Friday, February 14, 2020

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a very unusual performance of the last movement of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven:

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One problem in music theory, apparently, is the necessary re-education of music theory professors: PROMOTING EQUITY: DEVELOPING AN ANTIRACIST MUSIC THEORY CLASSROOM. Here are NewMusicBox's thoughts on the problem:
“Teaching Inequality: Problems with Traditional Music Theory Pedagogy” described how the near exclusive and yet unnecessary reliance on Western art music, institutionalized as white and as male, upholds white supremacy within the music theory classroom. In “Promoting Equity,” we present strategies on how to begin disrupting this normalization of whiteness, starting with making it visible.
So, uh, "whiteness" is abnormal? And "maleness" as well? Contributor Dave Molk offers a comment that sounds like it comes directly from a Moscow show trial, circa 1937:
As a white man, speaking of whiteness in the effort to de-center it runs the seemingly paradoxical risk of re-centering whiteness. Even in the midst of calling out unearned privilege, I reap its benefits—the presumed authority associated with this aspect of my identity ensures that my voice sounds louder and carries further than the majority of those who do not share it.
Given this, I assume that we should simply ignore his "whiteness" based authority? This is really confusing, isn't it? And remarkably irrelevant to music theory.

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Perhaps all the Musicology Now contributors have already been sent to the gulag as the site is still missing in action.

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Here is a re-introduction to the music blog of Jessica Duchen:
JDCMB has:
• Personal thoughts and occasional polemics, links to my various projects and articles, occasionally exclusive reviews of live performances. 
• Values about music, art, quality, equality, passion. I believe everybody deserves to have great music, art and creativity in their lives.
• A feminist slant, because people are people are people, but the music business and related fields (actually, most fields) still often treat women as second-class citizens. There's been progress recently, but not enough.
• An internationalist outlook. Music is an international art and depends on its internationalism for its very existence. 
• Irony and sarcasm. Please be prepared.
• English English, not American. I'm in London, UK.
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Over at The Violin Channel they have a clip of NEW MUSIC TUESDAY | Composer Joseph Summer – ‘Sea Change’ String Quartets 1 & 2 [PREMIERE]. Here is the first of the two quartets:

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Lapham's Quarterly has a substantial article about the complex political currents flowing in and around art collections these days: Rules of Engagement.
News about museums reconsidering their values abounds in recent years, making clear how complex relationships can be between funders’ financial interests and public expectations for moral transparency. The most notorious recent example involves Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and the members of the Sackler family who own the company. The Louvre removed the Sackler name from one of its wings in July 2019, and both the Met and Guggenheim announced they would no longer accept donations from the family. In the summer of 2019 Warren B. Kanders, founder of Safariland, a maker of tear-gas canisters used against migrants by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the San Diego–Tijuana border, stepped down from the Whitney Museum’s board of trustees after numerous artists pulled their work from the Whitney Biennial to protest his role at the museum. Complex relationships can also make it difficult to address historical errors in the collections while courting financial support for those collections.
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After listening to some Billie Eilish, I've been wondering the same thing: Why are pop songs getting sadder than they used to be?
The rise of negative lyrics in popular English-language songs is a fascinating phenomenon, and we showed that this can be due to a widespread preference for negative content plus some other, yet to be discovered, causes. Given this preference, what we need to explain is why pop-song lyrics before the 1980s were more positive than today. It could be that a more centralised record industry had more control on the songs that were produced and sold. A similar effect could have been brought about by the diffusion of more personalised distribution channels (from blank cassette tapes to Spotify’s ‘Made For You’ algorithmic tailoring). And other, broader, societal changes could have contributed to make it more acceptable, or even rewarded, to explicitly express negative feelings. All these hypotheses could be tested using the data described here as a starting point. Realising that there’s more work to be done to better understand the pattern is always a good sign in science. It leaves room for fine-tuning theories, improving analysis methods, or sometimes going back to the drawing board to ask different questions.
And presumably you could come up with a way of measuring similar aspects in the music itself. Lethargic, dark, gloomy musical settings are even more important than the lyrics I suspect.

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Skipping over a whole lot of other doom-laden articles about music (no, you really can't make a living from streaming) here is a positive one: A tale of two orchestras. I lived in Montreal for over a decade and it really is a wonderful place for food, culture and learning (several outstanding universities, plus a conservatoire)--horrible climate, mind you! But here is an article about the remarkable fact that this medium-sized city has not one but two world-class orchestras: the Orchestre Métropolitain and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal with two world-class conductors.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin and his Orchestre Métropolitain start the second half of their Montreal subscription season Friday with a concert that was sold out weeks ago. Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor and Jacques Hétu’s Symphony No. 5, if you want to know the particulars. 
Yet there is another crowd count, one that invites quiet admiration. Kent Nagano and the OSM sold 92 per cent of available seats to a January Schubert festival that packed six concerts into six days. That would be more than 11,000 tickets. Not many cities can support a sustained outflow of serious symphonic repertoire in a month when potential ticket-buyers are gasping at their credit-card expenses.
The big Schubert turnout was not due to a special fascination with this composer. Nagano-led concerts on Feb. 18 and 20 (Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” and a newly commissioned Symphony for Organ and Orchestra by the hardcore French modernist Pascal Dusapin) are also sold out.
Montreal is a special city and one that takes music very seriously. Put this alongside that never-ending stream of articles about the decline of classical music.

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No Friday Miscellanea would be complete without a little Slipped Disc: WHAT CLASSICAL MUSIC NEEDS IS MORE YUJA WANG. Here are some suggestions from the linked article:
Clap between movements. Treat famous performers like pop stars. Dance around in your seat if the music moves you. Dress sexy, or metal or punk for your recital. And if any of these suggestions seem too daunting, at least think about why these rules are in place, and why anything should dictate how you enjoy music.
And since it is Slipped Disc, read the comments for some nice pushback.

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It is surprisingly hard to find a complete performance of the Orchestre Métropolitain on YouTube. But here is the first movement of the Symphony No. 6 of Bruckner from a recording session:


Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Karl Hagstrom Miller's book Segregating Sound has made a longform argument that the recorded music industry has imposed a kind of sonic Jim Crow on popular music that was not necessarily a reflection of actual musical life (to the extent that we can know that a century later) in the American South. So while it may seem like a good idea to lean into mechanical recording as a way to explore alternative musicology to the printed page Western European canon approach this mechanical recordings based approach is probably no less fraught on the issue of racial stereotypes. If Mississippi John Hurt was known to have played opera arias, for instance, why did he only record what is now called folk blues? If Robert Johnson's "Hot Tamales" gives us a clear indication he had the ability to play chordally complex ragtime derived pop songs informed by Tin Pan Alley why has he been presented so often as a kind of blues primitive, despite the acknowledgment by any guitarist who has ever even tried to play his work that his guitar-playing was technically demanding?

My skepticism about contemporary musicology is not necessarily with the goal of taking blues and jazz and African diaspora music seriously but with what seems to be one standardized racial master narrative replacing another. Educators want to teach what they want to teach and don't necessarily resist the temptation to abject or reject whatever it is they would rather not be teaching. Or as I put it a few years ago, hegemony may be in the eye of the complainer.

The way Leo Brouwer put it was to say that actual fusions of styles tend to get rejected by academics (as distinct from musicians) because the academic wants to teach things that can be readily discussed in classroom sessions while musicians have been exploring how to cross the boundaries that identify styles.

If the Trump administration actually dismantles the NEA and NEH then perhaps that could ironically and paradoxically solve the problem of a Eurocentric arts system? That's a sort of trolling final question, I admit, but the question can bring up an aspect of what seems to be a double bind in canon debates--educators don't want there to be no canon but they can deploy roundabout ideological narratives about the old canon. Wouldn't a more blunt Americanist "we kicked the butts of the Germans two world wars in a row" make the American pop triumphalism more explicit? Except that our own colonial/imperial expansion would be taken as justified in the US and that's not what teachers tend to want to affirm. But US pop music, whatever its style or racial origin, has still been the global imperial music even if we try to dress it in the language of being made by the oppressed.

In the generation it has taken for musicology in the US to start arguing non-white voices have been ignored (which can often be true) what efforts have there been to establish some kind of conceptual or aesthetic bridge between what has stereotypically (to a fault) been presented as a tension between Eurocentric concert music and Afro-American popular music? It would seem that educational paradigms are balkanized into race war narratives that may be better avoided by musicians who keep working on music that finds ways to integrate the traditions. This has been going on for even longer than Schuller's "fusion" or third wave jazz has been around, such as James P Johnson's Harlem Symphony. There are times when I think educational regimes and educators are more angling for their job security teaching this or that canon than solving the musical problems they claim to see in the canons.

By all means I think it would be great if we had a musical educational experience where we can toggle back and forth between Haydn string quartets and Stevie Wonder songs, between Duke Ellington and Stravinsky, but if educators keep working at the level of meta-educational mythologies that's not dealing with things at the level where I'm interested.

Bryan Townsend said...

I liked this: "But US pop music, whatever its style or racial origin, has still been the global imperial music even if we try to dress it in the language of being made by the oppressed." That is so true, isn't it?

And the thing about academic ideology is that it is always about imposing a simplified template on the world. And these days the "race, gender, class, hegemony" schtick is Procrustean indeed.

Maury said...

I happen to like the upbeat songs before the 1980s too like Only The Lonely, In the Wee Small Hours, Cry Me A River and all the other toe tappers.

I think the problem with the current wristslashers is not the ever popular doom and gloom but the inartistic over-obvious arrhythmic way they present it. Art is partly artifice and it dresses up sordid reality as it also spices its carnival moments. But this is an anti-art age. We find reality TV however edited more compelling. You probably don't remember the first such program The Loud Family on US PBS all the way back in 1973. Is it any accident the US has a former part time reality TV star as President?