Tag Archives: Mass media

“Scrubs” musical fantasies

Despite its hackneyed premise—a group of medical students trying to get ahead in the competitive hospital environment—the television series Scrubs had something special: a judicious selection of accompanying music.

Sometimes the choice was linked to the musical biographies of the prominent figures, and other times the lyrics referred directly or indirectly to the development of the plot, to particular events, or to important characters. The frequent fantasies involving the main character, Dr. John Dorian, are riddled with emblematic musical references to the pop–rock music of the last 60 years, offering a rich and representative sample of what the last three generations were listening to.

This according to “La inserción del número musical en las series de televisión: El papel de la música en Scrubs” by Judith Helvia García Martín (Cuadernos de etnomusicología 3 [marzo 2003] pp. 204–19).

Above and below, a fantasy sequence involving James Brown’s The payback.

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Filed under Humor, Mass media, Popular music

Televising jazz, 1964

miles-davis-1964

With the emergence of jazz modernism, Miles Davis’s quintet was pushing popular standards to their limits when its 11 October 1964 performance at Milan’s Teatro dell’Arte ­was broadcast on Italian television.

The producers wanted us to experience the band’s internal dynamics; by tuning in to the show—by watching jazz as the live monitoring of events—we access both the band’s collective self-understanding and the continual reworking of that collective sense through the act of performance. In the group’s version of My funny valentine the television camera participates in and redefines our sense of the quintet’s performance, bringing us into a new relationship with issues of spontaneity, immediacy, and improvisation.

This according to “Screen the event: Watching Miles Davis’s My funny valentine” by Nicholas Gebhardt, an essay included in Watching jazz: Encounters with jazz performance on screen (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 221–38).

Above and below, the 1964 telecast.­

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Filed under Jazz and blues

Pavarotti sings for soccer

The group New Order’s World in motion, commissioned by the British Football Association to mark the 1990 World Cup soccer finals, “is probably the least likely official football theme song ever recorded: Denying its own status as a football song, introducing elements of subcultural love lyrics, and becoming a gay club hit, but also assuming the burden of combating football’s major peripheral problem, hooliganism, the song is ultimately unheimlich, even despite its closing chorus that speaks of ‘playing for England; playing this song.’”

This according to “Playing for England” by Paul Smith (South Atlantic quarterly 90/4 [fall 1991] pp. 737–752). Smith goes on to note that “both the BBC and the independent television companies forewent the pleasure of having ‘Love’s got the world in motion’ going across the airwaves every night, and the BBC used as their World Cup theme another piece of music that quickly became a number one hit: Luciano Pavarotti singing his version of the Nessun dorma aria from Turandot.”

Today would have been Pavarotti’s 80th birthday! Below, singing Nessun dorma in 1994.

BONUS: By way of contrast, New Order’s song:

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera, Popular music, Reception, Sports and games

Reconfiguring popular screen dance

So you think you can dance 2015

The U.S. television series So you think you can dance is located within the broader aesthetics of popular screen dance rather than in the aesthetic realm of reality television, as dance has been featured in popular screen media—big and small—since the birth of the moving picture medium.

Taking into consideration the aesthetics, structure, and star personas from the backstage Hollywood musical of the studio era, So you think you can dance draws on and transforms this earlier contribution to popular screen dance, creating a haunted space as a result.

The start of the new millennium has seen another upsurge in the production of dance for popular moving picture media, and an increasing presence of dance in the mass mediascape. As So you think you can dance is simultaneously located at the beginning and in the middle of this new popular dance craze, it actively contributes to the reconfiguration of traditions from popular screen dance aesthetics.

This according to “‘We are not here to make avant-garde choreography!’: So you think you can dance and popular screen dance aesthetics” by Elena Natalie Benthaus, an essay included in Dance ACTions: Traditions and transformations (Society of Dance History Scholars 2013, pp. 55–62).

Above and below, some recent performances.

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Filed under Dance

Soap opera and social codes

norminha

The huge national prominence of popular music and soap operas in Brazil places both entertainment products as fundamental vectors of the social sharing of codes, values, lifestyles, and behavior.

For example, the interconnection between the song Você não vale nada mas eu gosto de você (You are worthless, but I like you) and the character Norminha in the soap opera Caminho das Índias amplified a deep media debate about morality and sexuality, tempered with doses of humor and sympathy.

Through the plot and the soundtrack, a significant segment of Brazilian society interacted with strategies of sexual behavior as juxtaposed in the narrative with the vibrant sounds of electronic forró.

This according to “Sexualidad, moral y humor en la telenovela brasileña actual: Casamiento, traición, seducción y simpatía” by Felipe Trotta (TRANS: Revista transcultural de música/Transcultural music review 15 [2011]).

Above, Dira Paes as Norminha; below, Você não vale nada with stills from the show.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Popular music

Alan Lomax and multiculturalism

lomax radio 1940

When Alan Lomax accepted a position as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1936 he became a gatekeeper to the largest repository of recorded traditional music in the country.

He subsequently worked to infuse traditional music into mainstream culture and, in so doing, to publicize his interpretation of American culture and society—an interpretation that placed the American people, a category that included racial and ethnic minorities as well as the economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised, at the center of the nation’s identity.

During the 1930s and 1940s he pursued this goal by developing radio programs that highlighted the music of American traditional communities. These included shows designed for children, including Folk Music of America, which aired weekly on CBS radio’s American School of the Air.

Lomax used this program as a forum to teach children about American cultural and political democracy by highlighting the music of socially, economically, and racially marginalized communities, often including guests from these groups to sing and explain musical traditions on the air.

An examination of the principles that motivated Folk Music of America, along with the artists, songs, and commentary that Lomax included, reveals a strong connection between the ideas of cultural pluralism that emerged during the World War I era and popular constructs of Americanism that developed during the later decades of the 20th century. Ultimately, Lomax’s radio work helped to lay the foundation for the multicultural movement that developed during the early 1970s.

This according to “Broadcasting diversity: Alan Lomax and multiculturalism” by Rachel C. Donaldson (Journal of popular culture XLVI/1 [February 2013] pp. 59–78).

Today would have been Lomax’s 100th birthday! Below, an example of his move to PBS in 1990.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Music in media

twilight zone 2

Pendragon Press launched the series Music in media in 2013 with A dimension of sound: Music in “The twilight zone” by Reba Wissner.

Wissner explores the Twilight zone series and offers multiple readings of the ways in which it used music, offering an understanding of the ways in which music—both original and stock—can be used in an anthology television show.

The book focuses both on the ways in which newly composed scores and stock music were used in the series and on how the music enhances and interacts with what we see and hear onscreen.

Below, an abridged version of The invaders (1961), one of Rod Serling’s favorite episodes; no words are spoken until the final scene.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, New series

The Leonard Bernstein Collection

bernstein tanglewood august 1946

The Leonard Bernstein Collection is a free online resource comprising selections from The Library of Congress’s holdings related to the composer and conductor.

The collection’s more than 400,000 items—including music and literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, audio and video recordings, fan mail, and other types of materials—extensively document Bernstein’s extraordinary life and career, making available 85 photographs, 177 scripts from the Young People’s Concerts, 74 scripts from the Thursday Evening Previews, and over 1,100 pieces of correspondence, all browseable or accessible through the collection’s Finding Aid.

Above, Bernstein at the piano at a party at Tanglewood in August 1946 (photographer unknown); below, the opening of the first televised Young People’s Concert.

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Filed under Resources

Lawrence Welk’s chiffon paradise

welk accordion

Lawrence Welk’s hour-long world as presented on The Lawrence Welk show—with its smiling singers, brightly colored sets, color-coordinated male and female outfits, and flawless band performances—were stress-free and wholly detached from the outside world.

His was a sealed-off, accident-free utopia soundtracked by an endless supply of what the maestro called “champagne music”. Once a week, Welk presented viewers with one of the most otherworldly—and most underappreciated—psychedelic chiffon musical paradises ever seen on television.

This according to “The maestro from another planet: In praise of Lawrence Welk’s otherwordly chiffon paradise” by Ken Parille (The believer XII/6 [July-August 2009; online only]).

Today is Welk’s 110th birthday! Below, the maestro celebrates on the dance floor.

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Filed under Popular music

9/11 music

9-11

The music used in the coverage of the aftermath of the events of 11 September 2001 by two leading 24-hour news networks—CNN in the U.S. and CBC Newsworld in Canada—illuminates the politics of news music and puts the subject in a transnational (if specifically North American) perspective.

Distinct musical responses to 9/11 branded each network’s coverage. While CNN’s music communicated a message of fear and anger to American news consumers, Canadians received sounds and images that invoked the horror and tragedy of the event.

Foregrounding the role of music in this comparison adds a revealing dimension to the story of how networks attempt to tap into the personal narratives of viewers, whether to reflect the mood of the country (and thus ensure market share) or to convince the audience of their particular take on the news.

This according to “The sounds of American and Canadian television news after 9/11: Entoning horror and grief, fear and anger” by James A. Deaville, an article included in Music in the post-9/11 world (New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 43–70).

Below, an excerpt from CNN’s coverage the day after the attacks.

Related article: Music in political ads

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