Category Archives: Curiosities

Didjeridu playing and sleep apnea

 

Snoring and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome are two highly prevalent sleep disorders caused by collapse of the upper airways. The most effective intervention for these disorders is continuous positive airway pressure therapy, which reduces daytime sleepiness and the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in the most severely affected patients. For moderately affected patients who complain about snoring and daytime sleepiness, however, continuous positive airway pressure therapy may not be suitable, and other effective interventions are needed.

A didjeridu instructor noticed that he and some of his students experienced reduced daytime sleepiness and snoring after practicing with this instrument for several months. A randomized controlled experiment confirmed that regular didjeridu playing is an effective treatment alternative well accepted by patients with moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome.

This according to “Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: Randomised controlled trial” by Milo A. Puhan, et al. (BMJ CCCXXXII [December 2006]; RILM Abstracts 2006-51373). The article won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Above and below, traditional uses of the didjeridu.

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Famous Victorians in a toy symphony

toy-symphony

An event billed as A concert for the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, held in London on 14 May 1880, featured a performance of Bernhard Romberg’s Toy symphony in which prominent London musicians appeared performing with various mechanical birds and toy instruments; all but two of the musicians in the ensemble played instruments other than those that they were accustomed to performing on.

The evening also included performances of the Chœur des soldats from Gounod’s Faust and several children’s songs by a kazoo ensemble conducted by the operatic contralto Zelia Trebelli-Bettini.

This according to “Famous Victorians in a toy symphony” by Herbert Thompson (The musical times LXIX/1026 [1 August 1926] pp. 701–702. This issue of The musical times, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.

Above, the participants at a rehearsal; below, a more recent performance of the featured work.

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Beethoven and Peanuts

Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz (1922–2000) discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.

A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of the Hammerklavier sonata, op. 106, may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.

This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91; RILM Abstracts 2008-8914).

Today is Beethoven’s 250th birthday! Below, Svâtoslav Rihter celebrates with the Hammerklavier sonata.

Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore

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Tepsijanje—singing by the pan

 

Singing by the pan, a women’s folk tradition known as tepsijanje (“panning”), was documented in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Ottoman period.

Recent research has shown that tepsijanje is still popular, especially with Muslim and Roman Catholic populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a rare example of a nonmusical object—in this case, a cooking pan—functioning as a musical instrument.

This according to “Examples of an interesting practice: Singing along the pan” by Jasmina Talam, an essay included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis. II (Münster: Monsenstein und Vannerdat, 2011 251–56; RILM Abstracts 2011-49486).

Below, two examples of tepsijanje.

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“Wooden laughter” in the opera house

 

For much of the 18th century there was a clear divide between the music of the upper and lower classes in Austrian society. However, by the late 1790s, a time when Europe’s ruling classes were under threat in the aftermath of the French Revolution, there is evidence to suggest that folk instruments previously associated with the lower classes—including the hurdy-gurdy, zither, tromba marina, and a peasant xylophone known as the Hölzernes Gelächter, (“wooden laughter”, above)—were played in aristocratic settings.

Austrian Composers wrote operas, concertos, and chamber pieces that included parts for folk instruments; some of these works were even dedicated to the Emperor Franz II and the Empress Marie Therese. The setting of these works, compositional practice, and the design of the instruments themselves enabled the music of the lower classes to be adopted by the upper classes, perhaps to evoke a sense of place and national identity during a period of great political change. These practices paved the way for folk music to influence composers later in the 19th century.

This according to “‘Wooden laughter’ in the opera house: The appearance of folk instruments in Bohemian and Austrian high society at the turn of the nineteenth century” by Sam Girling, a paper included in Studia instrumentorum musicae popularis VI (Berlin: Logos-Verlag, 2019 83–100; RILM Abstracts 2019-12296).

Below, the Hölzernes Gelächter in action!

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K-pop and political activism

 

For those who are new to K-pop fandom, a fancam is a video closeup filmed by an audience member during a live performance by a K-pop idol group. Fancams have been the bane of many Twitter users, however, who often find their own viral threads hijacked by users posting fancams to capitalize upon the thread’s popularity.

Following the murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police force, K-pop “stans” redirected their energies to posts on Twitter and Instagram made by police departments seeking to identify protestors against police brutality—jamming them instead with videos of K-pop stars. Other strategies used to subvert such efforts, and to promote Black Lives Matter, include hashtag derailment, rickrolling, and weaponizing Disney’s heavy-handed copyright policing.

This according to “How K-pop fans are weaponizing the Internet for Black Lives Matter” by Aja Romano (Vox 22 June 2020; RILM Abstracts 2020-2918).

Below, a brief documentary on K-pop political activism.

Related article: The music of Black Lives Matter

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics, Popular music

The theremin turns 100!

 

 

After the electronic oscillator was invented in 1915, revolutionizing the radio industry, the Russian inventor Léon Thérémin used this technology to develop the first fully functional electronic musical instrument; originally called the etherphone, it became widely known as the theremin.

Without touching the instrument, the player controlled pitch through relative proximity of the right hand to a vertical antenna, and volume through similar movements of the left hand in relation to a horizontal antenna. The instrument employed a heterodyne, or beat frequency system, and boasted a range of three to four octaves.

On the invitation of Lenin, Thérémin travelled throughout Russia, demonstrating his instrument, and toured Europe in 1927, causing excitement in Germany, France, and England. Later that year, Thérémin travelled to the U.S., where he remained until 1938.

In 1929 he sold his patent to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which made and sold 500 instruments. Leopold Stokowski collaborated on a fingerboard version, which he used with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1929 to 1931. Thérémin performed with the New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and presented several coast-to-coast broadcasts. He returned to the USSR in 1938.

This according to The theremin in the emergence of electronic music by Albert Glinsky, a dissertation accepted by New York University in 1992 (RILM Abstracts 1992-424).

The theremin is 100 years old this month! Above and below, the inventor in action.

BONUS: A brief presentation of further historical and technical information.

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Chindon’ya today

 

Chindon’ya (チンドン屋) are companies of street musicians engaged primarily in advertising for shops, stores, cabarets, and game parlors. Their development is closely linked to the economic and cultural development of Japan since the end of the nine­teenth century.

Although once a common sight in urban Japan, the number of chindon’ya has greatly decreased since the late 1960s. Recently, however, some signs of a new interest in this nearly obsolete profession have appeared.

Their profile has changed somewhat; job offers from rural communities are increasing, and engagements as main attractions in large hotels and at festivals have begun to be booked. The music has even influenced some pop music groups, who are taking up the chindon’ya repertory.

This according to “Chindon’ya today: Japanese street performers in commercial advertising” by Ingrid Fritsch (Asian ethnology LX/1 [2001] 49–78; RILM Abstracts 2001-24360).

Above and below, chindon’ya in action.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities

A 3D-printed concertina

 

In an interview, Edward Jay described his invention:

“My concertina is almost entirely fabricated on a 3D printer, meaning that it’s made of mostly plastic. In the prototype, only the reeds and bellows are made in the traditional way, though I am quite close to fabricating these on a 3D printer too.”

“3D printing has been around for a while actually, but only recently has it become more accessible and affordable. For example, the printers I am using now cost £800 each. But 3D printers aren’t exactly quick; to give you some idea of speed, each part on my instrument can take between 1 and 12 hours each to print. So having a farm of printers beavering away can speed things up significantly.”

“That said, it takes just 2 days for 3 printers to print all the parts for a single instrument, which I think still is a significant edge on the time required to fabricate all the parts using traditional methods. Actually, I understand it takes something close to 3 months to make a new traditional concertina—as long as my entire prototype development period.”

“Interestingly, I’ve somehow managed to create a concertina sound, I believe, due to my material choice, because 3D plastic is hollow! If you didn’t know, early concertina insides were made of balsa wood, or similar woods, woods that were chosen rather for their lightness than their integrity, which I believe in part gave traditional concertinas their signature sound.”

“This is not a toy at all. Every part of it is engineered properly; the stresses and strains, the tension forces, and so on, everything has been accounted for. So it won’t break. This concertina is very solid.”

Quoted in “Concertone Instruments: Interview with Edward Jay” by Kait Gray (Concertina world 480 [January 2020] 37–45; RILM Abstracts 2020-3864).

Below, Jay demonstrates his concertina; his website for Concertone Instruments is here.

More posts involving concertinas are here.

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Sopranos and intelligibility

 

Many English-speaking people attending concerts sung in English readily state that they cannot understand the words being sung.

In a study, 21 subjects (15 women, 6 men), all Western classically trained performers as well as teachers of classical singing, sang 11 words—“beat, bait, Bob, boat, boot,” representing the most frequently occurring vowels in practice, and “bit, bet, bat, bought, but, book,” representing the other six vowels that occur less frequently—arranged in six random orders, singing on two pitches a musical fifth apart.

The sung words were cropped to isolate the vowels, and listening tapes were created. Two listening groups, four singing teachers and five speech-language pathologists, were asked to identify the vowels intended by the singers. In general, vowel intelligibility was lower with the higher pitch, and vowels sung by the women were less intelligible than those sung by the men.

This according to “Vowel intelligibility in classical singing” by Jean Westerman Gregg and Ronald C. Scherer (Journal of voice XX/2 [June 2006] 198–210; RILM Abstracts 2006-8289).

Many thanks to Improbable research for bringing this article to our attention! Above, an illustration from the study; below, Jason Eckardt’s Dithyramb).

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