Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

What did Leonard Cohen really mean when he sang ‘Hallelujah’?

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The Wife and her friends are big Leonard Cohen fans, but I don’t even get Bob Dylan. The popular music I get is from the 30’s and ’40s and ’50s: the jazz and swing of that era and even some of the country music. Still, I do understand that I frequently do not understand things—lots of evidence for that—so I read this LA Times column by Mikael Wood with interest:

Nothing about Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — the original version of the song Cohen recorded for his 1984 album “Various Positions” — leads you to conclude that it would go on to become one of pop music’s most durable compositions.

Not the rinky-dink keyboard tone. Not the singer’s low, dry croak. And certainly not the lyric full of stark biblical imagery.

Yet in the years leading up to Cohen’s death this week at age 82, “Hallelujah” attained the kind of pop-cultural saturation we more commonly associate with songs by the likes of Justin Timberlake, to name one star who quickly mourned Cohen’s passing on social media.

“A spirit and soul beyond compare,” Timberlake tweeted.

Cohen’s voice was that of a trusted friend sharing confidences late at night, a source of depth rather than breadth.

Long before he was a favorite of celebrities, Cohen built a devoted cult of literary types with thoughtful, poetic songs like “Suzanne” and “Bird on the Wire” about religion and romance. Wider stardom eventually arrived, along with the vocal appreciation of fellow songwriters such as Bob Dylan, which helped sustain Cohen through depression and financial troubles.

But does Cohen’s biggest song represent a crucial misapprehension of his work?

To listen to “Hallelujah” with an ear tuned for hits is to understand, at least a little, why Cohen’s record company initially refused to put out “Various Positions.”

“Look, Leonard,” the label’s president told the singer, according to legend, “we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 November 2016 at 7:38 am

Posted in Music

Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in action

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Via Open Culture:

Written by LeisureGuy

6 November 2016 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Jazz, Music, Video

Wow! Can he dance! Mikhail Baryshnikov – Competition and Concert

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It’s just four minutes. Watch with sound audible. Via Open Culture, which has a good post with more information..


Written by LeisureGuy

2 November 2016 at 2:22 pm

Posted in Art, Music

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Structure evolves from dramatic ideas, not from filling in a template

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A very interesting post by Bruce Adolphe at the Oxford University Press blog:

The sonata concept served some of the greatest imaginations in the history of music, but seriously it is, as I like to say to students, “so not a form.” Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms were not in need of a standardized template, and in essence what has come to be called sonata form is more like courtroom procedure: a process that allows for an infinite variety of stories to be unfold, from a fender bender to vandalism to murder.

Musical form is the result of content, not the other way around. Teaching and understanding composition should be about the use of musical vocabulary to communicate a drama: the drama comes first, the form evolves.

Students who have been taught to think of music as a series of forms into which composers pour their ideas, will have difficulty composing. Instead of bringing the “form” to life, as they desire to do, they build a scaffold and hang a motif by the neck till dead. The remedy for this is to teach the process rather than emphasize the blueprint: dramatic narrative grows the structure.

The way we teach composition can inspire creativity or dull it. For example, here are three ways to give a composition assignment:

  1. Imagine you are in the audience at a concert hall. A pianist comes on stage and plays a violent opening phrase. Then, the music builds in unpredictable thrilling rhythms and suddenly stops. This is followed by a quiet, reflective passage based on the opening, which then swiftly builds to an electrifying climax. You love the music! Write down what you can.
  2. Imagine you are waiting for a train and suddenly a man violently pushes people around on the platform and then runs off and cannot be found. Someone who was hurt cries softly and then the violent man returns! Use this scenario to write a piano solo.
  3. Write an ABA structure for piano solo that begins with a unison theme in forte; continue it with varied dynamics and shifting rhythmic patterns. Follow this with a piano contrasting B section and then a return of the A music with an appropriate coda.

The three assignments above all describe ABA forms. The first is about imagining music as if you are an excited listener, a perspective that can set your imagination free.The second version is dramatic scenario to be portrayed musically. The scenario happens to be in a form we could call ABA, but it is described only as a human drama.

The third version is a typical assignment, and rather dull — and is actually hard to do because one does not feel inspired or motivated. And, worst of all, it feels like a test. Learning about form is dull and meaningless if the way content drives form is missing from the method.

To make a personal statement about form, I will write here about my recently premiered piano concerto. In this work, which I composed in 2013 and which was first performed this past summer (10 July 2016) by the Italian pianist Carlo Grante with maestro Fabio Luisi conducting the Zürich Philharmonia, all my decisions about form were the result of one dramatic idea: the emotional conflicts and struggles that people who suffer from bipolar disorder must endure. It seemed to me that a piano concerto could embody opposing states of mind, with the solo piano representing the sufferer, and the orchestra taking a variety of roles: an amplification of the piano personality in the first movement; a sympathetic psychiatrist in the second movement; and in the third movement, society itself — fast-paced, indifferent, anonymous.

At no time in the process of composing this work, did I consider form as separate from the message of the drama. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 September 2016 at 11:18 am

The Dunning-Kruger effect in pop-culture commentary

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An interesting article by Amanda Ann Klein and Kristen Warner in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Note that they do not specifically mention the Dunning-Kruger effect, but that’s clearly what’s at work.

Academics in the humanities — but particularly those who specialize in film, television, and comics — have come to view the pop-culture thinkpiece with dread. Invariably some new essay on, say, taste and television is published to great fanfare, at least from other writers of pop-culture thinkpieces. They proceed to treat as “new” or “innovative” some idea or trend that we in academe been writing about for years.

Decades of scholarship are erased by a single, viral essay that is presumed to be the first observation of some “new” phenomenon. Mainstream journalists don’t realize that the subjects they’re writing about, the patterns and shifts they’re noting for the first time, likely have numerous journal articles and possibly even full monographs devoted to them.

If it were just a question of crediting the work of scholars, most of us would lick our wounds and slink away. But it’s not just that. What pains us more than the absent citation is the unsupported claim, the anachronistic parallel, the apocryphal anecdote.

In other words, these thinkpieces almost always get it wrong. The writers, like many a college student, simply haven’t done the reading.

In the college classroom, students’ initial evaluation of art is often based (understandably) on ignorance. They misread, misinterpret, and misunderstand because they simply don’t know what they don’t know. For example, the first time students see Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film, Breathless, they often assume his jump cuts are sloppy editing mistakes, rather than a conscious strategy on the part of the director to subvert the polished style of the 1950s French “Cinema of Quality.” In the classroom that is called a “teachable moment.” Mistakes and misunderstandings offer professors platforms for engaging students in productive but also corrective discussions.

The internet is not a classroom — however much we like to think it is. When writers for major news magazines misread, misunderstand, and mistake their objects of study, they are not synonymous with students and that situation is rarely a teachable moment. That’s because readers have been conditioned to expect that their news sources present them with accurate information.

But that is often not the case in the current online publishing landscape where speed, not accuracy, is valued, and clicks are king. The new culture of immediacy — based on anecdotal knowledge, individual experience, and the occasional nod toward what can be found in a quick Google search — is the lifeblood of this cultural moment.

We didn’t write this to knock anyone’s hustle; to the contrary, this essay is a request for reciprocity. We just want mainstream journalists to be aware: The thoughts and ideas that the news media spotlight as “original” aren’t actually all that original. Someone likely wrote something about that idea/era/film/TV show/music before, and it’s up to you to find out what’s been said and assimilate that knowledge with your initial argument. That write-up you’re planning on antiheroes, reality-television history, or the networks’ exploitation of black audiences? It has a scholarly antecedent just waiting to expand your knowledge of the subject.

In a recent article for The Chronicle, Noah Berlatsky offers a spirited defense of ignorance on the internet. Though Berlatsky is himself a dedicated pop-culture scholar, having published a monograph on Wonder Woman with a respected university press, he warns his fellow pop-culture scholars about getting too territorial: “The enshrinement of hard-won expertise — the insistence that value consists in being able to tell right from wrong — is exactly the mind-set that makes work in the humanities so easy to denigrate.”

Instead, Berlatsky asks that we celebrate the fact that there are so many people on the internet excitedly writing about art, whether or not what they are writing is factually or historically sound. “Art’s value isn’t in objective expertise,” he writes, “but in its ability to confound subjectivity and objectivity, to scramble the barriers between how one person thinks, how that other person thinks, and how everybody thinks. In art, a misinterpretation may be wrong, but it is always an opportunity.”

In other words, if you truly love art and want more people to love it too, then it is necessary to welcome critics of all skill levels into the tent. Popular culture is the culture of the populace, after all. Therefore, everyone’s opinions on popular culture have value, right?

Not necessarily.

Over 40 years ago, the French philosopher Louis Althusser, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, offered one of the best defenses of the humanities. He argued that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 August 2016 at 11:10 am

Duplessy & the violins of the world “Crazy Horse”

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I think that odd instrument on the left is a nyckelharpa.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2016 at 8:41 am

Posted in Music, Video

Club Date Musicians, by Bruce MacLeod

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I wracked my brain to remember this—I recalled a long article in the New Yorker about club date musicians, but then I remembered Google.

Amazon has the book (also available here), though it seems to be out of print. Google Books provides a summary:

New York-area club date musicians play from memory, often drawing on repertoires spanning fifty years of popular music to produce arrangements on the spot. Impressive as their skills are, though, they occupy an ambivalent position: their art must be background, never overshadowing the event, whether a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a debutante ball. Their artistic and musical skills, finely tuned for club date gigs, are rarely even noticed, much less remarked upon, by their audiences.

Club Date Musicians is a pioneering ethnomusicological portrait focusing on the three hundred to five hundred New York musicians whose primary income is derived from playing private parties. Interviewing more than a hundred musicians and observing more than forty performances, Bruce MacLeod lets the musicians speak for themselves.

MacLeod examines the relation of audience to performer, the ensembles’ social and musical organization, the musicians’ economic and social status, and the process of change within the musical culture. The reader will discover why New York club date musicians don’t use written music, how rock and roll has affected the occupation, and why the stereotypical picture of the bored, inept club date performer is unfair.

It was fascinating reading.

Somehow I’m reminded of the scene of the comics sitting around a diner table in Carnegie Delicatessen, their stories acting as the frame for one of Woody Allen’s good movies, Broadway Danny Rose, talking about the old days, how many venues were available in New York and just over the river in New Jersey. They were bemoaning how many had closed, and one said his last dates had been in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. “To be a comic today,” he said, “you have to have a good set of tires.”

I wonder what the club date scene is like today.

Broadway Danny Rose is, I think, a movie about forgiveness.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 4:16 pm

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