That seems to me to be a reasonable approach.“The piece at its core, in a certain way, is a very Western take on Islamic culture, and normally Mustafa is portrayed as just stupid and ugly and the Italians are clever and very heroic,” Mr. Leiser said. “That was something I was not interested in at all. We had to find another story line to keep the genius of Rossini and the music and the libretto, and keep it as a real comedy, because it’s important to laugh. But comedy is serious business, and you must know what you are laughing about.”Rather than altering the libretto, which Mr. Leiser said would be “cheating,” he engaged in many long conversations with Ms. Bartoli and Mr. Caurier to shift the interpretation. They decided to change Mustafa’s status from an Ottoman bey to a kind of local gangster who smuggles electronics at the port of modern-day Algiers, because they “felt that his behavior shouldn’t be generalized as Muslim behavior.”
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I hope you can get past the Wall Street Journal paywall on this one (try googling the headline: On-hold Music Dividing the Nation) because then you get to not only read the article about some music that CVS Health has been using for two decades to entertain people on hold on the phone, but also hear the music in a clip. Down here I'm used to either a little minuet from the Ana Magdalena Bach book or Scott Joplin.
One of the most polarizing pieces of music in America isn’t being performed at any of the nation’s concert halls. Anyone can hear it by calling CVS.The on-hold tune drives Harvard psychiatrist Steven Schlozman out of his mind. “What they’re playing is supposed to soothe you, but after the three-billionth time it’s particularly unsoothing,” Dr. Schlozman said. Adding up a career’s worth of pharmacy calls, he estimates he has spent nearly 600 hours listening to the same song.
I'm sure part of the "charm" is the horrible quality of the recording. Go have a listen. Actually, the most interesting part of the article is the tracking down of the source of the music.
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This musician couldn't even get her instrument on the train! First class! Slipped Disc has the story. I'm wondering if we keep hearing more and more stories like this simply because the Internet enables them to be transmitted easily or if the basic courtesies that used to be granted to musicians have been completely wiped out by rigid corporate policies. What do you think?
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While we are over at Slipped Disc, let's have a look at this item on the ever-perennial question of the musical value of hip-hop. A piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education is quoted:
Nitasha Tamar Sharma, an associate professor at Northwestern University, teaches a class and has published a book focusing on the racial and gender politics of hip-hop culture. The course traces the foundations of hip-hop, from its 1970s beginnings in the South Bronx, and explores its influence in politics, race relations, gender and sexuality issues, and other aspects of American culture.
But the fun really starts in the comments:
Nobody is denying that hip-hop is culturally significant. As such it merits study — I have acknowledged this in yesterday’s Professor Benjamin discussion.
The mystery is its claims to musical credibility. Whatever importance rap has is in its lyrics, its messages (which are far from universally salutory) and its general attempt to self-define certain communities — usually those with grievances, but also those prepared to develop through violence, sexism and other unlovely aspects. These are slices of life, and as such warrant some attention. Some of the grievances are well-warranted. Other things do happen.
But music? Not. I know people who swear by this genre, and their ears are incapable of discerning anything musical in any other. If they wanted to call it poetry (which I daresay upon scrutiny would be pretty bad poetry) it would be on stronger legs. But it is a “music” by and for the unmusical, and it is draining the possibility of any other music out of society as the ears that listen to it hear the same thing, aside from the words, for years on end.
Definitely something worth studying. How the hell has this managed to become a dominant force in what is broadly referred to as the popular music world?
I have been thinking about this myself a bit since I got interested in Kanye West. I think that while the traditional musical elements of melody and harmony get short shrift in hip-hop, other elements like timbre, texture, layered rhythms and micro-tonal inflections in the voice are more prominent. These are harder to analyze with traditional tools. Do they make up for the impoverished melody and harmony? For a lot of people they seem to. Tell me what you think.
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But hey, that was nothing. The comments on this other item, how Prof. Gerald Benjamin got slapped down for saying that rap isn't real music, ran on and on and on. Some commentators say rap is not "real" music, others say, of course it is.
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This item, about analyzing the plot structure and emotional arcs of movies to determine which is the most successful formula, resembles attempts to rationalize how to write a popular song. With equal unlikelihood of success in my estimation. Whenever I read one of these articles it just reminds me that the devil is always in the details. It always comes down to exactly how you realize the basic idea. Basic ideas are common to many works, but the really successful movies and songs are few indeed. They are few because they are unique, not because they share a common formula.
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The Washington Post has a couple of items worth looking at. The first is how critic Anne Midgette came to dislike Leonard Bernstein:
It’s all very well to say that one should separate the man from the music, but in Bernstein’s case, the two are particularly intertwined. The excesses of the man are plainly audible in music that, brilliant as some of it is, is constantly trying to get your attention, prove something about itself, make some kind of statement. There’s no doubt that Bernstein was a smart man and a born musician, but he needed an editor even in his “West Side Story” days — when, according to something he told the conductor John DeMain before the 25th-anniversary production, Jerome Robbins kept him from having the entire dance in the gym and the final scene be entirely sung. “Lenny gave Robbins credit for having shaped it into the great piece that it is,” DeMain said in a telephone interview in the fall. In Bernstein’s later years, he was too great and too self-involved to be edited.The second piece is a very serious one about sexual harassment in the classical music business. It is even more widespread than was realized:
Onstage, classical music is larger than life. But the preparation behind the scenes takes place in more intimate environments than most workplaces: dressing rooms, rehearsal studios or windowless practice rooms in hours of one-on-one instruction. And in a field that venerates authority and embraces the widespread fallacy that great artists live outside the mores of society, these conditions can create fertile ground for harassment.It is hard to excerpt the piece, which is quite long, because it consists of detailed accusations of quite a number of powerful, established musicians, agents, conductors and concertmasters. However serious the accusations, in this atmosphere, I'm not sure "innocent until proven guilty" still applies.
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The Tablet has a fascinating article about a forgotten archive of Ukrainian Jewish music in a library in Kiev:
I set out to visit the library to learn more about its musical archive—a huge set of Jewish vocal and instrumental recordings from the early decades of the 20th century. It is mind-boggling that long before any serious recording technology was invented, without much funding or publicity, groups of ambitious scholars set out on ethnographic expeditions into the heartland of the Ukrainian shtetl world, aiming to capture the community’s folklore, and amassed a treasure trove of material. In recent years, these fragile, virtually unknown recordings were digitized and released in CD format. There are currently nine volumes of music out, with the three latest volumes released just within the past year. These most recent discs included the 1930s recordings of “Jewish Agricultural Colonies of the Southern Ukraine” and, oddly, a 1913 collection of fieldwork conducted in the Jewish communities of Palestine.
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For our envoi today, let's listen to some Leonard Bernstein. He was a very great conductor and music educator, but his compositions are not on the same level. This is his Serenade for violin and orchestra inspired by Plato's Symposium. The performers are Svetlin Roussev, violin and Myung-Whun Chung, conductor with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio-France.