Category Archives: Curiosities

Ora Watson, buck dancing fiddler

“I was born a-dancing” Ora Watson used to say, and indeed when she was barely old enough to stand she would try dancing on her mother’s lap at church when the music started. Watson’s father, an expert old-time musician, was also a great buck dancer, and she recalled picking up steps from him.

A farmer, mother of four, and veteran of several old-time and bluegrass bands, Watson could raise the energy on any stage by playing fiddle and dancing at the same time, often to her favorite fiddle tune, “Ragtime Annie”. In her youth she won several dance competitions, including at least one Charleston competition, and old-time buck dancing aficionados could spot the Charleston’s influence on her footwork.

This according to “Ora Watson, Watauga County’s senior musician: ‘Music keeps me young!’” by Mark Freed (The old-time herald XI/1 [October-November 2007] 16–21; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2007-29464).

Today would have been Ora Watson’s 110th birthday! Above and below, holding forth in 1993, when she was 82.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

The Air Horn Orchestra

Comprising area musicians, band members, and concerned residents, the Raleigh-based Air Horn Orchestra staged a months-long sonic protest in 2016 to ensure that North Carolina governor Pat McCrory really heard their outcry against the infamous House Bill 2, better known as HB2 or the Bathroom Bill, which eliminated important anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community in North Carolina.

And how could he not hear? Air horns, whistles, trumpets, bells, and just about anything that could produce noise wailed outside the Governor’s Mansion weekly for over eight months. In addition to annoying the sitting governor, his staff, and their security detail, the cacophony stirred up national media attention and raised needed funds to help overturn the bill.

This according to “Sound politics: The Air Horn Orchestra blasts HB2” by Tina Haver Currin (Southern cultures XXIV/3 [fall 2018] 107–24; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-58458).

Below, a documentation of the Air Horn Orchestra’s efforts (Ms. Haver Currin addresses the group first; the performance begins around 2:00).

Related article: Cacerolazo and social media

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics

Dürer’s bathing musicians

Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut Das Männerbad (ca. 1496–97) includes a portrayal of two men playing recorder and rebec in a public bath.

The artist’s meticulous attention to detail shows clearly that the recorder is a flûte à neuf trous (drilled to give the player a choice of left or right little finger, the unused hole to be filled with wax).

In the bath, singing is probably more widely practiced than instrumental playing, and indeed, wooden instruments might not take too kindly to the humidity; some people might be more attracted to drinking while bathing, like the gentleman to the musicians’ left.

This according to “Musical ablutions” by Herbert Hersom (The recorder magazine X/1 [March 1990] 20–21; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1990-30337).

Today is Dürer’s 550th birthday! Below, music by Ludwig Senfl, who worked at the court of Maximillian I around the time that Dürer was employed there.

More posts about iconography are here.

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Filed under Curiosities, Iconography, Iconography, Instruments, Renaissance

Improv Everywhere!

The improvisation collective Improv Everywhere specializes in staging public-space interventions, which they refer to as pranks or missions.

By enlisting pedestrians in discrete one-time events that challenge protocols of public contact and that expand our understanding of public flexibility and empathy, Improv Everywhere offers an antidote to mainstream, hegemonic formulations of spectacle, virtuosity, and generalized expectations concerning the purpose of performance.

The group’s integration of trained and untrained performers (whom they refer to as agents), the kinds of space and sociality that they create, and the connections between their live and web presences reveal noteworthy contemporary understandings of intimacy and the social fabric.

This according to “Why not Improv Everywhere?” by Susan Leigh Foster, an essay included in The Oxford handbook of dance and theater (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 196–212; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2015-23390).

Above and below, Conduct us, a collaboration with the designer Ilya Smelansky and New York City’s Carnegie Hall.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Performance practice

Transformational grammar and the foxtrot

Chomskyan transformational grammar provides a useful framework for a semasiological analysis of the foxtrot.

The foxtrot follows seven transformational rules; three are optional rules that account for certain variations that may occur while dancing at a club or in the studio while choreographing a dance, and four rules are obligatory. One rule involves gender agreement in proper foot choice, and three rules establish the relationship to the foot-placement structure and the slow-rhythm structure.

These few rules generate all the foxtrot steps one can produce: 1. Rhythm Transformation (optional); 2. Chasse Support (optional); 3. Walk Support (optional); 4. Slow-Rhythm Foot Position Junction (obligatory); 5. Gender Agreement (obligatory); 6. Direction/Turning Junction (obligatory); and 7. Foot/Direction Junction (obligatory).

This according to “A phrase-structural analysis of the foxtrot, with transformational rules” by Edward A. Myers (Journal for the anthropological study of human movement I/4 [fall 1981] 246–68; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1981-24274).

Above, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; below, a brief documentary.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance

Telemann’s wit

Georg Philipp Telemann’s ability to produce high-quality works at lightning speed is well known; less remembered today is his mischievous sense of humor. He was known among his friends for writing wickedly clever satirical verses and playing musical practical jokes, as he once did with a cantor from a nearby village.

Seeking to aggrandize himself, this cantor determined that he would honor a certain festival day by performing a new sacred work by the local master. He repeatedly requested that Telemann write something for him and his choir, and, knowing that their musicianship was decidedly inferior, the composer repeatedly declined. At last the cantor made such a pest of himself that Telemann told him that he and a few friends would arrive with the new work for a rehearsal before the performance.

On the appointed day the composer handed the new work—a treacherously difficult fugue—to the cantor, whispering to his friends “Now the thieves shall confess their sins.” The singers proceeded to produce a dismal, discordant rendition as they unknowingly made fun of themselves. Telemann had set the line “Wir können nichts wider den Herrn reden” (We cannot speak against the Lord) in such a way that the hapless singers were “confessing” their ineptitude by repeating the words “Wir können nichts” (We cannot)!

The composer laughed heartily. “That certainly won’t do” he said. “Let’s see how we can remedy this.” He then took out a different composition, and he and his friends performed it—both saving the day and humiliating the presumptuous cantor.

This according to “Images of Telemann: Narratives of reception in the composer’s anecdote, 1750–1830” by Steven Zohn (The journal of musicology XXI/4 [2005] 459–486; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2004-6402).

Today is Telemann’s 340th birthday! Below, a merry bit of tone-painting—“Postillion” from his Tafelmusik.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Humor

Concio et cantio

In the preface to his collection Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica (1619) Michael Praetorius engaged in a play on words, juxtaposing the similar-sounding Latin terms concio and cantio. But the passage is not a mere display of cleverness—it is a theological assertion that musicologists have described as a manifesto on liturgical music.

Praetorius wrote (translated here): “it is essential to the highest ideals of church government, as well as to a corporate worship service, that there be not only concio, a good sermon, but also cantio, good music and singing.” By stating that worship would be incomplete without “good music and singing” he was expressing the underlying premise of his entire career as a Lutheran church composer and cantor.

This according to Michael Praetorius Creuzbergensis: The man, the musician, the theologian by David Susan, a Master of Divinity thesis accepted by Concordia Seminary in 1971 (RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 1971-15384).

Today is Praetorius’s 450th birthday! Below, the Monteverdichor Würzburg and the Monteverdi Ensemble, conducted by Matthias Beckert, perform his Puer natus in Bethlehem from the same collection.

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities

Rocking the (Chinese) tradition

In December 2015, on the Zhongguo zhi Xing (China Star) television program, a reality-show competition among professional pop singers, the singer Tan Weiwei presented a song collaboration with masters of Huayin laoqiang (a xiqu genre originating from Shuangquan village in Huayin), telling her audience that it represented “the earliest Chinese rock music.”

This broadcast, and a second one at the 2016 CCTV Chunjie Wanhui (Spring Festival Gala), led to considerable controversy regarding the three-way negotiation among Chinese rock music, the “Intangible Cultural Heritage’” represented by traditional Hauyin laoqiang, and the political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.

The reception of these performances among various groups of viewers–general audience members, rock music fans, musicians, and government officials–illustrates how different interpretations reflect audience members’ differing social ideologies. The process of combining rock music and traditional culture is given different meanings based on the identity and stance of different viewers.

This according to “Rocking the tradition or traditionalizing rock? A music performance on Chinese reality show China star” by Yang Shuo (Sounding board 2017; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2017-43941). Above and below, the historic performance.

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Popular music

Cacerolazo and social media

Cacerolazo, a fixture in Latin American protests for decades, involves a group of people making noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to call for attention. The first large-scale cacerolazos in Chile accompanied gatherings in 1971 to protest food shortages and other household stresses as the nation’s economy slid towards a severe depression.

Having solidified its presence in the Chilean protest scene by 1973, cacerolazo was a natural part of the weeks-long protests targeting government economic policies in 2019. Protest songs were also an established tradition in Chile, and the two came together in the social justice rapper Ana Tijoux’s politically charged single #Cacerolazo, which became a rallying cry for the dissent.

The hashtag in the song’s title meaningfully connected it to the newer phenomenon of online social media-based participation blending into offline action, and the protesters’ demands infiltrated the sociopolitical fabric at a pace and level that eventually resulted in Chilean leaders conceding to offer the public a chance to vote on replacing the Constitution in 2020.

This according to “Chilean cacerolazo: Pots and pans, song and social media to protest” by Kaitlin E. Thomas (Sounding board 2020; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2020-3028).

Currently, cacerolazos are part of the protests of the Myanmar coup d’état. Below, the official video for Tijoux’s song.

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Filed under Curiosities, Politics

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 of Music Literature 2006-51373). The article won the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Above and below, traditional uses of the didjeridu.

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Science