Tuesday, August 28, 2007

HUM 223: Music and structure of a fiddle tune

If you read music, you can follow this simplified version of "Soldier's Joy" while I play a sound file in class. If you have the 2nd (old) edition of our textbook, you'll find similar music with the analysis on pages 14 and 15. Look at the music, and you'll be able to see the structure of the tune. It won't be exactly note-for-note the same as what you hear, but it'll be close enough. That's the way oral tradition works. It isn't exact, but it's close enough:

Notice how the low part (or "strain") is repeated. Old-time fiddlers also call this the "A Part." Notice also how there's a lot of repetition within the low part. That first phrase (the first two and a half measures) is played three time, and the low part is completed with a phrase that leads into the second part.

After the low part is played twice, it's time for the high part or "B Part," also played two times. Notice the way the first phrase in the high part (the first two measures) is also repeated, with some variations, and the whole thing resolves into something that sounds like the end of the low part, or Part A. An old-time string band could keep sawing away on a fiddle tune by repeating Part A twice, Part B twice, Part A twice, Part B twice ... and so on, all night long if they had to. It's repetitious, but repetitious is something you want if you're playing for a square dance or something.

Now, if you don't read music and skipped over what I just wrote above, go back and read it anyway. You'll be able to hear the structure of the tune, the repeated phrases, too. In fact, old-time fiddle players didn't read music. They played by ear.

If you don't get it on first hearing, you can follow the link that says "Click here to hear 'Soldier's Joy,'" and you'll open a MIDI file (one of those annoying sound files that beep out the bare bones of a tune) that you can listen to while you look at the music.

This is an important point. The AABB structure (so called because each part, or strain, repeats twice) of "Soldier's Joy" is basic to fiddle tunes, ballads, band music, church hymns and popular songs until well into the 20th century.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

HUM 223: New Orleans scene after Katrina / READ!

Will the New Orleans music scene ever get back to what it was before Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005? Probably not, says an article in this morning's Washington Post. Read it (and read it now because The Post doesn't archive stories on its website forever). The spirit of the music will live on, but an awful lot has been lost. This story suggests how much.

Here's the the main point of the story, by staff writer Teresa Wiltz:
Nearly 4,000 New Orleans musicians were sent scattering after Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005. Many of them have been trying to return ever since. Today the soul of the city -- its rich musical legacy-- is at risk.

"Everything is shrinking," says David Freedman, general manager of WWOZ-FM, a public radio station in the city. "In the clubs, you get the impression that all's back to normal. When you start scratching the surface, it's smoke and mirrors.

"So many musicians have not come back. How many can we lose before we lose that dynamic? To what degree do we just become a tourist theme park?"

By industry insiders' estimates, a third of the city's musicians [...] have found a way back home for good. Another third, like Lumar LeBlanc of the brass band Soul Rebels, are doing what he calls "the double Zip code thing," parachuting into town for gigs and then heading back to temporary homes in Houston, Atlanta, Los Angeles. The final third, like blind bluesman Henry Butler, stuck in Denver, have yet to make it back.

Among the double Zip-coders is Ivan Neville, singer, songwriter, keyboardist, son of Aaron. His mom's house was washed away. She passed in January. His dad settled near Nashville. Neville relocated to Austin, jetting in and out of New Orleans a couple times a month. As for making a permanent move back home?

"I don't see it," Neville, 48, says between sets at the Maple Leaf in the city's Uptown section. "Not in the near future. The spirit of New Orleans is alive. But it will never be the same again."
Wiltz notes that high schools lost their musical instruments, and 40 percent of their students. "With the loss of schools comes the loss of teaching jobs, work that musicians counted on to pay the rent between gigs," she adds. "With the loss of students comes the loss of a future generation of musicians."

I'm cross-posting this story to my advanced journalism blog, too, because it's so well written. See how Wiltz conveys the spirit of a little club in the 9th Ward, the part of the city hit hardest by the 2005 flooding:
But the hardest thing to preserve is something that can't be purchased. It is that which New Orleanians so desperately want to preserve: the feel of the city, that NOLA mojo, the likes of which can be found in Bullets, a crowded little Mid-City joint. Inside, trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his band, the Barbecue Swingers, are jammed against the window. A steady stream of sports is playing on the TV, but no one pays much attention.

In spirit, Bullets is as far from the tourist-laden French Quarter as you can get. Here, it's buckets of Miller Lite and chicken wings served alongside Ruffins's gritty, greasy swinging "trad jazz" -- traditional jazz. The crowd is more boomer than youthful, with seasoned souls sporting tees that read "We Survived Hurricane Katrina" and "New Orleans: Proud to Call It Home." A grizzled gent leans over a newcomer, slyly uttering the post-Katrina pickup line du jour: "I really want to show you the Ninth Ward."

As the sun sets, a man comes in peddling homemade tamales; another hawks cellphone covers and disposable cameras. Tattooed white kids arrive, while a contingent of Creole matrons stands in the center of the room, arms folded, looking just a little bit aloof. Until they start to dance as one, getting down and dirty with the beat.

A man scratches away on a washboard as band members sing in Creole and English, catcalling and ululating. Everybody, it seems, knows the words, and they sing along, loud and strong, filling the tiny club with a sense of goose-bump-raising communion.

I cry Hey mama

In the morning time


"Only in New Orleans," Ruffins chants, laughing and laughing. "Only in New Orleans."
Wiltz doesn't explain how she happened to hear the "pickup line du jour." Maybe she doesn't have to.

When it comes to American music, New Orleans is the cradle. It's the Garden of Eden. It's where it all began. Wiltz' story conveys that, and in a few words -- a well chosen quote -- she conveys how much was lost in Hurrican Katrina.
This is the city that spawned Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson and Sidney Bechet, Randy Newman and Master P -- not to mention a long line of famous musical families: the Marsalises, the Nevilles, the Batistes, the Toussaints.

Folks like to brag that New Orleans is the northernmost tip of the Caribbean, a sentiment that has little to do with geography. It's a sensibility, evident in the food, the culture, in the French and Spanish surnames, in the old folks who cling to Creole, an Africanized French patois.

New Orleanians have always celebrated the mixing of genes, the blending of races and cultures into a potent ancestral gumbo. All this informs the music here, marinating it in nostalgia and a sense of defiant joy. New Orleanians are peculiarly tied to place, ever cognizant of history.

Drive by Congo Square, and without fail, a local will remind you that it was here that the slaves played their music on Sundays, drumming away their worries, and where a slave could earn enough extra money to buy freedom. Where the Creole orchestras played in brass band concerts -- many of whose members were the black sons of rich white fathers who sent them to Europe to be educated.

"In New York, you learn jazz, you learn the blues," Paul Sanchez says. "In New Orleans, you're born into it. Baby comes out the womb chasing the rhythm."

He's waxing lyrical as he tools around the Lower Ninth Ward, cruising in his green minivan.

"I tell you, this place is magic," Sanchez says. "I say this with sadness in my voice."
In another interview, with more well chosen quotes from a 21-year-old "jazz-funk-rock-pop" musician named Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, she conveys what remains, how fragile it is and how important it is for the future. As you almost have to do in New Orleans these days, she approaches the future through the past:
When Katrina hit, Andrews was a 19-year-old wunderkind on break from touring with Lenny Kravitz. He fled with his family to Dallas, 10 crammed in his Volvo, wondering and worrying if other family members made it out, too.

He didn't stay away for long. New Orleans grounds him. Specifically, it is Faubourg Treme that feeds him -- reputed to be America's oldest black neighborhood, which nurtured the musical talents of the Rebirth Brass Band, 19th-century Creole classical composer Edmund Dede, Kermit Ruffins and Louis Prima. The neighborhood that nurtured Andrews.

Here, high-water marks along the wooden shotgun houses and shuttered nightclubs give mute testimony to the flood. Few residents returned, but today, under a highway overpass, against a backdrop of murals of long-gone jazz greats, a group of men gathers as it does every day, sitting on metal folding chairs, trying to reclaim a little bit of community. Most of them don't live here any longer.

"These," Andrews says, pointing at the men as he pulls up alongside them in his oversize SUV, "are the last that's left. This is the soul of the neighborhood."

He rolls down the window. "Hey, Dad. Do you need anything? You hungry?" His father, James, smiles at him, shakes his head.

This is where Trombone Shorty comes to touch base, to get his "laugh on," to run errands for his elders. To remind himself not to get a big head. To remind himself of the importance of reaching back, to pull along other musicians who aren't as fortunate as he.

"New Orleans made me who I am," Andrews says. "I can't leave it.

"I need New Orleans. And New Orleans needs me."
We have been talking and reading in class about tradition, and how cultural values including music can be handed down from generation to generation. Is that what's happening here?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

HUM 223: Folk, popular, art music

Here's some more on the terms we were throwing around in class Wednesday, from the 2nd edition instead of the 3rd (“Author’s Guide to the Panorama” xv-xvi) in our textbook American Music: A Panorama. [With a few of my own observations and opinions thrown in.] The definitions are a little more complete, and we'll want to refer to them as we go along.

Folk music. "... evolves within fairly close-knit homogeneous communities possessing a strong sense of group solidarity. It is music known to and enjoyed by a large proportion of the community, who identify it as 'their music,' made by and for themselves. Many of the members of the community … perform the music themselves, with varying degrees of skill." Used to be rural and geographically isolated, but this is no longer always true. Conventional in style. Catchy melodies. Often easy to sing. Emphasis is on the song and not the singer. Other the music has a purpose in daily life beyond making pretty sounds -- e.g. work songs, dance tunes, reglious music. In the past learned by oral tradition instead of written music, "but this must now include by extension radio, recordings, television, and film." Often the community is defined by ethnic identity. But not always -– e.g. protest songs, labor songs, other types of music sung by close-knit groups with a common purpose. A lot of sacred music started out as folk music.

Popular music. “… created for and enjoyed by the vast majority of the people, undefined by region. No specific ethnic background is requisite to fully appreciate or identify with it. It is primarily (though not exclusively) music for entertainment, and as such it makes only modest demands on its listeners’ musical knowledge and experience. It tends to adopt sounds from both folk and classical music that have become sufficiently familiar to the wider public.” Played by skilled professionals. [p. xvi] It's commercial, sold as sheet music in the old days, now radio, sound and video recordings. Is gospel popular music or folk music? Or both?

Art music (which the 2nd edition calls “classical”). Has been around longer than pop music, and includes music from earlier periods. Says Kingman (main author of the 2nd edition), “As cultivated music it rewards a certain degree of musical experience in the listener, though its devotees are not defined by any intellectual, social, economic, regional, or racial classification.” I like calling it “art music” instead of classical, as the 3rd edition does, because it includes both classical music and jazz. However, art music often uses techniques and conventions borrowed from classical music -- symphonies, concertos, operas, requiem Masses, etc. The online Wikipedia encyclopedia says art music “primarily refers to classical traditions (including contemporary as well as historical classical music forms), focuses on formal styles, invites technical and detailed deconstruction and criticism, and demands focused attention from the listener.” It also tends to demand a very highly skilled, totally focused performer (most of us can't sing opera). So are the members of a very good techno band classical musicans? Are they art musicians?

Jazz. Here’s what Kingman says about it: "Jazz is a special case. Emerging from African American roots (in both sacred and secular music) at the turn of the last century, it has become in my view arguably a form of classical music, despite the undoubted influence on popular music of jazz-related rhythms, styles, and orchestration. But it is a classical music set apart by virtue of its having retained certain identifying and obligatory stylistic traits (mainly rhythmic), and on being uniquely dependent upon, and shaped by, its traditional ingredient of improvisation."

See how they all kind of blur together? A good example is Charlie Patton’s “Spoonful Blues” that we heard Wednesday, which shows elements of all four categories. Probably most of what we hear in class will show a fusion of genres.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Ukranian choral folk music CDs, audio files

Recordings of choral folk music by a group in Ukraine called Drevo. A folkloric revival group, it has the sound Larry Gordon's and Patty Cuyler's Village Harmony and Northern Harmony youth choirs strive for. Since I'm posting links, I'll just link to Village Harmony too while I'm at it. I'm not sure I understand what all the websites are (although they're obviously selling CDs), so I'll just post links now and come back and sort it out later:

The first webpage I found with a description of Drevo while I was surfing around tonight. It has a link to a couple of CDs. I'll just quote:
Drevo brings back to light old traditions of Ukrainian village music , steeped in its own harmonies, scales and techniques.One thousand years ago with the ward of Christianity to Ukraine the culture on these grounds did not begin anew, but its new page was opened. Alongside with the partially kept prior archaic layers and on their basis, the Christianity has formed other original forms of culture, genres and styles.The influence of these processes on Ukrainian village music was especially expressive.

Drevo (founded in Kiev in 1979) has begun the movement for authentic reproduction of old traditional Ukrainian folk music. The art director of Drevo Eugeny Efremov is an ethnomusicologist, the candidate of an art criticism, senior lecturer of National musical aca-demy of Ukraine. The ensemble consists of the young scientists, who collect and investigate Ukrainian village music of different regions of the country for many years. Drevo recovers the material gathered in ethnographic expeditions without additional art processing, keeping its natural, original form.

Origen Music, an indie label from Ukraine. Again, I'll just quote:
Shortly after the break-up of the Soviet Union electronic new age music composer, musician, producer and sound engineer Alexsey Zakharenko from Kiev-Ukraine (his new age music and group ORIGEN are featured on this site) started recording the Eastern Orthodox church choral music. Earlier it was impossibly to do in the communist and atheistic Soviet Union. In 1995 he released the CD "All Night Vigil"- traditional church choral music of Kiev Pechersk Monastery. It was the first authentic church music CD in Ukraine. Later Alexsey Zakharenko founded Origen Music - Ukrainian indie label focused on recording of Russian and Eastern Orthodox church choral music, classical, electronic new age music and Ukrainian music.
After listening to it, I'm convinced. For Eastern European folkloric music (and not just the one group Drevo), this looks like the real deal.

Also, this: The first hit in the directory when I search keyword "Drevo" in Google, put up by something called Magnatune: Music downloads & licensing. It has streaming audio of the CD Christian Themes in Ukrainian Folk Songs with an announcer identifying the songs between tracks. But it has more than that. Again, I'll quote. Here's the blurb on Magnatune's gate page:
Listen to over 500 hand-picked complete albums. If you like what you hear, download an album for as little as $5 (you pick the price), or buy a real CD, or license our music for commercial use. You'll get MP3s & WAVs, and no copy protection (DRM), ever.
A lot of classical, especially early music. Jazz and blues, new age, electronica and other genres I don't even recognize. World music including not only Eastern Europe, dub, Asian, Arab, "funk jazz salsa rock from Argentina." A lot of "long tail" music. They deal directly with the artists. They promise: "No major labels: we have absolutely nothing to do with major labels or the RIAA." Worth finding out more about!