Tag Archives: folk music

Preparing for concerts and competitions using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text: A performer’s perspective

The Schoenfeld International String Competition is a prestigious event that challenges musicians to deliver exceptional performances, often requiring deep cultural and historical understanding of the pieces they play. One such piece, “陕北民歌-山丹丹开花红艳艳(编曲:薛澄潜;配器:朱彬 (Shǎn běi míngē-shān dān dān kāihuā hóngyànyàn biān qǔ: Xuēchéngqián; pèiq: Zhū bīn [Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies])”, arranged by Xue Chengqian and orchestrated by Zhu Bin for the 2023 violin competition, demands a nuanced interpretation rooted in the rich traditions of Chinese folk music. The song, as indicated by the competition, features a strong Chinese folk style, with sound effects imitating the morin huur (horse-head fiddle) and a timeless, beautiful melody. Using RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text can provide invaluable resources for better understanding and preparing this piece. 

Researching Shanbei folk music

To begin, it is crucial to understand the cultural and historical context of Shanbei folk music. Shanbei, or northern Shaanxi province, is known for its distinctive folk songs, characterized by unique melodic structures and singing techniques. Articles like “陕北民歌演唱技巧探究 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu [Singing technique in northern Shaanxi traditional song])” by Wang Xinhui (Yuefu xin sheng: Shenyang Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/The new voice of yue-fu: The academic periodical of Shenyang Conservatory of Music 1:75 [spring 2002] 54-59; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2002-23054) provide an excellent starting point. The abstract indicates that the article delves into the vocal techniques specific to Shanbei folk songs, such as the use of pingqiang (平腔, “flat singing”) and gaoqiang (高腔, high-pitched singing), as well as the balance between true and falsetto voices. Accessing the full text allows for a deeper understanding of these techniques, which are essential for delivering an authentic performance.

Additionally,“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Cong hechang “Shanbei min’ge wu shou” kan Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui de lishi yingxiang [History and influences of Shanbei Min’ge Hechangdui: Shanbei min’ge wu shou as an example])” by Liao Jianbing Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 2:140 [summer 2013] 85-90; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2013-8124) offers insights into the historical significance and adaptation of Shanbei folk songs. The abstract and full text discuss how these songs were arranged for choral performances, providing context that can inform the interpretation of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies.

Analyzing the composition and arrangement

Understanding the specific arrangement and orchestration by Xue and Zhu requires examining the compositional techniques they employed. Articles that discuss the arrangement and orchestration of similar pieces can offer valuable parallels. For example, examining how traditional elements are maintained or transformed in contemporary settings is crucial. 

The article “从陕北民歌同源变体关系看苦音宫调的构成 (Cong Shanbei min’ge tongyuan bianti guanxi kan kuyin gongdiao de goucheng [An exploration of the form of the kuyin mode in terms of the homologous variant relationship in northern Shaanxi folk songs])” by Yang Shanwu Jiaoxiang: Xi’an Yinyue Xueyuan xuebao/Jiaoxiang: Journal of Xi’an Conservatory of Music 3:137 [autumn 2012] 17-24; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2012-18701) is particularly relevant. It discusses the kuyin mode, a modal system characterized by slightly sharped fourth and flatted seventh degrees, which is prevalent in Shanbei folk music. This modal understanding can be directly applied to the analysis of Shanbei folk song–Red and bright lilies, aiding in grasping its melodic and harmonic structure.

Synthesizing information for performance

Having gathered detailed information on the cultural context, vocal techniques, and compositional structure, the next step is to synthesize this knowledge into a cohesive performance strategy. This involves integrating the historical and theoretical insights into practical applications during practice sessions.

For instance, incorporating the singing techniques discussed in“从合唱<陕北民歌五首>看陕北民歌合唱队的历史影响 (Shanbei min’ge yanchang jiqiao tanjiu)” can enhance the authenticity of the performance. Practicing the transitions between pingqiang and gaoqiang will help in achieving the characteristic sound of Shanbei folk music. Additionally, understanding the kuyin mode from the article by Yang Shanwu can guide the interpretation of the melodic lines, ensuring they resonate with the traditional Shanbei sound.

In a similar way, instrumental musicians and performers can leverage the extensive resources available through RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text to deepen their understanding of the pieces they play. By accessing scholarly articles that provide historical context, technical analysis, and cultural insights, musicians can enrich their interpretations and performances. This scholarly approach not only enhances their technical proficiency but also allows them to connect more deeply with the music’s heritage and artistic intentions, ultimately leading to more informed and compelling performances.

–Written by Laurentia Woo, a RILM intern and currently a junior at Columbia Preparatory School. Laurentia also studies violin with Professor Li Lin at the Pre-College division of the Juilliard School.

Below is a performance of Xue Chengqian’s Song of praise by South Korean violinist Bomsori Kim at the 2016 Schoenfeld International String Competition.

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Joni Mitchell and 1960’s women’s sexual freedom

Born in Fort MacLeod, Alberta in Canada, a young Joni Mitchell (born Joan Anderson) moved to North Battleford, Saskatchewan with her parents shortly after World War II. Inspired by an older friend, she begged her parents at age 7 to allow her to take piano lessons which lasted for a year and a half. After moving to Saskatoon, Mitchell contracted polio, which she recovered from with the care of her family and her interest in music. As she recalled in a Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe in 1979, “I guess I really started singing when I had polio. Neil [Young] and I both got polio in the same Canadian epidemic. I was nine, and they put me in a polio ward over Christmas. They said I might not walk again, and that I would not be able to go home for Christmas. I wouldn’t go for it. So I started to sing Christmas carols and I used to sing them real loud. When the nurse came into the room I would sing louder. The boy in the bed next to me, you know, used to complain. And I discovered I was a ham. That was the first time I started to sing for people.”

In her teens, Mitchell scraped together enough money to buy a ukelele and performed regularly at parties and coffeehouses in Saskatoon. Following high school, in 1964, Mitchell attended the Alberta College of Art in Calgary, but only for a year. Instead, she preferred performing at a local Calgary coffeehouse called The Depression—she moved to Toronto soon after in search of success as a folk singer. In 1966, she managed to secure a spot on the bill of the Newport Folk Festival. It was at this time that her marriage to fellow folk singer Chuck Mitchell ended, and with nothing to tie her down, Mitchell moved to New York City to be closer to venues on the U.S. eastern seaboard. With the recording of The urge for going by Tom Rush and other cover versions by a variety of artists, she was able to get bookings west to Chicago and south to Florida. New York was still elusive but with the help of manager Elliot Roberts she landed gigs in town. While performing in Coconut Grove, Florida she met David Crosby of The Byrds who was impressed enough with her talent to convince Reprise Records to record and release the Joni Mitchell album in 1968.

Mitchell’s early records mapped the sexual terrain of the mid-1960s–the period during which premarital sex lost its taboo status and became a normative part of maturation and development–from a woman’s perspective. Mitchell’s songs employed a strong storytelling component, putting into popular circulation narratives of sexual freedom that engaged with emerging social practices in a manner consistent with countercultural values while helping to legitimize the new choices available to young women of the 1960s.

Learn more in “Feeling free and female sexuality: The aesthetics of Joni Mitchell” by Marilyn Adler Papayanis (Popular music and society XXXIII/5 (December 2010) 641–656. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2010-7782] and in an entry on Joni Mitchell in The Canadian pop music encyclopedia (2020) in RILM Music Encyclopedias.

Below is Joni Mitchell’s 1969 performance of Chelsea Morning, a song addressing the moral codes governing so-called appropriate sexual conduct for women.

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Filed under North America, Performers, Politics, Popular music, Women's studies