Posts Tagged ‘music’

Support the animals!

October 5, 2011

I love lip dubs and would love to do one. In the meantime, I enjoy watching them and thinking about their communal and participatory nature.

Here’s one from the Wake County (NC) SPCA. Great job by a dedicated group of volunteers. And I love the little pup at the end. After you watch this video, run right out and donate your time or money to your local animal shelter. I know from experience that many struggle to meet the needs of the animal community, especially at times like this when families are abandoning pets because of their fragile economic situation.


Creating an Arts Spirit

October 22, 2010

I was only there to video the workshop, but I found myself entranced by Bill Rowell’s opening remarks and by the other speakers during the day. I recommend this video to anyone interested in any kind of teaching, music or otherwise.

I have been reflecting on the portion of the talk where Rowell referenced William Schuman and I wondered how we might apply that to musicologists. Are we musicians first, and teachers and historians second? Is it necessary in our field? Why is teaching so rarely discussed in our dozens of graduate-level musicology courses, when that is ultimately what most of us will do?

Tracing the melody

June 3, 2009

I spent Monday in the Hay-Harris Library at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, looking at old shape-note tunebooks, including:

  • Christian Harp, attributed to C. H. Brunk (Singer’s Glen, VA, Joseph Funk’s Sons, 1867)
  • Song-crowned King, compiled by Aldine Kieffer (Singer’s Glen, VA, Ruebush and Kieffer, n.d. [cover indicates 1870])
  • Christian Harmony, compiled by William Walker (Philadelphia, Miller’s Bible and Publishing House, 1873)
  • Temple Star, compiled by Aldine Kieffer and B. C. Unseld (Singer’s Glen, VA, Ruebush and Kieffer, 1878)

All of these tunebooks use seven shapes, with one vocal part per staff, in the same manner as is used in the four-shape, four-syllable tunebooks such as B. F. White’s Sacred Harp and William Walker’s Southern Harmony (for an explanation of the Sacred Harp singing tradition, see The following shows an example of this dispersed notation, from Walker’s Christian Harmony.


Dispersed notation, from Christian Harmony

These tunebooks fall into a transition period between the older four-shape sacred song tradition and the rising gospel music style. In the fasola-style (four-shape and the seven-shape books that adhere to the older style), the melody is in the Tenor (the staff directly above the Bass); above that are the Counter (sometimes called the Alto) and the Treble. In Southern Harmony (I have the facsimile edition of the 1854 edition) Walker describes the two lower parts as being for male voices and the two upper for female, though he recognizes that the upper parts may be sung by men (no mention is made of women singing the melody). Twenty years later, in Christian Harmony, Walker suggests allows for both male and female voices on all but the Bass part. While Walker included “a large number of new tunes, from eminent composers, never before published” (title page), his modernization seems to be limited to the use of seven shapes and a recognition of the vocal variety that presumably was occurring in singing schools and conventions.

The Christian Harp contains many fewer tunes, being one of the small tunebooks that would later become a staple of the gospel-music singing conventions. No instructional or pedagogical information is included in the book, but observation reveals that the melody is still in the tenor. The book includes tunes for two, three, and four voices (I have not witnessed two-voice tunes in other books so far). Occasionally the tenor and counter/alto are combined on one staff, as seen below.

Combined tenor and counter, from Christian Harp

Combined tenor and counter, from Christian Harp

This might be perceived as a modernization or a nod towards traditional European-style condensed notation (soprano and alto on the upper staff, tenor and bass on the lower), but I suspect it was employed more as a space-saving device given the size of the book (13 X 16 cm., 112 pages). The tunes and texts do seem (without a thorough study) to reflect George Pullen Jackson’s assessment that they contain a “new note of optimism.” Jackson notes that many of them are in the major mode, contain larger melodic leaps and syncopation, and use a greater pitch compass. He further characterizes them as having an “instrumentally influenced melodism,” caused apparently by the introduction of the melodeon and Sunday-school reed organ into churches. He goes no further in quantifying this statement, so it is difficult to determine what he means. I have to trust that he senses a significant change in the temperament of the songs in this tunebook, distinguishing it from its four-shape, tradition-bound brethren.

From the same publisher, Ruebush and Kieffer, only three years later, we have Song-crowned King, compiled by Aldine Kieffer. The instructional pages label the parts as soprano (also called air or treble), alto, tenor, and bass. Soprano and alto are female voices, tenor and bass, male. The melody is printed in the staff above the bass staff, and Kieffer further states that the soprano and alto sometimes occur on the same staff. The first tune in the book has only three voices, labeled from top to bottom tenor, treble, bass. In other words, in this book the melody has been renamed soprano/air/treble and assigned to the highest female voices and what had been the treble has been renamed tenor and assigned to the highest male voices. This represents a shift in nomenclature towards the Europe-style condensed notation, and the voice distribution also more closely resembles the SATB-style hymns in use in other hymnbooks. If singers followed the instructions closely and shifted female voices exclusively onto the melody, the sound of the song would have changed. It is hard to imagine, though, that singers would affect such a change rapidly or consistently. Certainly, the notation leaves the possibility open of performing the songs in exactly the way they had been for decades.

Temple Star employs the same terminology, the same dispersed notation, and the same voice distribution as Song-crowned King. The only difference is that it now uses Jesse Aikin’s seven shapes rather than the shapes that Kieffer’s grandfather, Joseph Funk, had devised and used for several publications.

My next goal is to examine two later Ruebush and Kieffer publications, Royal Proclamation (1886) and Star of Bethlehem (1889). According to Jackson the soprano and alto are on one staff and the tenor and bass on the other. The gospel music publishers that sprang up in the South beginning in the last decades of the nineteenth century also used the SA/TB condensed notation with seven shapes, but the music itself stands apart from the fasola-style in numerous ways. It will be interesting to see how these two Ruebush and Kieffer books compare.

A New Force

May 5, 2009

I grew up in North Carolina and heard dulcimer playing most of my life. I even took it up for a time. All the players I ever saw/heard play placed the dulcimer on their laps. They often used a pick to strum and a small flat piece of word to fret the melody strings. The primary model for this style, of course, is Jean Ritchie, as seen below.

Today I encountered an entirely different style of playing and I feel like a whole new world opened up to me. It started when I heard a recording this morning by Quintin Stephens called “Event Horizon” from his CD Under the Porch Light. I’m not even sure how it ended up in my iTunes library, but when it came up on shuffle, I was intrigued. I listened to a few 30-second clips on iTunes then went off to Google to learn more. Here’s a video of him playing a tune he wrote called “Thunder Walk.”

Notice how the dulcimer is hanging from his neck and he is standing to play. The instrument also has a pickup mic and he may even have effects pedals because he reaches forward with his foot in that signature way that guitarists do when pressing one. He also strums hard and fast, not in the gentle way of Jean Ritchie. The dulcimer also appears to have six strings rather than the standard four. But what really caught my attention was the way that he frets. His hand looks stretched and awkward, but he is certainly achieving some very interesting melodic and chordal sounds. Gone is the constant drone from the old-style fiddle and folk tunes that typically follow this instrument everywhere.

I did a bit more searching and discovered Robert Force. He seems to be one of the earlier players to experiment with new ways of playing the lap dulcimer. Here he demonstrates how to play a tune he wrote called “Wellyn.”

In particular I am intrigued by his barre chords and how he plays a melody from that position. Though he is sitting in this video, he does not lay the instrument flat, and in fact, other videos show him standing to play with the dulcimer hanging from the strap around his neck.

I just might have to pull out my dulcimer and give it a try.

Road Trip

April 17, 2009

I’m heading to NYC for a few days with my son. We plan to see a Broadway show (of course), do some of the touristy things, and eat fun and exotic foods. I’m also going to drag him to the New York Public Library so I can spend time with the Billy Rose Theatre Collection. I’m hoping to find the name of at least one duo from the minstrel or vaudeville era or to find examples of people singing duets in the shows. When I return, I’m also planning to visit the Harvard Theatre Collection in the Houghton Library. They have programs from both minstrel and vaudeville shows. Ideally I would love to find descriptions of how the duos performed, but absent that, I may be able to make some extrapolations if I know what songs, what shows, what theaters, and so on. Actually I think I have a good how idea how the vaudeville acts performed from listening to numerous recordings of duets in the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Keys and Tempo Analysis

April 9, 2009

I have posted a table of the key and tempo for each of the Everly Brother singles released by Cadence between 1957 and 1962.

To track all the information that I am collecting on the various songs released by the Everly Brothers, I have a database (I use Bento–simple, cheap, effective, and it works). After I collected the keys and tempos for the 25 songs in question, I exported a CSV file and wrote a Perl script to convert the data to an HTML table. Got kind of misty eyed and nostalgic about my old programming days.

Transparent Barriers

March 30, 2009

I’m currently working on the biography chapter of my dissertation. I’ve been making notes from each of the three published biographies then trying to verify the information (some truly blatant errors in those books, by the way). In my search for “correct” information, I have found that the Country Music Hall of Fame has an impressive collection of oral histories, including recordings of Margaret Everly, as well as other informants who played with or knew Ike Everly. There are also recordings of key figures in the story such as Wesley Rose. I’m now waiting to hear from the historian at CMHF about access to those histories.

I have also discovered that the Kentucky State Library and Archives has collected newspaper and magazine clippings concerning the Everly Brothers. It is more than they are willing to photocopy and mail, so I’m currently trying to find a local researcher who can do it for me (for pay, of course).

Ideally I would talk to Don and/or Phil in a sort of ethnographic interview. I found a phone number for one of them today (thank you, oh great internet gods), but I can’t imagine what I would say in a phone call to convince him that I am a legitimate researcher and not some kooky fan stalking him. Bruno Nettl and Helen Meyers are silent on this topic. I’m going to sit and contemplate this for a few days. Maybe ask my advisor. But I keep looking at that number and thinking this is too good to be true. Only People magazine has phone numbers like this, right?

And therein lies one of the strange problems with doing musicological research in the area of popular music. If your subject is alive and famous, your access will probably be restricted or heavily mediated, assuming you can get any access. If you can’t, then whatever you can learn through secondary sources is, again, heavily mediated. This is, of course, a common dilemma for the historical musicologist, who deals exclusively with artifacts and descriptions that have been processed by both humans and time. The ethnomusicologist, on the other hand, can interact directly with the music-making subjects and objects, reporting her findings with or without critique. I feel caught between the two worlds and know that most of what gather from secondary sources (newspapers, magazines, fan biographies, websites, liner notes, etc.) has been “spun” to meet a marketing need; in other words, the information is presented as a transparent barrier. None of the writers on methodology for popular music studies seem to address this and many of the works I’ve read maintain a distance with the actual subject, as if they were dead. I am not satisfied with taking that approach, but I’m not certain yet how to negotiate this new territory.


March 27, 2009

I love connections. This week’s favorite connection starts with an African American guitarist in western Kentucky named Arnold Schultz. Born in 1886 in Ohio County, Kentucky, Schultz has attained legendary status as the key figure in the development of the guitar finger picking style that is known today as “Travis picking.” Like Robert Johnson, he was remarkably skilled on his instrument, only one photograph is know to exist of him (shown below), he died at a relatively young age, and the rumors that surround his death center on a jealous husband.

Arnold Schultz

Arnold Schultz

Where and how Schultz developed his unique finger-picking style is not entirely clear, but he appears to have traveled and performed widely in his youth, possibly on riverboats. His reputation as a guitarist led many to seek him out for instruction: Melford Everly, grandfather of the Everly Brothers, is said to have once hired him to teach his daughter, Hattie, to play a song called “The Drum Piece.” He may have taught Hattie his unique finger-picking style, which involved playing a bass note with the thumb and the melody with the other fingers.

Throughout the 1920s, other western Kentucky musicians also listened to and learned from Schultz, including Kennedy Jones, who added a thumbpick to the style. Jones, in turn, influenced Mose Rager (1911-1986) and Ike Everly (son of Melford and father of Don and Phil). Mose and Ike played together early in their careers but eventually went their separate ways. Mose, in particular, employed alternate chords, embellishments, and other trechniques with the style. Merle Travis (1917-1983), also from Kentucky, credits both men as influencing his own playing style, which can be heard on his numerous recordings during the 1940s and 50s. His style of playing became the predominant style in country music and the next generation of guitarists studied his work closely. One was Chet Atkins (1924-2001), who heard Travis on the radio and imitated his style, adding his own personal elements. In time Atkins would be become one of the greatest guitarists, session musicians, and producers in Nashville. In fact, it was Atkins who was instrumental in helping Don and Phil make the necessary contacts in Nashville and ultimately led the studio musicians in many of their Cadence recordings.

As a side note, I think nearly every guitar student in the South, at least back in my day, learned some variation of Travis-picking, usually on old standards like “Wildwood Flower.”

Lightfoot, William E. “A Regional Musical Style: The Legacy of Arnold Schultz.” In Sense of Place: American Regional Cultures, edited by Barbara Allen and Thomas J. Schlereth, 120-37. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990.

Wolfe, Charles K. Kentucky Country: Folk and Country Music of Kentucky. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982.

Sizzling music

March 11, 2009

Dale Dougherty over at O’Reilly contemplates the delivery process of recorded sound as a cultural artifact. I don’t think he questions the notion and aesthetics of “quality” enough but an interesting read nonetheless.

Three People, One Guitar

March 9, 2009

The Everly Brothers appeared on the Tennessee Ernie Ford television show sometime in the late 1950s. In this clip, Don, Phil, and Ernie are all playing one guitar. Don is sitting and holding the guitar. Phil stands behind him and frets the lower strings with his left hand while Ernie stands on the side of Don and strums the lower strings with a pick. Don frets just above where Ernie is strumming and plays a lead melody just below where Ernie’s hand. The video makes it clearer.

According to one biographer, this neat little trick was one that Don and Phil learned from their father, Ike, and his two brothers, Charlie and Leonard.

The guitar is probably the black Gibson J-200 with dual white pickguards. Don and Phil played a number of J-200s during their career, including their own custom designed model.