Instant Classics: RILM’s Top 13 Reviewed Texts, 2022–23

Amidst a summer break flying by all too quickly, RILM presents another installment of its Instant Classics series—posts comprising annotated bibliographies of books, indexed in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, that have received the most reviews in academic literature across a given time span. The content of these books exemplifies RILM’s commitment to disseminating publications that are truly international in scope, with coverage that embraces a diversity of languages, nations, subject matter, and approaches to music research. This 2022—23 list contains a little something for everyone, and we hope it will inspire some welcomed additions to your summer reading list.

As always, this collection should be approached with a critical eye. As reviews continue to be written, the order of the books included here will continuously be in flux and, over time, some could be replaced by others. Further, access to resources, familiarity with conventions of proposal writing that are attractive to publishers, and innumerable other factors vary considerably across music research communities around the world. Indeed, closing the gap in such disparities, particularly regarding publications coming from the Global South, is an essential component of RILM’s mission. Despite the inherent limitations, collecting these texts in this way is valuable, as it generates an archive of the topics, methodologies, and perspectives that earned the attention of music scholars, writers, and journalists during a brief period in time. We can appreciate these texts’ contributions to musical knowledge while simultaneously being aware of the powers held and challenges faced by the publishing firms and university presses that sell them. As we zoom out, patterns may emerge that provide insight into the topical trends that have contributed to music discourse in the early decades of the 21st century.

And finally, do keep in mind that RILM can only disseminate the writings on music to which it has access. You are invited to help make RILM Abstracts be as complete as it can be by visiting our submissions page, making sure records of your publications appear there, and adding abstracts and reviews to them as necessary. We thank you in advance and wish you a happy summer of reading!

P.S.: Sympathies to Arnold Schoenberg, the book on whom, either predictably, eerily, coincidentally, or uncannily, placed at number 13, the one number he avoided more than any other while he was alive.

– Written, compiled, and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM


#13. Sachs, Harvey. Schoenberg: Why he matters (New York: Liveright, 2023). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2023-4761]

Abstract: In his time, Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) was an international icon. His twelve-tone system was considered the future of music itself. Today, however, leading orchestras rarely play his works, and his name is met with apathy, if not antipathy. Within the context of this interpretative account, Schoenberg’s reputation is restored to his rightful place in the canon, revealing him as one of the 20th century’s most influential composers and teachers. Schoenberg, a thorny character who composed thorny works, raged against the “Procrustean bed” of tradition. Defying his critics—among them the Nazis, who described his music as “degenerate”—he constantly battled the antisemitism that eventually precipitated his flight from Europe to Los Angeles. Yet Schoenberg, synthesizing Wagnerian excess with Brahmsian restraint, created a shock wave that never quite subsided, and his compositions must be confronted by anyone interested in the past, present, or future of Western music.

#12. Broad, Leah. Quartet: How four women changed the musical world (London: Faber & Faber, 2023). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2023-1400]

Abstract: A group biography of four women composers who changed the modern musical landscape: Ethel Smyth (1858–1944), famous for her operas, was a trailblazing queer Victorian composer and a larger-than-life socialite, intrepid traveller, and committed Suffragette. Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979) was a talented violist and Pre-Raphaelite beauty, and one of the first women ever hired by a professional orchestra, later celebrated for her modernist experimentation. Dorothy Howell (1898–1982) was a prodigy who shot to fame at the 1919 Proms. She earned a reputation as the “English Strauss”, and after retiring she tended Elgar’s grave alone. Doreen Carwithen (1922–2003) was one of Britain’s first woman film composers, who scored Elizabeth II’s coronation film; her success hid a 20-year affair with her married composition tutor. In their time, these women were celebrities. They composed some of the century’s most popular music and pioneered creative careers; but today, they are ghostly presences, surviving only as muses and footnotes to male contemporaries like Elgar, Vaughan Williams, and Britten.

#11. Proksch, Bryan. The golden age of American bands: A document history (1835–1935) (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-10133]

Abstract: The story of the American wind band, told chronologically by those who experienced it in real time from 1835 to 1935. The volume explores how bands became bands, how they rose in popularity, and which figures had insights and specific impacts on the development of the genre. Through source documents and articles, the volume surveys the ensemble’s history from the time of the first brass bands in the 1830s, through the Civil War and the golden ages of Patrick S. Gilmore and John Philip Sousa, to the cusp of the wind ensemble just before World War II. Musicians such as Frederick Fennell, Allessandro Liberati, Karl L. King, Patrick Conway, Fredrick Neil Innes, Jules Levy, Alan Dodworth, and Herbert L. Clarke are included. Numerous rare and unknown illustrations show the places where band history happened. Documents include rare periodical excerpts, handwritten letters, and other writings taken from archives throughout the United States.

#10. Bonnette-Bailey, Lakeyta Moninque and Adolphus G. Belk, Jr., eds. For the culture: Hip-hop and the fight for social justice. Music and social justice (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-4800]

Abstract: Documents and analyzes the ways in which hip hop music, artists, scholars, and activists have discussed, promoted, and supported social justice challenges worldwide. Drawing from diverse approaches and methods, the contributors in this volume demonstrate that rap music can positively influence political behavior and fight to change social injustices, and then zoom in on artists whose work has accomplished these ends. The volume explores topics including education and pedagogy; the Black Lives Matter movement; the politics of crime, punishment, and mass incarceration; electoral politics; gender and sexuality; and the global struggle for social justice. Ultimately, the book argues that hip hop is much more than a musical genre or cultural form: hip hop is a resistance mechanism.

#9. Vera Aguilera, Alejandro and David Andrés Fernández. Los cantorales de la Catedral de Lima: Estudio, reconstrucción, catálogo (Madrid: Sociedad Española de Musicología, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-1557]

Resumen: Los cantorales de la Catedral de Lima estudia, por primera vez, la colección de libros de coro de la Catedral Metropolitana de Lima, que está formada por cuarenta volúmenes manuscritos copiados en su mayor parte en el siglo XVII. En el estudio inicial, se aborda su historia, confección y escribas responsables. Seguidamente, se indaga sobre su forma de interpretación en la época colonial a través de la reconstrucción de un servicio litúrgico de suma importancia en su contexto. Finalmente, se ofrece un catálogo crítico de la colección que incluye sus contenidos íntegros en forma de índices analíticos y alfabéticos que facilitan su localización. En suma, este trabajo constituye un estudio integral sobre una colección de libros de canto llano conservada en Sudamérica. Además, representa una útil herramienta de investigación en la que se exhuman numerosos documentos históricos y se presentan transcripciones de repertorio tanto monódico como polifónico, razón por la que será de interés para musicólogos, historiadores e intérpretes, entre otros.

Abstract: Studies, for the first time, the collection of choir books of the Catedral Metropolitana de Lima, which consists of 40 manuscript volumes copied mostly in the 17th century. The history, physical features, and scribes who worked on the manuscripts are discussed. The way this collection was used in colonial times is examined through the reconstruction of a liturgical service from its context. An annotated catalogue of the collection is offered, which includes its complete contents in the form of analytical and alphabetical indexes that facilitate its location.

#8. Marissen, Michael. Bach against modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2023). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2023-3999]

Abstract: Many scholars and music lovers hold that Bach is a modern figure, as his music seems to speak directly to the aesthetic, spiritual, or emotional concerns of today’s listeners. But, by 18th-century standards, Bach and his music in fact reflected and forcefully promoted a premodern world and life view. A new look at Bach is presented that considers problems of inattentiveness to historical considerations in academic and popular writing about Bach’s relation to the present. Also put forward are interpretive reassessments of key individual works by Bach, examining problems in modern comprehension of the partly archaic German texts that Bach set to music. Lastly, Bach’s music is explored in relation to premodern versus enlightened attitudes toward Jews and Judaism, and the theological character of Bach’s secular instrumental music is examined. Overlooked or misunderstood evidence is provided of Bach’s private engagement with religious and social issues that he also addressed in his public vocal compositions. While we are free to make use of Bach and his music in whatever ways we find fitting, we ought also to guard against miscasting Bach in our own ideological image and proclaiming the authenticity of that image, and therefore its prestige value, in support of our own agendas.

#7. Goodman, Karen D., ed. Developing issues in world music therapy education and training: A plurality of views (Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 2023). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2023-7332]

Abstract: Reflects on current or necessary changes in music therapy training that come about because of history, society, economy, generational shifts, and the workplace. The subject matter questions the nature of music therapy itself; examines challenges to education and training; suggests critical thinking (vs. repetition or repackaging of information) for students, educators, clinicians, researchers and supervisors in the field of music therapy; respects the past but looks to the future; and offers perspectives from others in the field through such vehicles as surveys, interviews, and reviews of literature.

#6. Mathew, Nicholas. The Haydn economy: Music, aesthetics, and commerce in the late eighteenth century. New material histories of music (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-10831]

Abstract: Reimagines the world of Joseph Haydn and his contemporaries, with its catastrophic upheavals and thrilling sense of potential. Critical questions are addressed, such as how we tell the history of the European Enlightenment and Romanticism; the relation of late 18th-century culture to incipient capitalism and European colonialism; and how the modern market and modern aesthetic values were—and remain—inextricably entwined. The study weaves a vibrant material history of Haydn’s career, extending from the sphere of the ancient Esterházy court to his frenetic years as an entrepreneur plying between London and Vienna to his final decade as a venerable musical celebrity, during which he witnessed the transformation of his legacy by a new generation of students and acolytes, Beethoven foremost among them. Ultimately, Haydn’s historical trajectory compels us to ask what we might retain from the cultural and political practices of European modernity—whether we can extract and preserve its moral promise from its moral failures. And it demands that we confront the deep histories of capitalism that continue to shape our beliefs about music, sound, and material culture.

#5. Dylan, Bob. The philosophy of modern song (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-9712]

Abstract: Comprises over 60 essays written by the Pulitzer Prize winning songwriter, focusing on songs by other artists spanning from Stephen Foster to Elvis Costello, from Hank Williams to Nina Simone. Among many other subjects, the trap of easy rhymes is analyzed, breaking down how the addition of a single syllable can diminish a song, while also explaining how bluegrass relates to heavy metal. Over 100 photos are included, as well as a series of dream-like riffs that, taken together, resemble an epic poem—characteristic of the author’s own work in the field of songwriting—adding to the work’s transcendence.

#4. Denk, Jeremy. Every good boy does fine: A love story, in music lessons (New York: Random House, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-954]

Abstract: Pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At 16 he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur genius, and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching. Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him—Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others—and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome? Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.

#3. Cypess, Rebecca. Women and musical salons in the Enlightenment (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-4905]

Abstract: A broad overview of musical salons between 1760 and 1800, placing the figure of the salonnière at its center. The author presents a series of in-depth case studies that meet the salonnière on her own terms. Women such as Anne-Louise Brillon de Jouy in Paris, Marianne von Martínez in Vienna, Sara Levy in Berlin, Angelica Kauffman in Rome, and Elizabeth Graeme in Philadelphia come to life in multidimensional ways. Crucially, the author uses performance as a tool for research, and her interpretations draw on her experience with the instruments and performance practices used in 18th-century salons. The book explores women’s agency and authorship, reason and sentiment, and the roles of performing, collecting, listening, and conversing in the formation of 18th-century musical life.

#2. Vela González, Marta. La jota, aragonesa y cosmopolita: De San Petersburgo a Nueva York (Zaragoza: Pregunta, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-14921]

Resumen: En este libro, la pianista, escritora y docente Marta Vela nos lleva tras los pasos de renombrados compositores (Liszt, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Satie?) que, a lo largo del siglo XIX, visitaron España, descubrieron la jota aragonesa y, fascinados, la integraron en sus obras, desde óperas hasta sinfonías, pasando por ballets y música de salón. Un libro lleno de curiosidades, erudición, anécdotas y hallazgos inéditos, narrado de forma amena y precisa.

Abstract: In this book, the pianist, writer, and teacher Marta Vela takes us in the footsteps of renowned composers (Liszt, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Satie?) who, throughout the 19th century, visited Spain, discovered the Aragonese jota and, fascinated, integrated it into their works, from operas to symphonies, including ballets and salon music. A book full of curiosities, erudition, anecdotes, and unpublished discoveries, narrated in a pleasant and precise way.

#1. Simon, Andrew. Media of the masses: Cassette culture in modern Egypt. Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic societies and cultures (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2022). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2022-3929]

Abstract: Investigates the social life of an everyday technology—the cassette tape—to offer a multisensory history of modern Egypt. Over the 1970s and 1980s, cassettes became a ubiquitous presence in Egyptian homes and stores. Audiocassette technology gave an opening to ordinary individuals, from singers to smugglers, to challenge state-controlled Egyptian media. Enabling an unprecedented number of people to participate in the creation of culture and circulation of content, cassette players and tapes soon informed broader cultural, political, and economic developments and defined modern Egyptian households. Drawing on a wide array of audio, visual, and textual sources that exist outside the Egyptian national archives, it provides a new entry point into understanding everyday life and culture. Cassettes and cassette players did not simply join other 20th century mass media, like records and radio; they were the media of the masses. Comprised of little more than magnetic reels in plastic cases, cassettes empowered cultural consumers to become cultural producers long before the advent of the Internet. Positioned at the productive crossroads of social history, cultural anthropology, and media and sound studies, it ultimately shows how the most ordinary things may yield the most surprising insights.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, Baroque era, Musicology, North America, Pedagogy, Popular music, Romantic era, South America, Therapy

Palestine in song: An annotated bibliography

The library of the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris is home to an extensive collection of writings on music from the Arab world, a region stretching from the Atlas Mountains to the Indian Ocean. This series of blog posts highlights selections from this collection, along with abstracts written by RILM staff members contained in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, the comprehensive bibliography of writings about music. In 2023, the Institut du Monde Arabe hosted the exhibition “Ce Que la Palestine Apporte au Monde” and supplemented it with a resources page on the topic. The IMA library also held an on-site exhibition of its book, movie, and music collection covering Palestine. 

Early documentation of music in Palestine, especially before the 1948 Nakba, is scarce. The writings of figures such as the composer, ʽūd player, and chronicler Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ (1897–1973) provide a rare glimpse into the vibrant urban music scene under Ottoman rule and the British Mandate, and represent early attempts to document social and cultural life through personal narrative in the first half of the 20th century. The establishment of the Palestine Broadcasting Service by the British Mandate authority in 1936 marked the beginning of a new era, introducing a hybrid style of Arab music through Radio al-Quds’s iconic phrase hunā al-quds (this is Jerusalem) which became a sonic marker that endures to this day. However, the fate of the radio’s archives, including magnetic tapes and records, remains shrouded in mystery, with only some documents available at the National Library of Israel. After 1948, Palestinian folklore studies grew, reflecting the aspirations of the Palestinian liberation and nationalist movement. 

Recording of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ performing a muwaššaḥ. Source: Excerpt from a digitized magnetic tape that appears on an audio CD accompanying the book القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003).
A portrait of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive

Publications on Palestinian music proliferated after the second Palestinian exodus of 1967, alongside significant developments in musical production and dissemination. Concerned with the impact of historical events and tragedies on the continuity of Palestinian sung poetry and musical genres, scholars, historians, and folklorists documented the lyrics of sung poetry and their broader social context. In the realm of performance, the El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe, founded in 1979 in Rāmallāh, became a leading organization showcasing the performance practice of Palestinian traditional song and dance internationally. Documentation efforts concurred with the emergence of a new wave of music making, characterized by a genre of socially engaged songs known as al-uġniyyaẗ al-multazimaẗ and the experimentation with new styles that incorporated non-Palestinian musical elements. Such were the repertoires of the Palestinian Sabreen band and other non-Palestinian Arab musicians who drew on broader pan-Arab sensibilities and musical styles to engage with and advocate for the Palestinian cause. During the Second Intifada (2000–05), local music education centers, such as Al Kamandjâti Association and the Palestinian Institute for Cultural Development (NAWA), served as hubs for fostering burgeoning musical talent in the West Bank and presenting Palestinian musicians on the world stage. The work and contribution of these two schools attracted the interest of many journalists and scholars. 

El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe in al-Bīrah in 1981. Source: The Palestinian Museum Digital Archive
A performance of أغنية وطنية (A patriotic song) by Sabreen Band, from their 1992 album موت النبي (Death of a prophet).

In recent years, Palestinian musicians have embraced new musical genres and used new media to produce, disseminate, and distribute new musical creations. Palestinian hip hop has emerged as a transnational genre, engaging Palestinian and Arab audiences locally and among their diasporas globally, reflecting the transnational dimension of the Palestinian struggle. New productions and arrangements of folk melodies and songs are circulating on new streaming platforms, attracting younger generations and drawing the attention of scholars from different disciplines and fields. 

The importance of written documentation and scholarly studies of Palestinian music, whether in Arabic, English, or French, that analyze the context and content of different genres and styles performed at the nexus of contested geographies, cannot be underestimated. Palestinian music and its historiography remain resilient, despite challenges such as neglect due to ongoing displacement, the erosion of traditional forms of expression, threats to historical records, and the risk of appropriation. The titles listed in this annotated bibliography feature Palestinian and non-Palestinian authors who document the rich heritage of Palestinian music and analyze current trends in Palestinian music making. 

– Written and compiled by Farah Zahra, Assistant Editor, RILM

A video portrait of the band DAM produced by the Insitut du Monde Arabe.

Annotated bibliography 

ʽArnīṭaẗ, Yusrá Ğawhariyyaẗ. الفنون الشعبية في فلسطين (Popular arts in Palestine) (4th ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54151; IMA catalogue reference]

The tangible and intangible forms of folklore, encompassing popular musical expressions, embroidery customs, and ceremonial practices associated with marriage and celebrations, serve as testimony to the enduring heritage and cultural continuity of the Palestinian people. The present effort to document select aspects of Palestinian folklore several purposes: first, to safeguard these manifestations of popular culture and ensure their continuity; second, to forge a robust connection between present and history; third, to uncover the creative dimensions inherent in Palestinian folklore; and ultimately, to inspire fellow researchers in music and the arts to undertake similar endeavors in documenting Palestinian folklore. Folk songs should be approached with the same urgency to study and preserve such as other Palestinian traditions. Popular songs’ characteristics are detailed, including the characteristics of colloquial dialects, the melodic content, maqam structure, ornaments, and more. Transcriptions of the melodies of 66 songs, along with their transcribed lyrics, are included from different cities. The songs are grouped by topic or occasion, as follows: children’s songs and lullabies; songs of religious holidays and celebrations; love and wedding songs; songs of war and encouragement; work songs; drinking, satirical, and political songs; dance songs; funeral chants and laments; and songs of stories and tales. Popular song represents the Palestinian peoples’ ways of life and social customs and is a spontaneous expression of collective feelings and aspirations. 

ʽAwaḍ, ʽAwaḍ Suʽūd. دراسات في الفولكلور الفلسطيني (Studies in Palestinian folklore) (Munaẓẓamaẗ al-Taḥrīr al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ, 1983). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1983-26665; IMA catalog reference]

Folklore is a cornerstone of the Palestinian national identity. Rooted in the region’s history and cultural diversity, Palestinian folklore includes songs, dances, handicrafts, costumes, games, popular idioms, myths, legends, and rites-of-passage traditions. Bedouin folklore is of particular interest, as Bedouins constitute a considerable demographic group within the Palestinian population. Selected song lyrics of northern Bedouin songs are transcribed, with commentary on their meanings and contexts provided. Bedouin dances are presented within their cultural context and social significance is explained.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. ديوان الدلعونا الفلسطيني (The book of Palestinian dalʻūnā) (2nd ed.; Rāmallāh: Dār al-Šurūq li-l-Našr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2013). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-54149; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian sung poetry forms is essential to the preservation and continuity of the Palestinian folklore. This study is the result of four years of field and archival research spanning from 1986 to 1989. It documents 3000 verses of dalʻūnā, a form of sung poetry, which were collected through oral narration by numerous dalʻūnā narrators representing 144 towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza. The content, which primarily concerns themes of love and adoration, is divided into nine distinct categories, each addressing various facets of love and other subjects such as advice, praise, pride, religion, and reconciliation. The primary love-themed dalʻūnā are subdivided into specific topics, each accompanied by selected dalʻūnā lyrics. These topics include: the glorification of dalʻūnā; patriotic love; depictions of life cycle events; romantic love, including both general and specific aspects of love and beauty; descriptions of physical attributes of the beloved and virtues of people; platonic love; marital relationships, including aspects of marriage, divorce, and related issues; and expressions of nostalgia, complaint, and lament. Finally, the meanings of select terms that appear in dalʻūnā are explained, along with the names of important dalʻūnā reciters.

al-Barġūṯī, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf. “الأغاني الشعبية المناضلة: فلسطين في أغانيها حتى بعيد نكبة 1948—دراسة ميدانية” (The popular songs of the Palestinian liberation struggle up to and including the 1948 Nakba: An ethnographic study), ʽᾹlam al-Fikr 18/2 (1987) 241260. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31249; IMA catalog reference]

Popular songs accompanied the Palestinian people during their resistance against the British Mandate, the events leading up to the 1948 Nakba, and in the decades that followed, and are an integral part of the broader Palestinian popular literature. The defining characteristics of these songs include their oral transmission, use of colloquial dialects, anonymous authorship, and intergenerational transmission. While the thematic range of popular literature expressed through songs is diverse, this study focuses specifically on lyrics pertaining to themes of patriotism and nationalist aspirations. Song texts are analyzed and categorized in relation to political events, including the 1929 Palestine riots, the British siege of Nāblus in 1936, the 1938 revolt, the 1948 Nakba, mass displacements, and the 1952 Egyptian Revolution. The brief contextual commentaries are supplemented with analysis of thematic content offering eulogies for martyrs, hopes for repatriation, feelings of nostalgia for the homeland, criticisms of Arab leaders, and aspirations for liberation. 

al-Bāš, Ḥasan. الأغنية الشعبية الفلسطينية (Palestinian popular songs) (2nd ed., rev. and enl.; Dimašq: Dār al-Ğalīl, 1987). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1987-31205; IMA catalogue reference]

The documentation of popular songs facilitates a connection to the historical roots of Palestine, serving to illustrate various expressions of everyday life. Popular songs serve as poignant expressions of the liberation aspirations of the Palestinian people, while also foregrounding the rich religious and ethnic diversity of Palestine. The analysis of popular songs is presented on the basis of both formal attributes and the social contexts in which they are performed, as follows: mawwāl, ʽatābā and mīğā; šurūqiyyāẗ; taḥdāyaẗ or ḥadāʼ; songs of dabkaẗ and popular dances such as dalʻūnā, ğufraẗ, ya ẓarīf al-tūl, farʽāwiyyaẗ, and others; wedding and zaffaẗ songs and tarwīdaẗ; zağal and muwaššaḥ. In addition, these songs are further examined in relation to the social occasions during which they are traditionally sung, including rituals surrounding childbirth, circumcision, lullabies, religious celebrations honoring prophets and saints, engagements, weddings, and various forms of labor such as fishing, farming, and harvesting. After the 1948 Nakba, a notable thematic shift toward nostalgia emerged as a unifying motif across different song genres. A convergence in repertoire between Bedouin, rural, and urban song traditions is also noted. In addition, a commitment to poetic meter is maintained, indicative of the enduring significance of poetry. Finally, contemporary performance practice incorporates diverse song forms, both in terms of structure and thematic content, highlighting the dynamic nature of Palestinian musical expression over time.

El Zein, Rayya. “Resisting ‘resistance’: On political feeling in Arabic rap concerts”, Arab subcultures: Transformations in theory and practice, ed. by Layal Ftouni and Tarik Sabry. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016) 83–112. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-56445; IMA catalogue reference]

Explores the ways in which young rap artists navigate the contradictions in the public spheres of everyday urban life. The discourse of resistance that permeates scholarship on rap and hip hop in the Arab world is critiqued and perceived as an expression of neoliberal power. In the context of the rap scenes in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, political sentiments are expressed through objection, confrontation, and repetition—a set of processes that depend on collective action and solidarity rather than individual agency. Interactions, as such, should not be labeled as political but could be approached as subversive in their own terms. The conclusions are based on ethnographic studies conducted in Bayrūt and Rāmallāh, where interviews and conversations were conducted and exchanges between artists and audiences were observed.

al-H̱alīlī, ʽAlī. أغاني العمل والعمال في فلسطين (Work and labor songs in Palestine) (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Dār Ibn H̱aldūn, 1980). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1980-21275; IMA catalogue reference]

Studying the songs of workers as a social class allows us to understand and appreciate their contribution to the broader spectrum of Palestinian folklore. Approaching the development of Palestinian folk songs through the lens of class struggle parallels the evolution of poetic forms and themes, moving from traditional forms to romanticism, realism, and socialist realism. These phases, manifested in both content and form, correlate with the broader class and nationalist struggles that have existed in Palestine since the late 19th century, culminating in the revolutionary movements of 1936–39 and the Nakba of 1948. Beginning in the 1950s, Palestinian folklorists began to adopt new methodologies and theories based on dialectical materialism to understand and analyze folklore and other cultural expressions. This approach facilitated the inclusion of peasant and urban cultural expressions, allowing for a nuanced exploration of class dynamics, societal transformations, and continuity. The study of select labor-related songs offers insights into various occupational domains, categorized as follows: agricultural labor songs, lyrical themes related to land cultivation, shepherding, forced displacement from agricultural lands, and migration to urban centers in search of employment; songs of construction workers; songs of fishermen and hunters; and songs of artisans, street vendors, drivers, barbers, and of similar occupations. It is important to recognize that certain professions have disappeared as a result of historical events, technological advancements, and changes in societal structures, thus affecting the repertoire of accompanying songs. Nevertheless, some work songs have been adopted and survived in other contexts, such as weddings and celebrations, where they are celebrated as emblematic expressions of Palestinian nationalism. 

Ḥassūnaẗ, H̱alīl Ismāʽīl. الفلكلور الفلسطيني: دلالات وملامح (Palestinian folklore: Symbolism and characteristics) (Rāmallāh: al-Muʼassasaẗ al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ li-l-Iršād al-Qawmī, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51501; IMA catalogue reference]

Folk songs are a vibrant expression of Palestinian folklore, along with other expressions such as traditional folk storytelling, folk poetry, idiomatic expressions, games, and other cultural practices. The significance of folk songs lies in their pervasive presence across all aspects of Palestinian life. These songs serve as conduits for popular wisdom and narrative, evident in genres such as children’s songs, lullabies, work songs, lament songs, bukāʼiyyāt, and others. With their rich depictions of nature and the land, folk songs are a celebration of Palestinians’ deep connection to their homeland. To illustrate the uses and themes of folk songs, the full text of three popular poems, six ahāzīğ, 20 texts of mawwāl, 20 texts of ʽatābā, 16 texts of mīğanā, five texts of ğifrā, 15 texts of ẓarīf al-ṭūl, and dozens of verses of other poetic sung forms are included.

Ǧawhariyyaẗ, Wāṣif. القدس العثمانية في المذكرات الجوهرية: الكتاب الأول من مذكرات الموسيقي واصف جوهرية، 1904–1917 (Memoirs of the musician Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ, 1904–17. I: Ottoman Jerusalem in the Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ memoirs), ed. by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar (2nd ed.; Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2003). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2003-51500; IMA catalogue reference]

The memoirs of Wāṣif Ǧawhariyyaẗ are a remarkable treasure trove of writings on the life, culture, music, and history of Jerusalem. Spanning over four decades (from 1904 to 1948), they cover a period of enormous and turbulent change in Jerusalem; changes lived and remembered from the perspective of the street storyteller. An ʽūd player, music lover, and ethnographer, poet, collector, partygoer, satirist, civil servant, local historian, devoted son, husband, father, and person of faith, Wāṣif viewed the life of his city through multiple roles and lenses. The result is a vibrant, unpredictable, sprawling collection of anecdotes, observations, and yearnings as diverse as the city itself. 

Lama, Patrick. La musique populaire palestinienne (Palestinian traditional music) (Paris: Éditions du Témoignage Chrétien, 1982). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1982-3130; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian popular music is part of a broader Palestinian cultural heritage influenced by Arab-Islamic culture. To understand Palestinian popular music more fully, one must first analyze the Arab vocal aesthetics, musical modes, and the rhythmic systems from which it derives. Here, the homophonic and monodic structures of Palestinian popular music, the role of repetition, and rhythmic variations are analyzed. Brief definitions and excerpts from lyrics of syllabic chants are also covered. These chants include al-dalʻūnā, ẓarīf al-ṭūl, al-firʻāwiyyaẗ, al-ğafraẗ, al-sāmir, al-saḥğaẗ, al-ğawlaẗ, al-ʻiqīlī, al-qarrādī, w-ʻallā, al-mlālā, al-hiğīnī, al-ğaʻīdiyyaẗ, al-maṭlūʻ, al-šubāš, and other forms such as al-iskābaẗ, al-mʻannaẗ, al-tarwīdaẗ, al-mawwāl, al-ʻatābā, al-šurūqiyyāẗ, as well as other recited forms such as al-mhāhā, al-qaṣīdaẗ, al-mḥūrabaẗ. Transcriptions of repetitions in melodic phrases are included to better illustrate the role of repetition in Palestinian popular song and music.

Mérimée, Pierre and Jacques Denis. Intifada rap, trans. by Tara Dominguez and Sarah Bouasse (Paris: LO/A Edition, 2014). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2014-95113; IMA catalogue reference

Features photographs of Palestinian rappers, spoken word artists, and musicians, as well as the wider urban spaces in which the alternative and Palestinian music scenes thrive. The daily lives and activities of musicians are captured by the photographer. Some images are accompanied by brief written commentary, quotes, or lyrics by Palestinian poets and artists and Israeli activists. Hip hop artists featured include SAZ (Sameh Zakout), Boikutt (Jad Abbas), Shaana Streett, Mahmoud Jrere of DAM, and members of MWR, WE7, and G-Town. Other non-hip hop artists featured are Amal Murkus and Said Mourad, founder of the Sabreen Band. 

Shammout, Bashar. الإرث الفلسطيني المرئي والمسموع: نشأته وتشتته والحفاظ الرقمي عليه–دراسات أولية وتطلعات مستقبلية (The Palestinian audiovisual heritage: Origin, dissemination, and digital preservation–Preliminary studies and future prospects) (Bayrūt: Muʼassasaẗ al-Dirāsāt al-Filasṭīniyyaẗ/Institute for Palestine Studies, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-74761; IMA catalogue reference]

The study of Palestinian audiovisual heritage is central to the preservation efforts of institutions, collectives, and individuals in Palestine and among Palestinian communities abroad. The study and documentation of the history of film, photography, and sound recording technologies in Palestine, as well as an assessment of the current state of collections and archives, contribute to the preservation of the Palestinian collective memory. Such topics are approached from three angles: the historical background of key audiovisual materials and archives, the dispersion and fragmentation of collections across archival institutions and private collectors coupled with challenges related to access, and the application of best practices in digital archiving methodologies to assist archivists and researchers in their preservation and dissemination efforts. This study is among the first to examine the status of issues facing Palestinian audiovisual heritage, inspired by a perspective rooted in archival studies. 

Rooney, Caroline. “Activism and authenticity: Palestinian and related hip-hop in an international frame”, The Arab avant-garde: Music, politics, modernity, ed. by Thomas Burkhalter, Kay Dickinson and Benjamin J. Harbert (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2013) 209–228. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-8742; IMA catalogue reference]

Palestinian hip hop draws on national and international cultural influences, protest poetry, and improvisational techniques. The genre is exemplified by the works of the Palestinian hip hop group DAM and its lead member Tamer Nafar as well as the works of the British rapper and activist Lowkey. The concept of “language pollution” is used to explain the lyrical and thematic content of selected lyrics by the two artists. Themes of class struggle and resistance to occupation are contextualized through the lens of hip hop aesthetic techniques, inspired by the utopian internationalism of liberation hip hop. While Palestinian hip hop can be analyzed as an avant-garde art form, its musicians subvert some avant-garde aesthetics through their lyricism, orality, and connections to both national and international communities.

Tolan, Sandy. Le pouvoir de la musique: Une enfance entre pierres et violon en Palestine, trans. by Jean-Philippe Rouillier, Catherine Boussard, and Bernard Devin (Paris: Riveneuve Éditions, 2019). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2019-74953; IMA catalogue reference]

The story of Ramzi Aburadwan, a refugee who grew up under military occupation and pursued his dream of becoming a musician. Ramzi’s deep love of music led him to collaborate with international musicians, culminating in his being recognized by Daniel Barenboim, who invited him to join the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. In 2002, Ramzi founded the music school Al Kamandjâti in Rāmallāh, which quickly became a hub for music education and collaboration. The school attracted musicians from around the world who were eager to teach and learn with young students in the West Bank and beyond. The biography of Ramzi, along with the history, work, and impact of Al Kamandjâti, is detailed through Ramzi’s life, collaborations, and hundreds of interviews with his acquaintances from various countries. This narrative is interwoven with Palestine’s broader historical and political context since the 1980s.

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Filed under Asia, Mass media, Performers, Politics, Popular music, World music

Taarab and the Kiswahili language

Immediately after World War II, taarab orchestras and music clubs proliferated in coastal Kenya and Tanganyika, and on Zanzibar. They were formed by Waswahili, residents of the region who spoke the Kiswahili (Swahili) language. Through taarab music clubs, the Swahili people developed and paid homage to their language and traditions, providing the cultural basis from which political nationalism might operate.

The Swahili word mpasho is related to the verb -pasha, “to cause to get”, and it refers to someone “getting the message”. In the popular genre taarabmpasho performances involve sending and receiving powerful communications–often competitive and antagonistic in nature–through song texts. The subject may be an individual, an organization, or social group, any of which may respond with their own mpasho performance.

This according to “Hot kabisa! The mpasho phenomenon and taarab in Zanzibar” by Janet Topp Fargion, Mashindano! Competitive music performance in East Africa, ed. by Frank D. Gunderson, Gregory F. Barz, and Terence O. Ranger (Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota, 2000; 39–53; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2000-8778) and “Taarab clubs and Swahili music culture” by Henry Douglas Daniels (Social identities 2/3 [1996] 413–438; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-39500).

July 7 is international Kiswahili Language Day! Below is a performance of taarab music by the group Bi Kidude Zanzibar.

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Filed under Africa, From the archives, Popular music, World music

The king of “twangy” guitar

The U.S. guitarist Duane Eddy, known as the “King of Twang”, helped popularize the electric guitar in the late 1950s and was the most commercially successful instrumental musician in rock ‘n’ roll. His first hit was Rebel rouser (1958), for which he received a Gold record award. His greatest successes were Peter Gunn (1958, composed by Henry Mancini and awarded a Grammy) and Because they’re young (1960), which also went Gold. He received his third Gold record in 1962 for (Dance with the) Guitar man.

Eddy became known for the twang sound: a sharp, slightly reverberant overtone and vibrato-rich timbre on his electric guitar. Variants of this term appeared in several album titles: Have twangy guitar will travel (1958, his debut album), The twangs the thang (1959), $1,000,000.00 Worth of twang (1963), and Twangsville (1965). In an 2024 interview Eddy did just before he passed, he described how the characteristic “watery sound” of his guitar was recorded in the studio. According to Eddy,

“Our echo chamber was actually a 2,000-gal water tank. We went down to the Salt River and visited a junkyard there. Floyd Ramsey, who owned the studio, Jack Miller, the engineer, and Lee [Hazlewood] and I went round the place and we yelled into tanks that might work as a reverb chamber–they had holes at each end. Lee would go, ‘Whoop!’ and he got an echo out of them. . . Jack put a speaker in one end and a mic in the other. He’d run my guitar and the band through the speaker and it’d swirl around in the tank and into the mic at the other end, and we’d have our echo. . .Then, of course, Lee would take [the recording] to Gold Star Studios in Hollywood; they had the best echo in the world at that time and he’d have their record, mix it with ours. That’s why it had such a wild echoey sound on many of those records.”

After the British invasion on the U.S. pop charts from 1964 onward (which included hit songs by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones), Eddy was considerably less represented on the charts, but he continued to record and release albums. He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2008. In 2015, Rolling Stone magazine listed Eddy at number 64 of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.

Duane Eddy passed away on 30 April 2024 at the age of 86. Read his obituary in MGG Online.

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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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Filed under Europe, Religious music, Voice

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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Filed under Australia and Pacific islands, Musicology, Politics

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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