Astrud Gilberto, born Astrud Evangelina Weinert in Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil to a Brazilian mother and German father, was the voice of bossa nova. As a genre, bossa nova combined Brazilian samba rhythms and U.S. cool jazz elements while featuring an understated vocal style that complemented an acoustic guitar technique that featured plucked chords with jazz-influenced harmonies and chord progressions. Her rendition of The girl from Ipanema was sung quietly and melancholically without vibrato, in complete contrast to the extroverted rock ‘n’ roll numbers of the time. The song was composed in 1962 by Antônio Carlos Jobim and two years later appeared on the album Getz/Gilberto by singer and guitarist João Gilberto and saxophonist Stan Getz. On the album–which marked the peak of the bossa nova craze, sold millions of copies, and won a Grammy for Album of the Year–Astrud sang two of the songs: The girl from Ipanema and Corcovado (Quiet nights of quiet stars).
As a young woman, she moved with her family to Rio de Janeiro in 1948 where she worked in the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. Astrud married João Gilberto in 1959 after meeting at a friend’s house with whom she had sung as an amateur in bossa nova shows. In 1963, she traveled to New York City and performed an English version of the song Garota de Ipanema on João’s LP with Stan Getz. The English release of The girl from Ipanema marked her international breakthrough, making both the song and bossa nova known throughout the world. Although The girl from Ipanema is one of the most covered songs, it was Astrud’s English version with a Brazilian accent that was first associated with the song.
Astrud continued her career with Getz Au Go Go (1964, with Stan Getz), The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965, nominated for a Grammy in the category Best Female Vocal Performance), and Look to the Rainbow (1966, with Gil Evans). Her hits included Água de beber (1965), The shadow of your smile (1965), and Desafinado (1966, with George Michael). Her final album, Jungle, was released in 2002. She received a Latin Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008. Although Astrud never enjoyed massive success as a soloist, she was a prolific artist and collaborated with other major musicians throughout her long career as a vocalist.
Astrud Gilberto passed away on 5 June 2023 at the age of 83.
Read her obituary in MGG Online and locate information on her life and career in the Enciclopédia da música brasileira: Erudita, folclórica, popular (Encyclopedia of Brazilian music: Erudite, folkloric, popular, 2010) in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
Watch the video of Astrud Gilberto performing Corcovado below!
By the late 1970s, hip hop’s five core elements had emerged, namely deejaying, emceeing, breaking, graffiti, and beatboxing. The first two originated primarily in New York City hip hop parties led by DJs (disc jockeys) who revolutionized the practice of record spinning through the art of turntablism, and MCs (master of ceremonies) who performed rhythmic call and response with audiences. Breaking (the dance element of hip hop), graffiti (the visual art of hip hop), and beatboxing (the ability to create beats with one’s mouth) also formed in tandem with early hip hop culture at these parties.
Emceeing, which later known as rap, had cultural roots in the Black verbal arts of the United States and the Caribbean region. Mainland U.S. traditions that remained visible in hip hop include “jive-talking” radio personalities of the 1940s and 1950s, oral traditions of storytelling, and “playing the dozens“, a competitive and recreational exchange of verbal insults. Jamaican traditions include toasting, mobile disk jockeys, and sound systems. Many hip hop pioneers were Caribbean immigrants who brought musical practices from their native countries and adapted them to new social and sonic contexts of New York City.
The mingling of Caribbean immigrant and native-born African American and Latinx communities in the United States set the stage for the development of hip hop and rap music. A large Caribbean community had developed in New York, where the first rap and dance parties were said to have begun, as early as 1972 in the Bronx. Rapping as a distinct musical form developed in New York as a cultural expression encompassed by hip hop. Socioeconomic conditions in the Bronx and Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s profoundly shaped the aesthetics and activities of hip hop culture. The construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in 1959 accelerated the deterioration of buildings and led to the displacement of communities of the south Bronx–in many of these areas, youth gangs and gang violence emerged. Despite the turbulence of the 1960s and 1970s, Bronx youth developed popularized expressions that eventually came to be associated with hip hop culture, then consisting primarily of graffiti and competitive dancing. Hip hop became a powerful cultural symbol of urban youth. Within a few years, it had spread far beyond the Bronx.
Rap largely incubated outside of the pop mainstream during the 1970s. Although commercial success eluded him, Kool DJ Herc is widely considered to be the godfather of rap. His ideology ultimately defined hip hop culture–he was a record collector, dedicated to finding jazz, rock, or reggae discs possessing a funky drum break ideal for dancing. When asked in an interview about how many times he would play a break, Herc replied, “I wouldn’t go too far. Two times. I’ll just extend it two times. And James Brown says “Clyde” [for drummer Clyde Stubblefield]–that’s my name. So James Brown shouted me out. Oooh. Then the break comes in. I used that to start me off, and then go into the Isley Brothers and [Babe Ruth’s] The Mexican. Oooh, I like this. And then Jimmy Castor Bunch. Them were the records, man. I lay claim to it: That’s a Herc record. I’d say, “You never heard it like this before, and you’re back for more.” That’s it.”
Spinning records at local venues, Herc attracted Black audiences largely from the Bronx and Harlem where so-called “b-boys” dominated club dance contests until Puerto Rican youth developed a new dance vocabulary of power moves known as breaking (or break dancing). “Some say hip hop some begins with the DJ. But actually hip hop culture itself begins with the b-boy. We’re the x factor,” says Cholly Rock (Anthony Horne), a first generation b-boy. Cholly traces breaking back to the 1960s when Latinos across New York started “rocking” or “uprocking,” creating moves inspired by mambo music to contemporary soul and rock. Rocking was inspired by battle dances and performed as type of showdown. Some dancers latched on to its more aggressive components referring to the elaborate dance-disses as “burning.” Provocative styles emerged among feuding New York City gangs, especially in the Bronx.
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) provided the final impetus in making rap an art form. After moving to the Bronx from Barbados with his family as a child, Flash learned about electronics in a high school vocational class and quickly applied his knowledge to turntables and his father’s record collection. He extended and refined Herc’s breakbeat technique by incorporating a cross-fader system to monitor the mix on headphones and switch channels quickly–essentially inventing the turntable/mixer setup used by many hip hop DJs today. Flash specialized in playing breaks, the point when a DJ rapped, or a b-boy displayed his flashiest moves, and was adept at extending breaks and abruptly shifting records to the next break beat (or “cutting”). He also perfected “scratching” (see video below), the technique of taking the beginning of the beat, holding the record with your finger and making it go backward and forward with your finger.
Look out for upcoming posts celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary in the Hip hop at 50 series on Bibliolore. Find out more about the history of hip hop and contemporary scenes in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME) and RILM Abstracts.
The E-Journal of Music Research (EJOMUR) is an open-access journal from Ghana that publishes academic articles, conference papers, dissertation and thesis chapters, and book reviews in music. EJOMUR was first published in August 2020 and since then, their readership has grown to include academics, musicologists, composers, historians, musicians, and those interested in music research. All research articles submitted to the journal undergo a double-blind peer-review process, and issues are subsequently published online monthly.
EJOMUR publishes original articles on a wide range of topics in historical musicology, ethnomusicology, systematic musicology, music education, and music literature.
Find this journal in RILM Abstracts. Listen to Kwesi Gyan, a 21st-century chamber orchestra piece that combines Apatampa rhythms and folk music with contemporary compositional techniques. The piece is featured in an article in the July 2023 issue of the journal.
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Grace Bumbry’s appearance as the first African American singer in the role of Venus in Wagner’s Tannhäuser from 1961 through 1963 sparked fierce reactions. By the age of 23, Bumbry had created such a stir in the opera world that she was invited to audition in Bayreuth for Wieland Wagner, the grandson of the composer Richard Wagner, where he would be producing a new production of Tannhaeuser. When the press discovered that the new Venus was a Black singer, protests began to appear publicly in various publications. Wieland Wagner stated that his grandfather would want the best voice for the part and remained steadfast in his decision to cast Bumbry. Her racial background did not dissuade him, and neither did the negative press. Bumbry courageously performed the role and changed the history of opera by becoming the first person of color ever to be cast in a major role at the prestigious Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The next day, the critics called her “Die Schwarze Venus” (The Black Venus), and a new star was propelled into international stardom.
In those performances, Bumbry paved the way for opera singers of color. She grew up in modest surroundings in St. Louis, Missouri and as a young girl became interested in music after attending concerts given by Marian Anderson. Bumbry’s life was forever altered by the concerts, and she soon absorbed every recording of classical music she could find. At age 16, she won first prize in a local radio contest which provided her the opportunity to appear on The Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show, a popular U.S. radio and television variety show, where she sang “O Don Fatale” from Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Bumbry later studied at Boston University after encountering racist policies at the St. Louis Conservatory. She continued her studies with Lotte Lehmann in Santa Barbara, California in 1955 and finally with Pierre Bernac in Paris, where she made her debut at the age of 23 as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida at the Théâtre National in 1960. She made her debuts at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden London, as Princess Eboli in Don Carlos in 1963, at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1965, and at La Scala in Milan in 1966. Around 1970 she shifted her full, energetic mezzo-soprano voice to soprano and went on to sing Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and Salome in Richard Strauss’s eponymous opera. From the late 1980s onward, she returned to her lower voice and took on character roles such as Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress at the Salzburg Festival in 1994.
Bumbry passed away on 7 May 2023 at the age of 86 in Vienna.
Read the full obituary on Grace Bumbry in MGG Online. A previous posting on Bumbry in Bibliolore can be found here: https://bibliolore.org/2017/01/04/grace-bumbry-black-venus/
Below is a video of her performing Vissi d’arte, a soprano aria from the opera Tosca by Giacomo Puccini.
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Skinny Puppy has long been considered a classic band in the electro-industrial genre. Formed in Vancouver, Canada in 1983 by cEVIN Key (Kevin Crompton) and Nivek Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie), Skinny Puppy was influenced early on by Kraftwerk, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Suicide. The band soon created an innovative “hard electronic” sound that combined audio samples of films with heavy metal guitar aesthetics. When asked about the 1980s industrial scene, Ogre stated, “The original idea for industrial music was just a category for abstract ideas and abstract music. . . It didn’t matter what you used. Glass in your cupboard or a rat running across your floor.”
On their first tour, shortly after the release of the Remission EP, Wilhelm Schroeder (Billy Leeb) joined the band as a keyboardist in live performances. In 1986, he left the band to start Frontline Assembly and was replaced by Dwayne Goettel of Psyche. The first LP on which Goettel was involved, Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate, was Skinny Puppy’s worldwide breakthrough. Through this and the following albums and tours, the band garnered fans and gained a strong reputation globally.
In a 2020 interview, cEVIN Key described their songwriting process as having remained fairly consistent over the years. According to Key, “I still luckily own all the original equipment, so I can use that formula if I wish or can improvise with using elements of that formula. We were using a computer to sequence our [early albums] so in this case it’s quite the same even though technology has advanced greatly. . . Luckily, I was trained well by being in a band with five other guys who each had their own world. It’s in this training that I received writing albums, recording, and touring that I was able to grasp the experience to come and produce my own ideas. . . At the time Skinny Puppy was formed, the scene in Vancouver was so vibrant that our first goal literally was to have a song played at the local disco. So, I think, we all started with small goals, and they grew exponentially.”
Part of Skinny Puppy’s success has been that their music, politics, and song lyrics have engaged with the contemporary social issues that have driven them since the band’s foundation, especially animal rights—which inspired their name and albums such as VIVIsectVI. The band also famously billed the U.S. government $666,000 in 2014 for its use of their music played at intolerably high levels in the interrogation of accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. As one of the industrial genre’s most influential bands, Skinny Puppy have laid the groundwork for the mainstream success of acts such as Nine Inch Nails. Now celebrating 40 years together, the band has embarked on their farewell tour in 2023.
Read about Skinny Puppy and many other industrial and electronic artists in Das Gothic- und Dark Wave-Lexikon: Das Lexikon der schwarzen Szene (The gothic and dark wave lexicon: The lexicon of the black scene). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias.
Below is a classic video of Skinny Puppy performing Assimilate. Enjoy!
Initiated by Isidore Isou (born Jean-Isidore Goldstein), a young refugee from Romania, lettrism was a multidisciplinary creative movement that began in Paris in 1946 but soon expanded by attracting numerous creative people. Lettrist work was inspired by calligraphy, initially for books but also for visual art. In the age of print, it was quite innovative, although it may not have fared as well in preprint times. One recurring device is letters that resemble verses, even though they are devoid of words. Prominent writers and artists based in France such as Jean-Louis Brau, Gil J. Wolman, Maurice Lemaître, Roberto Altmann, Roland Sabatier, and Jean-Paul Curtay were among those associated with the group at various times.
The movement was named Lettrism because historically it was first and foremost interested in rethinking poetry, which at the time was judged to be exhausted when conveyed simply through words and concepts. Poetic lettrism clearly and systematically for the first time (taking inspiration from Dada) proposed a new conception of poetry entirely reduced to letters and eliminating all semantics. Not unlike other self-conscious agglomerations, lettrism was particularly skilled at producing manifestos which can be read with varying degrees of sense. By discounting semantic and syntactical coherence for language art, some lettrist works are considered the precursors of concrete poetry. Among the alumni are Guy Debord (1931–94), who is commonly credited with initiating the Situationist International (1958–72), which, according to some, represents art’s most profound, courageous, and successful involvement in radical politics. While Situationist writings have been translated into English, lettrist texts largely have been left out.
Find out more about lettrism in A dictionary of the avant-gardes. Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME).
The first image above was created by Roberto Altmann, and the second by Maurice Lemaître–both were artists associated with the lettrist movement.
Below is a video of Orson Welles interviewing Isidore Isou about lettrism and sound poetry in 1955. Be sure to turn up your volume when watching it.
Ahmad Jamal’s laid-back, accessible style of jazz featuring dense chords, a wide dynamic range, and use of silence initially drew criticism from the jazz press early in his career. This style, however, soon became ingrained in the jazz soundscape. The critic Stanley Crouch wrote that bebop’s founding father, Charlie Parker, was the only musician “more important to the development of fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal”. Miles Davis declared, “[Jamal] knocked me out with his concept of space, his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he [phrased] notes and chords and passages.” Jamal’s unmistakable style consisting of an economical and relaxed manner of playing encompassing pauses, distinctive rhythmic accents, a distinctive sense of melody, and a soft intonation. It befitted the intimate instrumentation of the piano trio, which formed the focus of his work. Clint Eastwood borrowed two tracks from the album At the Pershing for his 1995 romance film The Bridges of Madison County. Jamal also inspired hip hop musicians, including Nas, De La Soul, Gang Starr, and Common, all of whom sampled his 1970s work.
Jamal began playing piano when he was three years old and began piano study with Mary Cardwell Dawson at the age of seven. He competed successfully in piano competitions by the time he was eleven and performed publicly in recitals. In his early years, Jamal listened not only to jazz, which he referred to as “American classical music”, but also to Western music. “We didn’t separate the two schools,” he told The New York Times in 2001. “We studied Bach and Ellington, Mozart and Art Tatum.”
In the early 1950s, he converted to the Islamic faith, changed his name to Ahmad Jamal, and used that name for his trio. Jamal recorded extensively, toured widely in the United States, Europe, Central, and South America, and played long residencies in nightclubs of New York and Chicago, among other cities. He also was active in television and films and played on film soundtracks, including the M*A*S*H soundtrack (1969). He also toured as a soloist, and is best-known for his album But Not for Me. He played in the avant-garde style and exerted wide influence upon trios of the 1960s and 1970s.
Ahmad Jamal passed away on 16 April 2023.
Read more about Ahmad Jamal’s life and jazz career in the Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians (1982). Find it in RILM Music Encyclopedias (RME). Also find the obituary on Jamal in MGG Online.
Below is a performance by Ahmad Jamal in 2012 also featuring Yusuf Lateef.
The Baluchis Spread out across Pakistan, Iran, and Muscat, the Baluchi people are as complex and diverse as the landscapes that they inhabit. Baluchistan, the largest Pakistani province, is home to the Baluch as well as a rich geography, culture, and history. Its hardy mountains, though imposing at a distance, harbor beautiful secret alcoves. Its picturesque coastlines sketch a region that has proven both alluring and inaccessible to those who set their sights on it from Cyrus the Great to the modern-day ethnomusicologists. For better or worse, Baluchistan remains an unexplored cultural and geographical wonderland to the outside world.
The Baluchi people and their music bear testament to historical cross-pollination. The Iranian-descended Baluchis have freely mixed with Arabs and Siddis/Sheedis of African origin to create a unique culture. In their music, percussive, driving African rhythms intermingle with a unique melodic idiom, akin to ragas and maqams but standing apart from both. Their repertory ranges from songs of love (dastanag), loss (zahiroh), as well as music to accompany zar and gawati healing rituals and assimilated fishermen songs (amba). The meditative, Sufi-inspired religiosity espoused by the Baluchis also colors their music–manifesting in persistent, repetitive melodic motifs that gradually shift over time.
The benju It is no surprise that the benju, a unique keyboard-fitted zither, evolved in Karachi given the diversity of influences in the region. It was brought to Baluchi shores at the cusp of the 19th century by Japanese sailors, as the local telling of the story goes. This now-ubiquitous instrument arrived as the taishogoto, or nagoya harp, a children’s toy. From these humble beginnings, it has evolved to become a staple instrument in Baluchi folk music.
Over the last century, Baluchi people living in Iran and Pakistan have enlarged the humble taishogoto, adding up to six strings and row of keys, a larger, more resonant body, as well as electric pickups. This upgrade resulted from both necessity and ingenuity as the region has been subject to historical poverty and has had limited economic means and access to parts and reliable materials.
The benju produces a culturally espoused, rich overtone and shadow-notes-laden sound while its soft keys facilitate great melismatic virtuosity. Both hands divide the labors of musicmaking equally with the left playing keys while the other strums strings with a plectrum adding drones as required. However, its one limitation is that it cannot play the lyrical inflections and glissandos that typify the music of the region–a problem shared by the harmonium, the other imported instrument now part and parcel of North Indian and Pakistani music. Despite this drawback, the benju can be heard in many different social contexts. It is equally at home playing folk tunes or being broadcasted over regional TV or radio programs. It is played at rural weddings as well as in urban contexts where its loudness is greatly desired.
The man The benju has become quite popular recently thanks to the Pakistani virtuoso Ustad Noor Bakhsh. His ten-country European tour this past summer left audiences ecstatic and exhausted from dancing for hours to his irrepressible rhythms. Although Noor Bakhsh was already a local legend in his native Baluchistan for decades, his recent international recognition came about through the efforts of the Heidelberg-educated anthropologist, Daniyal Ahmed, whose fieldwork and managerial expertise have catapulted Noor into the global spotlight. Daniyal found him through videos of his virtuosic yet deeply spiritual playing, which have been widely circulated on social media for the past few years. “It took me four years to head out to find him, no thanks to COVID-19”, says Daniyal. “I was glad that I found him.”
Daniyal attributes the vitality of Noor Bakhsh’s music to his personality. He says that Noor loves to eat daal and naan–staples of Pakistani and North Indian cuisine–and is compelled to improvise by a primal energy that emanates from deep within him. According to Daniyal, “[Noor] is an amazing storyteller, steeped in the folk tales, myths, and legends of his people, collected over decades as he played for gavati and damali trance ceremonies, as well as through his many journeys across the wide expanse of Makran, Pasni, and Quetta. Plus, his whimsicality and sense of humor are as formidable as his musicality.”
Noor Bakhsh’s musicianship bears an indelible imprint of his sojourning; he stands out from his peers and defies tradition in a number of important ways. Firstly, unlike the six-stringed benju favored by other Baluchi folk musicians, he plays a five-stringed one, which he has electrified with a single-coil pickup affixed with a rubber band. He amplifies this with a locally engineered hybrid amp, powered by Phillips-Holland tubes that have been out of production since the 1970’s, and a Toyota car speaker. He has powered this rough-and-tumble setup for the last two decades with a car battery and a small solar panel, underscoring the ingenuity of the Baluchi people.
There is also the case of his musicianship. Noor is profoundly inspired by nature, especially birdsong, as evident on his 2022 album Jingul, which was released to global acclaim. From tuning his benju in line with the climate to eschewing tempered scales, Noor creates an atmosphere of deep spirituality and connectedness from the outset. His eclectic personality informs his extroverted style, adorning deeply lyrical phrases with florid passagework that delights the imagination and resists easy categorization. As Daniyal notes, “[Noor’s] fresh and experimental approach to presenting folk tunes borrows from many sources, including Baluchi zahireg, syncretic melodic frameworks influenced by Arabic and Hindustani traditions. However, Noor also adds Western-inspired triads and scalar runs to the expected trills and flourishes of his region’s repertory, wandering from one tune to another and back, building up to an ecstatic crescendo.”
Noor’s journey Hearing the jubilation in Noor’s music makes the particulars of his life ever more surprising. Born in Gaddani to an iterant family of goatherders of the zangeshahi clan, music was an integral part of Noor’s life. He was initiated into music by master musicians Khuda Bakhsh and Rehmat in his early teens, and he has lived a full and difficult life since that time. Noor spent decades accompanying famous Baluch singer Sabzal Sami, honing his craft, gaining local renown as a master instrumentalist, and losing loved ones and navigating other personal tragedies before eventually settling in a village near Pasni, where he has lived for the last two decades. The arid rocky landscape of his native Baluchistan seeped deeply into his creative ethos. It is no wonder that hearing Noor Bakhsh play in Amsterdam, the Dutch wife of the desert-blues musician Ali Farka Touré cried out, “Ali, you’re alive!”
For all his musical aptitude, Ustad Noor Bakhsh remains childlike at heart in the best of ways. “While other musicians from his social class would have been wowed by the architecture and economic splendor of Europe”, says Daniyal, “all Noor could focus on were the sounds of his precious birds. That’s the man that he is, at once fully alive and immersed in the world, while being completely removed from it.”
–Written by Ali Hassan, a versatile singer, percussionist, an aspiring ethnomusicologist, and a multicultural composer-producer from Karachi, Pakistan. Ali is currently an intern at RILM.
Listen to Noor Bakhsh’s music here: https://honiunhoni.bandcamp.com/album/jingul
Watch a video of Noor performing below.
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Music teachers often deal with clients that are children or young adults. Researchers from the field of neuroscience and the aging brain have, however, demonstrated that music education benefits the brain and cognition throughout a person’s lifespan. They also have noticed the existence of patterns of decline from early adulthood in processing speed and accelerating declines in memory and reasoning. The development and refinement of neuroimaging techniques within the last twenty years or so has allowed for exploration of how the behavior and neurophysiology of musicians may differ (if at all) from non-musicians. Music training affects a wide range of cognitive abilities associated with brain enhancement including verbal processing, intelligence, reading, auditory processing, decision-making, and so on. Researchers have also found enhancements in cognitive flexibility, working memory, and verbal fluency in musicians.
Music training also may induce neuroplastic changes and enhancements. Firstly, brain volume (gray matter and white matter) increases with musical training. Playing a musical instrument has been associated with increased white matter thickness in motor, premotor, and supplementary motor, prefrontal and parietal cortices–in other words, brain volume increases occur with musical training. Secondly, musical training changes connectivity and functional connectivity in the brain. Research has found that changes in the auditory-motor network for young adults over 18 beginning music training suggest that music training can influence brain plasticity even after brain maturation is almost complete.
In some cases, older adults with at least 10 years of musical experience displayed better performance in far-transfer tasks such as nonverbal memory, naming, and executive functioning tests than non-musicians or musicians with less than 10 years of musical experience. Other benefits include reduced age-related decline of fluid intelligence in older musicians, increased inhibition, and increased executive functioning. Overall, current research suggests that lifelong engagement in musical training maintains the brain in a younger state and enhances neural functioning.
Read more in “Music education and the aging brain” by Patricia Izbicki and Christina L. Svec (Contributions to music education 47 , RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2022-6592.
The above image is a mapping of human brain connectivity featuring dorsal and lateral views.
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Once again, the reviews are in! Another installment has arrived of RILM’s Instant Classics series, which chronicles and collects the books indexed in RILM Abstracts of Music Literature that have received the most reviews in academic literature. This most recent list collects publications covering a wide range of musical topics that were released between 2020 and 2021, listed in order from least to most reviewed.
As always, this list should be viewed as a living document that will become outdated as reviews continue to be written. Despite the inherent limitations, collecting these texts in this way generates a valuable archive of the topics, methodologies, and perspectives that earned the attention of music scholars during a brief period in time. As we zoom out, patterns may emerge that provide insight into the topical trends that have contributed to music discourse in the early decades of the 21st century.
We may also pause over which voices are being heard in music research, the interests of the publishers who are amplifying them, and the types of audiences being targeted. Although this list may inevitably serve as means of promotion, it is not meant to be viewed uncritically. We can appreciate these texts’ contributions to musical knowledge while simultaneously being aware of the powers held and challenges faced by the publishing firms and university presses that sell them.
And finally, do keep in mind that RILM can only disseminate the writings on music to which it has access. You are invited to help make RILM Abstracts be as complete as it can be by visiting our website and submitting your review! We thank you in advance and wish you a happy summer of reading!
– Written, compiled, and edited by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM
#8. Osborne, Richard and Dave Laing, eds. Music by numbers: The use and abuse of statistics in the music industry (Bristol: Intellect, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-99384]
Abstract: Examines statistics within the music industry. Its aim is to expose the historical and contemporary use and abuse of these numbers, both nationally and internationally. It addresses their impact on consumers’ choices, upon the careers of musicians and upon the policies that governments and legislators make.
#7. Slominski, Tes. Trad nation: Gender, sexuality, and race in Irish traditional music. Music/culture (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-54789]
Abstract: Just how “Irish” is traditional Irish music? This book combines ethnography, oral history, and archival research to challenge the longstanding practice of using ethnic nationalism as a framework for understanding vernacular music traditions. The author argues that ethnic nationalism hinders this music’s development today in an increasingly multiethnic Ireland and in the transnational Irish traditional music scene. She discusses early 21st-century women whose musical lives were shaped by Ireland’s struggles to become a nation; follows the career of Julia Clifford, a fiddler who lived much of her life in England, and explores the experiences of women, LGBTQ+ musicians, and musicians of color in the early 21st century.
#6. Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven’s lives: The biographical tradition (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11238]
Abstract: When Beethoven died in March 1827, the world of music felt an intense loss. The composer’s funeral procession was one of the largest Vienna had ever witnessed, and the poet Franz Grillparzer’s eulogy brought the tensions between the composer’s life and music into sharp focus: the deaf and aloof genius, the alienated and eccentric artist, unable to form a lasting relationship with a woman but reaching out to mankind. These apparent contradictions were to attract many Beethoven biographers yet to come. The story of Beethoven biography is traced, from the earliest attempts made directly after the composer’s death to the present day. It casts a wide net, tracing the story of Beethoven biography from Anton Schindler as biographer and falsifier, through the authoritative Alexander Wheelock Thayer and down to the present. The list includes Gustav Nottebohm, the first scholar to study Beethoven’s sketchbooks. With his work, biography could begin to reflect on the inner life of the artist as expressed in his music, and in this sense, sketchbooks could be seen as artistic diaries. Even Richard Wagner thought of writing a Beethoven biography, and the late 19th and early 20th century saw the emergence of French and English traditions of Beethoven biography. In the tumultuous 20th century, with world wars and fractured politics, the writing of Beethoven biography was sometimes caught up in the storm. By bringing the story down to our time, it identifies traditions of Beethoven biography that today’s scholars and writers need to be aware of. Each biography reflects not only on the individual writer’s knowledge and interests, but also his inner sense of purpose as each writer works within the intellectual framework of his time.
#5. Brennan, Matt. Kick it: A social history of the drum kit (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-11043]
Abstract: The drum kit has provided the pulse of popular music from before the dawn of jazz up to the present day pop charts. This provocative social history of the instrument looks closely at key innovators in the development of the drum kit: inventors and manufacturers like the Ludwig and Zildjian dynasties, jazz icons like Gene Krupa and Max Roach, rock stars from Ringo Starr to Keith Moon, and popular artists who haven’t always got their dues as drummers, such as Karen Carpenter and J Dilla. Tackling the history of race relations, global migration, and the changing tension between high and low culture, the author makes the case for the drum kit’s role as one of the most transformative musical inventions of the modern era. He shows how the drum kit and drummers helped change modern music—and society as a whole—from the bottom up.
#4. Austern, Linda Phyllis. Both from the ears & mind: Thinking about music in early modern England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-8218]
Abstract: Offers a bold new understanding of the intellectual and cultural position of music in Tudor and Stuart England. The author brings to life the kinds of educated writings and debates that surrounded musical performance, and the remarkable ways in which English people understood music to inform other endeavors, from astrology and self-care to divinity and poetics. Music was considered both art and science, and discussions of music and musical terminology provided points of contact between otherwise discrete fields of human learning. This book demonstrates how knowledge of music permitted individuals to both reveal and conceal membership in specific social, intellectual, and ideological communities. Attending to materials that go beyond music’s conventional limits, these chapters probe the role of music in commonplace books, health-maintenance and marriage manuals, rhetorical and theological treatises, and mathematical dictionaries. Ultimately, the author illustrates how music was an indispensable frame of reference that became central to the fabric of life during a time of tremendous intellectual, social, and technological change.
#3. Frühauf, Tina. Transcending dystopia: Music, mobility, and the Jewish community in Germany, 1945–1989 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2021-1]
Abstract: Discusses the role music played in its various connections to and contexts of Jewish communal life and cultural activity in Germany from 1945 to 1989. This history of the Jewish communities’ musical practices during the postwar and Cold War eras tells the story of how the traumatic experience of the Holocaust led to transitions and transformations, and the significance of music in these processes. As such, it relies on music to draw together three areas of inquiry: the Jewish community, the postwar Germanys and their politics after the Holocaust (occupied Germany, the Federal Republic, the Democratic Republic, and divided Berlin), and the concept of cultural mobility. Indeed, the musical practices of the Jewish communities in the postwar Germanys cannot be divorced from politics, as can be observed in their relations to Israel and U.S. On the grounds of these conceptual concerns, selective communities serve as case studies to provide a kaleidoscopic panorama of musical practices in worship and in social life. Within these pillars, a wide spectrum of topics is covered, from music during commemorations, on the radio and in Jewish newspapers, to synagogue concerts and community events; from the absence and presence of cantor and organ to the resurgence of choral music. What binds these topics tightly together is the specific theoretical inquiry of mobility.
#2. Robinson, Dylan. Hungry listening: Resonant theory for Indigenous sound studies. Indigenous Americas (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4582]
Abstract: Listening is considered from both Indigenous and settler colonial perspectives. In a critical response to what has been called the “whiteness of sound studies”, how decolonial practices of listening emerge from increasing awareness of our listening positionality are evaluated. This involves identifying habits of settler colonial perception and contending with settler colonialism’s “tin ear” that renders silent the epistemic foundations of Indigenous song as history, law, and medicine. With case studies on Indigenous participation in classical music, musicals, and popular music, structures of inclusion that reinforce Western musical values are examined. Alongside this inquiry on the unmarked terms of inclusion in performing arts organizations and compositional practice, examples of “doing sovereignty” in Indigenous performance art, museum exhibitions, and gatherings that support an Indigenous listening resurgence are offered. It is shown how decolonial and resurgent forms of listening might be affirmed by writing otherwise about musical experience. Through event scores, dialogic improvisation, and forms of poetic response and refusal, a reorientation is demanded toward the act of reading as a way of listening. Indigenous relationships to the life of song are sustained in writing that finds resonance in the intersubjective experience between listener, sound, and space.
#1. Ross, Alex. Wagnerism: Art and politics in the shadow of music (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2020). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2020-4721]
Abstract: For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and U.S. culture. Such colossal creations as Der Ring des Nibelungen, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil. An artist who might have rivaled Shakespeare in universal reach is undone by an ideology of hate. Still, his shadow lingers over 21st-century culture, his mythic motifs coursing through superhero films and fantasy fiction. A German translation is cited as RILM 2020-61241.
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