Bodhráns and politics

From its humble beginnings as a ritual instrument, the bodhrán has developed into a globally recognized percussion instrument that is found in diverse contexts. During the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, the brilliant experiments and innovations of the drum maker Seamus O’Kane altered the bodhrán’s design, contributing to a rapid expansion of new performance practices and increased interest in the drum.

One of O’Kane’s signature innovations was the use of skins from the unionist lambeg drum. O’Kane had to precariously negotiate paramilitary politics and drum making in Northern Ireland in order to produce a superior instrument.

O’Kane’s bodhráns, which he continues to make in his County Derry-based workshop, draw from both Irish republican and unionist drum making traditions. This blending of traditions has enabled him to produce an innovative, tunable drum representative of the shared musical cultures of Northern Ireland within a violent, politically divided milieu.

This according to “Bodhráns, lambegs, & musical craftsmanship in Northern Ireland” by Colin Harte (Ethnomusicology forum XXVIII/2 [August 2019] 200-16).

Above and below, O’Kane demonstrates his instrument.

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Jon Hendricks, grand master of vocalese

Jon Hendricks was not the first jazz singer to practice the art of vocalese—crafting lyrics to jazz instrumental compositions and solos—but was widely considered its standard-setting grand master.

After hearing King Pleasure’s 1952 record of “Moody’s mood for love” with lyrics by Eddie Jefferson, Hendricks was inspired to write his own verses to jazz instrumentals. “It opened up a whole world for me” he said in a 1982 interview. “I was mesmerized. I’d been writing rhythm-and-blues songs, mostly for Louis Jordan. But I thought ‘Moody’s mood for love’ was so hip. You didn’t have to stop at 32 bars. You could keep going.”

Dubbed “the James Joyce of jive” by Time magazine, Hendricks gained international fame as part of the trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, which often featured his vocalese creations.

This according to “Jon Hendricks, vocalese pioneer, dies at 96” by Allen Morrison (DownBeat LXXXV/2 [February 2018] 25; RILM Abstracts 2018-1066).

Today would have been Jon Hendrick’s 100th birthday! Below, LH&R perform his Cloudburst.

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Filed under Jazz and blues

Lakalaka as sociopolitical discourse

Tongan lakalaka is an art form in which poetry, music, movement, scent, and dress coalesce into sociopolitical theatrical events.

Knowledge of Tongan politics, culture, history, and shared values is required for fully understanding lakalaka. This communicative competence makes it possible to decode and make sense of the processes and products of this cultural form, in which human bodies move in time and space according to cultural conventions and aesthetic systems of the Tongan people.

Individuals decode the discourses according to their backgrounds and understandings of particular performances as well as their own mental and emotional states at the time. For a viewer to respond, knowledge of movement conventions and dress is not sufficient; only through communicative competence can dance and dress reveal meaning as a sociopolitical discourse.

This according to “Dance and dress as sociopolitical discourse” by Adrienne L. Kaeppler, an essay included in Proceedings of the 17th symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology (Nafplion: Peloponnīsiakó Laografikó Idryma, 1994 45-52; RILM Abstracts 1994-2706).

Below, a performance from 2009.

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Antonín Dvořák, railfan

Dvořák had tremendous admiration for technical inventions, particularly locomotives—in the U.S. he might be called a railfan.

“It consists of many parts, of so many different parts, and each has its own importance, each has its own place,” he wrote. “Even the smallest screw is in place and holding something! Everything has its purpose and role and the result is amazing.”

“Such a locomotive is put on the tracks, they put in the coal and water, one person moves a small lever, the big levers start to move, and even though the cars weigh a few thousand metric cents, the locomotive runs with them like a rabbit. All of my symphonies I would give if I had invented the locomotive!”

This according to Antonín Dvořák: Komplexní zdroj informací o skladateli / A comprehensive information source on the composer, an Internet resource created by Ondřej Šupka. Many thanks to Jadranka Važanová for her discovery and translation of this wonderful quotation.

Today is Dvořák’s 180th birthday! Below, the EuroCity 77 “Antonin Dvorak” leaving Prague for Vienna.

Related article: Johannes Brahms, railfan

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Filed under Curiosities, Resources, Romantic era, Science

Beyoncé and the politics of looking

A close reading of Beyoncé’s Video phone illuminates the strategic interplay of subjectivities in a video that essentially disrupts and complicates heteronormative notions of viewing.

In this analysis, the workings of female power versus the male gaze lead to a theoretical conception of gender that contextualizes masculinity and hegemonic femininity. Ultimately, it is in the aestheticized landscape of Video phone that a counter-argument to mainstream heterosexual male imaginary emerges, one where the posthuman figure, in all its hyperreality, is musicalized in a way that defies all conventions.

This according to “Gender, sexuality and the politics of looking in Beyoncé’s Video phone (featuring Lady Gaga)” by Lori Burns and Marc Lafrance, an essay included in The Routledge research companion to popular music and gender (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017, pp. 102–16).

Today is Beyoncé’s 40th birthday! Above and below, the video in question.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik

Launched in 2020, Swara: Antologi pendidikan musik (Swara: Anthology journal of music education, eISSN 2807-2502) is an open-access research journal published regularly in the months of April, August, and December by the Music Education program in the faculty of Arts and Design Education at Universitas Pendidikan Indonesia (Education University of Indonesia) in Bandung, West Java.

Topics explored in the journal’s articles include empirical studies on music education (formal and informal), creativity and musical skills (recorded and live performance), and the analysis of traditional and modern musical works.

Below, Ananda Sukarlan performs and discusses his Rapsodia nusantara no. 15; the work is the subject of an article in Swara’s inaugural issue.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New periodicals

RIdIM and music iconography

On Sunday 29 August 1971 Barry S. Brook organized a meeting of some 30 music and art historians at Hotel Ekkehard in St. Gall; there they conceived Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale, the third music repertoire after RISM (founded in 1952) and RILM (1966). The discussions at the meeting are encapsulated in a single sheet of yellow legal paper (above) on which Brook scribbled his notes during the meeting.

Hotel Ekkehard, where the meeting took place.

The document lists proposals for the organization’s possible names: RICOM was rejected by a vote of 10:12; RIdIM (Répertoire International d’Iconographie Musicale) with its English/German equivalent IRMI (International Repertory of Musical Iconography/Internationales Repertorium der Musikikonographie) prevailed by 13:8.

The discussion concerned the composition of RIdIM’s Commission Mixte and national committees, the establishment of working groups on issues related to cataloguing and computerizing visual sources, and the organization of the Committee d’Honneur comprising museum directors, businesspeople, and amateur enthusiasts who could provide extra-musicological advice and assistance. The clearing house for cataloguing and the center for communication between the national committees cataloguing national resources and the scholars who need to study them was designated the Research Center for Music Iconography (founded in 1972 at the CUNY Graduate Center).

At the end of the meeting the project was established under the guidance of its three founding co-directors: Barry Brook, Harald Heckmann, and Geneviève Thibault de Chambure. This was a critically important moment for the field of music iconography, and Brook was certainly aware its significance. In the center of the sheet he wrote in red ink: “We may be participants in the establishment on a firm footing of a full-fledged sub-discipline”.

RIdIM celebrates its 50th anniversary today!

Brook and Heckmann in 1971.

BONUS: A report on the discussion of this idea a few days earlier at the annual meeting of the International Association of Music Libraries is here.

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A work admired and performed by Bach

In 2020 A-R Editions issued a critical edition of Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s Die leidende und am Creutz sterbende Liebe Jesu, edited by Warwick Cole.

Stölzel was a highly respected musician and composer who contributed works in all major 18th-century musical genres. His first Passion, Die leidende und am Creutz sterbende Liebe Jesu, was performed widely during his lifetime, including by Bach in 1734—the same year he composed his Christmas Oratorio, which imitates various aspects of Stölzel’s style.

Several characteristics of Stölzel’s Passion demonstrate the composer’s unusual approach to the genre, including a lack of named protagonists, texts couched in the present tense to heighten the immediacy of the drama, a balance between recitatives and arias, and the employment of primarily 17th-century chorales with plain harmonizations that may have encouraged the participation of the listening congregation.

Evidence of the work’s popularity includes the existence of a truncated and adapted mid-18th century score, several excerpts of which are included in the edition’s appendix.

Above, the Schlosskirche in Gotha, where Stölzel’s Passion was first performed in 1720. Below, an excerpt from the work performed by Cole’s group, Corelli Concerts.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions

Moutya and creolization

Moutya, created by slaves of African descent in the Seychelles in the late 18th century, is a combination of song, drumming, and dance. The genre’s current form originated in conjunction with the construction of Seychellois Creole cultural identity after the coup d’état in 1977.

Performances of moutya that have been adapted or revived—mainly in staged performances for official events, for tourists, or as part of the local music industry—demonstrate the creolization processes, revealing the relationship between moutya and other local and regional cultural phenomena, and underlining the need for an expanded and multilayered conceptual approach to the genre.

This according to Le moutya à l’épreuve de la modernité seychelloise: Pratiquer un genre musical emblématique dans les Seychelles d’aujourd’hui (Océan Indien) by Marie-Christine Parent, a dissertation accepted by the Université de Montréal in 2018.

Above and below, a 2020 performance in downtown Victoria.

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Enescu and makam

Georges Enescu’s use of elements of Romanian traditional music is well known; his most popular works today, the Rhapsodies roumaines, attest to his enthusiasm for his homeland’s music. Less known is his interest in the Turkish melodic type makam (pl. makamlar) and its influence on his masterpiece, the opera Œdipe.

In this work, Enescu used three makamlar: Müsteâr, for music associated with the characters Creon and Jocasta; Hisâr, for the motif of fate, and Nişâbûr, for the motif of justification.

This according to “Modale Strukturen in Annäherung zur orientalischen Kirchenmusik im Oedip von George Enescu” by Adriana Şirli, an essay included in Enesciana II-III: Georges Enesco, musicien complexe (Bucureşti: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1981).

Today is Enescu’s 140th birthday! Below, an excerpt from the 1970 production of Œdipe by the Opera Naţională Bucureşti; above, the Enescu statue in front of the opera house. For more Enescu iconography, see Music on money.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Opera