani in 1853.

Her Hawaiian national anthem, composed circa 1868, was played at official functions for 20 years until a new anthem was written. In 1898, Liliʻuokalani wrote that her song compositions ran into the hundreds (after 19 years of composing at the time); even if that number was only half correct, it would still make her the most prolific Hawaiian composer of the 19th century.

Liliʻuokalani began her musical training around the age of seven with missionaries who taught her to sing. She was a multi-instrumentalist who was proficient on guitar, piano, zither, autoharp, and organ and was an adept sight-singer known to have developed perfect pitch. Liliʻuokalani’s early training took place during a unique period of Hawaiian history where Indigenous Hawaiian music traditions blended with Western cultures brought to the islands by sugar plantation owners and pineapple farmers.

Her aristocratic background exposed her to both worlds, as she learned about Hawaiian music, legends, and poetry along with Western waltzes and hymnody. Liliʻuokalani’s compositions often combined the melodies of hymns with storylines grounded in Hawaiian traditions. Although best known for love songs such as Aloha ‘Oe, many of her songs addressed political themes. For instance, the lyrics to one of her less-known compositions, Mai wakinekona a iolani hale, was published in a local Hawaiian language newspaper and informed people about the conditions of her imprisonment after being overthrown.

Read more in International encyclopedia of women composers (1987); find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

The painting at the beginning of the post is by Linda Ruiz-Lozito.

Listen to a 1904 recording of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s composition Aloha ‘Oe (Farewell to thee) below performed by Quartet of Hawaiian Girls from Kawaihao Seminary.

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Steve Albini’s lo-fi aesthetics

As a central figure in the 1980’s Chicago noise rock scene with his band Big Black, the famed indie recording engineer/producer Steve Albini developed a reputation for his distinctly anti-commercial work ethic and ability to effectively convey gritty, abrasive noise. Albini’s stance was once described by the scholar and composer Marc Faris as constructing “a gender-, race-, and class-specific workingman persona”. Albini normally wore worker’s overalls (as in the photo above) while in the studio and described his approach to music recording in terms of construction or “putting together”, similar to a bricklayer or steelworker, touting a liveness to his sound by avoiding nonessential studio trickery. As part of the Chicago scene, Albini forged an aesthetic that mixed a musically exact virtuosity with a emphasis on communal music performance.

This aesthetic embraced a documentary approach to studio recording where record production honestly conveyed a band’s live performance with transparency and fidelity. Drums and guitar recording under Albini’s expertise were rendered with startling immediacy and liveness, allowing for the ostensibly natural sound of the performance and performing space to be aurally inscribed in the recording. This aspect of his craft was often described in terms of capturing the essence of a live band. Albini’s recording of vocals, however, often left them buried in the mix. He described his reasoning for focusing on instrumental elements of rock: “In the pop music tradition, the vocal is always the paramount thing . . . In records that are of a band . . . the vocals may not be the most important thing. Now, I can’t count the number of times that a vocalist has said, ʽOkay, it’s time to do the vocals on this. Give me a minute, I have to write some lyrics’”. With such reasoning, Albini placed a modernist aesthetic of instrumental performance squarely against the historically feminized, emotional pop aesthetic of vocal expression.

Albini (middle) and Big Black circa 1986.

One of Albini’s signature works as a recording engineer was on PJ Harvey’s critically acclaimed 1993 album Rid of me, which valorized a lo-fi aesthetic of raw musical expression, stripped down to its most fundamental elements. In the early 1990s, the emerging subgenre of lo-fi foregrounded debates about both the aesthetic and ideological significance of sound production in rock music. For some lo-fi artists and listeners, modes of performance, recording, and mediation were central to the meaning and expression of the recorded music. The ideologies and impulses of lo-fi were a crucial factor in shaping the contrasting implications of the production myths of Harvey’s recordings of that period, including Rid of me and 4-track demos.

PJ Harvey Rid of me cover art.

Harvey’s choice of Albini for the recording of Rid of me proved compelling. After all, Harvey’s musical persona had demonstrated a penchant for gendered antagonism and boundary-defying iconoclasm. She also shared similarities in sound and style with Albini’s noise rock aesthetic, namely abrasive guitars, drastic dynamic contrasts, rhythmic complexity, and an emphasis on tight-knit, active ensemble performance.

Read more in “The power of a production myth: PJ Harvey, Steve Albini, and gendered notions of recording fidelity” by Brian Jones (Popular music and society 42/3 (2019) 348–362. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2019-5609]

Steve Albini passed away in Chicago on 7 May 2024.

Below is studio footage featuring Albini and PJ Harvey during the Rid of me studio session in 1993 along with Big Black’s Racer-X.

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Beethoven’s ninth in millennial culture

For nearly two centuries, Beethoven’s ninth symphony, which premiered on 7 May 1824 at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna, has held musical audiences captive. Few other musical works hold such a prominent place in the collective imagination, and each subsequent generation has rediscovered the work for itself and made it its own. Understanding the significance of the symphony in contemporary culture requires a dialog between Beethoven’s world and ours, marked by the earth-shattering events of 1789 and of 1989.

What is special about the ninth in contemporary millennial culture is that the music is encoded not only as score but also as digital technology. We encounter Beethoven 9 flashmobs, digitally reconstructed concert halls, globally synchronized performances, and other time-bending procedures. The digital artwork 9 beet stretch by Leif Inge, for instance, presents the ninth at glacial speed over the span of 24 hours, challenging our understanding of the symphony and encouraging us to confront the temporal dimension of Beethoven’s music. In the digital age, the ninth emerges as a musical work that is recomposed and reshaped; robust enough to live up to such treatment, and continually adapting to a changing world with changing media.

A presentation of <9 beet stretch> by Leif Inge.

Learn more in Beethoven’s symphony no. 9 by Alexander Rehding (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2018). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-4097]. In case you missed it, the 200th anniversary of the premiere of Beethoven’s ninth symphony was on 7 May 2024.

Below are three videos of Beethoven flash mobs in Hong Kong, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the last in Azerbaijan.

Hong Kong
Minneapolis
Azerbaijan

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Filed under Classic era, Performers, Reception, Space

Isang Yun: Composer and freedom fighter

Isang Yun’s youth was dominated by his involvement with resistance movements against the Japanese occupation of Korea, which began in 1910. His political activities deeply affected his development as a musician, which was characterized by the constant conflict between his artistic interests and the political commitment that he felt was necessary. Nevertheless, at the age of 17, Yun traveled to Japan, despite his father’s warning, to embark on a college education focused on the study of Western music. After two years, he returned to Korea to continue his studies and his involvement in the Korean liberation struggle. Yun was arrested by Japanese occupation forces in 1943, and it was not until 1948 that he returned to music, this time as a music teacher at an all-girls high school in his hometown. He later began lecturing at a university in Seoul where he received several awards for his compositions.  

These awards enabled Yun to continue studying music in Europe at the Berliner Hochschule für Musik (Berlin University of Music). His frequent participation in Darmstadt’s summer courses for new music led to his acceptance by the European avant-garde, within which he remained an outsider, albeit a respected one. Yun settled in Berlin in 1964 as a Ford Foundation scholarship recipient but the political conflict in his now divided homeland was never far from his thoughts. He was especially critical of South Korea’s leadership and refused several invitations to perform there. Yun hoped for the reunification of Korea, and to make this happen, he made a daring visit communist North Korea in 1963.

The brazen visit concerned South Korean officials, who had Yun kidnapped from Berlin in 1967 in a spectacular operation by the South Korean secret service. He was charged with treason and sent to prison where he endured torture, attempted suicide, and was forced to confess to espionage. After a trial, Yun was sentenced to life imprisonment, a charge that was later revised after massive protests internationally. Subsequently, Yun left Korea in 1969 and returned to Berlin and later became a German citizen. From 1970 onward, he worked as a professor and taught composition while lecturing on various occasions throughout Europe and North America. In 1972, Yun composed the piece Sim Tjong based on a popular Korean fairytale specially for the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. When asked in a 1987 interview whether he was consciously trying to combine Asian and Western elements in his music, Yun replied,

“No, that would be too artificial.  The inner truth is, in actuality, a music of the cosmos. Realistically seen, I’ve had two experiences, and I know the practice of both Asian music and European. I am equally at home in both fields. I’m a man living today, and within me is the Asia of the past combined with the Europe of today. My purpose is not an artificial connection, but I’m naturally convinced of the unity of these two elements. For that reason, it’s impossible to categorize my music as either European or Asian.”

Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month by reading the entry on Isang Yun (also spelled Yoon) in MGG Online. Listen to Yun’s composition Muak dance fantasy below.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Asia, Musicologists, Politics

A landmark resource in ethnomusicology

The Garland encyclopedia of world music was first issued between 1988 and 1994 by Garland Publishing as a ten-volume series of encyclopedias of world music, organized geographically by continent. An updated second edition appeared between 1998 and 2002. Widely regarded as an authoritative academic source for ethnomusicology, the series features contributions from top researchers in the field globally.

RILM Music Encyclopedias includes volumes from the series on Africa (edited by Ruth M. Stone), The United States and Canada (edited by Ellen Koskoff), Southeast Asia (edited by Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams), South Asia: The Indian Subcontinent (edited by Alison Arnold), The Middle East (edited by Virginia Danielson), East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea (edited by Robert Provine), and Australia and the Pacific Islands (edited by Adrienne L. Kaeppler). Each volume consists of three sections that cover the major topics of a region from broad general issues to specific music practices, introductions to each region, its culture, and its music as well as a survey of previous music scholarship and research; major issues and processes that link the regions musically, and detailed accounts of individual music cultures. The special tenth volume compiles reference tools, criteria for inclusion into the series, and information about the encyclopedia’s structure and organization.

The entries synthesize in-depth fieldwork conducted since the 1960s, as well as recordings, analysis, and documentation. The publication is generally considered a landmark achievement in ethnomusicology. While ethnomusicologists may appreciate The Garland for its critically designed components, non-ethnomusicologists can embrace the encyclopedia for its capacity to serve as a primer on world music.

Find the Garland encyclopedia of world music in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

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Vocal music of the southern Philippines

Among the non-Islamic highland communities of Mindanao in the Philippines, singing is not just a form of entertainment but is also embedded in formal or ritualized gatherings. The Agusan Manobo healing ritual is a good example of such context where the tud-om song genre is performed by a medium (acting as the host) before family members and the sick patient (the guest). The same song is always sung in this ritual as a way to resolve misunderstandings among members of the community.

The T’boli people have a song genre called setolu, which is performed after a woman has accepted a gift offered by the man courting her. Setolu represents a sung debate where two singers–a man and a woman, who respectively embody the roles of wife-taker and wife-giver–compete against each other to negotiate the marriage arrangement as a type of social exchange. This is similar to the Maguindanao dayunday and the Sulu sindil, both of which also represent a vocal debate or dialogue between male and female singers, often heard after weddings and ceremonial events to welcome visitors and give thanks. As a form of entertainment, the dayunday is a competition between two men and a woman or two women and a man, who take turns singing with a Western guitar from eight o’clock in the evening until four o’clock the next morning. The performers openly debate the worthiness of the marriage suitor, usually taking the form of humorous denigration.

In the neighboring island of Palawan, a vocal music called kulilal features sensual and metaphorical images of love. Kulilal does not represent a courtship but is a song of seduction in which a woman playing the zither is invited into an adulterous relationship. During the performance she is flanked by two men who take turns singing and playing their two-stringed lutes (pictured above).

Learn more in a new entry on the Philippines by Jose Buenconsejo in MGG Online.

Below is a contemporary performance of dayunday in Maguindanao.

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Filed under Asia, Voice, World music