Thursday, May 27, 2010

Art of Listening Concert Review: Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring

The concert I attended was the Philadelphia Orchestra's Beyond the Score presentation of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
The concert I heard was Orchestra music.
This concert took place on Thursday, April 8th at 7 p.m.
The concert was held in Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center.

Initially, I was going to post my concert review for this show, but then I realized that my work on that extra credit assignment sucked. I highly recommend checking out these Beyond The Score presentations. My explanation cannot do justice to the intricate imagery and timing involved in the video presentation with narration and teasing of musical ideas in this show. The presentation explained all about Stravinsky's piece from the pagan mythology that provides programmatic context for the music to the foreign sounds of Russian folk music (with live demonstrations of the folk instruments) to what Stravinsky sought to convey with his expansions of dissonance and rhythmic possibility. My summary cannot convey the sensory overload that Beyond The Score provided.

Since I can't explain much about the experience, here's a few facts about how awesome Igor Stravinsky is that I think fit well in my narrative about music.

In 1913, the Rite of Spring premiered in Paris with a rioting audience reacting to its extreme dissonances and rhythm irregularities. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of the riots and the program notes behind the piece. In Le Sacre du Printemps, Stravinsky "stripped folk themes to their most basic melodic outlines, and often contorted them beyond recognition."

This photo is a drawing Picasso did of Stravinsky when they collaborated on Pulcinella in 1920.

Despite the pagan themes of Rite of Spring, Stravinsky was a devout member of the Russian Orthodox Church all throughout his life, remarking at one time, 

"Music praises God. Music is well or better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church's greatest ornament."
 "All the signs indicate a strong reaction against the nightmare of noise and eccentricity that was one of the legacies of the war.... What has become of the works that made up the program of the Stravinsky concert which created such a stir a few years ago? Practically the whole lot are already on the shelf, and they will remain there until a few jaded neurotics once more feel a desire to eat ashes and fill their belly with the east wind." 
-Jean Cocteau on The Rite of Spring in Musical Times 1923

In 1935, American composer Marc Blitzstein stated, 
"There is no denying the greatness of Stravinsky. It is just that he is not great enough." 

Blitzstein's position was that Stravinsky's wish was to 
"divorce music from other streams of life," 
which is 
"symptomatic of an escape from reality", 
resulting in a 
"loss of stamina in his new works."

In 1940, Igor Stravinsky re-orchestrated 
"The Star Spangled Banner" 
for the Boston Symphony. 

Someone alerted the Boston police, who arrived at Symphony Hall, confiscated the instrumental parts to the Stravinsky orchestration and 
arrested Stravinsky for...

"tampering with public property."

Sound familiar?

The next Beyond the Score presentation at the Kimmel Center will be Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition on Thursday June 03, 2010 at 7 PM.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Art of Listening Concert Review: Jupiter String Quartet

The concert I attended was the Jupiter String Quartet's show with Michael Tree and Peter Wiley.
The concert I heard was Chamber music.
This concert took place on Sunday, April 11th at 3 pm.
The concert was held in the Independence Seaport Museum.

A Listing of the Selections Heard:
String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 76, No. 2 Hob. III:76 “Quinten” (1797)- Composed by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartet in E Minor (1923)- Composed by Leos Janacek (1854-1928)
Sextet from Capriccio, Op. 85 (1942)- Composed by Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Verklart Nacht, Op. 4 (1899)- Composed by Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Concert Review: Beethoven's Eroica

The concert I attended was the Philadelphia Orchestra's presentation of Beethoven's Eroica.
The concert I heard was Orchestra music.
This concert took place on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 8 p.m.
The concert was held in Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center.
A Listing of the Selections Heard:
Tragic Overture- Composed by Johannes Brahms, Birth: May 7, 1833 Death: April 3, 1897
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 54- Composed by Robert Schumann, Birth: June 8, 1810 Death: July 29, 1856
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op 55 (“Eroica”)- Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, Birth: December 16, 1770 Death: March 26, 1827

Art of Listening Concert Review: The Four Temperaments and Carmina Burana

The Pennsylvania Ballet performed with a symphony on Thursday, March 4, 2010 at the Academy of Music. The works performed included Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) The Four Temperaments and Carl Orff's (1895-1982) Carmina Burana.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Roots Buy a Beat from Lee G and Delon Sampling Joanna Newsom

My friends, Lee G and Delon, have sold a beat to their song "Right On" to The Roots for the band's new album How I Got Over.
Delon made the beat for their album, Look @ the Tree, released last year, which you can purchase online here. 
Lee G will be performing at Drexel's Late Night Series open mic tomorrow (Thursday) night in West Philly at Creese Lobby (33rd & Chestnut Sts.) Sign-ups to perform are at 8 PM if you want to perform and the show starts at 8:30 PM. 
 This is a video ?uestlove posted on Twitter of him working on the beat. The song samples a Joanna Newsom song "Book of Right On" from the Milk-Eyed Mender.
She might fly in to Philly to record her voice for the song on The Roots album.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Temple U Music Therapy Club Holds Benefit for Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

That hand stamp is from the Temple University Music Therapy Club's open mic last week in Klein Hall. The event benefited The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's Global Health Nutrition Program. This program provides nutrition services to malnourished children in the barrios of the Dominican Republic. Through bake sales and admission prices, the organization raised a total of $913 for the program. Here's videos of most of the performances:

Monday, May 10, 2010

Shortchanging Social Capital and Schools

Prompt: What was social life in American like earlier in the 20th century; and how has it changed? How have Americans changed their style of civic and political participation? What impact does this have on our democracy? What is social capital and in what ways is social capital both a private and public good? How can a lack of social capital be linked to urban metropolitan decline in the United States and White Flight? When thinking about social reconstruction policy (in particular for education) in urban areas why would social capital be an important factor? What is the difference between physical and social reconstruction? How has the ‘suburban versus city’ dynamic impacted equality in education? What does this say about the ability of the United States to provide a democratic education system?
In “Thinking About Social Change in America,” Robert Putnam argues that politics was a major component to American social life until participation in community groups began to decline after the 1960s. At the end of the 1960s sociologists Daniel Bell and Virginia Held stated that “there is more participation than ever before in America...and more opportunity for the active interested person to express his personal and political concerns.” The fifties and sixties saw increased participation in voting and increased confidence in their neighbors. Americans agreed that “most people can be trusted,” which Gallup polls assessed as increasing “from 66 percent during and after World War II to a peak of 77 percent in 1964.”
Putnam's article highlights the warning signs that this “golden age” of politics was soon to be threatened. A 1958 study by the Center for the Study of Leisure at the University of Chicago argued that “the most dangerous threat hanging over American society is the threat of leisure.” Life magazine argued “mankind now possesses for the first time the tools and knowledge to create whatever kind of world he wants” (Putnam 109).
Putnam acknowledges that this wonderful life of leisure for some did not bring happiness or social involvement “for those Americans who were marginalized because of their race or gender or social class or sexual orientation.” Segregation, “environmental degradation,” “grinding rural poverty,” and infant mortality had yet to be exposed for the problems that they posed (109). Even though Baby Boomers believed in greater tolerance, greater social involvement and held valuable the ideals of a “participatory democracy” sociologist Doug McAdam argues that the activism of “Freedom Summer was an audacious undertaking consistent with the exaggerated sense of importance and potency shared by the privileged members of America's postwar generation”(110).

Align Center
"It's one take on my neighborhood. It's the 1 a.m., rainy-night version of my neighborhood. It's not the everyday experience, but there was kind of a point where it seemed my daily life and every way in which I was thinking and feeling was so based on my neighborhood — either staying in my house all the time because I didn't want to be out there on the streets in the chaos of it all, or being out there in the streets in the chaos of it all and running into all these familiar crazy people. It actually kind of drove me out of the neighborhood — I moved out."
-Scott McMicken, lead guitarist of Dr. Dog 
I think the disparities between these lives of leisure and marginalized lives adequately describes the cause of distrust within modern day American politics and social relations. Putnam explains that “social scientists have framed concerns about the changing character of American society in terms of the concept of 'social capital.'” He makes a distinction between “civic virtue” and “social capital.” Putnam argues that a society may have “many virtuous but isolated individuals” while failing to have a “dense network of reciprocal social relations” that amounts to a society that is “not necessarily rich in social capital” (110).

A connected society is necessary for building social capital that can benefit not only the private individual but the public as well. Although an individual may benefit from gaining a job or companionship, the community itself may benefit from an individual's contribution to a greater good, even if that person stands to benefit. A well connected society is necessary for productively connecting individuals to their needs. Putnam states that “a society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society.” Social capital therefore is not necessarily concentrated in any individual, group or institution but is rather the extent of these “social networks and associated norms of reciprocity” (112).

The question of social capital's role in the private and public spheres is directly applicable to the questions surrounding the services provided to an urban metropolitan area. Robert Lang outlines the impact “white flight” has upon cities in “Edgeless Cities: Exploring the Elusive Metropolis.” Edgeless cities see sprawling office developments remove the social capital benefits of those businesses from people who live in the city. These buildings “are not mixed use, pedestrian friendly or easily accessible by public transit,” limiting the possibilities of building social capital within the city. White flight represents a disparity between the two different types of reciprocity required for building social capital: specific and general. While these individuals may benefit specifically from their business and may benefit the people they have bonded with and care for, their flight from the city leaves no generalized reciprocity towards the communities they have left behind and often benefit from.
I personally prefer the Roberta Flack version of this song but I can't find her version online.

Education, in particular, has been cited as a means for social reconstruction in urban areas. It serves as a means for bonding and bridging communities together by creating relationships between families, teachers, administrators, and of course, students. While the reconstruction of schools often focuses on physical reconstruction of buildings or supplying school materials necessary for the education of students, social reconstruction focuses more on using schools as a means of bonding communities and bridging social divisions.

The United States has failed to implement a fully equal system of education. In some ways this disparity is tangible, as the “suburban versus city” dynamic often directly affects the quality of schools through the property taxes that support school budgets. This is why regional solutions have often been proposed to try an alleviate these inequities between schools in the upper to middle class suburbs against schools funded by working-middle class to impoverished city neighborhoods. The failure to fund these institutions equitably has caused the social benefit that all of us reap from education to suffer. Even though resolving these issues may require specific reciprocity towards school districts in terms of funding, I think there is also a necessity for generalized reciprocity to be encouraged through the design of the education system. Schools need to not only bond the communities living together but they should strive to bridge the gaps between other communities. Without mutually beneficial and connected relationships founded on trust, American politics cannot create the participatory community necessary to provide the necessary social capital for everyone.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Earl Young: Uptown Theater House Drummer

I interviewed Earl Young, a Grammy award-winning member of The Tramps, Baker-Harris-Young, and drummer for the Uptown Theater's house band in the 1960's until DJ Georgie Woods stopped promoting shows at the venue in 1972.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Slumming and Unslumming: How To Naturally Rebuild Neighborhood and Community?

In Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs describes slum formation as a result of trying to fix a neighborhood immediately rather than gradually. City planning often tries to artificially design neighborhoods in ways that do not necessarily help a neighborhood prosper. One of the problems that faces cities is a lack of diversity of purpose within neighborhoods.

Government paternalism creates a difficult dynamic for communities stuck in the “vicious cycle” of slumming. As cities try to spread slums out, they spend public money that should be spent towards the needs of these communities. However, as the needs for neighborhoods grow greater, the flight of people from neighborhoods only takes away from the available tax revenues necessary to fund such developments. Jacobs says that governments need to realize that “slum dwellers” are “capable of understanding and acting upon their own self-interests.” Though governments believe their efforts to be in the best interest of individuals living in these neighborhoods, they need to understand that “a slum spontaneously unslums” through processes that cannot simply be solved by providing better housing (171).

In the past, zoning laws and bank lending practices have restricted neighborhoods in ways that have actually caused slums to form, creating neighborhoods where homes where people are overcrowded and overcharged. These problems only serve to make perception of neighborhoods worse as people leave when they can afford to no longer overcrowd or they stay and their dwellings “wear out with disproportionate swiftness” under higher stress of use (176). These constant departures cause the neighborhoods to lose a “continuity of people.” In addition, as new people enter neighborhoods with “little in common to begin with,” they begin their experience in a neighborhood with a tone that is “ruthless and bitter” (177). As neighborhoods lose reasons for attracting outsiders, they lose the revenue bases that can support local businesses and local residents. Though a neighborhood may be densely filled with people, if there is no way for those people to maintain a style of living they will leave the area. Perception plays a key role in this as the perception of a neighborhood determines who wants to live there, who wants to visit, and how long people will stay.

People moving out of a neighborhood only contributes more to the slumming of neighborhoods as they take their money that supports a local community out of the neighborhood instead of investing in renovating and improving the neighborhood. Their flight from the neighborhood only serves to worsen the problems and perceptions that the neighborhood has. Unslumming is a organic process by which a slum must become a “lively enough to be able to enjoy city public life and sidewalk safety” (179). However, these feelings of attachment have more to do with their “personal attachments to other people, with the regard in which they believe they are held in the neighborhood, and with their sense of values as to what is of greater and what is of lesser importance in their lives” (179). Without this attachment to neighborhood occurring naturally, a neighborhoods cannot retain people who do not wish to stay their by choice and government intervention is not going to change their minds.

Jacobs argues that a population drop in a neighborhood is not necessarily bad. It can show that homes inhabitants are becoming more “economically able to uncrowd” (180). Population drop is important because it indicates that the type of people who would desert the neighborhood are being replaced by people who decide to stay by choice. Jacobs explains that when people stay by choice, a community “gains competence and strength, partly from practice and growth of trust, and finally (this takes much longer) from becoming less provincial.” The community that decides to stay as a result becomes more diverse in terms of “financial and education advancement.” While city planners idealistically wish to bring back the middle class to a slum, their efforts to protect such artificial growth misses the point that a city's people are valuable “before they become middle class” (182).

Understanding this value allows for neighborhoods to gradually introduce new groups of people who enter neighborhoods by choice rather than flooding neighborhoods with people who arrive out of necessity or force. While few of the “most outstandingly successful residents” are not likely to stay, those who “make modest gains” stay in the area as their “personal attachments overshadow their individual achievement” (182). Jacobs argues that departure of these members actually helps to eliminate discrimination against an area as the possibility of success within the neighborhood becomes more apparent. This makes people more proud of the neighborhoods they live in and such attachment to the neighborhood alleviates many of the problems of slumming by creating a diverse neighborhood that improves the well being of all residents regardless of class, education, or race.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Too Much Monkey Business: The Complicated Intentions Behind Empathy and Sympathy

Continuing with our recent environmental finals theme, here's my Mosaics essay I wrote today.

-->In Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, Frans De Waal evaluates what makes particular primates have an understanding of self image. Scientists have tested this awareness of self in apes using mirrors, drawing a correlation between the ape's ability to recognize themselves in a mirror and their behavior towards other apes. Once these animals are conscious of themselves, they begin to understand the perception others have of them. J. J. Gibson argues that “the more complex an organism's interactions with its environment, the better it needs to know itself (68).” De Waal argues that the capacity for apes and humans to see “certain others as an extension of themselves” reflects an evolutionary need to gain acceptance (De Waal 69). De Waal assesses that with self knowledge comes other cognitive abilities including empathy, intentional deception, and reconciliation.

While cognitive empathy for others appears to be a socially rational response to the perceptions of others, De Waal argues that monkeys learn the capacity for understanding through an “emotional contagion.” Cognitive empathy enables individuals to become “curious about their internal state,” wanting to “search for clues about the others' feelings.” De Waal argues this is different from the “caring responses” displayed by other animals like elephants, dolphins, and lemurs which assist each other. While those animals appear to act out of necessity for cooperation with each other, apes and humans which are not necessarily directly dependent upon each other have a unique capacity for “higher levels of empathy” that drives their behavior(70).

Even with this unique ability to empathize with the feelings of others through the emotional contagion, De Waal questions whether this awareness of others translates to sincere feelings of selfless sympathy. He identifies imitation as an example where making “moral judgment” based on “perceived intentions” becomes difficult given that it initially occurs as a “mere behavioral copying without realization of the benefit” (72). 
Unfortunately, this “awareness of how one's actions come across and what the outside world is likely to read into them” leads apes to learn methods of intentional deception (75). De Waal observes that chimpanzees will often change facial expressions, pretend to be occupied, or even “act totally blind and deaf” when concerned about how their actions will be perceived by others.
Even when apes act with good intentions, the emotional contagion can make the distinction between sympathy and empathy difficult to discern. Understanding an individual's pain for how it effects them can lead an individual to make the rational decision to alleviate that pain. Empathy, leads an individual to feel the pains of another for themselves, risking simply becoming satisfied from being able to acknowledge the pain. These “innate responses” to the feelings of others range in results from simple apathy towards the feelings of another to extremes like Schadenfreude, where individuals actually take pleasure in the pain of others.

De Waal argues that in the judging animal's intentions based on anecdotes risks over-interpretation. Our value placed on intelligence makes us believe the “myth of rational man,” thinking that our “reasoning capacities drive behavior” (78). De Waal argues that cognitive empathy for others should not be compared to the “working of a cold-blooded computer.” The brain is not divided neatly into “thought and feeling” and in order for an individual to truly care for another “depends on a mosaic of factors ranging from rational and cognitive to emotive and physiological” (79). Understanding why these caring capabilities appear in other species requires an understanding of how animals are dependent upon each other. De Waal notes that while some animals are willing to help others based on “mutual assistance” from the group, animals like a tiger “need no assistance” and “has no urge to provide it to others.” Human primates are comparatively helpless on their own and therefore enter into “elaborate contracts of mutual assistance”(80).

The questions of the possibility for cognitive empathy clearly has larger complications when applied to social interactions among humans instead of apes. Can a reconciliation between self interest and group interest successfully occur when such high levels of distrust exist? Does the cognitive empathy effectively encourage good behavior that actually results in a fair relationship or does our needs inevitably define our treatment of others? Can the needs of another be assisted in a way that is selfless? How can we understand others in a way that treats others as partners rather than as mechanisms for our needs? Is it possible for individuals relate to one another without making their understanding about themselves instead of those whom they think they relate with?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Evolution of Getting Along and Alive: Woodpeckers and Mockingbirds

In case you haven't noticed I've had a slight distraction from the "music" theme of this page in lieu of recent finals material. I feel like a lot of these essays about sharing space and resources within ecosystems and communities have a lot of clear undertones that can relate to the music industry. Hopefully this shows how much I do not believe in my "Drill Baby Drill" argument I posted earlier. I've included a few songs I think exemplify what I've learned in my environment class this semester.

I could not find a version of this song that sounds as good as the album version but you can sample the songs here. I highly recommend picking up
Living With War.

Human beings have not exactly proven themselves as completely conscientious of the impact their actions have on other species. Until recent rediscoveries, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker was long though extinct after the lumber industry deforested the South after the Civil War as the country's needs demanded wood. The deforestation eliminated the habitat of dead and dying trees where beetle larvae lived. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker continued to see its habitat destroyed as the lumber industry continued through the 1940s until there was no more lumber. Making matters even worse, the destruction of the Woodpecker's habitat led it become rarer and therefore more valuable target for participants in the “fad of collecting birds”(Fitzpatrick).

Home Sweet Home for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers

Before the birds were near extinction, they had adapted quite well to their environment. Their large beaks suited the birds' diet of beetle larvae, which required stripping bark from recently dead trees to feed. However, without this essential environment the birds lose their ability to survive quickly after human intervention with their ecosystem. Other factors beyond human control may have caused the woodpecker's endangered status. The bird's direct style of flight, “nasal-sounding” call or “unique double-knock...used to announce its presence” may have made it more susceptible as prey to larger animals. The nomadic lifestyle of the birds may have led them to fail to establish a secure habitat. A Cornell University researcher estimated that “each pair of ivory-bills required a territory at least 6 square miles in size” (“Ecology and Behavior”). The question the Woodpecker's near extinction poses is when does the survival of a particular species become the obligation of another? How do we reconcile these problems when the needs of one species conflict with the needs of another?

Nice haircut!: Natural selection may have developed useful traits for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker but how should we account for unnecessary or even counterproductive traits? Male woodpeckers have red plumage to attract females but did this trait also make them more noticeable to unwanted predators and hunters? The stupid things animals will do to continue their progeny!

John Fitzpatrick, the director at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, has dedicated his life to conserving the land where the Ivory-billed Woodpecker may still survive in the Big Woods of Arkansas along the Mississippi Delta. Human necessities nonetheless stand in the way of preserving this land for the Woodpeckers. “Dams, levees and irrigation projects” have lowered water levels in the Mississippi River. These eroding riverbanks have caused forests to be “swallowed by the river,” destroying natural habitats for these birds. Water quality is declining as a result of “sediments, fertilizers, and pesticides.” Inspired by an initial sighting of a surviving Ivory-billed Woodpecker, conservation groups have focused on conserving over 200,000 acres of the wetlands. Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, asserts that though working towards the Woodpecker's survival relies on “faith [that] requires the suspension of disbelief,” the rediscovery is a “call to action” where work towards a “belief” can be “rewarded with reality” (Simon).

Conservation groups are optimistic about the survival of another species, the Floreana Mockingbird. In honor of the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, the Mockingbird species that originally inspired his observations on natural selection in the Origin of Species is being reintroduced to the Floreana island it used to inhabit. Floreana mockingbirds were common when Darwin visited but quickly died out upon the introduction of rats, cats, donkeys, goats, and pigs on the island, which hunted the mockingbirds, their young and their food. The introduction of the animals to its environment led the mockingbird close to extinction. The reintroduction project requires removing the “invasive species” on the island while also catering to the needs of the mockingbirds reintroducing cacti and other native species to create conditions suitable for the mockingbirds to survive (Smith). The few remaining birds survive as two different unique species on the islands of Champion and Gardner-by-Floreana. Conservationists plan to reintroduce some of each kind to re-establish a genetically diverse population. Scientists analyzed some of Darwin's original specimen to study the DNA of the Floreana mockingbirds in order to determine a “path for conservation” (Henderson).

Richard Libowitz played Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's cover of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" on the last class of Mosaics I, exemplifying the Temple Mosaics' thesis about having to "get back to the garden."
The Galapagos Conservation Trust focuses on three problems that threaten the possibility of conservation which include addressing climate change, island restoration and local community involvement, including education. I think in many ways these approaches to maintaining the environment that supports the lives of these mockingbirds parallels some of the major themes within our environment class this semester. The Galapagos Conservation Trust's focus on climate change recognizes the interconnected nature of the worldly processes that influence natural selection. The effects of actions far removed from activity that occurs solely on the islands need to be addressed in order create a survivable habitat for these species. Efforts towards island restoration reflect attempts to undo the damage that has been done to the species while keeping in mind the variety of processes that effect the island's delicate ecosystem. The need to educate local communities to change behaviors that harm this ecosystem acknowledges that though these processes may seem distant or part of a collective action, individuals have an impact and a subsequent responsibility to minimize problems from “development and human intervention” (

Works Cited

"Conservation." Galapagos Conservation Trust, n.d. Web. 3 May 2010. .

"Ecology and Behavior." Cornell Lab of Orthinology. Galapagos Conservation Trust, 2010. Web. 3 May 2010. .

Fitzpatrick, John. "The Slide Toward Extinction." Cornell Lab of Orthinology 19.3 (2005): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Henderson, Mark. "Conservation of Charles Darwin’s Floreana mockingbird aided by genetic study." TimesOnline (2009): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Simon, Scott. "Saving the Big Woods." Birdscope 19.3 (2005): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Smith, Lewis. "Mockingbird goes back to its origins in honour of Charles Darwin." TimesOnline (2009): Web. 3 May 2010. .

Monday, May 3, 2010

Art of Listening Series: Marcell Bellinger at Klein Recital Hall

This series of entries will come from the many concert reviews I wrote this semester for my Art of Listening class.

The concert I attended was the Marcell A. Bellinger's senior recital.

The concert I heard was Jazz music.

This concert took place on Wednesday, April 21st at 7:30 pm.

The concert was held in the Klein Recital Hall.

A Listing of the Selections Heard:

Trumpet Sonata- Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)

Groovin' High- John Birks Gillespie (1917-1993)

Koko- Charlie Parker Jr. (1920–1955)

Polkadots and Moonbeams- Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990)/Johnny Burke (1851 – 1930)

A Day in the Life of a Fool- Luiz Bonfa (1922-2001)/Antonio Maria (1921-1964)

Beyond the Call of Duty- Marcell A. Bellinger

In Da' Groove- Marcell A. Bellinger

Marcel Bellinger's senior recital began with Paul Hindemith's Trumpet Sonata with Abigail LaVecchia's accompaniment on piano. Hindemith composed the piece in 1939 before leaving Germany to emigrate to the United States. The piece was part of a series of duo sonatas composed for a variety of wind instruments with piano accompaniment (Grimshaw). Hindemith had been living in exile in Switzerland as the Holocaust proceeded in Germany. Richard Freed writes that “the Trumpet Sonata, perhaps to Hindemith's own surprise, became a protest and a profound lamentation” of the events of the Holocaust (Freed). Knowing the chaotic events that surrounded Hindemith's life while composing this piece, one can hear the rising tension between the piano and trumpet. The work is in three movements. Freed describes the first movement, Mit Kraft (with strength), as “brooding and restless, punctuated with dramatic outbursts from the piano.” The piano part pushes the action maintaining a motor rhythm to fill the space between the trumpet's detached melodies. While the majority of the piece is homophonic, I really enjoyed the polyphonic sections of the piece when the piano and trumpet would sync together with their rhythms. The second movement, Mässig bewegt (at a moderate tempo), shows “the character of a march.” The final movement, Trauermusik—Choral(music for mourning), is an “out-and-out funeral piece, eventually leading to a certain level of grieving resignation expressed in the form of a chorale on a theme” (Freed). The added dissonances of the Trauermusik conveyed the heavy emotions Hindemith may have been releasing. The theme that the piece ends is borrowed from a chorale called "All Menschen müssen sterben" (All men must die) (Grimshaw).

While the Hindemith piece was a direct transcription, there was a lot of improvising Bellinger and his band of peers. Though the band plays the “head” of the song together, the rhythm section consisting of Jon Coyle, Chris Coyle, and Andy Martinek quickly shifted to accompany the horn soloists. Alto saxophonist Danny Janklow and Marcel Bellinger trade solos. Donald L. Maggin says, “Dizzy created a complex arrangement for ‘Groovin’ High,’ which became one of his most enduring hits; it encompasses a six-bar introduction, three key changes, transition passages between solos, and a half-speed coda as it demonstrates his skill in fashioning interesting textures using only six instruments.” The piece is based on the chord changes of “Whispering”(Burlingame). Gary Giddins claims in Visions of Jazz: The First Century that Gillespie once had been inspired by a film serial he saw at a matinee when he was a child that used the song "Whispering" as its theme (Giddins 285). The 1945 recording is considered one of the “first famous bebop recordings” (Owens 14).

The next song in the set, “Koko,” was also originally recorded in 1945 for an album by Gillespie's saxophone player, Charlie Parker. I enjoyed the harmonies between the saxophone and trumpet during the head of this piece. I later read that this piece was based off of the chord progression of “Cherokee,” which I had to play in high school band (“Parker, Charlie 'Bird'”). The piece provided room again for improvisation. The drummer and bassist had a chance to solo after the saxophone and trumpet. I wish I was more familiar with the playing of the individual musicians who took these solos understanding how their studying of the different musicians that play these original tunes has influenced their improvised performances. These musicians have transposed songs by countless musicians that have influenced their playing style to create something that is uniquely their own. Did Janklow use a higher range of notes like Charlie Parker would during his solo? Was Bellinger attempting to play with a tone that sounded as hot as Gillepsie?

After the fast tempo of “Koko,” Bellinger gave his band and his trumpet chops a rest, accompanying vocalist Samantha Rise Roberson on a ballad called “Polkadots and Moonbeams.” The song was written by the songwriting team of Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, who used to write for Bing Crosby's films. This piece was written during that time period but was never used in a film although it did become an early hit for Frank Sinatra (Wilson). Though the ballad may be tonally simpler, I feel like the sense of space within this song shows how dependent jazz musicians are upon understanding the function of their particular instrument or voice in relation to others. While the bigger band pieces are loud and energetic, the duo of piano and voice is soft, calm and almost intimate feeling. Even though Roberson's singing did not demand dramatic changes in pitch, dynamics, or rhythm, she managed to use the length and spacing of her notes to build suspense as her voice resolved with Bellinger's chords.

Bellinger's band returned to the stage as Bellinger took his own shot at singing a standard, choosing “Manha de Carnaval” from the film, Black Orpheus. Bellinger mistakenly announced the piece as being written by Antonio Carlos Jobim who wrote the majority of the music for the piece. However, the Bossa Nova piece was actually written by Luiz Bonfá, the son of an Italian immigrant who picked up classical guitar at the age of 11. Bonfá worked as a singer touring the US and composed for Brazilian films until director Marcel Camus asked him to write for Black Orpheus in 1959. He worked with Antônio Maria, a Brazilian sports commentator who wrote advertising jingles, to compose the lyrics in Portuguese. The English version was titled “A Day In The Life of a Fool”(Ginell). I thought Marcell's ability to perform so many different duties within his band gave his audience a feel for the different elements of his personality during such a short show.

One thing that made Marcell Bellinger's recital unique compared to all the other concerts I attended through the semester for Art of Listening was his original music. His first piece, “Beyond the Call of Duty,” was an assignment for Ben Schacter's theory class challenging him to use an odd meter. He introduced Jeff Reid as an additional alto saxophone player while Danny Janklow played tenor saxophone. Bellinger played a flugelhorn, providing a deeper and warmer tone for the head. Bellinger said the piece followed a jazz standard although he left it up to the audience to guess.

Bellinger thanked many members of the audience including friends, family, and teachers, noting that the next song he would be performing would the end of a long journey through school. He quoted James Brown to introduce his final piece saying “Whatever you're going to play, it's got to be funky. It's got to be funky!” He announced his newly formed funk project consisting of tenor saxophonist Danny Janklow, trumpet player Amanda Fisher, trombonist Kevin Grant, electric bassist Ben Rivello, and Kevin Daly on drums. Bellinger played piano with the group, giving room for the other soloists on his final number.

I think the variety of tones made possible by the variety of instruments made the show have a more lively sound. Given the fact that so much of a jazz performance relies upon improvisation on the part of soloists, I feel like if the entire show relied on even the most interesting group of soloists it would be difficult to maintain the attention of an audience. Instead, jazz uses the individuality of its performers to add to the variety of the music. I think the necessity for variety of timbres in modern music was reflected in the variety of genres which the show's set drew from. Though standards make chord changes strict and rely upon the music of others, each version of the song can become a unique version because of the possibilities enabled by the performers.

The quality of individual performances is important to the type of audience that Bellinger's band was performing for: a critical one. The audience consisted of mostly music students and music professors as well as friends and family to Bellinger. I think this made for a much more different dynamic between the audience and the band. The audience understood a lot more of the technicalities of the musicians' virtuosity than an average concert goer. Many of the audience members could guess the standards within seconds of Bellinger's playing. The performance was clearly more personal, being an important moment in Bellinger's life. While the audience was quiet during most of the performances, some of the more lively songs had the audience reacting back at the musicians, especially for a particular solo they liked.

I think the personal and communal elements of this performance represent what I thought was lacking from the Orchestra, Chamber, and Stage productions for me. While I appreciate the other concert experiences for the organizational skills, the difficulty of conducting, and the dedicated musicianship required to make those kinds of complex performances work, I felt like the unique nature of a jazz concert provides something that larger performances lack. Perhaps some of this stems from the relationship between the audience and performers being so close but I also think it has something to do with the way the music is performed. Instead of having the leader of the band dictate notes to performers, everyone is allowed to do their own thing from time to time while respecting the musical space of others. I feel as though jazz performances also enable musicians to interact in a way which makes the music more interesting. Jazz musicians seem to be expressing ideas to each other through their music rather than dogmatically following a sheet of music. At the same time, this makes the music much more sensitive to the failings of an individual performer. I think this is part of why standards became so important to jazz musicians because in order to perform adequately together, musicians need to find some sort of common language to speak with each other. Ultimately, playing music in such an ensemble requires a responsibility to work towards bettering one's individual abilities while also learning how to listen to the contributions of other musicians in order to fill the space and time in a collaboratively expressive way.