Category Archives: Curiosities

The Mozart Post Office

In 1904 Ole Lund, a Swedish immigrant living in Minnesota, applied to the Canadian authorities for a piece of land under the Dominion Lands Act of 1872. On receiving the allotment, he moved there with his wife, Julia.

The next year the province of Saskatchewan was established, and the Canadian Pacific Railway began its expansion westward; surveyors chose the Lund farm as their base of operation, and it became apparent that there would be a station depot not far from the Lund Homestead.

The railroad company offered to name the place Lund. The Lunds declined, and Julie Lund suggested that the hamlet be named after her favorite composer, Mozart. The name was accepted, and Mozart, Saskatchewan, officially came into being on 1 April 1909.

In the 1970s postcards with a line drawing of the town’s post office were made available for sale in the nearby cooperative store (above). Mozart’s 222nd birthday, 27 January 1978, was an extremely busy day for the postmaster of the Mozart Post Office, who had to oblige stamp collectors from all over the world who were anxious to have the anniversary cancellation.

This according to “The Mozart Post Office” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 376 [January 2016] pp. 54–55). Below, the celebrated “Letter duet” from Le nozze di Figaro.

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Filed under Classic era, Curiosities, Iconography

Air guitar and Asian fury

Competitive air guitarists have long understood that their art form provides an ideal means for contesting the overwhelming whiteness of rock and the electric guitar, sometimes extending their critique to include gender as well.

Asian and Asian American competitors in particular have used their performances to comment ironically on the emasculation of Asian males and the infantilization of Asian females through the construct of Asian fury, helping audiences to reimagine the linkages between race and rock.

This according to “Asian fury: A tale of race, rock, and air guitar” by Sydney Hutchinson (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 411–33).

Above and below, David “C-Diddy” Jung, winner of the first U.S. national air guitar championship and perhaps the originator of the term Asian fury as it applies to air guitar; the video shows his award-winning performance in 2003.

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Humor, Popular music

The Original Pinettes Brass Band

Playing on male-gendered instruments, the members of the all-women Original Pinettes Brass Band contest the male domination of the New Orleans brass band scene, queering the normative relationship between instruments and musicians and carving out a space for female musicianship.

The group’s songs and performance decisions present agential and subjective sites of black feminist thought put into action to subvert the brass band patriarchy. The Pinettes force us to view the New Orleans brass band scene as an intersectional site where gender is a central element in the construction and consolidation of power relationships.

This according to “Street queens: New Orleans brass bands and the problem of intersectionality” by Kyle DeCoste (Ethnomusicology LXI/2 [summer 2017] pp. 181–206). Below, the Pinettes in 2016.

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Filed under Curiosities, Popular music, Women's studies

Hindustani music on the cello

After a chance encounter with a colleague who had studied Indian music, Nancy Lesh decided to spend a summer holiday in India. Having been trained in Western classical music for 12 years, she had assumed that Indian music was “less refined”—but she fell deeply for Hindustani music, and began training in dhrupad, transferring the vocal style to her cello.

Eventually she began to study with the renowned Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, modeling her playing on the rudra vīṇā, the only instrument on which dhrupad is played. “Sixteen years later,” she says, I realize that this music is just beginning to mature within me.”

This according to “Hindustani music on cello” by S. Sankaranarayanan (Sruti 179 [August 1999] pp. 39–41). Below, a performance from 2013.

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Instruments

Jazz and unexpected stimuli

Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.

One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.

Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.

Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.

This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).

Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Science

Recorders in 1960s pop

While the recorder is still best known as an early music instrument, its revival in the 20th century led to its adoption as a modern concert instrument by a number of composers, and even in jazz.

The recorder also figured, at least briefly, in the British pop music boom of the mid-1960s, when Klaus Voormann played it on Manfred Mann’s Semi-detached suburban Mr. James and Trouble and tea, and Brian Jones played it on The Rolling StonesRuby Tuesday (above and below); the latter featured “a very obbligato recorder part which weaves intricate counterpoints over the basic melody in a very effective and interesting way” according to Richard D.C. Noble, who reported on the phenomenon in “The recorder in pop: A progress report” (Recorder and music magazine II/5 [May 1967] pp. 135–36).

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music

Defining folk music

Founded in the aftermath of World War II, the International Folk Music Council (now the International Council for Traditional Music) was a diverse group of scholars, musicians, and enthusiasts united toward an urgent goal: the preservation and revival of the world’s rapidly disappearing musical traditions. But beyond this general common cause, its members differed widely on many topics—not least, on the very definition of folk music.

Beginning with the IFMC’s first conference in 1948, where the German musicologist Walter Wiora discussed the distinction between Kategorie (category) and Wertidee (inspiring ideal), several of the Council’s members—most notably the English folklorist Maud Karpeles—debated the meanings of such terms as folk and the all-important qualifier authentic. The questions that were raised illuminate the beginnings of ethnomusicology and resonate with some of the current issues in the field.

This according to “Kategorie or Wertidee? The early years of the International Folk Music Council” by James R. Cowdery, an essay included in RILM’s own Music’s intellectual history.

Above, members of the IFMC at their meeting in Bloomington, Indiana, in 1950. Front and center: the Bengali poet and folklorist Jasīmauddīna, the U.S. ethnomusicologist George Herzog, and Dr. Karpeles.

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Filed under Curiosities, Ethnomusicology

Heavy metal and Classical antiquity

The early 21st century witnessed a surge of interest in comics and cinema regarding Classical antiquity, inspiring new studies in Classical reception. Heavy metal has also drawn on historical and mythological Classical material for subject matter, but this genre has received little attention from academics.

Classical reception in heavy metal illustrates an independent engagement with antiquity by the world outside academia, illuminating ways for scholars and students to better understand the impact of the field on contemporary media. Since the late 1970s Classical works, themes, and characters of Greek and Roman antiquity have inspired the lyrical, musical, and visual content of a number of heavy metal groups, with topics including works by Homer and Aeschylus, the founding of Rome, and the rise of the Principate.

This according to “Heavy metal music and the appropriation of Greece and Rome” by Osman Umurhan (Syllecta classica XXIII [2012] pp. 127–52).

Above and below, Ex Deo, one of the groups discussed in the article.

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Filed under Antiquity, Curiosities, Popular music, Reception

Sweet & sour music

Two experiments investigated the influence of the harmonic content of background music on taste perception.

The participants evaluated samples of mixed fruit juice while listening to soundtracks that had either been harmonized with consonant or dissonant musical intervals. Each sample of juice was rated on three computer-based scales: One scale was anchored with the words sour and sweet, while the other two scales involved hedonic ratings of the music and of the juice.

Participants reliably associated the consonant soundtracks with sweetness and the dissonant soundtracks with sourness, rating the juices as tasting significantly sweeter in the consonant than in the dissonant music condition, irrespective of the melody or instrumentation involved. These results provide empirical support for the claim that the crossmodal correspondence between basic taste and a higher-level musical attribute (harmony in this case) can be used to modify the evaluation of the taste of a drink.

This according to “Striking a sour note: Assessing the influence of consonant and dissonant music on taste perception” by Charles Spence (above) and Qian Janice Wang (Multisensory research XXIX/1–3 [2016] pp. 195–208).

Another post about Professor Spence’s research is here. Below, some consonance and dissonance imaging.

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Pykini’s parrot

A lively musical culture existed in the second half of the 14th century at the court of Brabant during the reign of Wenceslas I, Duke of Luxembourg (above, right). This abundant musical activity makes it likely that a member of the court chapel, Nicolas de Picquigny, was Pykini, the composer of the much-admired four-voice virelai Plasanche or tost.

The text of Plasanche or tost mentions that the audience will listen with pleasure to the parrot (le papegay). Although parrots are often mentioned in such texts to evoke springtime, and some scholars have guessed that here it is a punning reference to a Pope, archival sources show that Wenceslas had chosen the parrot as his symbol, having had its image embroidered on numerous furnishings with the coats of arms of Brabant and Luxembourg.

The bird was a very appropriate mascot for this duke and poet, who welcomed poets from so many different linguistic regions to his court and was himself fluent in multiple languages. The virelai’s listeners would have had no doubt about the identity of this particular parrot.

This according to “Pykini’s parrot: Music at the court of Brabant” by Remco Sleiderink, an essay included in Musicology and archival research/Musicologie et recherches en archives/Musicologie en archiefonderzoek (Bruxelles/Brussel: Bibliotheca Regia Belgica, 1994, pp. 358–91).

Below, Plasanche or tost performed by The Early Music Consort of London.

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