Friday, November 30, 2007

Here Comes the Musicologist

Okay people. Nobody helped me out with my Sopranos question. But now I have a real live musicological question that I desperately need an answer to. I suspect this will be a more popular question, because it strikes at the psychological core of why we are all musicologists in the first place: choosing music and forcing people to listen to it.

So: if one were, hypothetically speaking, getting married in four short weeks, for one's ceremony one would need a processional. If, hypothetically, the groom was a musicologist, there would be certain expectations placed on this music. One could not, for instance, use certain tunes by Wagner or Mendelssohn, or anything having to do with Handel. What music should this hypothetical disorganized groom/musicologist choose?

I should note this has already been discussed in the small but brilliant musicological blogosphere, and I probably should have been paying more attention at the time. But I have an important caveat to the above question that nixed all the answers that crowd gave: I work on twentieth-century American music. I'm not expecting to force the crowd to listen to dissertation music, because although the opening to Sonatas and Interludes has a certain arresting, fanfare-like quality, I think the organist at the church might object to the concept of a "prepared organ." However, I see no reason why there should not be a piece of twentieth- or twenty-first century organ music out there that might do the job. No offense to the canon, but that's not my bag. Spiky dissonance, sordid subject matter, crunchy textures, that's fine, but you can leave your German Idealism at home. Ideally should be playable on an organ.

Solve my problem!

Do you live in Los Angeles? Are you free tonight? My friend and colleague Elizabeth Morgan is doing an important recital tonight, featuring works from Jane Austen's musical notebooks being played on an 1813 Broadwood. It's at 8:00 pm in the rotunda of the UCLA library, and is free and awesome. All you need to know is that it ends with an earth-shattering performance of Kotzwara's Battle of Prague, which can only be truly appreciated live. If you miss the concert, her Prague will hopefully be put up on YouTube shortly.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Philosophy of Teaching Statements

For obvious reasons, I haven't been blogging about the activity that occupies a significant part of my time these days, being on the job market. That seems like an extremely bad idea.

However, there is one aspect of the job search that I feel like I can safely complain about, because it is not limited to job applications: the statement of teaching philosophy. I had to do several before I was on the market, and I know that I will probably doing them the rest of my life for promotion and grant opportunities. But can I just say, what exactly are they supposed to tell you? Admittedly, at this point in my career I have only rarely been on the selection end of one of those things, so I don't really know what I'm talking about. But still, are there actually teaching statements that reveal some interesting and useful information? It is, I suppose, one more chance for one's personality to come across. But beyond that...

Is the hope that a candidate will slip up and accidentally reveal a hidden truth about their teaching, buried amongst the pedagogical gobble?

"I put a high priority on engaging students in the learning process, through small group discussions, performance opportunities, and corporal punishment."

And of course, these statements never tell you what you actually need to know about teaching habits:

"To keep my students in a constant state of tension, I enjoy stopping musical examples immediately before large scale climaxes, or even, when possible, halfway through a cadential gesture."

"When lecturing, I find that the mystery of pedagogical communication is maintained by avoiding eye contact at all times, even if this means staring at the floor."

"Writing is best taught through a series of drafts, feedback, and revisions. To give my students adequate time to ponder important issues, I like to give feedback on drafts after a good 1 to 2 years of gathering dust."

"One technique I use for structuring lectures is to focus on a small incidental word, and repeat it extensively. This, like, means that my students can like hook on to this familiar word whenever I like say it, and they like feel more comfortable. Like."

The thing is, the best theorizing about one's teaching is always self-reflexive: what do I do right, what do I wrong, how can I improve myself? To have one constant, coherent "philosophy of teaching" is, I think, the entirely wrong approach. But being honestly self-reflexive in front of a hiring or promotion committee is exactly what you don't want to do, in our hyper-administered world.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sopranos in Chicago?

I have a highly non-academic question for you. Actually, I guess it sort of relates, because it happened at the meeting of the Society for American Music almost two years ago, the one in Chicago. Does anyone else remember that the entire male cast of The Sopranos was also staying at the hotel? I remember sitting in the bar, seeing Tony Soprano, and absently thinking to myself, "oh, better be careful, Tony's here." And then realizing that it was actually James Gandolfini, not the actual Tony Soprano, and probably he's very nice. Being a Los Angeleno at the time, I took a cell phone picture of the occasion. I emailed it to Defamer's PrivacyWatch, but they apparently typically only publish items about sightings in LA.
You can't see it, but also there were all of the actors who play the Jersey mob: Steve Van Zandt, Michael Imperioli, Steve Schirripa. Actually, I don't know if Paulie was there, don't remember seeing him. They were there only briefly, and then the next morning I saw them all checking out.

This took place during the hiatus between the first and the second halves of the least season. At the time, I assumed that clearly they were filming on location--why else would this very specific group of actors be hanging out in a random Chicago hotel? All season long I kept telling people that at some point there had to be some action in Chicago.

But then I forgot about, and now I can't remember. Did The Sopranos ever go to Chicago? I really don't think so, but then why were they all cloistered at the Chicago Hilton in the middle of March?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Seven Year Itch

I came home yesterday to an email from the esteemed American Musicological Society. It informed me, in language that implied only the slightest hint of judgment, that student membership in the AMS is only allowed for seven years. My seven years are now apparently up.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Our Theories, Ourselves

Cross-posted at Musicology/Matters.

Kariann has just discussed the tension a lot of musicologists feel between the music they study and the music they love. The tension is of course not actually about studying versus loving, I think, but about the different kinds of love we can have for music. Some music I study feels "important" in an aural hygiene sort of way, other music I study makes an excellent soundtrack for a roadtrip. (Don't try to combine the two. My partner still enjoys telling people the story of when, at about 1:00 am at the end of a long day's drive to get up to a vacation in the Adirondacks, I started playing Robert Ashley's She Was a Visitor. Somehow, the combination of twisty mountain roads and a chorus of whooshing vocables was not soothing to her.)

I think the tension between studying/loving is something that is dissipating somewhat from our discipline. This is not just that we are now allowed to study popular music, which for many was less a change in mindset and more a "baby boomer gets tenure and starts to work on the Beatles" sort of thing. But with all music, I sense that it is okay to be passionate in a way that I'm not sure it always has been. It's okay to give papers that show enthusiasm, and that actually try to communicate something. And giving a good, communicative conference papers means several things:

1) The scholar cares.
2) The scholar realizes that his or her own performance instrumentally affects the material--the medium is a big part of the message.
3) The scholar therefore has to embody the scholarly material in a way that a simple dry reading will not require. Material and person become a little closer. Do a little dance. Make a little love.

(Incidentally, I hope you all read Tenured Radical's guide to giving good paper.)

But I'm getting off track here. What I actually wanted to talk about was another part of the studying/loving tension, methodology. Here's the dark secret of scholarship: we don't choose our scholarly approach because we think it is the best way. We choose it because it feels good.

Example: a Schenkerian can justify for hours about why Schenker is the best way to analyze music, but when it comes down to it, they chose Schenkerian analysis because they enjoy doing it. (Poor souls.) They like the answers it gives, they like the questions it asks. And I would argue that deep down, the same holds true for all of us. Choosing a theoretical framework is an aesthetic decision. As such, it is not arbitrary, but is a mediation of our own history, our politics, our priorities, our psychology, perhaps even our biology. What any theoretical framework is most certainly not is right or wrong.

Another example: myself. There is of course a lot of theory out there that I can use fairly confidently. There is the stuff I have studied (see above, Schenker), the stuff I force myself to use because it is historically appropriate--I've read a lot of fifties social theory, for instance, which I find decidedly unsexy. But if there is theory I study, there is also theory I proudly love. For me it is nineties queer theory. Those heady days of my youth when it felt like Eve Sedgwick and Judy Butler had single-handedly figured out the meaning of the world. Michael Warner, David Halperin, José Muñoz, Leo Bersani, Lisa Duggan....yum. I've been through enough grad school to be able to say in more intellectual terms why this theoretical repertoire was great, and even to be fairly critical of a lot of it. But I also find it liberating to admit that the real reason I like it, and use it, is that I find it sexy.

Now, this sexiness is an aesthetic reaction, and I know where it comes from. It has to do with the early days of my academic training, with some political things I've been involved in. But most of all...well, you know, that's an awfully personal question!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New Blog

My friend Kariann and I have started a group music blog, the optimistically titled "Musicology/Matters." Our idea is that we're going pick occasional themes that we'll both post about, and then also invite friends, colleagues, and interesting strangers to contribute posts as well. I know a lot of people who don't blog because of the perceived time/energy commitment, so this seemed like a nice way to let more people get their voices out their in a stress-free environment. Or even people who have their own blogs; I plan on cross-posting willy-nilly.

Kariann has led things off by talking about the distinction between music we like and the music we study. I'll post something on this subject soon myself, although I'm a little socked in with work at the moment. I'm on fellowship at the moment so theoretically I have lots of time, but somehow job applications, dissertation writing, and Echo-ing (new issue coming out very soon!) manages to fill the days pretty well.

Want to contribute? Let one of us know!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Of Hounds and Weedwackers

My better half is off in Oregon for a week of corporate brain-washing. The chain of vet clinics she works for requires it of all their new hires, sort of like Hamburger U for veterinarians. It takes place in a Holiday Inn by the airport and they had to read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People beforehand; I shudder to think what the experience is going to be like. Meanwhile, back here in Philly it's just Mabel and I. This is a trade-off. On the one hand, Mabel rarely steals the covers in the middle of the night. On the other, Mary rarely chews toilet paper off the dispenser.

In other news, via my uncle-in-law (I have cooler in-laws than most) check out this interview with Tony Conrad, focusing (as he usually does!) on the politics of avant-garde music. Conrad is one of those musicians who saves us musicologists a lot of work by speaking intelligently and (fairly) critically about his own work. The liner notes to Early Minimalism are, for instance, fairly amazing. Of course, it's not going to get me to listen to Slapping Pythagoras again anytime soon, much as I love the sound of a weedwacker destroying pillows.

Incidental pop music teaching note: I find Four Violins to be the best single example of drone music to play to undergrads when teaching the Velvet Underground. It's almost exactly contemporary, and sounds just like John Cale's viola.

Mabel protecting our pillows from Tony Conrad.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

More I-vi-IV-V

Via Loose Poodle, this amazing montage created by the esteemed Philip Tagg. It is in the service of explaining Abba's "Fernando," so he's dealing with a different cultural moment of I-vi-IV-V than I'm interested in, but this is a truly virtuosic creation: 52 pop singles in the United States that used the progression, arranged by key so that you get all of those in A (Pat Boone, "Speedy Gonzalez", the Elegants "Little Star") then B flat (Ketty Lester, "Love Letters") and so on through the chromatic scale until you get back to A again--the key of Abba's "Fernando." Album covers, animated charts of the key changes, and visual snippets demonstrating lyrical content flash by while you listen--Dion's "Donna Prima Donna" gets a brief flash of Tyra Banks.


Am I the last person to know Tagg was doing these videos? (Answer: Yes!) He's even done his Kojack book as a ten minute video.

The End of ENDA

Let me get this straight.

1. Barney Frank tells us that the newest version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which included gender identity, will never pass the House.

2. So, in order to pass the House, gender identity is taken out. Pragmatism over idealism, right? Transfolk and anyone who is mildly not gender normative should sacrifice now, so that those in the community who are least likely to be discriminated against are protected. Okay. Got it. Whatevs.

2. ENDA passes House.

3. We learn that there is no way ENDA is either going to pass the Senate, or be signed by President Bush.

Soooooo...we completely defanged ENDA and threw the queer community into divisive turmoil, all so we can do what exactly?

Well, we did learn one thing. As if we'd forgotten, you can trust the HRC about as far as you can throw 'em.

Bah humbug.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Brief History of I-vi-IV-V

I'm late to the game, but just noticed that Roger Bourland had a lovely post a few weeks back about one of my favorite subjects: I-vi-IV-V.

As Roger points out, this chord progression is inescapable. Today most people know it as the "Heart and Soul" changes. With the proper metrical context (6/8) and vocal texture (falsetto lead, "doo-wopping" bass) it screams "fifties," or at least that imaginary "fifties" that involves (white bourgeois) teenagers, poodle skirts, and the Kinsey report. Well, maybe the last one is particular to me.

Incidentally, although this post is not my promised discussion of the AMS Cold War panel, the doo-wop progression is an unusually excellent example of the self-reflexivity of the Fifties that Phil Ford talked about in his presentation. By 1959, the progression had not only been standardized, it was reified as an "fifties oldie", a mere four or five years after it came to prominence!

As most of us who study it know, doo-wop is not actually a "real" genre of music. It consists of four different music scenes. What's complicated is that these music scenes did not exist at the same time, but nevertheless when you are trying to envision what doo-wop "is", you have to hold all four scenes in your head at the same time:

1. R&B vocal groups of the early fifties (e.g. the Orioles, Crows, etc)
2. rock and roll vocal groups of the mid-1950s (e.g. the Chords, Penguins)
3. the late fifties Italian vocal groups (Dion and the Belmonts)
4. The early sixties revivalists (e.g. the Marcels)

Something to keep in mind: the first two are largely black, the second two mostly white (but in complicated ways).

But we're not done yet. Added to these four musical scenes you have several distinct analytical moments. The first is what I mentioned above: 1959, when the first "Oldies" compilation albums were put together, and when Slim's arcade shop in Times Square began selling rare early R&B records. It is this moment when you start to hear reference to "doo-wop" as a genre, rather than just a technique for bass arpeggiation. Another analytical moment comes later in the sixties and early seventies, when you get Sh-Na-Na and Grease. I think this is probably the moment when doo-wop starts to lose its affiliation with African American music, and becomes a representation of a mostly white vision of the fifties. Finally, in the 1990s, Rhino put out its magisterial four disc compilation of doo-wop. Although Rhino's historiography isn't crystal clear, to their credit they do understand the basic four-part history, and arranged the discs thusly. So that's doo-wop: four musical scenes, three analytical moments.

But the next, and bigger questions: where does I-vi-IV (or ii)-V come from?

Roger talks a lot about "Heart and Soul," and that is indeed one of the early examples. But there is one crucial difference between "Heart and Soul" and the progression as used in the early fifties when it first becomes popularized: "Heart and Soul" is at a much faster tempo. By 1953 (The Crows "Gee") and 1954 (Chords "Sh-Boom") you're starting to get uptempo versions of the progression, but the forties and fifties groups almost always kept it at a slow ballad. Think about the Ravens' "Count Every Star" (1950), or the Harp-Tones "Sunday Kind of Love" (1953). And of course, "Earth Angel" is taken at an almost painfully slow tempo.

No, where all these groups got the progression was, as best as I can tell, from the Rogers and Hart standard from 1934 "Blue Moon." Apparently, "the blue moon changes" were an accepted part of the arranging vocabulary in the late forties and fifties. I have no idea why this is true. One thing is that in 1949 Mel Tormé recorded a new version of the song that sold quite well, and a number of other pop musicians followed him in recording versions as well. Since the R&B vocal groups were all inveterate fans of pop standards, it stands to reason they would all be familiar with the song in 1950.

One of my favorite examples of the tangled power of I-vi-IV-V is the Moonglows cover of "Secret Love" from 1954. The original is of course from the fabulous Doris Day musical Calamity Jane. I've given a paper on the subject (comparing it to the Orioles cover released at the same time), so I'll spare you the painful details. But basically what the Moonglows do, at least superficially, is reharmonize "Secret Love" to a doo-wop progression, complete with triplet accompaniments and a soaring falsetto that gently parodies Doris's rather, uh, exuberant, singing style. Go buy a copy on iTunes, it's really quite amazing.

But what's interesting is that they actually don't reharmonize the song at all. The intro at least sounds like a doo-wop song (although the progression is an odd one), but as soon as the verse begins, the accompaniment drops to more or less a single line, allowing Bobby Lester to sing the tune without too much fussing around to get notes to match chords. And when you get to the chorus, they stop trying all together, and a piano just plays the original chords unaltered. There is a power to I-vi-IV-V, a power that draws you into its circular world, but it's not always enough to keep you there.

Now that's half of an hour I should have spent writing my dissertation!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

AMS Roundup Pt. 1

Phew! Now that was a long weekend. And mine was shorter than most--due to scheduling exigencies, I didn't get to Quebec until Friday afternoon, and for the first time in my academic life, I wished that a conference was longer. Too many papers missed, too many friends I barely saw (sorry M3!), not enough schmoozing with distinguished elders. Matters were not helped by my travel schedule: it began Thursday evening, when Mary and I drove to NYC to pick up a friend after her recital, and then drove five hours north through horrible traffic, touching down at my aunt's house in Vermont at about 3:30 am. We were up at 8 to drive the rest of the way, and believe you me, I was a bit worse for the wear for the rest of the weekend.


Good Papers
  • Carol Oja's look at Leonard Bernstein's revisions to Wonderful Town to de-gay and de-communize things just as Jerome Robbins was testifying before HUAC. I need to get myself back to the Library of Congress.
  • Melissa de Graaf's look at a lost opera by Paul Bowles, about a slave revolt. Melissa gets such great stuff out of the Composer's Forum transcripts--this being a New Deal program that presented new music in public concerts where audience members could ask the composers questions afterwards. The results were transcribed, and you get an amazingly unmediated peak at what people like Bowles were thinking.
  • The whole "Analyzing Jazz" panel on Saturday morning. I unfortunately missed the first paper, but the three I saw were great. I have very ambivalent feelings about jazz scholarship, usually. 90% of it studies music that is in my period--the late forties and early fifties--but is music that I don't particularly care about, aesthetically speaking. And vice versa. I don't think I have ever seen jazz scholarship on bop acknowledge actual popular music of the period, which is to say the people I have a diss chapter about: Patti Page, Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, etc. By 1950, when jazz scholars are all so het up about Miles Davis, about one in ten American homes had a copy of Patti Page singing "The Tennessee Waltz." And while that statistic probably skews a bit white, it does so less than you'd think. This all said, everyone this panel talked about music I'm just not that into in ways that made me wish I were. Brigid Cohen's Wolpe paper gets a particular shoutout.
  • Finally, there was a really great session on Friday night lead by the Cold War Study Group. It was at perhaps the single worst time for a panel--8-11pm on a Friday night--but it was really great. So great that I'm going to devote a single post to it, in particular Tamara Levitz's fabulous call to arms, and the tension between "the Cold War" and "McCarthyism." Stay tuned.

Undoubtedly Good Papers I Wish I Had Seen
  • I missed every single paper by my colleagues at UCLA, and one by my undergraduate advisor. Sorry about that. I'm a horrible person.
  • There are a bunch of grad students my age who are doing work on American experimental music, work that is interesting, rather than boring. Three of them gave papers at this AMS--Ben Piekut, Ryan Dohoney, and Kelsey Cowger--and I missed them all. I've seem these papers elsewhere, though, and they are all very exciting.
  • Phil and Ryan's festival of the musicological internets.

Since this blog is not anonymous, there were No Bad Papers at this AMS.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Notes on the Political Economy of "Political Economy"

Jean Baudrillard, "Towards a Political Economy of the Sign"
Gayle Rubin, "The Traffic of Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex"
Jacques Attali, "Noise: The Political Economy of Music"
Norman Kelley, "Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music"
Crooked Timber, The Political Economy of Bibliographies"

Any other fun examples, dear reader?