Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, composer and conductor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the son of a doctor from Sierra Leone and an English woman, was born in Croydon, England on 15 August 1875. At the age of 15, he was accepted into a violin class at the Royal College of Music in London and studied composition before being awarded a composition scholarship in March 1893. As a composer he progressed far more quickly than his fellow students. At a young age, Coleridge-Taylor became familiar with the works of the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, who had a strong influence on Coleridge-Taylor, especially on his compositions Seven African romances op. 17 (1897), A corn song (1897), African suite op. 35 (1897) and the opera Dream lovers op. 25 (1898). He was also familiar with the writings of Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, and W. E. B. Du Bois, whose collection of essays, The souls of Black folk, he called “the finest book I have ever read by a colored man, and one of the best by any author, White or Black”.

At the age of 23, Coleridge-Taylor was commissioned to write his Ballade in A minor for Britain’s Three Choirs Festival; although he is best known for Hiawatha’s wedding feast, based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The overture Coleridge-Taylor wrote for the piece was inspired by the African American spiritual Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. In 1904, he made the first of three trips to the United States where he toured during the post-Reconstruction era and met notable African American figures such as the poet James Weldon Johnson and the statesman Booker T. Washington. During this period, he also conducted performances of his works at the Washington Festival and Litchfield Festival on the East Coast. Later, Coleridge-Taylor became a professor of composition at Trinity College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music. In addition to cantatas, chamber music, and orchestral works, he also wrote popular songs and incidental music. Coleridge-Taylor passed away at the age of 37 from pneumonia.

Read the full entry on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in MGG Online.

Listen to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha overture below.

A related Bibliolore post:

A new Coleridge-Taylor edition

Leave a Comment

Filed under Black studies, Europe, Musicology, North America, Opera, Performers

MC5 and the American ruse

Rolling Stone magazine put the MC5 (short for Motor City Five) on their January 1969 cover before the world ever heard a note of their music. Considered the missing link between free jazz and punk, the MC5 were a raw and primal band, considered to be unstoppable when they were clicking. A generation of bands, including The Clash, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Motorhead, and Rage Against the Machine, would be inspired by their sonic and political blueprint. Led by guitarist Wayne Kramer, the MC5 reflected their times: exciting, sexy, violent, chaotic, and seemingly out of control–characteristics that ensured their time in the spotlight would be short-lived. Members of the band were galvanized by the racial and class politics of the 1967 Detroit riots, which left many of the local neighborhoods Kramer knew decimated. He and the MC5 toured the world, played with a number of music legends, and garnered a rabid following, their music acting as the blistering soundtrack to blue-collar youth movements springing up across the United States and elsewhere. Their vehement antiauthoritarian stance found especially fertile ground in the 1960s antiwar movement. The lyrics of their 1970 song The American ruse (from the album Back in the U.S.A.) perfectly captured the sentiment of the movement during that political moment.

“69 America in terminal stasis
The air’s so thick, it’s like drowning in molasses
I’m sick and tired of paying these dues
And I’m finally getting hip to the American ruse.”

Listen to American ruse below.

Kramer wanted to redefine what a rock ‘n’ roll group was capable of, and although there was power in that cause, it also was also a recipe for disaster, both personally and professionally. The band recorded three major label albums, but by 1972, it was all over. Kramer’s story is literally a revolutionary one, but it’s also one of deep personal struggle as an addict and an artist, as well as a survivor and rebel. From Kramer’s early days in Detroit to becoming a junkie on the streets of the East Village, from Key West to Nashville and Los Angeles, in and out of prison and on and off drugs, his life was that of a classic journeyman, only with a twist.

By 2009, Kramer had cleaned up and established Jail Guitar Doors U.S.A., a nonprofit organization that offers songwriting workshops in prisons and donates musical instruments to inmates. As Kramer described in a 2015 interview, “The guitar can be the key that unlocks the cell. It can be the key that unlocks the prison gate, and it could be the key that unlocks the rest of your life to give you an alternative way to deal with things.” Possibilities that Kramer understood well from personal experience.

Wayne Kramer passed away on 2 February 2024.

Read more in The hard stuff: Dope, crime, the MC5 & my life of impossibilities by Wayne Kramer (Da Capo Books, 2018). Find it in RILM Abstracts.

Below is a video of the MC5 performing live and outdoors at Wayne State University in Detroit, July 1970 (Kramer is on vocals and guitar for the first song Rambin’ Rose).

Leave a Comment

Filed under North America, Performers, Politics, Popular music

Radio Caroline and U.K. pirate radio

Pirate radio stations on offshore ships were only significant for less than a decade but had an enormous impact on broadcasting. In the United Kingdom independent radio had been heard since the 1930s on Radio Normandy and Radio Luxembourg. These stations were founded by Captain L. F. Plugge and had offices in London. The U.K.’s General Post Office (GPO), the state postal system and telecommunications carrier at the time, refused them telephone facilities to transmit concerts live, so they recorded concerts by touring seaside resorts and recording bands on 16-inch 78 rpm gramophone records that were then shipped to Brussels and taken by train to Luxembourg to be relayed.

Radio Luxembourg had the most powerful transmitter in Europe at the time. British firms were soon paying a total of £400,000 a year for advertising on programs and sponsoring them. One of the most popular was the Ovaltine Show featuring the Ovaltineys and the Ovaltineys’ Orchestra. These first commercial stations were largely lost in World War II when most of the transmitters were destroyed—although the Germans took over Radio Luxembourg to transmit propaganda. It survived after the war and took the new format of the Top 20 series from U.S. radio.

On March 29, 1964, a new development hit the airwaves and captured the imagination and loyalty of the younger listeners. Radio Caroline first broadcast from a ship anchored off the Essex coast just outside British territorial waters. There had been other pirate offshore radio stations before that, broadcasting to Scandinavian and other northern European countries, but Radio Caroline was to become the most successful and long-lived. It was started by an Irish businessman called Ronan O’Rahilly, who had been trying to promote a young singer named Georgie Fame. He was turned down by the main record companies and decided to start his own company. He even took the records to Radio Luxembourg and was rejected by them as their airtime was mostly taken by the large record companies. In desperation, O’Rahilly decided to start his own radio station.

He bought an old passenger ferry and secretly refitted it in a southern Ireland port before mooring it off the coast of Harwich. The first disc played on Radio Caroline was The Beatles’ Can’t buy me love by DJ Simon Dee. Other pirate stations proliferated off the British coast in the coming years: Radio Atlanta, transmitted from the ship Mi Amigo, and later merged with Radio Caroline while the original Caroline ship went north to anchor off the Isle of Man to become Radio Caroline North.

Read the full entry on pirate radio in the Encyclopedia of music in the 20th century (2013). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Listen to the opening broadcast of Radio Caroline with Simon Dee on 29 March 1964.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Europe, Mass media, Popular music

Manu Dibango and “Soul makossa”

The Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango began his career by performing in the local church choir in his hometown of Douala. As a child, Dibango faced significant challenges growing up in a household where his father and mother belonged to rival ethnic groups in the region. His parents, however, did own a vast record collection, which deepened his interest in Cuban, U.S., and French music at a young age. After moving to France in 1949, Dibango learned to play the piano and later the saxophone. He developed a love for jazz while in France with the help of Francis Bebey and other musicians who inspired and taught him.

After moving to Brussels in 1956, Dibango joined Joseph Kabasele’s Congolese orchestra Le Grand Kallé et l’African Jazz, which was famous for its hit Indépendance chacha in 1960. Dibango traveled with Kabasele’s orchestra to perform in the city of Kinshasa in1961, where he decided to stay and open the famous Tam-Tam nightclub. In 1963, Dibango’s hit song Twist à Léo helped popularize the twist dance throughout the Congo, and his encounter with Congolese music inspired him to delve deeper into African music, especially makossa, the popular genre of his hometown Douala.

Dibango recorded the song Soul makossa in 1971 and positioned it as the b-side to the single Hymne de la Coupe d’Afrique des Nations, which was a tribute to the Cameroon football team. Local listeners were not initially impressed by Soul makossa, and even Dibango’s father scoffed at the stuttering vocal line in the song. A few copies of the single, however, found their way across the Atlantic Ocean and into the hands of radio DJs in New York City by 1972. The song became a hit on New York radio stations and in disco clubs. The few copies circulating in the city were immediately sold out, and the lack of distribution resulted in Soul makossa being recorded and released by several local New York City bands to meet the demand. Once distribution of the original single by Dibango resumed, Soul makossa immediately shot to the top of the charts.

Read the full entry on Manu Dibango in MGG Online. Below is a video of a performance of Soul makossa in 1983.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music, World music

Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in blue” premieres

At its premiere 100 years ago, on 12 February 1924, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in blue was received with a standing ovation after it was performed. At the time, the conductor Paul Whitehead requested that Gershwin write a “jazz concerto” for an event to be held at the Aeolian Hall, a renowned Manhattan concert venue located in the Aeolian Building–coincidentally, this building was also RILM’s original home before the CUNY Graduate Center. Given the centennial of Rhapsody’s premiere in 2024, it is likely to be heard in many different settings and contexts.

Since the piece premiered in early 1924, however, debates have arisen about how much Gershwin knew about writing music. Because his musical language was an unconventional blend of U.S. popular music and European art music, some of his critics assumed that he knew little about writing serious music. This premise has been confirmed somewhat by statements made in early Gershwin biographies, which alleged that he was self-taught.

The inherent complexity of Rhapsody in blue and other subsequent concert works written by Gershwin, however, suggest he knew a great deal about writing music. It is also known that Gershwin received training from the versatile composer and musician Charles Hambitzer as early as 1912, where he discovered the music of Irving Berlin and J.D. Kern, and later received special theory lessons from the composer and conductor Edward Kilenyi. Rhapsody was composed in only five weeks, in spare moments while Gershwin was otherwise occupied with the premiere of a Broadway show. On that time schedule, he had no alternative other than to put what he already knew about writing music into that work.

Celebrate the centennial of the premiere of Rhapsody in blue today by reading the entry on George Gershwin in MGG Online and “Rhapsody in blue: A culmination of George Gershwin’s early musical education”, a dissertation by Susan E. Neimoyer (2003, University of Washington, Seattle); find it in RILM Abstracts.

Below is the classic scene of the Rhapsody in blue premiere in the 1945 Gershwin biopic starring Robert Alda.

Comments Off on Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in blue” premieres

Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, North America, Performers

Batanghari sembilan in South Sumatra

Batanghari sembilan is a genre of popular guitar music performed in the province of South Sumatra, Indonesia. The sound of batanghari, for many locals, evokes a strong sense of cultural pride for their natural and agricultural surroundings, especially for the long winding rivers that flow across the elongated island’s mountainous landscape. Some have described the genre as melancholic or romantic for its minimalistic sound. In earlier times, the sound of batanghari sembilan was more dense as it was performed in small ensembles comprised of a gambus (a lute instrument similar to an oud), suling (an Indonesian bamboo flute), and small hanging gongs. Today, however, it is performed primarily on solo acoustic guitar.

In the village of Batu Urip, batanghari sembilan accompanies the sekedah bumi, a ceremony performed to summon the spirits of the deceased as a form of memorialization, expression of gratitude, and to repel future misfortune. The version of batanghari sembilan performed here in sekedah bumi is unique in its incorporation of pantun, a Malay poetic form, in this case, used to express deep sadness and longing for ancestors or recent relatives who have passed away.  For instance, in the popular pantun phrase below, the third and fourth lines describe a sense of seduction that can be attributed to either an ancestor or perhaps a lover.

Betang hagu umban di tebang

Betang duku di buat hahang

Jengan ragu jengan bimbang

Linjang ku tuk ngas suhang

In this context, the performance of batanghari sembilan in sekedah bumi is not merely intended as entertainment but as ritual function, conveying the social values and history of South Sumatran cultures while strengthening local communities.

Learn more in “The function of pantun in the art performance of batang hari sembilan solo guitar during sedekah bumi ceremony held in Batu Urip hamlet, South Sumatera” by Imelda Tri Andari and Suharto (Harmonia 20.2, [December 2020], 195–204). Find this Indonesian journal in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature.

The video below features the guitarist Sahilin, one of South Sumatra’s most renowned contemporary batanghari sembilan performers. The second video features Suarasama, an Indonesian band that incorporates elements of the batanghari sembilan sound.

Pictured above are Randi Putra Ramadhan and Rosa Jannatri Harkha, two younger batanghari performers.

Comments Off on Batanghari sembilan in South Sumatra

Filed under Asia, Popular music, World music

Towards global knowledge, decolonization, and preservation

On 9 February 2024, RILM presents a panel titled “Towards Global Knowledge, Decolonization, and Preservation—Challenges and Opportunities Through Culture and Arts Education” as part of the UNESCO World Conference on Culture and Arts Education 2024. The four presentations in this side event are all rooted in the understanding that information literacy is a fundamental pillar in education—each presentation pivots on the notion of global knowledge as a foundation of culture and arts education. After RILM Director Tina Frühauf opens the panel with discussion of a broader theoretical framework, the second presentation by Executive Editor Zdravko Blažeković examines RILM as a model that underlines the importance of a global approach to information literacy. The following presentation by RILM Associate Editor Farah Zahra presents a local perspective, using the case of Iraqi literature and knowledge as an example. The final presentation by RILM Editor MU Qian highlights decolonization (understood here as an ongoing process) as an additional objective for the UNESCO Framework for Culture and Arts Education, taking the treatment of Uygur culture as a case in point.

For further information on RILM’s panel and information on joining the presentation, please visit https://www.rilm.org/wccae2024/

For more information on UNESCO World Conference on Culture and Arts Education 2024, visit https://www.unesco.org/en/wccae2024?hub=86510

Also, be sure to check out RILM’s resources for learning including materials for teachers, students, performers, and music researchers interested in RILM’s rich music databases, research tools, and full-text publications. Learn more at https://www.rilm.org/classrooms/

Comments Off on Towards global knowledge, decolonization, and preservation

Filed under Music education, RILM, RILM news

Max Roach, jazz drummer and Civil Rights activist

Referred to as the “dean of modern jazz drumming,” Max Roach spent his formative years in Brooklyn and received a degree in composition from the Manhattan School. While still in his teens, Roach became one of the innovators of the bop drumming style at jazz fountainheads such as Minton’s Playhouse and Clark Monroe’s Uptown House in Harlem. Among his collaborators have been Coleman Hawkins (with whom he made his first recording in 1944), Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and many others. Known for his melodic, formally structured solos, and compositional experimentation, Roach moved from bop to cool and free jazz styles, and his creative talents were recognized with commissions and awards from various sources, including the MacArthur Foundation and Down Beat magazine.

Roach’s We insist! Freedom now suite, recorded in 1960, moves from depictions of slavery to Emancipation to the Civil Rights struggle and African independence. The work draws on both long-standing symbols of African American cultural identity and a more immediate historical context. It is a modernist work as well, as Roach and his musicians used African and African American legacies in new and novel ways. In a 1987 interview, Roach commented on whether by the time he recorded the Freedom now suite, he had become a Civil Rights activist:

“Well, I guess [Black jazz musicians] always have been [activists], you know? I go back to Bessie Smith with Black mountain blues and then to Duke Ellington’s Black, brown and beige. It’s always been there. Leadbelly always spoke about the issues and the times that existed. And many of the old Black folk singers from the South to street musicians dealt with it. I’ve always been an activist. At that time [in the 1960s], my children were young. But you’re always thinking about their future as well. And if they’re going to come up and be responsible human beings, they have to have education, and the things like everyone else has. And society has to accommodate that. So, I guess I’ve always been activist because of them.”

Listen to the entire We insist! Freedom now suite recording below.

Decades after its initial release, the Freedom now suite remains fresh and significant, foregrounding the ways that jazz has been in consistent dialogue with social and cultural movements, and has been at its most inspired when engaged in social commentary.

Celebrate the beginning of Black History Month by reading the entry on Max Roach in Percussionists: A biographical dictionary (2000, RILM Music Encyclopedias) and “Revisited! The Freedom now suite” by Ingrid Monson (JazzTimes XXXI/7 [September 2001], 54–59.

Below is a performance of We insist! by Abbey Lincoln and the Max Roach group in 1964.

Comments Off on Max Roach, jazz drummer and Civil Rights activist

Filed under Black studies, From the archives, Jazz and blues, North America, Politics, Popular music

Basel’s early musical life

The musical history of Basel, Switzerland dates back to the founding of the Augusta Raurica by Caesar’s general Munatius Plancus and the construction of an amphitheater where music, pantomime, and ballet performances took place after the city’s founding in 44 B.C. A diocese was established in Basel as early as the 4th century, and Gregorian chant was popularized there in the 9th century under the aegis of Haito (Bishop of Basel from 807 to 823). Little is known about the musical life of Basel in the first millennium; however, it appears to be similar to that of other bishoprics.

There were also several singing schools in Basel, and choral singing was practiced by monks. From the middle of the 13th century onward, the names of professional singers regularly appeared in the accounting books of the city’s church institutions, although the services of these musicians were probably already in demand earlier. Choral singing had become a permanent fixture in urban churches around the middle of the 15th century. Conrad von Zabern, author of Opusculum de monochordo (1462) and De modo bene cantandi (1474), apparently learned to sing at the Basel Cathedral. The surviving treatises and liturgical manuscripts belonging to the Carthusian, Preacher, and Dominican orders also document the diverse musical life of the urban monasteries.

Read on in an entry on Basel in MGG Online. Below is a video of contemporary choral singing at the 2023 European Festival of Youth Choirs held in Basel. Above is a panoramic map of Basel dating back to around the late 15th century.

Comments Off on Basel’s early musical life

Filed under Antiquity, Europe, Middle Ages

Mindfulness and music learning

The practice of mindfulness can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the autonomic nervous system that counteracts the effects of stress in our minds and bodies. Research on mindfulness and meditation has shown that these practices have the capacity to decrease the size of the amygdala, known as the brain’s “panic button” in charge of responses associated with fear, anxiety and strong emotions.

Mindfulness has become increasingly common in the workplace, the healthcare profession, and many school programs.  In recent years, the incorporation of deep breathing techniques, mindful movements, and guided visualizations has also been used at all levels of music teaching, allowing students to leave stressors behind while fully engaging in the learning experience. For instance, when music students learn to utilize their breath as an anchor, they learn to connect to the present moment, to reflect on their playing with self-compassion, and to nurture deeper listening skills.

Some of the possible benefits of mindfulness for musicians include:

Improvement of students’ mood during lessons, making the learning process a positive experience.

Increased body awareness and mind/body connection, promoting healthy technique.

Decreased tension while playing. Increased active listening, shaping, phrasing and musicality.

Improvement in capacity to focus and concentrate during lessons and performances.

Improvement in memorization and reduction in performance anxiety.

Increased self-compassion and kindness in the face of mistakes.

Celebrate International Education Day (January 24) by reading “Mindfulness in music teaching: Practical applications to piano lessons” by Fernanda Nieto (MTNA e-journal 14.3 [February 2023], 28-29). Find it in RILM Abstracts with Full Text.

Below are further ideas from the text related to mindfulness and piano instruction.

Comments Off on Mindfulness and music learning

Filed under Music education, Science