Asante gold-dust weights

 

Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.

These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.

Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.

This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).

Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.

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Gershwin and Berg

 

Most fans of George Gershwin’s music would be surprised to learn of his admiration for an early atonal masterpiece: Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. He visited Berg in Vienna, and the score he owned of Wozzeck was one of his most prized possessions; he traveled to Philadelphia in 1931 to attend the work’s American premiere.

Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess is heavily indebted to Wozzeck. These debts primarily involve structural processes, understanding structure as patterns of discrete events shared by the two operas. Motives and chords play a role in the discussion, alongside musical events that range from the large—a fugue or a lullaby—to the small—a pedal, an ostinato, or some detail of counterpoint.

Beyond the presence in both operas of a lullaby, a fugue, a mock sermon, and an upright piano, the greater relevance of these parallels and others is to be found in the ways in which Gershwin situated them in comparable musical contexts.

This according to “Porgy and Bess: An American Wozzeck” by Christopher A. Reynolds (Journal of the Society for American Music I/1 [February 2007] pp. 1–28).

Today is Gershwin’s 120th birthday! Below, the atonal fugue depicting the murder of Crown from Catfish Row, his suite from the opera.

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Trude Rittmann, unsung Broadway hero

 

Gertrud “Trude” Rittmann was on her way to becoming one of Germany’s most promising young composers when the rise of Nazism forced her to flee to the United States in 1937.

Through her work as accompanist and music director in the New York ballet world, Rittman met Agnes De Mille; the two subsequently collaborated closely on the creation of dance music for several landmark Broadway shows.

Rittmann also created choral arrangements and underscoring for Richard Rodgers, making major contributions to The King and I, The sound of music, and South Pacific, and she worked on every musical composed by Frederick Loewe, including Brigadoon, My fair lady, and Camelot. One of her landmark achievements was the original dance music for the Small house of Uncle Thomas ballet in The King and I, created with the choreographer Jerome Robbins.

This according to “A composer in her own right: Arrangers, musical directors and conductors” by Jennifer Jones Cavenaugh, an essay included in Women in American musical theatre: Essays on composers, lyricists, librettists, arrangers, choreographers, designers, directors, producers and performance artists (Jefferson: McFarland, 2008, pp. 77–91).

Today is Rittmann’s 110th birthday! Below, a performance of Small house of Uncle Thomas in 2012.

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From virginal to Tangentenflügel

 

A small polygonal virginal built by Franciscus Bonafinis in 1585 was ingeniously converted to a tangent piano in 1717; this was accomplished simply by replacing its jacks with shorter slips of wood and moving its strings so that they lie directly over the jack slots, producing an instrument with struck rather than plucked strings whose sound varies in loudness with the force applied to the keys. The instrument is now at the Metropolitan Museum.

Instruments employing this principle were well-known in the eighteenth century—the trend culminated in the Späth & Schmahl Tangentenflügel.

This according to “En route to the piano: A converted virginal” by Edwin M. Ripin (Metropolitan Museum journal XIII [1978] pp. 79–86).

Above, the Museum’s depiction of the instrument; below, Aleksej Borisovič Lûbimov performs on a tangent piano.

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Bhad Bhabie arrives

 

In 2017 a Florida teenager went from a notorious segment on the Dr. Phil show to signing a major-label record deal as a rapper.

A September 2016 episode of the daytime talk show featured a segment called “I want to give up my car-stealing, knife-wielding, twerking 13-year-old daughter who tried to frame me for a crime!” with Danielle Bregoli and her exasperated mother. Soon after airing, a clip from the episode went viral on social media. In it Bregoli dared audience members to “cash me outside, howbowdah?” (catch me outside, how about that?) The phrase—part Florida, part Brooklyn, part misconceived black vernacular English—entered the pop culture lexicon.

Having achieved her 15 minutes of fame, Bregoli was written off by most as yet another fly-by-night social media star, but music executive Adam Kluger saw something more. A pioneer in dealmaking between artists and brands, he was known for negotiating deals where pop stars were paid for endorsing clothing, dating apps, porn sites, and psychic hotlines, through product placements and other sponsored content in song lyrics and music videos.

After a string of high-profile successes, Kluger became estranged from the music industry after a deal gone bad. Following an extended vacation, he plotted his return and his revenge: “I’m going to find something that’s just so obscure, and I’m going to make it popular…I’m going to pull every trick I’ve ever pulled with brands and make someone into a walking, talking brand to prove my worth.”

Setting his sights on Danielle Bregoli, a rap music career was chosen as the best avenue for a more lasting and more remunerative form of celebrity. With her proven talent for turning a memorable phrase and her passion for rap music, the Bhad Bhabie persona (pronounced “bad baby”) was born.

This according to “The big business of becoming Bhad Bhabie” by Jamie Lauren Keiles (The New York times magazine 8 July 2018, pp. 38 ff.).

Above and below, These heaux, Bregoli’s first single, which made her the youngest rapper to have a single debut on the Billboard Hot 100.

BONUS: The clip from Dr. Phil.

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Cuba’s corneta china

 

As one of the four main ethnic groups in Cuba, the Chinese people have made notable cultural contributions. Among the most significant of these is the corneta china, a shawm derived from the Chinese suona.

The instrument is no longer played by Chinese Cubans; rather, the corneta china has been appropriated by other ethnic groups—particularly in the eastern region of the island, where it is played almost exclusively by performers of African descent. Despite a short-lived attempt to reintroduce the instrument in Cuban performances of the Chinese Lion Dance in the 1980s and early 1990s, the corneta china and its originators have followed separate paths.

This according to “The Chinese community and the corneta china: Two divergent paths in Cuba” by Rolando Antonio Pérez Fernández (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 62–88).

Above and below, the corneta china in action.

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Studia musicologica Labacensia

In 2017 Založba Univerze na Primorskem inaugurated the series Studia musicologica Labacensia (ISSN 2536-2445) with Glasbene migracije: Stičišče evropske glasbene raznolikosti/Musical migrations: Crossroads of European music diversity.

The collection focuses on a wide range of questions about the causes of musical migrations and their role and importance for musical cultures. Particular emphasis is placed on migrations in central Europe that have also left a decisive mark on musical culture in Slovenia.

Below, a work by Roberto Gerhard, the subject of one of the articles in the book.

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Joan Tower’s “Made in America”

In 2005 and 2006 Joan Tower’s Made in America embarked on a tour of all 50 American states, featured on programs by some 65 orchestras. In an interview just after the work’s premiere, the composer looked ahead to the experience:

“I’m very curious as to the way they view me as a living composer, because I’m a litmus test. I’m very curious as to how they’ll negotiate my piece. Now, I know some of them are much better than others; there are all levels. But I’m curious whether the piece is strong enough to make them want to work harder and what the level of passion is that’s going to be in there. Part of that depends on the piece and part of that depends on the nature of their community orchestra and the people in their orchestra.”

“If my piece has some impact, and draws the players in a little bit, or a lot, and draws the audience in a little bit or a lot, then it has some reverberation. I’m putting the entire burden of this thing on me, because the music is the center of everything no matter what anybody’s telling you. Whatever the PR, marketing, historical value, blah, blah, blah, that’s going on around it, you still have this living entity in front of you that has to do its work, whatever that is.”

Quoted in “Joan Tower: Made in America” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 October 2005).

Today is Tower’s 80th birthday! Below, a performance from 2012.

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African pianism and musicology

 

The African pianism developed by the Nigerian composer Akin Euba (above) is not well-suited to the research style of traditional musicology, and the limitations of conventional musicological perspectives and analytical models for research on this cultural phenomenon are obvious.

Ethnomusicology and other disciplines such as cultural anthropology may provide approaches and viewpoints that can be adopted in musicological research on African pianism.

This according to “My understanding of African pianism/我对非洲钢琴艺术研究的一些认识” by Li Xin, an essay included in Dialogues in music: Africa meets Asia/亚非相遇: 中非音乐对话 (Richmond: MRI, 2011, pp. 59–68, 345–353).

Below, Kingsley Otoijamun performs an excerpt from Euba’s Scenes from traditional life.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Africa, Black studies, Curiosities, Musicology

Meshell Ndegeocello, pushing boundaries

 

The complexity and range of Meshell Ndegeocello’s hip-hop works extend largely from her willingness to push boundaries—but in pushing sexual and gender boundaries, Ndegeocello declines to traffic in singular dimensions. Danyel Smith has described her as “an African American, woman, lesbian, musician, and mother” who thrives on “pondering the riddles that accompany all her selves.”

In Berry farms Ndegeocello addresses a female lover: “Can you love me without shame?” Giving way to the bass groove, she aggressively concludes: “Yeah, you like to mess around!” She goes on to suggest that her girlfriend prohibits them from sharing honest, enduring love for fear of public scorn because they are lesbians and because she desires the material things her “boy” can give her.

“You know how we like material things,” she observes, reminding us of the dominant perception that most black women effortlessly and willingly sacrifice substantive self-fulfillment for social approval and material gratification. The discursive modes of many of the tracks on Cookie: The anthropological mixtape strike an unambiguously combative chord with this perception by elaborating the tensions of same-sex female desire, fulfillment, and repression.

This according to “‘You sell your soul like you sell a piece of ass’: Rhythms of black female sexuality and subjectvity in Meshell Ndegeocello’s Cookie: The anthropological mixtape” by Nghana Lewis (Black music research journal XXVI/1 [spring 2006] pp. 111–30).

Today is Ndegeocello’s 50th birthday! Below, the song in question.

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