In Frances Densmore’s broad sweep through Native American communities, practicing what is now considered salvage anthropology, she worked with more Native American cultures than any anthropologist of her time.
After Densmore’s passing in 1957, others found it difficult to assess the results of her decades of work or to fit them into histories of various types. She had participated actively in communities of musicologists, anthropologists, and other professional women, as well as with Native communities as she pursued her social science. These communities were historically imbricated.
Densmore saw her work as the single focus of a lifetime. That work, over time, became but one part of a larger cultural context within which musicologists and anthropologists as a whole, as well as women anthropologists in particular and Native American writers, examined her work.
This according to “Gone but not quite forgotten” by Joan M. Jensen, an essay included in Travels with Frances Densmore: Her life, work, and legacy in Native American studies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, pp. 242–83).
Today is Densmore’s 150th birthday! Above, with Susan Windgrow (Maka Waste’ Win/Good Earth Woman), ca. 1930; below, Sitting Bull’s favorite song, recorded by Densmore from a man who had learned it by hearing it sung repeatedly by Sitting Bull himself.
Helen May Butler’s career provides a welcome counternarrative to the men’s professional bands—such as John Philip Sousa’s—that were the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Butler had the professional and musical clout to attract the top female talent needed to form a first-rate professional ensemble. Her Ladies’ Military Band rose to prominence during a time when being a professional woman required sacrifice, in terms of both family life and customary female identity. Butler’s perseverance and tenacity in creating an accomplished ensemble of women in a male-dominated field is an important and inspirational addition to the history of both U.S. concert bands and the women’s movement of her time.
This according to “Helen May Butler and her Ladies’ Military Band: Being professional during the golden age of bands” by Brian D. Meyers, an essay included in Women’s bands in America: Performing music and gender (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, pp. 15–49).
Today is Butler’s 150th birthday! Below, an undated photograph of her Ladies’ Brass Band, which toured between 1901 and 1912 (click to enlarge).
Claudio Monteverdi’s seconda pratica was a return to basic verbal expression (listening, recognition, and revelation from emotional vocal accentuation).
Monteverdi’s art agrees with poetic expression as defined in Plato’s three forms expounded in the third book of Republic and Aristotle’s Poetics. For Monteverdi, musical language is music and the synthesis of text, harmony, and rhythm; the phonetic exposition of continuous thought becomes poetry.
This according to Preparazione alla interpretazione della poiesis Monteverdiana by Nella Anfuso and Annibale Gianuario (Firenze: Centro Studi e Rinascimento Musicale, 1971).
Today is the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s baptism! Above, a portrait from ca. 1630 by Bernardo Strozzi; below, the madrigal Cruda Amarilli, an especially clear example of Monteverdi’s seconda pratica.
Central among Lou Harrison’s pioneering East-West fusions, his works for gamelan and Western instruments are frequently cited either as exemplars of the composer’s Californian, postmodern musical sensibility, or as noteworthy instances of cultural hybridity. However, close examination of Main bersama-sama (1978) and Bubaran Robert (1976/1981) shows that these pieces can and should be understood for what they tell us about Harrison’s deep engagement with melody.
Harrison has mistakenly been regarded as a West Coast musical dabbler, writing tuneful pieces that lack the complexity that characterizes the work of his East Coast contemporaries. Yet analysis of the pitch structure of these pieces reveals intricate compositional games similar to the pre-compositional strategies of composers more typically associated with algorithmic compositional methods. Because these intricacies lie beneath the melodic surface of the music they have largely been unheard and unappreciated in Harrison’s work.
The melodic nature of these games challenges the widely accepted depiction of Harrison as a mere tunesmith, showing how he explored the ability of melody—as opposed to large-scale tonal or harmonic schemes—to create form and serve a central generative function in his music.
This according to “Unheard complexities in Lou Harrison’s Main bersama-sama and Bubaran Robert” by Rachel Chacko (Journal of the Society for American Music VII/3 [August 2013] pp. 265–94).
Today is Harrison’s 100th birthday! Below, the two pieces in question.
While Emmylou Harris’s Pieces of the sky did not hit the top of the charts, it had a crucial impact on young listeners in the second half of the 1970s, merging country, rock, and folk to provide a hybrid form of country that appealed to an audience that was otherwise removed from the typical country audience in age, politics, and geography.
Despite its eclectic repertoire—ranging from old country standards to the Beatles—one of the album’s great strengths lies in Harris’s coherent stylistic approach, which bridges the gaps between pieces that one might be surprised to find together. This wide-ranging yet cohesive sound was to become one of Harris’s trademarks.
This according to “Emmylou Harris: Pieces of the sky (1975)” by James E. Perone, a chapter in The album: a guide to pop music’s most provocative, influential, and important creations. III (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2012, pp. 21–25).
Today is Harris’s 70th birthday! Above, the singer-songwriter in 1975, when the album was released; below, the full album.
While Mstislav Rostropovič is widely remembered for his vast talents and fearless politics, his associates also knew him as a man of boundless high spirits.
As a conductor, he often hopped off the podium at the end of a performance and kissed and hugged every musician within reach.
Notorious for his mischievous sense of humor, he sometimes surprised his accompanists by pasting centerfolds from men’s magazines into the pages of their scores. At a 70th-birthday tribute to Isaac Stern, he performed Saint-Säens’s Le cygne wearing white tights, a ballet tutu, a swanlike headdress, and red lipstick (inset, with Stern and Gregory Peck; click to enlarge).
This according to “Mstislav Rostropovich, 80, dissident maestro, dies” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times 28 April 2007, p. A1).
Today would have been Rostropovič’s 90th birthday! Above, dancing with Joseph Brodsky and Mihail Baryšnikov; below, a high-spirited encore piece.
Critics, scholars, and performers have long noted that Arturo Toscanini’s reputation for absolute fidelity to the printed score was little more than a public relations myth.
Now that the legendary conductor’s annotated scores are available for study, three types of alterations can be observed: (1) modifications of dynamics, articulation, bowing, phrasing, and tempo; (2) orchestrational adjustments; and (3) the introduction of new material.
The combination of Toscanini’s Italian musical heritage and Wagnerian aesthetic convinced him that the highest service that a conductor could render was to impose certain types of musical changes whenever he sensed that a composer’s artistic conception was threatened. In his mind, there was neither egotism nor hypocrisy in this approach.
This according to “Toscanini and the myth of textual fidelity” by Linda B. Fairtile (Journal of the Conductors Guild XXVI/1–2  49–60).
Today is Toscanini’s 150th birthday! Below, his recording of the first movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, one of the works discussed in the article.
In an interview, Ry Cooder recalled the inspiration for his album My name is Buddy.
“Once I was hipped to Buddy the Cat, I knew that’s my guy. He was a mascot of a record store, living up in Vancouver. They found him living in a suitcase in the alley. I said ‘Okay, I’m there. I can go with that and I know what to say.’”
Buddy is the album’s protagonist—a laid-off, disenfranchised cat who is joined by Lefty the Mouse and Reverend Tom Toad as they travel down the Lost Highways, Cardboard Avenues, and Sundown Towns of a bleak, destitute U.S.
“It’s a tip of the hat to the disappearing of the American working man,” Cooder said, “to the neighborhoods, the way of life, the life that people made for themselves, how they worked, what they achieved…No one’s gonna argue with a cat.”
This according to “Three (or four) chords and the truth: The saga of Ry Cooder and a cat named Buddy” by John Kruth (Sing out! LI/3 [autumn 2007] pp. 52–59).
Today is Cooder’s 70th birthday! Above, performing in 2009; below, Three chords and the truth, the album’s centerpiece.
Heitor Villa-Lobos’s choro no. 10 (Rasga o coração) is a choral-symphonic tour de force that expresses the composer’s ardent nationalism through some of the most progressive compositional techniques of the mid-1920s.
The work’s opening imparts impressions of Brazil’s sonorous natural riches with indigenous melodies and birdsongs, providing an extended prelude to the choral section. The mixed chorus functions at the same level of value and distinction as that of the orchestral architecture, singing vocables meant to evoke aboriginal languages. With the appearance of the Rasga o coração melody, according to the composer, “the Brazilian heart becomes one with the Brazilian land.”
This according to Heitor Villa-Lobos: The search for Brazil’s musical soul by Gerard Béhague (Austin: University of Texas, 1994, pp. 87–96).
Today is Villa-Lobos’s 130th birthday! Above, the composer ca. 1922; below, a performance by Orquestra Sinfônica Municipal de Campinas.
Despite living in a racially stratified 1930s U.S., Mildred Bailey never sought to hide the fact that she was born into the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho. Rather, it was a source of personal pride that she readily shared with her associates.
Cast within a jazz narrative that left no room for Native Americans, the public image of Bailey as a “white” jazz singer mattered for many reasons—not least, because she exerted considerable influence within the jazz and pop world, pioneering the vocal swing style that countless singers sought to emulate.
Bailey pointed to the Coeur d’Alene songs of her youth as a major factor in shaping her style:
“I don’t know whether this music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.”
This according to “American Indian jazz: Mildred Bailey and the origins of America’s most musical art form” by Chad Hamill, an essay included in Indigenous pop: Native American music from jazz to hip hop (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016, pp. 33–46).
Today is Bailey’s 110th birthday! Below, Thanks for the memory from 1938.