Tuesday, December 18, 2007

BBC: 'Bah humbug' to punkers' carol

Censorship can be a wonderful thing. If a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) radio station hadn't censored one of Great Britain's chart-topping Christmas songs this week, I wouldn't have known it existed. The song is "Fairytale of New York" by the Pogues, an English-Irish punk band and the late vocalist Kirsty McColl, and it was No. 1 in holiday charts even before the controversy.

A little back story. The Pogues -- and still are -- were a punk Irish band of the 1980s, fronted by Shane MacGowan. Sort of an early version of bands like Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys today. In 1987 they cut "Fairytale" as a duet between MacGowan and Kirsty McColl, who later died in a boating accident. "Fairytale" has become a very popular Christmas novelty song in the U.K. It's about two musicians who tried, but failed to make it in the big city.

Some of the humor is teddibly British, but the tune is catchy in an Irish pub band-ish sort of way. And the video is a nice bit of black-and-white pastiche ... mostly scenes of New York, incuding pipers in a police band, and shots of MacGowan's and McColl's characters, both obviously drunk, all but shouting at each other. The lyrics feature a duet in which McColl sings:
You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last.
It's a nice bit. The melody is sort of an Irish jig, and lines like "You scumbag, you maggot" go rolicking along in 6/8 time. The internal rhyme is appealing, too.

But, to make a long story short, BBC decided "faggot" would be offensive to listeners and took to playing an edited version.

Reaction was swift.

Interviewed on another BBC station, McColl's mother, Jean McColl, told another BBC show host she thought the decision to pull the original version was "pathetic ... absolute nonsense ... too ridiculous."

And a spokesman for the Pogues put it in perspective for The Guardian, a London broadsheet.

This song now goes with Christmas like the Queen's speech and mince pies, and all of a sudden it's offensive. It strikes me as very odd and I'm sure the band will be very amused.
One last word. In an interactive feature on the BBC website, readers were asked, "Should radio stations censor The Pogues' Fairytale of New York?" Answers (at 9 a.m. CST today): Yes, 4.61 percent; No, 95.39 percent (10,288 votes cast). And one reader/listener, identified as Sophie Shinigami of Belfast, gets the last last word in a pull-quote:
"No! It's a cracking tune about two people having a blazing row at Christmas. They're meant to be offending each other!"
The video is fun to watch, even though it trades on an outdated stereotype of New York City and I suspect a lot of it goes right over my head since I'm not British. I'm grateful for the censors at BBC Radio 1 for calling it to my attention.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ole Amund Gjersvik: Jazz bass player

Heard this afternoon on Radio Norway, an instrumental piece titled "Joik" by Ole Amund Gjersvik. He plays acoustic bass, according to his website, and he makes his living as "a freelance doublebass player and composer." His styles include "jazz, blues, pop, rock, country, folk, Argentinean tango, bossa nova, samba, Greek and classical music." I think I heard them all in "Joik," which is a style of Lapp or Sami traditional singing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Singabahambayo" (and how do you spell that again)?

Singabahambayo (known variously in English as "We are marching for freedom" or " "Hallelujah! We sing your praises") is a South African song from the struggle against apartheid. YouTube has a fine video clip of the St. Olaf Choir singing it and a chorus from Georgetown University singing a gospel version. The video from Georgetown is grainy, and St. Olaf's shows illustrations from a children's book titled "Bongo of the COngo." But they'll give you an idea of the melody and two very different arrangements. An Australian named Karl Aloritas has a four-part arrangement, on which he has waived copyright, posted to Karl's Choral Music Webpage ... along with other choral works from "Now is the Month of Maying" to "Bogorodyitse Dyevo," a hymn to the Virgin Mary from Rachmaninov's Vespers. Also MIDI files of parts on all his songs. A website well worth checking, especially if you like choral music and can't sight-read any better than I can.

Best background on Singabahambayo I found on the Internet is from an eighth-grade lesson plan by Amy Thomas of West Chester University:

This song is in reaction to the apartheid that was once a part of South African society. The words are translated to "On earth and army is marching. Weíre going home. Our hearts are filled with song. We sing out strong. Halleluia." The words show the importance of music in the African culture. The game involved with Singabahambayo relates to actions of the people of this culture as they marched together toward freedom. When people join hands with each other during the game in the song, it is representing the unity of the blacks in South Africa during their struggle for freedom. African music demands much participation through singing, moving, dancing, and drumming. This song involves many of the characteristics common to African music. This song also includes a polyrhythmic percussion section and repetitive phrases, which are typical of African music.
Great song.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Soulfège: Band features 'Afro-diasporic Groovalicious Funkadociousness!'

A band mixing the sound of Afropop, hip hop, soul and, yes, I can hear a little gospel, Soulfège is based in Boston, now doing a Sweet Mother Africa tour. Infectious music.

Also an awesome example of a band using new media. You've read about "sticky" websites? (If you're not sure, see below.) Well, this is how a sticky website works. Here's the band, in their own words:
So what is Soulfège? Glad you asked. Put it like this - if Fela Kuti, Bob Marley, Lenny Kravitz and Gwen Stefani were all jammin' with the same band, it would be this one.

Fusing funk, reggae, hip-hop, and highlife, Soulfège is more than a band...it's a big FUNKY band.

Electrifying audiences, from Boston to Ghana and beyond, with its positive vibe and relentless groove, the members of Soulfège have performed with and for some of the world's most talented artists and distinguished dignitaries, including Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Bobby McFerrin, Nelson Mandela, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Dr. Cornell West, and Al Gore.

The group is known for building sonic bridges that fuse the influences of the African Diaspora into a musical vision all its own. Soulfège not only shines with creativity, it thrills audiences with a golden foundation in rhythm and harmony.

In general, the band tries to present a positive view of life and of culture, both American and African. Frontman Derrick N. Ashong, who is from Ghana, told The Boston Globe the band "was in a position to help change misperceptions on both sides." Says Daniel T. Swann of the Globe:
Soulfege has one foot in Africa, one in America. Its core members -- Ashong, Jonathan M. Gramling, and Kelley Nicole Johnson -- were brought together by their alma mater, Harvard, where all had been in the Kuumba Singers, a gospel choir. But Ashong was born in Ghana, and many of the band's lyrics reflect a connection to the African diaspora. "Yaa (dis be fo radio)," for example, includes lyrics in Ga (spoken in Ghana), as well as in Portuguese and English.
Plenty of YouTube clips and other eye candy -- ear candy? -- on their website. Quotes from and links to the Globe's laudatory story on the band and the SMA tour.

Here's how Erin Jansen's NetLingo.com website defines sticky content:
Information or features on a Web site that gives users a compelling reason to revisit it frequently. Stickiness is also gauged by the amount of time spent at a Web site over a given period of time. This is often maximized by getting the user to leave some information behind on the site, such as a personal profile, an investment portfolio, a resume, a list of preferred cities for weather reports, personal horoscopes, birthday reminders, and the like.
How many sticky features do you see on the Soulfège website? How many do you see on NetLingo, for that matter?

Monday, December 03, 2007

HUM 223 - Final Exam - Fall 07

HUM 223: Ethnic Music
Springfield College in Illinois
Fall Semester 2007

Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art. -- Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker

Final Exam – 1:30 p.m., Dec. 5, 2007

Below are three essay questions – one worth fifty (50) points out of 100, and two shorter essays worth 25 points each. Please write at least two to two and a half pages (500 words) on the 50-point essay and one page (250 words) each on the 25-point short essays. (This means you answer all three questions.) Use plenty of detail from your reading in the textbook, websites we have visited on the Internet, videos and handouts, as well as class discussion, to back up the points you make. Your grade will depend both on your analysis of the broad trends and the specific detail you cite in support of the points you make. This is an open-book exam. It is due at the regularly scheduled time for our exam, 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 5.

1. Main essay (50 points). On July 5, 1954, Sam Phillips of the Sun record label in Memphis heard a group of white musicians jamming on “That’s All Right” by African-American blues artist Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. It was like nothing he’d ever heard before, and he had them cut a record right away. According to Robert Palmer, author of Deep Blues, that record was “the beginning of something very, very big, something anybody could have predicted, nobody could have stopped and perhaps only one person, Sam Phillips, could have started.” It was also an example of cultural appropriation, or expropriation, which occurs when an art form crosses over from a minority to a majority culture. More occurred when white British musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones adopted the blues style and made it their own in the 1960s and 70s. How well, in your opinion, does blues transcend cultural and racial boundaries? What was lost when the music crossed over cultural boundary lines? What was gained? Be specific.

2a. Self-reflective essay (25 points). What do you consider the most important thing you have you learned in HUM 223? Why do you say it is the most important? What did you learn that affected your taste in music for better or worse? Be specific. Consider what you knew at the beginning of the course, what you know now and what you learned. In grading this essay, I will evaluate the relevance of your discussion to the main goals and objectives of the course (in the syllabus posted at the address above); the detail you cite to support or illustrate your points; and the connections you make. So be specific.

2b. Short essay (25 points). Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson once said it made her “so sad and so sick” when she heard a gospel song performed in a nightclub “packed with white people who were laughing and eating and drinking and hand-clapping.” She added, “When they take gospel singing into nightclubs and put out ‘pop gospel’ records, they are blaspheming against the Holy Ghost.” Yet gospel is one of the most important sources of American popular music, and songs like “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Amazing Grace” are beloved by religious and secular audiences alike. What is lost when the music crosses over to a secular audience? What is gained? Again, be specific. Always be specific.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mahalia Jackson link for HUM 223 final

On our final exam, I have quoted Chicago gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who once said it made her “so sad and so sick” when she heard a gospel song performed in a nightclub “packed with white people who were laughing and eating and drinking and hand-clapping.” She added, "The dignity of a colored church and of all religion was being debased so that a few people could make some fast money." If you want to know more about what she was thinking that day, it's in an item I posted to Hogfiddle March 11 on "expropriation" and "commodification."

First, we should realize other gospel musicians see nothing wrong with singing in nightclubs. Some of them, in fact, say it's a way of proclaiming the gospel to sinners. And bluegrass bands always include a gospel number in every set. So it's one of those issues where people can have honest differences of opinion.

But while she didn't use the words, Mahalia Jackson clearly thought the gospel music was being commodified and expropriated for financial gain. A couple of big words here for simple concepts. Commodification just means taking something and making a commodity out of it. And a commodity is something you can buy and sell. A lot of the time it's used when things you don't ordinarily find in the marketplace -- in this case, religion -- are improperly bought and sold without due regard for the feeling of people to whom they have a deeper meaning. Expropriation is another word for something we're already familiar with -- cultural appropriation. It's what happens when an art form, or another form of cultural expression, crosses over from one culture to another.

But "expropriation" has more negative connotations. It's used most often in a context of European settlers taking things of spiritual or artistic value from colonized peoples -- for example the ancient Egyptian and Iraqi artifacts in the British Museum in London -- or of white Americans taking over American Indian dances and spiritual practices without giving due compensation to the people who originated them. The fight over "Chief Illiniwek," for example, was a fight over what many Native people saw as cultural expropriation.

On a lighter note, the English girl mentioned in Dennis Bloodworth's book (see below on Nov. 15) who wore a dress on a ferryboat in Hong Kong proclaiming in Chinese characters "Good stuff inside: price cheap" was expropriating something -- in this case, the material the dress was made of -- and losing something in the translation!

BenU: Spring mass comm. internship

Project Return, an ecumenical social service program that works with mothers returning to the Springfield community from prison, can use an intern to work with the director in creating or updating a flier, newsletter, website or other promotional material. (More details below copied and pasted from their informational flier.) They are expanding their services and community education efforts, and this would a good experience for an intern who already has some motivation toward social justice issues and an interest in public relations. Internships are open to mass communications students at Benedictine who have a 3.0 average or better.

The intern would work with my wife Debi Edmund, who is Project Return's new director. Before seeking her master's degree in Child and Family Services at the Univerity of Illinois-Springfield, she was a public relations consultant for the Illinois Association of School Boards and is a former features editor of The Rock Island Argus (where I met her). So she is an experienced communications professional who has combined her mass comm. skills with another line of work.


Our Mission

Project Return’s mission is to help incarcerated mothers reintegrate into the Springfield community by matching each returning mother with a team of trained and supported volunteers for one year. We also educate the public about the barriers these women face as they seek to make a successful re-entry into the community.

Our Program
Paid staff and trained volunteer Partnership Teams help participants address immediate challenges: complying with the conditions of parole, achieving financial stability, finding immediate and permanent housing, accessing health care, reconnecting with family and friends, and resuming parental responsibilities. Without such support, released inmates are at risk of returning to criminal activity, substance abuse, or other self-defeating behaviors. Project Return hopes to break that cycle, benefiting both the clients and the community. Our comprehensive, individualized re-entry services begin prior to the individual’s release and continue for up to a year after release. Services include assistance in finding or accessing short term and permanent housing, employment, education or employment training, child care, health care, mental health care, counseling and addiction support services, reliable transportation and safety net resources. It is hoped that each participant will leave our program with improved self-esteem, better mental and physical health, and increased self-sufficiency, thus reducing the chances that she will re-offend and return to prison.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The blues, Elvis and a cheap Chinese dress

One of the concepts we've been dealing with in HUM 223 is cultural appropriation. It can be controversial, and there are subtle issues raised by it, but basically it's simple. It's what happens when something crosses over from one culture to another. It's one of those subjects the contributors to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, have argued about and changed from time to time in efforts to reach a consensus. But here's how Wikipedia defines it now:
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It denotes acculturation or assimilation, but often connotes a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, may take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held. Or, they may be stripped of meaning altogether.
The Wikipedia article is worth reading all the way through. (Speaking of final exam hints, did you notice how I very thoughfully provided you with a link here?) It gives examples ranging from Elvis Presley and Eminem to Arab keffiyeh headdresses and "the use of real or imaginary elements of Native American culture" by non-Indians. (Chief Illiniwek has been edited out of it, at least for the time being.) But music is one of the primary forms of cultural appropriation all over the world. Certainly American popular music has been a product of cultural appropriation for nearly 200 years, as white musicians appropriated the sound of black spirituals, plantation cakewalks, ragtime, jazz, blues, R&B and, now, hip hop.

Is that a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Well, yes and no. It's good because the music that all of us enjoy is richer for it, but it's not so good when black artists -- or their cultural forms of expression -- get ripped off. Sometimes it's subtle, as occurred when a talented singer like Big Mama Thornton didn't make near as much money off of her jump blues version of "Hound Dog," which sold to a primarily black audience in 1952, as Elvis did when his cover of the same song reached massive white audiences and made No. 1 song on pop, R&B and country charts in 1956. Other times, it's in your face.

So cultural appropriation, like Keats' idea of beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

One of my favorite examples of cultural appropriation comes not from music, and not from America, but a book by an English journalist named Dennis Bloodworth. He was a foreign correspondent for The Observer, a London newspaper, who spent many years in China and married a Chinese woman named Ping. In a 1967 book titled "The Chinese Looking Glass," Bloodworth explored such myths as Chinese who "cannot distinguish between 'L' and 'R' ... laugh when they are sad, and cry when they are happy," and he gave a sympathetic description of Chinese culture from the viewpoint of someone who could appreciate both an insider's and an outsider's perspective. He recalls traveling with his wife:
The best illustration of the dangers of cultural poaching was provided by an English girl we saw on the Star Ferry in Hong Kong ten years ago, wearing a smart little cotton frock, the material plain except for the same string of Chinese characters repeated at intervals. Ping looked sad, and I asked her what was so funny. The stuff had evidently been hanging in a shop window, she said. I objected that there was nothing very odd about that. No, she said, except you see the characters say: "Good stuff inside: price cheap." (8-9)
Poaching, of course, is hunting without a license. Like beauty and cultural appropriation, it's in the eye of the beholder.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crossover song by Big Mama Thornton and Elvis

One of Elvis Presley's early crossover hits was "Hound Dog." It came out soon after he left Sun Record Co. for RCA Victor, and it was one of the songs that made him a superstar.

Here's Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog." I'll admit the video isn't very exciting -- it just shows a 78rpm record going round and round. But Big Mama's version of the song, recorded in 1952, is good jump blues about to take off into R&B and -- eventually -- rock'n roll. There's something sly and suggestive about it, too, that I can't quite put my finger on.

A clip from a TV show of the 50s shows Elvis' cover of the song. To my ear at least, his version is harder driving, and some of the sexual innuendo has been edited out of the song. Released in 1956, it's considered one of the first big hits in the brand new genre of rock.

You may prefer one version or the other, depending on your taste. They're both fine performances of one of the all-time great hit songs. And hearing them both will give you more of a feeling of how blues crossed over and became rock.

Monday, November 12, 2007

HUM 223: How to write about music

Based on reading your proposals, I'd say almost all of you have good topics -- and almost all of you would greatly increase your chances of getting an A if you write more about the music. Not just a biography of the musician. But his or her music, and how you respond to it. What does it sound like? How, specifically, does it affect you emotionally as a listener? Example: Don't just say Charlie Patton, the early Delta bluesman, is cool. Does Charlie Patton's intricate, polyrhyhmic playing -- even on a cheap acoustic guitar -- put you in a happy, upbeat mood? Or some other kind of mood? Does it reflect the rhythms of Africa? Can you hear what later guitar players like Robert Johnson and Eric Clapton heard in it? Does the way he growls his lyrics give him a primeval, almost dangerous sound? In your papers, I want you to engage the music, listen to some of it and record your response to it. Remember the three questions we've been asking ourselves all semester: What stands out? Why do I like it (or dislike it)? What, specifically, in the music does that for me?

Here's a really good link ... to a Dartmouth Writing Program tip sheet on how to write about music. Some overall advice:
Analyzing music is difficult. First, because music evokes powerful emotional responses, you don't often pay attention to what it is about the music, exactly, that moves you so much. Second, even if you are able to get past your feelings to describe what you hear, simple description isn't enough. You must be willing to interpret the music and then support your interpretation with evidence from the piece.
He say what? What does that mean? Basically it means what you've heard all the way from third grade to English 111 and 112: Support your claims with evidence. But this time, you get some of your evidence from listening to the music.

Although you're writing research papers in Humanities 223, I want you to do some of the things Dartmouth recommends in "review" papers -- in other words, to comment on the performance, even if you're hearing it on sound recordings, videos or YouTube clips:
In a review, you should focus on the form of the music. What sounds make up the music? How does the composer or performer fuse together these different sound elements? How do the different movements work together to create the music's overall effect? Remember to stay away from comments beginning with "I" that reflect only how the music affected you. Instead, question the music using criteria by which we judge excellence, and provide insight into those elements of excellence.
When you're writing for my classes, at least, that doesn't mean you can't make "I statements," by the way. It just means you have to back up your "I statements," your opinion with evidence. Which is what you do in college writing anyway. Right?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

COMM 393: Reminder on Senior Portfolios

A copy of an email message I sent out this morning to students registered for Communications 393. I'm posting it to my blogs for communications students as well. I have great respect for the Benedictine/SCI grapevine, and I'll appreciate your assistance in getting the word out. -- pe.

A reminder: The end of the semester is only a month away, so it's time to pull together the material for your senior portfolios.

I will need to meet with each of you in order to: (1) inspect your professional portfolio; and (2) receive a Senior Portfolio Folder containing your self-reflective paper and copies of four pieces of work (artifacts) you have done for class, for internships and/or off-campus publications. You will keep your professional portfolio for use in job hunting, but Benedictine University will retain a Senior Portfolio Folder from each student for program assessment purposes.

I am developing a more detailed set of instructions, which I hope to email to you over the weekend, but I wanted to send out this reminder so you can get started how.

THERE ARE THREE parts to the Senior Portfolio procedure:

I. SELF-REFLECTIVE ESSAY. To be turned in, as part of the Senior Portfolio Folder, during a conference with me before the end of the semester.

The self-reflective essay will be 10 to 12 pages in length, in which you reflect on your experience as a communications major at Benedictine in terms of: (a) your progress toward developing or furthering your career goals; (b) your understanding of the profession, its ethics and its role in society. In this essay you should address the following program objectives of Benedictine's mass communications department:

1. Prepare graduates for careers in advertising, electronic and print media, journalism, public relations, publishing, writing or other careers requiring sophisticated communications skills;

2. Prepare graduates for continued study in graduate or professional school;

3. Develop the student's critical and imaginative thinking, reading and writing skills;

4. Develop skills to empower the student to communicate ideas effectively, through speaking, writing and the use of technology;

5. Develop skills for critical interpretation of the media;

6. Foster aesthetic understanding in both production and interpretation of media texts;

7. Develop knowledge of the methods to make responsible social and personal decisions;

8. Develop primary and secondary research methodologies;

9. Develop an understanding of the history, structure and operation of the mass media;

10. Provide an understanding of the impact of mass media industries and messages on the individual, society and culture;

11. Develop professional-level skills in written and oral communication for a variety of media and audiences;

12. Develop professional-level production skills for both print and electronic media;

13. Encourage the development of creative expression; and

14. Help the student develop a professional media portfolio.

II. PROFESSIONAL PORTFOLIO. To be inspected by me during our end-of-semester conference and returned to you. This will be a collection of your best work, preferably gathered in a presentation folder, that you can take with you on job interviews.

III. SENIOR PORTFOLIO FOLDER. To be turned in to me during our end-of-semester conference and retained by Benedictine. Since we will keep these folders, I will accept them in an inexpensive pocketed folder; you can find them in an office supply store or the school supplies aisle of most drug stores. In this folder, you will include: (a) the the self-reflective essay; and (b) at least one copy at least one piece of work (artifact) from each of the following categories:

1. A 300-level research paper written for a 300-level theory class (including COMM 317, 385, 386, 387, or 390, and 391 if it is a theory class). It must contain proper annotation, structure, evidence, and methodology. The student must have attained a grade of at least a “B” on the paper in its original form for it to be accepted for this requirement.

2. A print-based publication, defined as an original written or produced work fixed in a printed and published medium (including newspapers, magazines and newsletters). If you do not have print publication credits, class work for COMM 207, 208, 209, 253 (equivalent to SCI's COM 221), 254, 263 (equivalent to SCI's COM 222), 264, 337, 381 or 382 can be accepted.

3. A web-based publication, i.e. creation that has been exhibited on the World Wide Web and is created for a departmental publication, internship, or work-related experience. The Sleepy Weasel counts as a web-based publication. Any other web-based artifact, including blogs or personal Web pages, must be approved by the instructor prior to the submission of the full portfolio.

4. Brochures, fliers, memos or other work product, including advertisements, pamphlets, brochures, letterheads, scripts or other copy prepared for broadcast, memos, creative briefs, campaign plans or other tangible material written in connection with a college course or an internship.

I will send you a formal assignment sheet in a few days, and there is more detail available about the senior portfolios on the COMM 393 syllabus linked to my faculty page at http://www.sci.edu/classes/ellertsen/masscom/comm393syllabus.html

If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me.

-- Pete "Doc" Ellertsen, instructor

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

HUM223: 'It's all music' -- blues and jazz

"It's all music." -- Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington, the jazz band leader, used to get impatient with critics who tried too hard to define things like jazz, or blues, or the difference between the two. He had a point there! But we're going to try anyway.

On the Humanities 223 blog, I'm starting to collect links to material that briefly explains blues and jazz ... and how the two types of music are related. A good place to start, as long as you go on and don't finish there(!), is the online, user-generated encyclopedia Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, blues is
... a vocal and instrumental form of music based on the use of the blue notes and a repetitive pattern that most often follows a twelve-bar structure. It emerged in African-American communities of the United States from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed English and Scots-Irish narrative ballads. The use of blue notes and the prominence of call-and-response patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of African influence.
There's more, a lot more, on the page. Wikipedia defines jazz like this:
... an original American musical art form which originated around the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States out of a confluence of African and European music traditions. The use of blue notes, call-and-response, improvisation, polyrhythms, syncopation and the swung note of ragtime are characteristics traceable back to jazz's West African pedigree.
There's a lot in both articles worth studying, and we'll keep coming back to them.

Monday, November 05, 2007

HUM 223: Monday's video

Today, if the miracles of modern technology permit it, we'll try again to watch the second half of Clint Eastwood's TV documentary "Piano Blues." To recap, Eastwood interviewed the late Ray Charles in the first half. We saw a lot of Charles, a gifted pianist and multifaceted performer, and Dave Brubeck, who played a more academic or "classical" style of jazz but built on the work of black artists. Also clips of Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and other jazz greats.

Today we'll hear from several New Orleans jazz and rock (or rhythm and blues) musicians, including Fats Domino and "Professor Longhair") and blues artists including Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.

Questions to ask yourself -- and post as comments to the blog:
1. New Orleans is considered the cradle of blues, jazz and a lot of American popular music in the 20th and 21st centuries. Is there a distinctive New Orleans sound in the musicians you hear from that city? If so, how does it carry over into music today -- i.e. do you hear echoes of it in today's music?

2. We'll hear at least a little bit of Chicago blues. Ask yourself the same questions: What is distinctive about it, and what echoes of it do you hear in today's music.

Post your answers as comments to this blog.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

'Stiklestad rundt Olsok': NRK links

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (Norsk rikskringkasting or NRK) has links where we can [h]øyr gudstenesta frå Stiklestad 29. juli (olsokdagen) -- or we could if we had the right software on the Mac at home. If I'm translating the Norwegian correctly, it's a St. Olav's Day service at Stiklestad, a church at the site of the Battle of Stiklestad on July 29, 1030. "Olsok" is the Norwegian word for the festival of St. Olav. Program notes are as follows:
29. juli er det Olsok - eller Olavsdagen. Teksten står i Salme 33, 12-22.

Prof. Notto Thelle preker, Liturg er prost Nils Åge Aune. Kantor er Bjørn Bratsberg.

Olsokkoret synger - dirigert av Tore Erik Mohn.

Norsk salmebok: 743. 741. 802 (Landstads rev.). 711. 633.

Tone Fossum Olsson (trompet), Magnus Loddgard (piano), Hans Martin Molvik (trommer).

Salmene er: Fedrane kyrkje i Noregs land, Ljoset over landet dagna, Da Olav konge bøyde hodet, Du viste oss veien til livet og Som korn fra vide åkrer.

Tekstleser er Audhild Morken.
Later: Listened to the streaming audio broadcast this afternoon at the office, and "Ljoset over landet dagna" runs from about 12min to 18min. The hymn itself, sung by a mkxed choir supported by organ and trumpet, begins at 13:47. Very nice.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

HUM 223: W.C. Handy, father of blues or jazz?

SOme rough notes before class Monday --

W.C. Handy -- "where the Southern cross the Dog"
Number 9 in a series of thirteen 60-second films produced, directed, written and edited by Robert Mugge for Mississippi Public Broadcasting. The host and music director is Steve Cheseborough. Tells the story.

The story of W.C. Handy first hearing the blues in Tutwiler, Miss., in 1903.

Here's what it may have sounded like. a sound file of Charlie Patton's "Green River Blues" with the lyric "where the Southern cross the Dog"

Here's the lyrics. You'll need to see them, because Patton's old Paramount recording is poor quality and his singing is hard to understand. Listen to how intricate his guitar playing is, though.

-- Wikipedia Creative Commons file -- blogger called gavagai -- "just a blues lover" who plays guitar, mostly in open G, and blues harp (harmonica), asks is this song the oldest blues? He makes a good case for it.

W.C. Handy is known as the "father of the blues" -- a Memphis band leader, very important, very good -- but not a bluesman. He took the blues and developed it into a commercial art form, more jazz than blues IMHO, but a very fine musician. A short but insightful biography of W.C. Handy on the 100th anniversary of his night at the railroad station in Tutwiler, Miss., in 2003. Puts it into perspective. Handy was a musician's musician. One of the great jazz artists.

Beale Street was the main drag in the black section of Memphis in Handy's day -- and a prime tourist attraction today -- and Hand's "Beale Street Blues" was one of his early jazz compositions that incorporated blues melodies and structure. Here is an excerpt played by the De Paris Band in France in 1960.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

HUM 223: 'Feel Like Goin' Home' -- program

Links here to information on the first video we'll screen in Humanities 223. It's called "Feel Like Going Home," and it's directed by Martin Scorsese. He put together a mini-series for Public Broadcasting System in 2003 on the blues, and we'll watch more than one videos from the series. "Feel Like Going Home" focuses on a traditional blues musician named Corey Harris. He's from Charlottesville, Va., he plays both blues and roots reggae, and this year he received a $500,000 no-strings-attached grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

On a PBS website that gives background about the entire "The Blues" series, Scorsese says:
For my own film, which was the first in the series, the idea was to take the viewer on a pilgrimage to Mississippi and then on to Africa with a wonderful young blues musician named Corey Harris. Corey isn't just a great player, he also knows the history of the blues very well. We filmed him in Mississippi talking to some of the old, legendary figures who were still around and visiting some of the places where the music was made. This section culminates in a meeting with the great Otha Turner, sitting on his porch in Senatobia with his family nearby and playing his cane flute. We were also fortunate to film Otha's magnificent November 2001 concert at St. Ann's in Brooklyn, which I believe was his last performance captured on film. It seemed natural to trace the music back from Mississippi to West Africa, where Corey met and played with extraordinary artists like Salif Keita, Habib Koité, and Ali Farka Toure. It's fascinating to hear the links between the African and American music, to see the influences going both ways, back and forth across time and space.

The links between Africa and the blues were always very important to Alan Lomax, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to include him in my film. I relate strongly to Lomax's instinct, his need to find and record genuine sounds and music before the originators died away. It's hard to overestimate the importance of what he accomplished — without him, so much would have been lost.

Otha Turner's music was a link to Africa, and Lomax spent a great deal of time exploring that connection. That elemental music, made with nothing but a fife and drum, has always fascinated me. When I first heard it, I was editing Raging Bull by night. I was enthralled — it sounded like something out of eighteenth-century America, but with an African rhythm. I never even imagined that such a music could exist. I found an audio tape of Otha's music, and I listened to it obsessively over many years. ...
If the photocopying machine is working (cross your fingers), I'll hand out a list of players in "Feel Like Going Home." But here's a link just in case.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lucky Dube, Aug. 3, 1964-Oct. 18, 2007

Lucky Dube (pron. Du-BAY), reggae icon from South Africa and one of Africa's most respected popular musicians, was shot to death over the weekend in an attempted carjacking at his home in Johannesburg. He died Friday when several youths shot into his car, and it swerved into a tree, according to the Guardian (U.K.). Police say they believe the motive was robbery. They had five suspects in custody Sunday night.

Dube was strongly influenced by Jamaican reggae legend Peter Tosh. He blended the sounds of roots reggae and pop but maintained the strong interest in social justice that Tosh and Bob Marley brought to the genre. "During his lifetime South African reggae star Lucky Dube was a man on a mission to make the world a better place," reported BBC News, a news agency not given to hyperbole. "And his determination paid off," added a BBC writer, "for in the thousands upon thousands of tributes that were paid to Dube after his shooting on Thursday, it is his message that people remember."

[Monday: The Guardian has a first-class obituary up today on its website.]

Lucky Dube was drawn to reggae, in fact, because he admired the way Peter Tosh and others used the music to fight against oppressors, "down-pressors" in the Jamaican patois they used. (Ironically, he died the day before Tosh's birthday. Tosh also was shot to death in a robbery, in 1987.) He also admired the classic reggae sound. "His phrasing and everything was like Peter's, bringing new slant and African melodies to it," Jamaican musician Brian Jobson told The Observer in Kingstown.

In a way, Lucky Dube was a crossover musician. His roots were in mbaqanga, described in The Times of London's obituary as "a style of South African dance music with its roots in a fusion of jazz and rural Zulu styles." And when he turned to reggae, he added a strong element of good commercial pop music. Dobson, the bass player in Jamaica, said:
"... he was a cool guy, really unassuming and modest, and he introduced a whole new audience to reggae music. A lot of people who didn't get it in its purest form, bringing in the African influence which he had, which was really subtle, but still it provided a good bridge between hardcore reggae and African music."
In class Monday we'll watch the BBC's initial report on Dube's murder and a couple of videos.

The first is of a live performance of "War and Crime," one of Lucky Dube's songs of social commentary. In it he asks: "... so / Why don' t we / Bury down apartheid / Fight down war and crime." If you want to follow the lyrics, they're online.

We'll also screen a Gallo Record Co. promotional video for "Feel Irie." It's a video about making a video about feeling happy or righteous. That's what "irie" means in Rasta or Jamaican patois. How cool can that be? But Lucky Dube was dead serious, as the lyrics make clear:
No matter how hard we try,
Trouble will find us one way or another.
People had troubles since the pope
Was an altar boy ...
And music, says Lucky Dube, can show us the way.
Listen to those guitars skanking
Yeah... Put a smile on your face
Don't let the troubles get you down
Shoop shoop doo doo
Put a smile on your face
Don't let the troubles get you down.
Finally, a clip that I think is especially appropriate now. It shows Lucky Dube singing "Peace, Perfect Peace" Only Jah or "Jah Rasta Fari" as the Rastafarians call God, can give us peace as we "cry for love in this neighbourhood / Let me tell you no water can put out this fire." Over the weekend we lost a musician who dedicated his art to trying to put out the fire that, in the end, consumed him.

An irie footnote for fellow geeks. According to one biography of Lucky Dube, he first learned about reggae as a student assistant working in his school library in the Transvaal district of South Africa, where he read articles on Rastfarian religion and music in an encyclopedia. "His interest grew the more he read and found out, and soon he was working and earning enough money to buy Peter Tosh albums (which were the only Reggae albums available in South Africa at the time)." Good news, and a role model, I think, for geeks and bookworms everywhere!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hymn to St. Olav -- links

Some links to information about the hymn Ljoset over landet dagna (Norwegian) or Lux illuxit laetabunda" (Latin), a medieval hymn to St. Olav, patron saint of Norway. The hymn is derived from a musical sequence associated with Olsok, the saint's July 29 festival day, and pilgrimages to the cathedral at Nidaros (Trondheim.) It is No. 741 in the current (1985) hymnal of the State Church of Norway

I first heard it when I blundered onto a MIDI file of "Ljoset over landet dagna" on a website called "Martin's Magazine" maintained by Martin Eidhammer that has interesting information on Norwegian culture and music. Also a directory listing a dozen MIDI files of Norwegian hymns and folksongs including "Ja, vi elsker" and "Per Spilleman." It's enchanting. The melody dates from the 1100s, and it sounds like it. It's modal, chantlike ... but very melodious and intricate like Norwegian folk tunes.

It's mentioned -- very briefly -- in an English-language survey "1000 Years of Norwegian Church Music" by Harald Herresthal on the Norwegian Information Centre website. A more detailed account is in a history of Norwegian liturgical music by Carl Petter Opsahl, who wrote it for a practical theology seminar at the University of Oslo:
Rundt de forskjellige pilegrimsstedene i Europa oppstod det forskjellige liturgiske tradisjoner. Også i Norge hadde vi vi valfartssteder, og det mest kjente var selvfølgelig Nidarosdomen, der relikviene etter Hellig Olav ble bevart. Hellig Olav ble feiret med en oktav, det vil si en uke med liturgisk fest, der 29. juli var høydepunktet i feiringen. Olavsfeiringen ga inspirasjon til ny salmediktning. Olavssekvensen Lux illuxit laetebunda står i NoS 741, "Ljoset over landet dagna".
NoS is the Norsk Salmebok (1985).

Two recordings of the hymn are available on the internet, both from the Kirkelig Kulturverksted label. Both cost 165 Kroner (about $25.52 when I looked on Oct. 19).

One is by Schola Sanctae Sunnivae, a women's choir that sings in a traditional monastic style. The catalog listing says:
Catalog no.: FXCD227 Duration: 0:53:49
St. Olav’s Day (29th July) was an important celebration in Scandinavia during the Middle Ages. On this day the St. Olav Mass was sung everywhere, from the great cathedral of Nidaros to the smallest village church. This was without doubt the most widely known music before Grieg, and the sequence Lux illuxit has in modern times represented the flag ship of Norwegian medieval music. And this is a truly magnificent piece of music. Finally we may now listen to it in its original context. Most of this material has never been released on CD before.
The other is by Kalenda Maya, a folk group that specializes in medieval music. The catalog says:
Katalognr.: FXCD184 Spilletid: 1:02:02

Also a link to my theory on "how a blog is like the old-fashioned oak filing cabinet in my home office ... [i.e.] kind of an electronic filing cabinet where I can tuck away information that would get lost otherwise." I posted it to Hogfiddle last year, and keep posting stuff that would pile up on my desk if I didn't post it electronically.

HUM 223: Writing about music

Robert M. Seiler of the University of Calgary in Canada suggests that when his students write about music, they actively listen for the sound of vocals or instrumentals, and the “dynamics or the intensity of the sound, in terms of loudness, uniformity, and change.” He also suggests they listen for:

a. the movement of the piece, i.e., concentrate on its rhythm, meter, and tempo,

b. the pitch, i.e., in terms of its order and melody, and

c. the structure of the piece, i.e., its logic, design, and texture.

Seiler’s entire tip sheet is available at http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~rseiler/music.htm -- his examples are from classical music, but his suggestions work for blues, gospel, jazz, rock or hip hop, too. They’re excellent.

Writing about music is a lot like writing about a poem or a play in English classes. In other ways, it's different. Here's what Dartmouth University has to say about one type of music paper:

In a review, you should focus on the form of the music. What sounds make up the music? How does the composer or performer fuse together these different sound elements? How do the different movements work together to create the music's overall effect? ...

Dartmouth's tip sheet is available on line at http://www.dartmouth.edu/~writing/materials/student/humanities/music.shtml. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

HUM 223: "Recreated" Civil War band to play

If you have any interest in brass bands, the Civil War, music history -- or extra credit in Humanities 223, the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry Regiment Band will give a concert Saturday at on Shephard Road. The 10th Cavalry band is "a recreation of the original brass band that accompanied the regiment during the Civil War," and it is an "affiliated ensemble" (whatever that is) of the music program of the University of Illinois-Springfield. It is directed by R. Todd Cranson, assistant director of co-curricular music at UIS. According to a UIS press release, "The original 10th Cavalry Band was often referred to as "Lincoln's Own" since the musicians came from Sangamon County and the Springfield area. It was mustered into service at Camp Butler in November 1861 and was one of only a handful of bands to stay with their regiments throughout the entire war."

Same offer as before: Go, write it up (a couple, three pages) and get extra credit. Questions to consider: How is Civil War band music "roots music?" What appeal does it have to today's audiences>

Sunday, October 14, 2007

HUM 223: Jazz, a $2.95 tour of the genre

Jazz was another form of American music that went from folk beginnings, a lot of them in New Orleans, to a very popular art form and eventually crossed over into something that has a lot in common with classical music. Its trajectory was different from spirituals and minstrel songs, but it's an important part of American music history. And it strongly influenced the blues. We don't have time to do more than look at a few video clips, but we need to do at least that. Terms in boldface you should know, and in quotes you can look up in Kingman's chapters on jazz and blues. At the end, I'll try to take it back around to something I think is important about roots music.

The big thing about jazz is it's improvised, like folk music is. It started in a "bounded community," the black community of New Orleans in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It went worldwide, but it always kept that focus on improvisation -- it's not played note-for-note from sheet music, so players can vary they way they play a song and build on each other's interpretations during a performance.

One of the first roots of jazz was band music of the Civil War. Hundreds of regimental bands were organized, and most of them had bands. The YouTube clip shows vintage photos with the Federal City Brass Band playing in the background. Louisiana raised at least 30 regiments for the Confederate Army, and 11 regiments of African American troops for the union. That meant a lot of surplus musical instruments after the war, and some of them found their way to street bands in New Orleans. That tradition continues. Marches were very popular everywhere. Here's a very early movie (1889) for the Thomas A. Edison Music Video Co. showing a regimental band. And a Victorla record playing a John Philip Sousa march called "Under the Double Eagle." See the picture of the dog listening to an old-fashioned record player on the label? Jazz has always been, and continues to be even now, band music.

Religion, not surprisingly, was another deep root of jazz. Street bands grew up in New Orleans' black community in the late 1800s, and they developed a tradition that combined church processions with street dancing, Mardi Gras and what in time came to be called "dixieland" jazz. The band would play a solemn, dignified tune in the first line on the way to the cemetery. Often it was the old spiritual, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee." Afterward, on the second line or way back to a celebration very similar to a wake, the band would play upbeat numbers like "When the Saints Go Marching In." The tradition survives in New Orleans, not only in the tourist sections but in the neighborhoods. Clips from the funeral for blues artist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown Feb. 25, 2005, shows a band on the way to the funeral. Later shots in the video are of flood damage in New Orleans at the time. Another YouTube clip shows a Second Line from New Orleans' St. Augustine Church in June 2007.

Louis Armstrong was one performer whose career spanned the popularity of jazz. He started out in street bands, and evolved into a polished "big band" performer during the 1930s and 1940s. His career lasted into the period of "modern jazz," which was more classical in tone, but he was uniquely himself. Here he plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" with what looks like a 1950s television studio band. And here he sings his trademark song "Wonderful World" on BBC-TV in 1968. Backing him are Tyree Glenn ontrombone, Joe Muranyi clarinet, Marty Napoleon piano, Buddy Catlett bass and Danny Barcelona drums. The BBC show was one of Armstrong's last public appearances.

Jazz evolved into what some consider a form of art music with the advent of players like Charles "Bird" Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Here the John Coltrane Quartet plays an arrangment of "Alabama" in 1963. McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones rounded out the quartet. Their playing is improvised, but very subtle, intricate and formal like art music. It came to be known as "modern jazz," and it still has a strong market niche mostly of highly educated people.

Last year rock artist Bruce Springsteen made a "roots" album in honor of folksinger Pete Seeger. (My definition of roots music is pretty simple -- just about any music that tries to capture the spirit of its roots in the folk music of a bounded community.) And Springsteen played a roots-y version of "The Saints" on the Seeger Sessions tour afterward in the U.S. and Europe. A fan who saw the concert Nov. 11, 2006, in Sheffield, England, said, "Introducing When The saints Go Marching In [Springsteen] said that this song explained what the show was all about. The slowed down arrangement worked perfectly with band members Marc Anthony Thompson and Lisa Lowell each taking a verse." Is it folk? Is it art music? Is it roots? I'd say it's all three.

Monday, October 08, 2007

HUM 223: Blue notes, blues scale / LINKS

This is what Wikipedia calls a "stub," i.e. sketchy information that I'll fill in later. Wanted you to have the links before class though.

A blues "harp" or harmonica player explains what a "blue note" is, how a blues scale differs from the standard do-re-mi, "Doe, a deer, a female deer" scale that Julie Andrews sang about in the old musical.

Listen for blue notes in two clips from Porgy and Bess. They'll sound a little flat to you. You may not hear them at first, but if you keep listening for them you can train your ear to recognize them.

Los Angeles Opera's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (3:05)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yKgAEkCKxY&NR=1"Summertime" - Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong (4:59) stills over audio track

Sunday, October 07, 2007

HUM 223: Midterm study questions

Humanities 223: Ethnic music
Springfield College in Illinois
Instructor: Pete Ellertsen
Beata Hall 211

Midterm · Fall 2007

Below are three essay questions – one worth fifty (50) points out of a hundred, and two shorter essays worth 25 points each. Please write at least two to four pages (500-1,000 words) on the 50-point essay and one to two pages (250-500 words) on each of the 25-point short essays. That adds up to three essays. Use plenty of detail from your reading in the textbook, the internet and handouts I have given you, as well as class discussion, to back up the points you make. Your grade will depend both on your analysis of the broad trends I ask about, and on the specific detail you cite in support of your analysis. I am more interested in the specific factual arguments you make to support your points than in whether you like or dislike a particular piece of music. So be specific. Remember: An unsupported generalization is sudden death in college-level writing.

1A. Essay (50 points). African American forms of musical expression have reapeatedly crossed over to wider audiences and incorporated features of popular or art (classical) music in the process. Considering the definitions of folk, popular and/or art music in our textbook, compare and contrast the way in minstrel show songwriter Stephen Foster and opera/Broadway musical composer George Gershwin adapted African American forms of musical expression in writing for a wider audience. Consider these questions: How respectful were they of African American culture? How much African American influence is there in their adaptations? How well does the music of each transcend the limitations of time, place and culture? Would you call it folk, popular or art music?

2A. Self-reflective essay (25 points). What have you learned about American roots music in this class so far that you didn’t know before? Consider what you knew at the beginning of the course and what you know now. What point or points stand out most clearly to you? What points are still confusing? In answering this question, please feel free to look at the “Tip Sheet on Writing a Reflective Essay” linked to my faculty webpage. In grading the essay, I will evaluate the relevance of your discussion to the main goals and objectives of the course; the detail you cite to support or illustrate your points; and the connections you make.

2B. Short essay (25 points). Gospel songs like “Amazing Grace” and black spirituals like those sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers have been sung by rural congregations and opera singers alike. Do religious songs lose anything when they go from “fairly close-knit homogeneous communities possessing a strong sense of group solidarity” (one definition Daniel Kingman, author of our textbook, gives for folk music) to being sung by popular singers and by classically trained musicians? Do the songs gain anything when they cross over to popular or art music? Or is it a trade-off?. Does the music transcend the specific cultural and religious norms of the people who sing it? If so, how? Be specific.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

HUM 223: Porgy & Bess

Today we'll supplement the discussion of American songs and theater music in our textbook by looking at the work of George Gershwin, who with his brother Ira wrote songs for Tin Pan Alley (as the commercial songwriting district in New York City was called), the Broadway stage and classical music venues.

(But first a tangent. Once I had the opportunity to see a concert at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, famous for its performances of Russian composers like Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, and what did they play? A Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin!)

We'll go first to the official George and Ira Gershwin website. Enter the site, click through to the page with links to selected (rotating) clips of favorite songs displayed in the middle. In the menu at top, click on "History" to read about the Gershwin brothers, their musicials and their art. They were Jewish, of a Russian-American family, but when George wrote an opera about blacks in Charleston, S.C., he visited there to make sure he got the details right. The result was Porgy and Bess, and we'll see portions of it in class today.

On the Gershwin brothers website, click on "Anthology," "Selected Shows" and "Porgy and Bess." Read both screens. We'll watch portions of the Trevor Nunn production. Porgy and Bess is discussed in our textbook (pp. 218-20 in the 3rd edition). Originally written as a four-hour-long "folk opera," it has been cut down and adapted as a musical by Trevor Nunn. His production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was previewed in The New York Times, and its promotional website has sound clips of some of its most famous songs, including one that's discussed in our textbook, "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'." Listen for the "blue" notes -- they'll sound slightly flat to you -- in all the songs. They're distinctively part of African American music, and Gershwin has them nailed!

We'll also watch a segment of the full opera version of Porgy and Bess directed by Nunn and conducted by Sir Simon Rattle of the London Symphony Orchestra in 1986. It showcases both Gershwin's operatic style and its rootedness in vernacular African American music, especially a song "Oh Doctor Jesus" that echoes black gospel singing traditions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you listen to the audio and watch the video clips (or as you write your midterm next week). In what ways does the singing sound like "Sheep Don't You Know the Road" and the singing of African American congregations we heard earlier this semester? In what ways is it different? How does Porgy and Bess compare to the artistic treatment of African American themes in the 19th-century minstrel shows and the spirituals arranged by classically oriented musicians like the Fisk Jubilee Singers?

Monday, October 01, 2007

HUM 223: Minstrel shows and their legacy

Here are links to some resources on minstrel shows, including supporting material for the documentary on Stephen A. Foster we watched in class. There's a good overview of Blackface Minstrelsy with comments by historians and musicians linked to a directory page. Be especially sure to read how historian Eric Lott and rock music critic Ken Emerson answer the question, "What's the connection between blackface minstrelsy and rock and roll?" Several people are interviewed for this feature, and they give varied but thoughtful critiques of the racial and artistic issues it raises.

Questions to ask yourself as you read about the minstrel shows: (1) Does the music of the ministrel shows, especially Foster's, transcend boundaries of race and culture? (2) Do Stephen Foster's songs, like "My Old Kentucky Home" or "Oh Susannah" hold up 150 years later in the 21st century, or are they sentimental and dated? (3) How should we approach American works of art, like the minstrel show songs or Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn," that reflect racist attitudes?

Some other good links. A very good history of ministrel shows and vaudeville by John Kenrick on the "Musicals101.com" website takes them up into the 20th century. (Did you know the first popular "talking picture show," or movie with sound on film, featured a white blackface singer named Al Jolson?) Be sure to click through to Kenrick's discussion of how black vaudville performers changed the art form.
Vaudeville did much to to teach audiences of different ethnic and social backgrounds to get along. Defying the racist norm that dominated American society, vaudeville had black and white performers sharing the same stage as early as the 1890s. But managers had to deal with the legal and social realities of their time. Most southern states did not allow blacks and whites to sit in the same theatre, and even most Northern cities barred blacks from the best seats as late as the 1920s.

The TOBA Circuit ("Theatre Owners Booking Agency," which performers re-named "Tough On Black Asses") were the only venues below the Mason-Dixon Line that welcomed "colored" customers in the early part of the 20th Century, offering all-black bills for all-black audiences. For midnight performances on Saturdays, some TOBA houses allowed whites to sneak into the balcony.
This discussion on "Musicals101.com" is much better than what we have in our textbook. You may want to bookmark it so you can consult it when you write your midterm.

Dance. Song and dance was an important part of the legacy of the minstrel shows. As early as the 1840s, William Henry Lane, a black dancer who went by the stage name of Master Juba, was an international success. He combined Irish and African American steps, and is credited as the person who invented tap dance. A London theater and dance troupe is now touring the United States with a tribute to Master Juba. Years later, at the turn of the 20th century, a dance known as the Cakewalk became a nationwide craze. It is said to have originated with slaves mocking the "high-falutin' airs" of their masters (without the masters realizing it). Two very early motion pictures, both from 1903, show a professional dance troupe doing the cakewalk on stage and people cakewalking in the surf along a beach. Note the bathing suits!

"Old Dan Tucker": A minstrel song. I've linked to several files on the Internet that suggest how widespread the song got to be, especially after it went back into oral tradition as a fiddle tune.
  • Original lyrics, as they were published in 1843, played by Japher's "Original" SANDY RIVER MINSTRELS, show the typical nonsense lyrics of the ministrel shows without some of the more egregious racial stereotyping.
  • Old-time string band musicians jam on "Old Dan Tucker" at the 2006 Early Banjo Gathering in the barn of the Pry House Field Hospital Museum at Antietam Civil War battlefield. They're in period clothes (except for the guy with the white ballcap), playing fiddle, banjo and bones -- or spoons, which jug bands often use instead of castanets.
  • "Old Dan Tucker" was a favorite during the Civil War. Played at a slightly slower tempo, it made a good march. Here historical reenactors of the Excelsior Brigade Fife and Drum Corps play it during a Mardi Gras parade in 2007 in Brockport, N.Y. In the spirit of equal time, here's the Towpath Volunteers fife and drum corps of Macedon, N.Y., in Revolutionary War uniforms playing it.
  • Grandpa Jones, a "hillbilly" performer whose act was directly descended from the ministrel shows -- by way of rural "medicine shows" that featured string bands and went from town to town selling patent medicine -- played "Old Dan Tucker" on the Porter Wagoner Show in the early 1960s.
  • Spanish television broadcasts Bruce Springsteen and a band he assembled for an album of roots music called "The Seeger Sessions" playing "Old Dan Tucker" (and, later, part of "John Henry") when they played in Madrid in 2006. Also Springsteen talks (in English) about the "raw democracy" he finds in American roots music. Notice his band combines the instrumentation of an oldtime string band (fiddle, banjo, guitar) with the brass instruments of a Dixieland jazz band.

Monday, September 24, 2007

COMM 337: Spirituals, links to sound files

To hear brief sound clips of "Lay Down Body," "Row, Michael, Row," and "Reborn Again" from the album Been in the Storm So Long: Spirituals and Shouts, Children's Game Songs (which I have played in class), go to the University of Virginia website on Thomas Wentworth Higginson's 1867 article on singing by black soldiers he commanded during the Civil War. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are still around, and clips from their latest album In Bright Mansions are available on Fisk's website. (I have also played songs from this album in class.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

HUM 223: Black spirituals, links and quotes

One of the most remarkable chapters in American music history was written by recently freed slaves and their children during the years after the Civil War. Taking a musical tradition with its origins in plantation life, they transformed it into a form of sophisticated art music and attracted the attention of one of the foremost European composers of the time.

They are the black spirituals, or "Negro spirituals" in the language of the day. Anton Dvorak, the Czech composer, used them as thematic material for his New World Symphony (Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, 1893). And African American composers brought the spirituals to the same level of musical sophistication as the lieder (songs) of Schubert or Brahms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The African American spirituals grew out of "shouts" and ceremonies that were essentially religious, involving both singing and dance. Their history is sketched in briefly at the Spirituals Project website, a project of the University of Denver. More background, including sound files, is available from the Spiritual Workshop of Paris, France. Be sure to listen to "Heaven” by JoAnne Stephenson, accompanied by Lorna Young-Wright, to hear some pretty fine left- and right-hand syncopation in a classical piano style. All the sound files on the Paris website show how African American music was adapted to the styles of art music, but Young-Wright's playing has a "swing" to it you just don't get in a Schubert art song.

Central to the flowering of the black spirituals were the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who took their polished arrangments on the road during the 1870s to raise money for their school, Fisk University. They suffered poverty, ill health and initially hostile audiences, but they sang before Queen Victoria and they won over the musical intelligensia of their day. They are still around, and their website tells their story. A slightly more detailed history is available on the Primarily A Cappella Singers.com website. It is as dramatic as a romance novel, but the story is true.

For some of the back story, we'll watch two segments of a local Nashville television show hosted by as Fisk history prof Reavis Mitchell and choir director Paul Kwami explain how the Jubilee Singers got started and what they contribute now to the college, the community and the world. (

W.E.B. DuBois, who studied at Fisk in the 1880s, was especially stirred by the spirituals. "Out of them rose for me morning, noon, and night, bursts of wonderful melody, full of the voices of my brothers and sisters, full of the voices of the past," he said. DuBois called them the "sorrow songs," and in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), he said of them:
... by fateful chance the Negro folk-song — the rhythmic cry of the slave — stands to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is, half despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people.
In the 1890s, Dvorak taught at a conservatory of music in New York City, and there he learned of the spirituals from Harry Burleigh, a student of his, whom he asked to sing them repeatedly. Burleigh went on to arrange "Deep River," which may have served as a theme for Dvorak's New World Symphony, and compose his own art songs. Burleigh wrote in 1917 of the values in his artistic arrangments of the spirituals:
Success in singing these Folk Songs is primarily dependent upon deep spiritual feeling. The voice is not nearly so important as the spirit; and then rhythm, for the Negro's soul is linked with rhythm, and is an essential characteristic of most all Folk Songs.

It is a serious misconception of their meaning and value to treat them as "minstrel" songs, or to try to make them funny by a too literal attempt to imitate the manner of the Negro in singing them, by swaying the body, clapping the hands, or striving to make the peculiar inflections of voice that are natural with the colored people. Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, and the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come and man - every man - will be free.
I haven't been able to find Dvorak's article on American music online, but a University of Texas feature story on the New World Symphony quotes from it:
[Dvorak] reveled ... in African American music, such as spirituals like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” the likes of which he had never heard before. In fact, Dvorak recognized in black music the future music of America, and his prediction was borne out in the ragtime, blues, jazz and various forms of rock that would be so central to the music of the 20th century.

“In the [N]egro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music,” he wrote. “They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay, or what you will…. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot be supplied with themes from this source.”
Most of the influence of black American music has been in blues, jazz and rock. But I think it's important to remember some of it was sung before the crowned heads of Europe and flourished at the highest artistic levels, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

HUM 223: "Sounds of Slavery" -- mp3 files

Sound files of 18 field recordings of African American musicians of the 1930s are available on Beacon Press' website for a book called The Sounds of Slavery by Shane White and Graham White. They are, as the authors note, as close as we'll ever get to the roots of African American music. And there's no charge for downloading them.

The sound files go with the book, which can be ordered from Beacon Press or online vendors like Amazon.com. It's simply one of the most interesting books I've ever read. WNYC, the classical music radio station in New York City, has an online excerpt from the first chapter of the book that describes the recordings, many of which were made by 1930s-vintage musicologists John and Alan Lomax:
The African Americans whom the Lomaxes auditioned and then recorded on what John Lomax called their “portable-machine for electrical sound-recording”28—on the 1933 trip the machine weighed 350 pounds—were the children and grandchildren of slaves. Unlike earlier collectors, whose transcriptions of performances depended on the transcriber’s skill and judgment, the Lomaxes relied on technology to secure what they believed was the unmediated original. After one field trip, John Lomax described the 150 tunes with which he had returned as “sound photographs of Negro songs, rendered in their own element, unrestrained, uninfluenced and undirected by anyone who has had his own notions of how the songs should be rendered.” But like the photographs to which Lomax compared his recordings, they contain ambivalences. Recordings, too, can strike a pose. For even though the Lomaxes used machines, they saw themselves as being in pursuit of subjects whom modernity had passed by. And this vision, in turn, shaped both their journeys and the sounds they enshrined. In search of an older, more “authentic” African American culture—in our terms, one closer to the time of slavery—the Lomaxes rummaged through the “eddies of human society” in remote cotton plantations, lumber camps, and, most famously, segregated southern prisons. Part of the reason they were so excited by their “discovery” of the talent of Leadbelly was that they felt that the great blues singer’s “eleven years of confinement had cut him off both from the phonograph and from the radio”—the fact that Leadbelly felt otherwise was beside the point.29 What is exciting about listening to the material from the field trips into the South of the 1930s is that the folk artists whose voices one hears reveal ways of singing and talking that had been heard from the lips of former slaves. It most definitely is not as though a tape recorder had been left on in the woods near the plantation on which Frederick Douglass toiled as a slave, but these recordings bring us about as close as we are ever going to get to hearing some of the familiar— and to white ears often “weird” and “unforgettable”—sounds of slavery.

Friday, September 14, 2007

HUM 223: A new citation generator

Here's a citation generator that will help you get the commas and quotation marks right in both MLA and APA citations. It's put up on the Web by Calvin College of Grand Rapids, Mich.

To demonstrate how it works, let's do my faculty page in MLA format. Open a new window, and follow these steps:

1. In the ribbon on the left, underneath the Calvin College seal, click on "MLA" under the heading Citation Styles.

2. Just below it, click on "Electronic" under the heading Source Type.

3. Under the heading Resource, scroll down to the Website subsection and click on "Entire Site."

4. You'll get a screen headed "Citing a Website Document in MLA Format." Just fill in my name in the fields under "Author Name."

5. Under "Web Site Title," type in "Faculty page."

6. Go to my faculty page, highlight my address (or URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator) in the address field and copy it.

7. Go back to the Calvin College page and paste the address into the field that says "Full URL."

8. Other parts of the citation, including the punctuation and the date of access, will be filled in automatically. So you just click on the button that says "Submit."

9. A new page will appear, with the following citation under the heading MLA Works Cited Entry:
Ellertsen, Pete . Faculty page. Springfield College/Benedictine University. 14 Sep. 2007 <http://www.sci.edu/classes/ellertsen/facultypage.html>.
Highlight it, copy it and paste into your Works Cited list in alphabetical order.

10. Check to make sure there aren't any extra commas or apostrophes hanging there, and marvel at the wonders of modern technology. It's easier to do it than to read about how to do it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

HUM 223: Live music, 'Sacred Harp,' etc.

Two more opportunities to write a paper on a musical event. The first is a Sacred Harp "singing convention" Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15-16, in Taylorville. It's a kind of old-fashioned gospel singing. Very old-fashioned. In fact, technically it predates gospel. The white people who were shown in Bill Moyers' show "Amazing Grace" singing in a Primitive Baptist church in Georgia were Sacred Harp singers (in fact I know some of them). The other is the tribute to Jerry Garcia Sept. 23 in Douglas Park.

I like the papers I've been getting back from the blues festival in downtown Springfield and last week's bluegrass festival at New Salem. Some suggestions reproduced below from earlier blogs and assignment sheets. And some more on the Sacred Harp singing at the bottom of this page.

Writing about music

I'll link to a couple of handouts I've written and posted to my faculty webpage on how to do different types of writing assignments.

Not sure how to write a profile? Read my handout on profiles for English 111 and newswriting [COM 209] students. Basically, here's what you do. Go there. Look around. Talk to people. Listen to the music. Take notes. Go home. Write it up. We'll talk some in class Monday about how to do it. The other handout your need to read is my HUM 223 assignment sheet on how to write a listener response paper on music. Here's the part you need to know now:
In doing reflective response papers, I want you to start with your own reaction to the music. But I want you to go beyond that and focus on the music. Here's how. As you listen to it, ask yourself these questions:

1. What about this piece of music and/or performance stands out in my mind?
2. What in my background, values, needs and interests makes me react that way?
3. What specific things about the work trigger that reaction?
We'll do this in class, too. Get in the habit of asking yourself these questions. They're basic. You'll even find they get you into the analysis part of your term project.

Here's something else that's helpful when you write about music or any of the arts, and it'll be part of the term project assignment, too. It's a "cookbook" formula for writing an essay about your response to any of the arts. It has three parts, too:
Circumstances. Give a one- to three-paragraph introduction to your essay (and it can go longer for a term paper). Start by describing the concert, or if you're reacting to a recording by saying what's on your mind, where and why you're listening to the work - or listening to it again - what your first reaction was, how you feel about it now, what you had for dinner, what the weather's like, anything that sets the stage.
Background. Here's where you give the necessary information about the piece. Title, artist, style of music. Example: "Uncle Dave Macon was one of the most popular performers in the early days of the Grand Ole Opry. He started out in traveling medicine shows and made the jump to the record industry and radio during the 1920s. His 'Gray Cat on a Tennessee Farm' is still a favorite tune among Appalachian dulcimer players."
Analysis. As always, argue a thesis. Support your thesis by quoting passages from the lyrics and analyzing the music. Check those suggestions from Dartmouth again. They'll tell you what to look for. Find some reviews on the internet and quote them. Agree with them, or disagree with them. And say why. Remember, in college-level writing, an unsupported thesis is sudden death!
It's in the same assignment sheet as the three questions.

Sacred Harp singing'

Here's the press release on the singing convention in Taylorville. I plan to be there Saturday (I'm on the arrangments committee).


23rd Illinois Sacred Harp Convention in September

The public is invited to the 23rd annual Sacred Harp Singing Convention from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, and Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Christian County Historical Museum in Taylorville. Beginners are welcome to join in as well as to listen, and loaner books will be provided.

Sacred Harp singing has been defined as “a non-denominational community musical event emphasizing participation, not performance.” It gets its name from the songbook used, “The Sacred Harp.” First published in 1844, the book includes 18th-century New England hymns, upland spirituals and camp meeting songs of the 19th century, as well as newer compositions in the old style. Singers at the Illinois Convention will also use the 2005 edition of “The Missouri Harmony,” published in St. Louis.

“Singers sit facing inward in a hollow square” at a Sacred Harp singing, according to musicologist Warren Steel of the University of Mississippi. “Each individual is invited to take a turn ‘leading,’ i.e. standing in the center, selecting a song, and beating time with the hand. The singing is not accompanied by harps or any other instrument.”

A potluck, or dinner on the ground, will be held at noon both days, and guests are invited to bring a dish to share.

Taylorville is 30 miles southeast of Springfield on Ill. 29, and between Litchfield and Decatur on Ill. 48. The Historical Museum is near the junction of Ill. 29 and 48.

For information, contact Berkley Moore in Springfield, telephone (217) 793-2400, email berkleymoore7195@sbcglobal; or Janet Fraembs in Charleston; telephone (217) 345- 6873, email jfraembs@mchsi.com.

# # #

Monday, September 10, 2007

HUM 223: African roots (Nigeria)

While it is impossible to generalize meaningfully about music in a continent as diverse as Africa, some observations that Bristish anthropological consultant Roger Blench makes in his Grove Encyclopedia survey of Nigerian music illustrate traits that were carried over to America.

Of Nigerian music in general, Blench says:
Music in Nigeria cannot easily be divorced from the society that produces it; all music has a function, and it is not usually conceptualised as an art in the Western manner. Well-played music does not garner applause, especially in the case of instrumental performance. The appropriate use of text is a cause for admiration, rewarded by ‘spraying’ the musician (i.e. placing a monetary gift against his or her forehead). Music almost invariably accompanies life-cycle rituals, weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, political rallies and all types of work. As a result of this, solo performance is relatively unusual, although older people and children play instruments for their own amusement. The importance of music in agricultural societies is such that performance is strongly linked to seasons or activities such as planting or harvest; in the semi-arid regions it is common to find prohibitions on particular instruments during part of the year, for example when the crops are growing. Utterances in musical form frequently have a privileged status; something said in plain speech that would be considered offensive, can be sung without the hearer being socially permitted to take offence.
A few specific comments that carry over strongly to African-American music:

  • Work is frequently accompanied by music, both in terms of keeping the rhythm of a particular activity and more generally to encourage physical labour, especially in the fields or in housebuilding. In the riverine areas, paddling songs were used to keep the pace of canoes. Groups of women frequently pound yams in large mortars that require extremely accurate co-ordination, and elaborate rhythmic patterns with ornamental flourishes accompany the pounding songs. Apart from this, in most of the regions north of the forest, the seasonality of rainfall requires farmers to work collectively on each others’ farms. The host farmer is usually expected to bring musicians to entertain the labourers, although not to duplicate the rhythms of farming directly.

  • The idiom of dance pervades most musical performance in Nigeria; only praise-music and some types of ceremonial are not conceptualised in these terms. In many languages, the word for ‘song’ and ‘dance’ are either exactly the same or closely related. The repertoire of solo instruments played for amusement, such as the sansa or the raft-zither, generally consists of dance songs. The most energetic dances are found in the forest area, while those in the north tend to be more restrained, a possible result of Islamic influence. Dancers frequently wear rankle on their arms or legs which are sounded rhythmically in time with the dance, and women frequently play gourd-rattles in more southern areas. Masquerades frequently perform quite elaborate dances, a notable feat in the sometimes cumbersome costumes.

  • European [i.e. Christian] musical traditions were imported in the 19th century but seem to be melded with musical styles brought by ex-Sierra Leoneans (descendants of freed slaves who became entrepreneurs along the coast). Some instruments associated with Christianity in Nigeria, such as the frame-drum, seem to reflect New World influence. On the coast, older Anglican churches still reproduce faithfully an English style of service, but in general even established churches use African instruments in services. A typical ensemble consists of the frame-drum, the gourd net-rattle, the large struck pot, and the smaller hand-held struck pot. Typically these instruments have spread from the coast, and remain alien to the cultures of people who play them. There is a lively tradition of writing church music among academic composers, while oral hymn composition flourishes in some communities in the south.

    The other aspect of mission culture relevant to music was the destructive prohibition of any type of performance associated with ‘paganism’. During the early colonial period, converts were discouraged from taking part in any ceremonies that seemed to have non-Christian overtones. In some areas, masquerades and instruments were physically burnt, and even today it is not uncommon to come across Christians who eschew even secular dancing and music. These stern prohibitions must in part be responsible for the large number of independent churches, most of which actively encourage the use of traditional musical instruments.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dulcimers/"Squirrel Heads and Gravy"

Copied from the email message I sent out tonight to people on my Prairieland Dulcimer Strings and New Salem dulcimer email lists, so I don't lose the information on what has become my favorite fiddle tune that I garnered from the Irish website cited below. Along with the information I summarized in the message, it has the tune in standard notation (in Gmaj) and an online forum with comments on songs, barbecued or stewed squirrel, "tree rats" and a cover of the song by the Piney Creek Weasels. Much too good to lose.

Hi everybody --

Two events coming up:

1. Our regular monthly meeting of the Prairieland Dulcimer Strings at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, at Atonment Lutheran Church. (Some exciting news, well, I think it's exciting, below.)

2. The Traditional Music Festival, which everybody calls the "Bluegrass Festival," at New Salem Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 8-9. Several of us from the Prairieland Dulcimers group will be there Satuday from 10 or 10:30 a.m.

Up at the Dickson Mounds gathering today, which was a small but very nice dulcimer festival, Mike Anderson gave me permission to copy the tab to "Squirrel Heads and Gravy" in his book for the Prairieland group. It's a wonderful fiddle tune, in spite of the title (or maybe because of it. Mike says his dulcimer kids think it's really gross and therefore love it)! Composed in the 1970s by an old-time fiddle player named Chris Germain, who made it up as sort of a goof on old-time fiddle tunes. More about it on an Irish traditional music website called The Session. Link at


It's usually played in G, and I learned it in DGD tuning, but Mike has tabbed it out in D for DAD tuning. A very lively, toe-tapping tune that is in the public domain (apparently Germain didn't copyright it) and is rapidly going into the oral tradition. I have a version of it played on a Galax-style dulcimer on a CD featuring bands at the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Va., three or four years ago. [It's also on The Family Album CD by the Wright Family, which I forgot to mention.]

-- Pete

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Career advice for journalism students

Cross-posted to all my blogs.

Found while surfing The San Francisco Chronicle's website SFGate, a "30 piece" by outdoors writer Paul McHugh with a bit of advice for any young people considering making journalism a career." He sums it up in three words:
Go for it!
The column, which ran in the print edition Thursday, was McHugh's last. He's retiring after 22 years on the outdoors beat.

"I'm about to fold my tent and take a hike," said McHugh. "And yes, I do mean that literally."

Like many journalists, McHugh said he's proudest of the stories that exposed abuses and helped correct them:
One great part of a newspaper job is that it awards permission to ask questions and seek answers. I've focused on trying to wield that power well, particularly while facing folks who didn't seem inclined to answer. This job hasn't been only about fun; I've striven to address real resource and public-access issues.

On a few occasions, I've been able to perform investigative work that's at the heart of our journalistic mission. I broke up a cabal of the heedless and malfeasant, helping Asilomar become a well-managed funding source for our state parks department. I ushered an abusive administrator out the door of the California State Parks Foundation, and helped that organization to revive. Fighting for the public felt fabulous. If any of you young folks out there should feel tempted to join the right honorable crusade of journalism, here's my best advice: Go for it! You are needed. Especially if you have the insight and multimedia skills to help journalism re-invent itself for this new century.
McHugh says, "Humanity's age of exploration, of adventure and of existential challenge is far from over," even though the present isn't very inspiring. Again, his advice sums up in three words: Go for it! He adds:
History's overarching lesson, as far as I can tell, is that a time of ease ought to be used in steady preparation for times of hardship or calamity ahead - which will come to us in their turn, as surely as sunrise. If periods of ease are used only to grow soft and indolent, then after calamity returns, you'll have to shoulder more blame than you might want.
Something worth thinking about.

But what's a "30 piece?"

Back in the days when newspapers received their news over the telegraph, the custom grew up of keying in "30" at the end of a transmission. So "30" came to stand for the end of the story, and a "30 piece" came to stand for a writer's last bylined column. Nobody ever types "30" at the end of a story anymore (except occasionally an overeager public relations intern ending their first press release), but it's a bit of nostalgia that still lingers. Like this:

-- 30 --