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.