Author Archives: RILM

McCoy Tyner and “apart playing”

 

McCoy Tyner’s improvisation on Bessie’s blues, recorded with the John Coltrane Quartet in 1964, exemplifies the traditional Afrodiasporic performance practice of apart playing.

A formulation of the art historian Robert Farris Thompson, apart playing occurs whenever individual performers enact different, complementary roles in an ensemble setting. For interpretative purposes, the concept helps to provide a cultural context for certain pitch-based formal devices, such as substitute harmonies and playing outside an underlying chord or scale, which Tyner uses in the course of his solo.

This according to “Apart playing: McCoy Tyner and Bessie’s blues” by Benjamin Givan (Journal of the Society for American Music I/2 [May 2007] pp. 257–80).

Today is Tyner’s 80th birthday! Above, performing in 1973; below, the recording in question.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performance practice, Performers

Chandralekha’s legacy

 

Having established herself as a leading performer of bharata nāṭyam, by 1960 Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel—professionally known as Chandralekha—felt a need to move beyond the genre’s boundaries and began to pursue ideas about fusing Indian dance traditions with modern idioms.

Chandralekha was a firm believer in the need for resuscitating older forms with contemporary energy, drawing also on martial art and therapeutic traditions. Always a controversial figure, she criticized plastic smiles, fake religiosity, and mindless repetition of mythological themes. A voracious reader, a gifted writer, and a poet, she lived a full life and influenced a whole generation of young dancers.

This according to “Rebel with a cause” by Sunil Kothari (Sruti 269 [February 2007] pp. 16–19).

Today would have been Chandralekha’s 90th birthday! Below, a brief documentary about her life and work.

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Filed under Dance, Performers

John Hartford’s mammoth collection of fiddle tunes

 

John Hartford’s mammoth collection of fiddle tunes (Franklin, TN: StuffWorks, 2018) comprises 176 of Hartford’s original compositions. Most of these tunes are previously unpublished and unrecorded, taken from Hartford’s personal music journals.

Compiled and narrated by the fiddler Matt Combs, John’s daughter Katie Harford Hogue, and the musicologist Greg Reish, the book illuminates Hartford’s creative process through original tune compositions, his own reflections on the fiddle, and interviews with family and fellow musicians.

The volume includes more than 60 of Hartford’s personal drawings—ranging in theme from steamboats and the river, to fellow musicians, home and everyday life—as well as several never-before-seen photographs.

Above, a page from the book: Hartford’s Annual waltz as part of a holiday card and invitation to his 1980 wedding; below, the composer performs the song and tune.

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Filed under New editions, North America, Performers

Reggae as Intangible Cultural Heritage

 

Each year UNESCO adds to its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and Jamaica submitted reggae for consideration in 2018. The genre was approved in late November of that year, joining a list of over 300 cultural traditions.

In its statement, UNESCO noted that reggae’s “contribution to international discourse on issues of injustice, resistance, love, and humanity underscores the dynamics of the element as being at once cerebral, sociopolitical, sensual, and spiritual.”

The statement continued: “The basic social functions of the music—as a vehicle for social commentary, a cathartic practice, and a means of praising God—have not changed, and the music continues to act as a voice for all.”

This according to “Reggae added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list” by Jon Blistein (Rolling stone 29 November 2018). Above, Bob Marley in 1980; below, a short film issued by UNESCO in connection with the announcement.

Related article: Bob Marley’s œuvre

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Filed under Popular music, Reception

The evolution of jùjú

 

Jùjú, a type of popular music that combines indigenous Yorùbá musical practices with Christian hymnody, was first popular in Lagos in the 1930s.

The tambourine, introduced in Lagos in 1920 by missionaries, was integrated into jùjú because of its musical and symbolic associations. The spiritual dimension of this instrument is partly responsible for the name jùjú, which is an extension of the term used by colonialists to describe the various African traditional belief practices. Other stylistic resources of jùjú include the samba of the Brazilian community of Lagos and songs and musical instruments of the Liberian Kru sailors.

In the 1940s jùjú bands began to experiment with new musical instruments such as gangan (talking drum), pennywhistle, organ, and mandolin. The projection of Yorùbá elements and the introduction of accordion and harmonica are identified with Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (above). The rapid changes in social and political structures of the 1960s and 1970s in Nigeria were reflected in further developments.

This according to “A diachronic study of change in jùjú music” by Afolabi Alaja-Browne (Popular music VIII/3 [October 1989] pp. 231–42).

Below, King Sunny Adé, one of the performers discussed in the article.

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Filed under Africa, Performers, Popular music

Not Luka Sorkočević

In 2015 the Hrvatska pošta produced a stamp honoring the eighteenth-century Croatian composer Luka Sorkočević, inadvertently illustrated with an image of the U.S. president Thomas Jefferson.

The mistake was discovered just before the stamp’s release, and the entire run was withdrawn and destroyed, though one post office had sold 22 examples of it prior to the release date.

In view of the events and given the fact that apparently no copies had yet reached the philatelic market, a 2018 advertisement from the auction house Barac & Pervan noted that this stamp should become widely sought after; and since this rarity is also important for the American philatelic market, its value is expected to increase over time.

This according to “Unissued stamp from 2015 supposed to show Mr. Luka Sorkočević” (Barac & Pervan 2018). Below, one of the composer’s symphonies.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography, Reception

The Mills violano virtuoso

 

Nobody knows how many of the 2,500 violano virtuosos manufactured by the Mills Novelty Company between 1912 and 1926 exist today, but one ended up in the Smithsonian Institution in 1959, where it was designated one of the eight greatest inventions of the decade.

A complex instrument, it contains a 44-note piano with bass strings in the center and treble notes on either side in addition to a real violin. An electric motor with variable speeds simulates the action of bowing through the use of electromagnets.

Arthur Sanders, a specialist in mechanical instruments, was engaged to oversee the instrument’s restoration. “I assumed theirs had been in operating condition when they got it,” Sanders later noted, “but the grease had jelled, the oil had become gummy, and it needed new strings.” Mr. Sanders worked on it with some spare parts from similar instruments. “Even the curators from the fossil section came around,” he said, describing what must have been an exciting moment for the famous museum.

This according to “Making music with machines” by James Feron (The New York times 17 June 1984, pp. 507, 529). Above and below, the rare double violano virtuoso.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments

Athanasius Kircher’s global reach

Musical commodities frequently accompanied European explorers, soldiers, merchants, and missionaries who traveled to Asia in the early modern period. During this time, numerous theoretical treatises and musical scores—both printed and manuscript—were disseminated throughout Asia.

One of the most significant of these musical imports was Athanasius Kircher’s Musurgia universalis, which provided far-flung missions with vital information on music theory, history, organology, composition, and performance. An unexpected letter to Kircher from Manila, sent just four years after the treatise’s publication in Rome, provides testimony to its importance:

“I am so obliged to Your Reverence not only for the great kindness with which Your Reverence treated me in Rome, but also for the instruction that Your Reverence gives me all day in these remote parts of the world by means of your books, which are no less esteemed here than [they are] in Europe.”

“Here in Manila I am studying the fourth year of theology, and I see for myself the many marvels that Your Reverence recounts in his books. I have been the first to bring one of these, that is, the Musurgia, to the Indies, and I do not doubt that it will be of great usefulness to the Fathers of the missions, where music is taught publicly. Father Ignatio Monti Germano, Rector of Silang, wants to read it, and I will send it to him shortly.”

This according to “The dissemination and use of European music books in early modern Asia” by David R.M. Irving (Early music history XXVIII [2009] pp. 39–59).

This year marks the 390th anniversary of Kircher’s ordination! Above, the frontispiece to the first volume, engraved after a drawing by Johann Paul Schor; below, Kircher’s celebrated musical cure for a tarantula bite.

Related article: Baroque birdsong

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Reception

William Herschel at the crossroads

 

William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.

The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.

The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.

This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII [1981] pp. 5-18).

Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.

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Filed under Classic era, Science

Forging and legitimizing Dutch metal

 

Dutch heavy metal came of age in 2001 with the first mainstream success of the symphonic metal band Within Temptation, whose single Ice queen reached the number two position in the national Top 40.

The woman-fronted group initiated a trend that became internationally associated with the Netherlands and Dutchness. In 2007 the German magazine Rock hard labeled the genre melodic-dark-metal with female vocals, and counted the Netherlands among the leading nations in this field. Within Temptation has received support from the Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat, which is interested in stimulating the export value and copyright revenues of Dutch artists.

The next step was formal education: Metal Factory was founded in 2013 to teach instrumental skills and the ins and outs of band organization, management, communication, and touring.

This according to “From thrash to cash: Forging and legitimizing Dutch metal” by Pauwke Berkers and Julian Schaap, an essay included in Made in the Low Countries: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 61–71).

Above, Within Temptation’s guitarist Ruud Jolie teaches at Metal Factory; below, the official Ice queen video.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music