Monday, November 30, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Scales in DADGAD': Celtic, church modes for acoustic guitar

An online primer "Celtic and Ambient Fingerstyle Guitar in DADGAD" by Canadian guitar player Simon Fox at A lot there for "D-for-dulcimer" folks (and, by extension, the other keys like G and A dorian we get into):
A lot has been written about modes. It's an open-ended topic that can easily get confusing and distracting from the actual goal of playing music. The first thing to say about modes, is that they are just scales. One of the modes is nothing more than the major scale, another is the natural minor scale. The others are variations created by altering various tones in the scale. Each mode has a distinct feel of its own, and a funky Greek name to go with it.
And this:
The modes provide a framework within which to think about note selection. In DADGAD this framework will generally be centered around the key of D initially. Players quickly familiarize themselves with the 3rd to control the major or minor tonality of a piece. However, there is great potential for variation among the other notes and without some kind of system, note selection becomes random. A single variation such as flattening the 6th in the D minor scale makes an enormous difference to the feel of a tune.
Worth studying. Also some good information, along with MIDI files, on chords. Again in DADGAD tuning.

Trio Mio: Kristine Heebøll, Nikolaj Busk and Jens Ulvsand

Kristine Heebøll on violin, Nikolaj Busk on piano and Jens Ulvsand on bouzouki.

"Rio Trio Mio" in concert in Malmö, Sweden, in August 2009

A link to the band's home page ...

Link to my earlier post (w/ interview in roots music eZine.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Let Erin Remember the Days of Old' - Thomas Moore

Says "writerpaul," who posted this soulful, meditative piano version to YouTube, "'Let Erin Remember the Days of Old' is written by Thomas Moore in 1808 with the music based on 'The Red Fox.' It is a beautiful, lilting Irish melody." That it is.

The air is also related to the Irish - and southern Appalachian - fiddle tune "The Red Haired Boy," usually played in A mixolydian. Here it is played by the Bluegrass & Old-Time String Band Ensemble in the ethnomusicology department at UCLA:

The tune is ancient and has variants all over the British Isles. There's also a lot of lore and legend connected with the different versions. Says Andrew Kuntz in the Fiddler's Companion:
RED HAIRED BOY, THE (An Giolla Ruad). AKA and see "The Duck Chewed/Chews Tobacco," “The First of May [3]," "Gilderoy [2]" (Ire.), "Giolla Rua" (Ire.), "Johnny Dhu," "The Little Beggarman" (Ire.), "The Little Beggar Boy," "An Maidrin Rua(dh)" (The Little Red Fox),” "The Old Soldier (with a Wooden Leg) [2]" (W.Va.), "Old Soldier," "The Red Haired Lad," "The Red Headed/Haired Irishman" (Ky.), "Wooden Leg" (W.Va.). Irish (originally), Scottish, English; Air or Hornpipe: American, Canadian; Reel or Breakdown. A Mixolydian. Standard. AABB (most versions): AA’BB’ (Moylan). 'Red Haired Boy' is the English translation of the Gaelic title "Giolla Rua" (or, Englished, "Gilderoy"), and is generally thought to commemorate a real-life rogue and bandit, however, Baring-Gould remarks that in Scotland the "Beggar" of the title is also identified with King James V. The song was quite common under the Gaelic and the alternate title "The Little Beggarman" (or "The Beggarman," "The Beggar") throughout the British Isles. For example, it appears in Baring-Gould's 1895 London publication Garland of Country Song and in The Forsaken Lover's Garland, and in the original Scots in The Scots Musical Museum. A similarly titled song, "Beggar's Meal Poke's," was composed by James VI of Scotland (who in course became James the I of England), an ascription confused often with his ancestor James I, who was the reputed author of the verses of a song called "The Jolly Beggar." The tune is printed in Bunting's 1840 A Collection of the Ancient Music of Ireland as "An Maidrin Ruadh" (The Little Red Fox). The melody is one of the relatively few common to fiddlers throughout Scotland and Ireland, and was transferred nearly intact to the American fiddle tradition (both North and South) where it has been a favorite of bluegrass fiddlers in recent times.


Bandits, fairies and the tune all come together in an Irish tale, representing the capricious results of humans coming in contact with fairy-induced music. In the tale “The Red Haired Boy” was played somewhat under duress by uilleann piper Donnchadh Ó Sé from Lóthar, one of the best pipers in the parish of Priory. Donnchadh came by some of his music from contact with the supernatural, a not uncommon claim, but this time with a twist. It seems that he and his brother were gathering seaweed at Faill an Mhada Rua when they heard beautiful ethereal music nearby; Dónall stood by, afraid, but Donnchadh followed the sounds up the cliff and was able to commit them to memory. Returning home he strapped himself into his pipes and played the melody he heard, but afterwards was stuck down ill, becoming bedridden for three months before recuperating. Each time he played the tune the same would happen—he would suffer, for illness always followed. One day Donnchadh had the ill fortune to meet with a ruffian, who evidently knew of the circumstance and demanded at the point of a pistol that the piper play the fairy tune. Donnchadh obligingly reached for his pipes, and soon found that the brute was ignorant of the music and so was able to placate him with “An Giolla Rua” (Breathnach, The Man and His Music, 1997, pg. 38.


Sources for notated versions: J.P. Fraley (Rush, Ky.) [Phillips]; learned from fiddler Padraig O’Keeffe by accordion player Johnny O’Leary (Sliabh Luachra region of the Cork-Kerry border) [Moylan]; fiddler Dawson Girdwood (Perth, Ottawa Valley, Ontario) [Begin]. Begin (Fiddle Music in the Ottawa Valley: Dawson Girdwood), 1985; No. 27, pg. 40. Krassen (Appalachian Fiddle), 1973; pg. 81. Messer (Anthology of Favorite Fiddle Tunes), 1980; No. 69, pg. 44. Miller & Perron (New England Fiddlers Repertoire), 1983; No. 132. Mitchell (Dance Music of Willie Clancy), 1983; 115. Moylan (Johnny O’Leary), 1994; No. 300, pg. 173. O'Neill (O’Neill’s Irish Music), 1915/1987; No. 356, pg. 173 (appears as "The Redhaired Lad"). O'Neill (Krassen), 1976; pg. 209. O'Neill (Music of Ireland: 1850 Melodies), 1903/1979; No. 1748, pg. 325. O'Neill (Dance Music of Ireland: 1001 Gems), 1907/1986; No. 921, pg. 157. Phillips (Traditional American Fiddle Tunes), 1994. pg. 196. Silberberg (Tunes I Learned at Tractor Tavern), 2002; pg. 127. Spandaro (10 Cents a Dance), 1980; pg. 34. Sweet (Fifer’s Delight), 1965/1981; pg. 77. Columbia C 33397, Dave Bromberg Band ‑ "Midnight on the Water" (1975). Sparton Records SP 210, “Ward Allen Presents Maple Leaf Hoedown, Vol. 2.” Smithsonian Folkways SFW CD 40126, Northern Spy – “Choose Your Partners!: Contra Dance & Square Dance Music of New Hampshire” (1999).


T:Red Haired Boy



S:Jay Ungar


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E2A2 (A>B) cd(e>f) e>c d2cde a2 b a>=g e>d(3cdc A2A2:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

HUM 223: schedule for the rest of the semester

Tuesday, Nov. 24 (today). I am handing out your final exam paper. It is a take-home exam, and you may complete it and turn it on to me at any time before the scheduled time for our exam (please see below for schedule). Save a copy to your hard drive, though.

Tuesday, Dec. 1 (the first class after Thanksgiving vacation). Your paper on your artist is due. Link here for the assignment sheet.

Week of Nov. 30-Dec. 4 we will watch "Godfathers and Sons" in class.

Thursday, Dec. 10 our final is scheduled from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Dawson 220. Link here for a copy of the questions. You may turn in your completed final at the beginning of the scheduled time or write it in Dawson 220 during exam period. Please give me the completed exam paper in person or email it to my account; if you don't receive an email response from me, plan on bringing in a copy to make sure it doesn't fall through the cracks!

Monday, November 23, 2009

HUM 223 - final

HUM 223 - Final Exam – Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009

Answer each of the three essay questions below; No. 1 is worth 50 points, and Nos. 2A and 2B are worth 25 points each. This is an open-book test, so in grading it I will take into account the amount of detail you use to support your answers as well as their clarity, correctness and relevance to the questions. Specific detail is very important; the more detail you cite to support your points, and the more logically you use it to prove your points, the better your grade. It’s that simple. So be specific. I am giving it to you now so you have the option of writing it early; you also have the option of writing it in Dawson 220 during the scheduled period, 1:30-3:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10.

Essay #1 (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, fronted by Elvis Presley. 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, which occurs when an art form crosses over from a minority to a majority culture. More crossover occurred when white British musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones adopted the Mississippi delta and Chicago blues style of African American artists and made it their own in the 1960s and 70s. And the music crosses generational boundaries when younger artists like Corey Harris search back to the origins of blues and reflect them in other forms of music including jazz, rock and hip hop. How well, in your opinion, does blues transcend cultural, racial and generational boundaries? What is lost when the music crosses over cultural and generational boundary lines? What is gained? Be specific.

Short essay #2A (25 points). What have you learned in HUM 223 that surprised you? What was your overall impression of the blues before you took the course? Has that impression changed as a result of your reading, class discussion and research for the course? What specific thing (or things) surprised you the most? Why? What do you think was the most important point? As always, be specific. Cite specific evidence - in this case, while discussing what you learned in the course. Your grade on the essay will depend on the specific evidence you cite.

Short essay #2B (25 points). As you wrote your research paper, did you expect to learn when you started? What did you find out from your research that was unexpected? In other words, what surprised you? What new insights did you gain? What did you learn about the history of American popular music? Where did the musician(s) you studied fit into the development of blues, jazz, rock, hip hop or other forms of American popular music? How did your appreciation of their music change from doing the paper?

Friday, November 20, 2009

'Guds Søn har gjort mig fri' in Danske Salmebog / and Grieg, 'Four Hymns' (Op. 74)

Den Danske Salmebog Online No. 514 w/ MIDI files. Cf. Edvard Grieg's setting of the tune in op. 74 (Four Hymns) No. 2.

Tekst: Hans Adolph Brorson (1765)
Mel.: Norsk folkemelodi 19 årh.
Guds Søn har gjort mig fri
fra Satans tyranni,
fra syndestand,
fra lovens band,
fra dødens skræk og Helved-brand. ...
Danish and English text available online at The Lied and Art Song Texts Page ...
God's son has made me free
from Satan's tyranny,
from sin and shame,
from earthly blame,
from death's domain and hellish flame. ...
(Line breaks adjusted to conform to Salmebog.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'Herre Jesus Christ! Min Frelser Du Er' [UPDATED Nov. 2012]

Please note (added Nov. 2012): Kirsten Bråten Berg sings this hymn to a folk melody from her home district of Setesdal. The text, by 16th-century Danish priest and educator Hans. Chr. Sthen of Helsingør and Malmø. It is more commonly sung to the melody collected by Ludvig Lindeman cited below.

Kirsten Bråten Berg & Hallvard T. Bjørgum & Eilert Hægeland on album Jultid [Christmas] (1991). These notes on the song are on the Oslo Philharmonic website:

Music by Folketone Frå Setesdal
Lyrics by H.Chr. Sthen
There's a Danish text printed on line under title "Bøn" [prayer] on The Lied and Art Song Texts Page. First verse:
Herre Jesus Christ!
Min Frelser Du er,
paa Dig jeg haaber alene,
jeg troer paa Dig,
forlad ei mig,
saa elendelig,
mig trøster dit Ord det Rene.
Last verse is also the same as Berg's. I couldn't follow the middle verses. Danish text here is assigned to Thomas Kingo (1634-1703), but the Lutheran Hymnal Online (1941) assigns it to Hans C. Sthen (1544-1610), and prints it with a tune by Ludvig Lindeman. It's discussed on a weblog called A Fort Made of Books in the course of an overall appraisal of Lindeman by blogger Robbie F., a Missouri Synod Lutheran from St. Louis who is ever on the lookout for "dubious theology" and "pietistic pitfalls inherent in some of the most popular hymns sung to Lindeman tunes" but who still appreciates Lindeman's folk melodies. He says, "It is such a beautiful prayer of trust in Christ and His Word that one should not be surprised to find it crossing ethnic barriers to appear in such German-Lutheran books as The Lutheran Hymnal and the Wisconsin Synod's Christian Worship ... And that's not even taking into account what Lindeman's witty, prayerful tune brings to the table" [citations omitted]. Robbie F. is right. The tune is witty, prayerful. But I think I like Berg's Setesdal folk tune better. Perhaps it's her singing, though.

See also the MIDI file and words in the Lutheran Hymnal Online (scroll down to line "Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior blest ... 353 ... Lyrics" / (by Hans C. Sthen, 16th Century, trans. Harriet R. Spaeth, 1845-1925) Wikimedia Commons has an emblem (see below) for Hans Christensen Sthen (1544-1610), Danish hymn writer of Roskilde.

A short bio and list of tunes on Wikipedia's Danish-language bio of Sthen. As follows: 'Du, Herre Krist, Min Frelser est med "Egen melodi". I Psalmebog for Kirke og Hjem (1912) nr 106. Tidligere publiceret i Kingos (1699), Pontoppidans (1740), Guldbergs (1778) og Roskilde Konvents Psalmebog (1855).' Herre Jesus Christ, min Frelsere du æst i En Liden Vandrebog (1588). I Psalmebog for Kirke og Hjem (1912) nr 52 O, Gud ske Lov til evig Tid og synges til samme melodi som Apostlene sad i Jerusalem. Den blev publiceret i Roskilde Konvents ene Tillæg (1873 eller 1890). publiceret i "O Jesu Krist, till dig førvisst" 1591, i svensk oversættelse af Sigfrid Aronius Forsius, fra Helsingfors år 1614. Den er nr. 552 i den svenske salmebog fra 1986 med 5 vers.

English words as follows from 1941 Missouri Synod hymnal, which notes (in the accompanying companion) the hymn has been a favorite in Scandinavia:
"Lord Jesus Christ, My Savior Blest"
by Hans C. Sthen, 16th Century
Translated by Harriet R. Spaeth, 1845-1925

1. Lord Jesus Christ,
My Savior blest,
My Hope and my Salvation!
I trust in Thee;
Deliver me
From misery;
Thy Word's my consolation.

2. As Thou dost will,
Lead Thou me still
That I may truly serve Thee,
My God, I pray,
Teach me Thy way,
To my last day
In Thy true faith preserve me.

3. Most heartily
I trust in Thee;
Thy mercy fails me never.
Dear Lord, abide;
My Helper tried,
Thou Crucified,
From evil keep me ever.

4. Now henceforth must
I put my trust
In Thee, O dearest Savior.
Thy comfort choice,
Thy word and voice,
My heart rejoice
Despite my ill behavior.

5. When sorrows rise,
My refuge lies
In Thy compassion tender.
Within Thine arm
Can naught alarm;
Keep me from harm,
Be Thou my strong Defender.

6. I have Thy Word,
Christ Jesus, Lord;
Thou never wilt forsake me.
This will I plead
In time of need.
Oh, help me speed
When troubles overtake me!

7. Grant, Lord, I pray,
Thy grace each day
That I, Thy Law revering,
May live with Thee
And happy be
Before Thy throne appearing.

Hymn #353
The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Ps. 119:170
Author: Hans C. Sthen, c. 1578
Translated by: Harriet R. Spaeth, 1898
Titled: "Herre Jesu Krist! Min Freiser du est"
Composer: Ludvig M. Lindeman, 1971
Tune: "Herre Jesu Krist"

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

HUM 223: Links - and reading assignments - for 'Red, White & Blues' video

Today and Thursday we'll watch a video of the TV show "Red, White and Blues" directed by Mike Figgis. It's about how the blues traveled to the United Kingdom (mostly England) and the English bands brought it back to America. Like the other videos in Martin Scorsese's Public Broadcasting series "The Blues," it has a background Web site and - like the other videos - I'm giving you a copy of the credits so you can spell everybody's names right when you write your final exams. (Capice?) The introduction says:
During the 1960s, the UK was the location for a vibrant social revolution. London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle all had their own music scenes. Musicians from Belfast and Glasgow moved to London to be part of the club scene there.

The post-war traditional jazz and folk revival movements produced the fertile ground for a new kind of blues music — entirely influenced by the authentic black blues of the USA, and, for the most part, entirely ignored by the good citizens of the US. It was new in the sense that certain key musicians took the blues and molded it in an entirely personal way to fit the new awareness of the UK in the sixties.

Importantly, for the most part they continued to pay homage to the originators of the music and to make a huge global audience aware of the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Freddie King, etc. ...
You can - and should! - read the rest for yourself.

Speaking of what you can - and should - read, there's also an interview with director Mike Figgis on the Web site. Says Figgis, who is white and who played with a British blues band for a while:
What characterized that period, which is the middle and late sixties, early seventies, was a very open attitude toward music and culture, and toward race, as well. So the idea that, for example, in a place like Britain, which was far enough removed from the problems of race as they were experienced in America and the problems with blues musicians there, you could listen to a very eclectic range of music, from, say, Ray Charles, to a guitarist like Steve Cropper, or to the Beatles, and think of them as coming from the same idea. There wasn't a wall between those cultures.
He has a lot more to say, as well. You should read it (but you already knew that). Oh, let's just make the Web site a reading assignment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bukkene Bruse - 'Eit barn er født i Betlehem' (and psalmodikon tab for 'I denne søde juletid')

Christmas song to a traditional Norwegian tune, with lyrics translated from Latin (14th century). Arranged by Bjørn Ole Rasch. Bukkene Bruse are: Arve Moen Bergset (vocal, hardingfele / Hardanger fiddle, fiddle/violin), Annbjørg Lien (hardingfele / Hardanger fiddle, nyckelharpa), Steinar Ofsdal (flutes), and Bjørn Ole Rasch (keyboards). Nynorsk translation by Bernt Støylen Nynorsk kultursentrum website. Live broadcast on NRK-TV, 2002.

Also from NRK broadcast of songs on Bukkene Bruse's album "Den fagraste rosa" (Grappa, 2001):

Psalmodikon sifferskrift for "I denne sode juletid" (also "Et lidet barn saa listelig" to the same tune) in Ole Lindeman's Coral-Melodier for Psalmodicon (1865).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Norwegian Christmas album at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem

At the top of my Christmas list (or was, till I found out I could download it on ... and, if any Humanities 223 students stray into this post, an example of just how far the influence of African American music has gotten, and how deep it goes.

Last year Norwegian vocalist Solveig Slettahjell and pianist Tord Gustavsen recorded a CD of mostly Norwegian traditional Christmas songs - and an African American spiritual - on Norway's Kirkelig Kulturverksted label called Natt I Bethlehem [Night in Bethlehem] at the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, where the head of the Norwegian record label Kirkelig Kulturverksted arranged the Christmas concert "in the besieged town of Bethlehem" on the West Bank. The music is peaceful, meditative ... and poignant, if you think about the circumstances. Writes Eyal Hareuveni for the eZine All About Jazz:
Sletthajell performs with an intensity and devotion that create an immediate and intimate emotional impact. The warmth and depth of her voice and her emotional intelligence are both simply perfect. Gustavsen, who has accompanied other Norwegian vocalists such as Siri Gjaere, Silje Nergaard and Kristin Asbjornsen, is a trusty partner, framing the traditional songs in spare and modest yet memorable arrangements. The duo recorded the 13 songs - traditional Norwegian Christmas songs and other songs associated with the season - after the Franciscan monks retired for the night, using the exceptional acoustics of the church. Gustavsen used a 1882 Steinway piano belonging to the local conservatory, and later on trumpet player Sjur Miljeteig, a member of Slettahjell's Slow Motion Quintet, added his part.
Haveuveni adds, "The tone of most of the songs is meditative and contemplative, slow-motioned as Slettahjell prefers, allowing the sheer beauty of each utterance and note to shine forth. The songs embrace the listener with gentle tranquility and warm the soul, regardless of any particular religious conviction." Judging by the brief audio clips on the Kirkelig Kulturverksted website, he's right. Sletthajel's voice is jazzy, bluesy, passionate. The singer I know who comes close to the heartfelt intensity she brings to sacred music is Iris Dement, but I hear more jazz and funk in Sletthajel's intonation. Her version of "Poor Little Jesus," the African American spiritual, is stunning. Especially when you listen to the words and think about how embattled the Christian community in Bethlehem has been in recent years. Sletthajel is on YouTube, singing a very different song of the season:

HUM 223 (optional!): Koncert z věznice Mírov / Blues in a Czech prison

Lubos Bena, a Slovak guitarist, and Matej Ptaszek, a Czech harmonica player and singer

Emily Yoffe,
"their performance was an uncanny channeling of Muddy Waters, Lead Belly, and other Delta greats. The rest of my group found them bizarre, but I loved the creative passion of two white men from Central Europe imagining themselves to be black musicians in the American South 60 years ago."

Their home page links to a video clip of their concert in Mirov prison in the Czech Republic. "The majority of the songs on this CD were composed by African American musicians from the south in America in prisons while sentenced to hard labour or while toiling in cotton plantations during slavery. The imaginery circle was closed when the songs literally returned to where they were born – to the authentic blues conservatory, where Bena and Ptaszek initiated spontaneous final jamming with the prison band Work Therapy."

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Misc. notes: Religiøse Folketonar CD; Sinikka Langeland concert, tour to promote new Bach CD; and program notes on Stjerneklang

Norwegian singer Sinikka Langeland on tour this fall with organist Kåre Nordstoga and viola player Lars Anders Tomter to promote a CD "Maria: Folk hymns of J.S. Bach." It is her fourth CD

Langeland is from the Finnskogen (Finnish woods) section of Norway, plays 15- and 39-string Finnish kanteles. Folk, especially religious folketoner, jazz and classical. Extended clip in concert at the Kennedy Center Sept. 27, 2007, backed by Markku Uunaskari on drums. The blurb:
Sinikka Langeland sings and also plays the 39-string concert kantele (Finnish table harp). She intertwines folksong, literature, and Nordic jazz to play songs that focus on the relationship between people and nature as it is expressed in traditional and modern poetry.
Also: Link here to an interview from the Washington Express during her 2007 tour and her home page at ... and the playlist from Stjerneklang by Sinikka Langeland Og Andreas Liebig and the CD Roots blurb, which is more informative.

A three-page PDF document (in Norwegian) on organist Andreas Liebig's website. He is organist at the cathedral in Oslo.

DE GAMLE JULESALMENE - Sinikka Langeland

Religiøse Folketonar by Ole Olsen Fykse Audio clips on Yahoo! Music website. Good blurb on CD Roots' Tal:ik records webpage (scroll down). "Born in 1879 in Fykse, Kvam on the north side of the Hardanger fjord in Norway. This is a collection of religious songs, sung a capella by Fyske in various locations, that exemplify the church music of the region form the early part of the 20th century. Excellent notes in English and Norwegian. " Field recording.

CD Roots and Tal:ik are both worth studying a little.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

HUM 223: Here's a highly recommended way to outline your papers. It's my idea, and I think it's brilliant. Capice?

Linked to my faculty page under Writing and Editing Links, there's a tip sheet on "How to write a reflective response paper on music" that will help you lift your Humanities 223 paper up out of C+/B- range. I highly recommend it. Of course I do: I wrote it, so I think it's brilliant. It's based on Louise Rosenblatt's theory of "reader response," if you care about things like that. (And you should, if you plan to go on to teach elementary school. It's a great way of teaching English!) Rosenblatt says:
The special meaning, and more particularly, the submerged associations that these words and images [in a literary work] have for the individual reader will largely determne what the work communicates to him. The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment, and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his response to the peculiar contribution of the text.
It's just like that for music or any other art form we experience: We create the meaning it holds for us.

So over the years I've worked up a formula that helps students get into a work of art. That's what my tip sheet "How to Write a Reflective Response on Music (or literature of any other work of art)" is all about. It's designed to start by focusing on your experience of the music, but to move on from there into analyzing the music. You'll notice the "three questions" we keep asking, and you'll notice some elaboration on the questions by a lit professor from Georgia State (which is where I got the questions from). Below that, I've got a kind of outline. And I've linked to a sample essay I wrote - well, started - when I was still teaching English. You don't have to use my outline, but I hope you'll try it. It's helped students write some pretty good stuff over the years. Here's one example from The Sleepy Weasel, BenU-Springfield's campus magazine. And here's another example, also from The Weasel. Did I mention there's extra credit available if your paper is good enough for the magazine. A lot of our best stuff comes from papers written for class.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

HUM 223: Corey Harris, online sources ... your papers ... and crossing the boundaries of art and culture

One thing I want all us to do now is to focus on what musicians say about their music ... let's listen for it in the remaining videos we watch, and I hope you'll find it as you research your papers that are due after Thanksgiving. I'm looking for lots of quotes from musicians talking about their music. Capice? Where will you find this stuff? Interviews, mostly. Articles in Rolling Stone and other magazines. Benedictine's Becker Library has some, and you'll find more on line.

For example, blues singer Corey Harris isn't as well known as giants like B.B. King and the late John Lee Hooker. But there's a good profile of Harris on the website. ("Afropop," of course, is African popular music (well, duh, that's why they call it that) or music like Harris' that's heavily influenced by the contemporary music scene in Africa. It has some good quotes from Harris. Like this one:
I want to reach people in other countries. I want to say something that is about my experience as a black person who has been in other places where black people live and observed how they do their thing. But I want to make it so that other people can feel it and understand it and say, 'Oh, this relates to me too.'
And this:
A lot of the walls that we put up between one another--we're conditioned to do that. ... It's in the media and in our education for us to look at all the differences and then conclude that there are these huge walls between us. But I really feel that as humans we all have one soul. We got one heart. We got one blood. As the world's getting smaller, we've really got to learn about each other, and part of that is knowing where you're coming form. So I think that by trying to figure out what's inside of me musically and the heritage that I've got, that I can better live with others.
Read the profile for yourself and notice how I find quotes for the blog? You can do that, too, in your papers! Right? I thought so.

So ... what does all this have to do with the themes we've been following in HUM 223? How does a common musical language allow musicians to transcend cultural boundaries?

In 2007 Corey Harris won a $250,000 "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation. He also received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Bates College, where he graduated. And he gave a speech at commencement you may (or may not) find interesting. (An uplifting speech is part of the deal when you get an honorary degree, and this one's from a guy who's managed to make a living doing something he loves. Might be worth a listen.) In 2008 he spent a week on campus as a visiting artist. Here's what his teachers at Bates said about him, and what he said to the students. It's a publicity video, but he also has some important things to say about his music:

Listen to what Harris says to the students. Does he transcend the boundaries of musical genre?

Harris continues to explore heritage and cross boundaries. Here he is, below, a concert this fall at Duke University fronting the 5x5 Band playing "Catfish Blues." It's a blues classic, but do you hear the rock in this performance? the jazz? or is there a mixture of all three? Do you hear just a little whiff of reggae, too? How does music transcend the boundaries of genre as well as culture? Just askin'. This performance features Harris on vocals and guitar, Peanut Whitley on keyboard (and musical direction), Ralph DuJour on bass, Ken Joseph on drums and Gordon "Saxman" Jones on saxophone.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

HUM 223: Just so you don't forget to ask yourself ...

It's all music. -- Duke Ellington

Here are the questions I want you to consider as you watch "Feel Like Going Home," Martin Scorsese's PBS show about a search by bluesman Corey Harris of Charlottesville, Va., for the heritage of his music:
  • Does Harris communicate a passion for his music? When he meets the old bluesmen in Mississippi and speaks with musicians in West Africa, is he interested in music? In art? In history and heritage? Or maybe in "all of above?"
  • How do you respond to the music you hear? Whether it's Harris jamming with the old-timers or the West Africans? What does the music remind you of? How is it similar to, or different from, genres you listen to? In other words, ask yourself the three questions I keep asking you.
The two "Feel Like Going Home" questions are from last week's blog, when we started to watch the video. Here's a third:
  • As you watch "Feel Like Going Home," you hear music played by people of different generations and different cultures, even different continents. While it all relates to blues, the music is also quite varied. To what extent do these musicians, young and old from U.S. and from Africa, share a common musical language? Does the music enable them to communicate? If so, how?
Just askin' ... for now. But be forewarned: These are the questions I'll be asking myself as I make out the final exam.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

HUM 223: Video questions, 'Feel Like Going Home'

From now to the end of the semester, we'll watch some of Martin Scorsese's Public Broadcasting series on the blues, beginning with "Feel Like Going Home," a show that Scorsese directed about blues singer Corey Harris' search for the roots of the music in rural Mississippi and in Africa. Later we will watch "Red, White and Blues," about what English rock musicians of the 1960s and 1970s learned from Mississippi bluesmen, and "Godfathers and Sons," about the blues' legacy among hip hop musicians. In his introduction, Scorsese says of the series in general, "... it seemed like a natural progression to ask a number of directors whose work I admired, each with a deep connection to the music, to make his own personal exploration of blues history. By having each of them come at the subject from his own unique perspective, I knew we'd come away with something special, not a dry recitation of facts, but a genuinely passionate mosaic." And this, "The teachers from whom I learned the most were always the most passionate, the ones with a deeply personal connection to the material."

What I want us to focus on is how - or whether - a shared passion for the music allows artists to bridge cultural gaps and create something new that changes as it crosses cultural boundaries. Here are some questions to think about as you watch all three videos. (They're from last year's final exam, but don't let that scare you. I still think they're pretty good questions, and they do sum up what I think is important about HUM 223.) Here are the questions:
In the TV show Godfathers and Sons, Chicago rap artist Common said, “Hip hop is definitely a child of the blues, and I think you’ve got to know the roots to really grow [as a musician]. It’s like knowing your parents, it’s like knowing your culture so you can be proud of that culture and take it to the world and say, ‘Hey, this is where we’re taking it. We’re utilizing the origins of this to take it somewhere else. We’re paying homage, and we’re taking it to a new place.’” In each of the three videos about the blues we watched this semester, we saw artists searching back to the origins of blues and reflecting them in other forms of music including jazz, rock and hip hop. How did bluesman Corey Harris’ search for musical origins in Feel Like Going Home differ from that of the English rock singers like Eric Clapton featured in Red, White and Blues and mentioned in the book Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues? How was it the same? How do Harris’ and the English rockers’ quests compare to the hip hop artists featured in Godfathers and Sons? How have the music and the cultural values of musicians from Africa, rural Mississippi and the Chicago of Muddy Waters’ day been reflected in the blues and contemporary popular music?
As you watch the first installment, which Scorsese directed himself, ask yourself:
  • Does Corey Harris communicate a passion for his music? When he meets the old bluesmen in Mississippi and speaks with musicians in West Africa, is he interested in music? In art? In history and heritage? Or maybe in "all of above?"
  • How do you respond to the music you hear? Whether it's Harris jamming with the old-timers or the West Africans? What does the music remind you of? How is it similar to, or different from, genres you listen to? In other words, ask yourself the three questions.
We'll have more questions for you later, and your final exam will be based on your response to these last three videos. So be sure to come to class this month and the first week of December!

More on "Feel Like Going Home." In his introduction Scorsese says:
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.
You can - and should! - read more on the linked page. Scorsese ends by saying:
People like to think of the great blues singers as raw, instinctive, with talent and genius flowing from their fingertips. But John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and so many other amazing talents, more names than I have space for here, are some of the greatest artists America has ever had. When you listen to Lead Belly, or Son House, or Robert Johnson, or John Lee Hooker, or Charley Patton, or Muddy Waters, you're moved, your heart is shaken, you're carried and inspired by its visceral energy, and its rock solid emotional truth. You go right to the heart of what it is to be human, the condition of being human. That's the blues.
As you watch the videos, listen for how many musicians talk about the heart, playing from the heart ... is that what the blues is about? But listen, too, for what they say about pleasing audiences, about making money? Is it about that, too? Can it be about both? If so, how?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

HUM 223: Blog question

What is your reaction to Dewey Phillips' radio broadcast that we listened to in class today?

Ask yourself the famous three questions: Your reaction, why you feel that way, etc.

Also, this: Is it about money, or is it about art? What strikes you most? The announcer, the music, whatever?

Post your answers as comments to this post.

Sunday, November 01, 2009