Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Mabel the Bumblebee wishes everyone a very happy Halloween:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Next Stop Connecticut

Rather than actual blogging, this space threatens to devolve into nothing but publicity for my conference papers. (Part of my World Domination Tour '08, with stops in Virgina, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and Nashville.)

Happen to be in Connecticut this Sunday? At this year's annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, I am giving a paper on the Orioles. It's part of a panel organized by my friend and fellow blogger Kariann on "Popular Music History and the Body." Kariann is speaking about the 1960s bossa nova dance craze, and Rachel DeWitt will be discussing burlesque dancing. The panel is co-sponsored by the Gender and Sexualities Taskforce, and by the Popular Music Section. It's from 8:30 am - 10:00 am on Sunday, October 26, on the campus of Wesleyan University. The best part is that we are scheduled to do this in Memorial Chapel, so you needn't feel guilty about missing church to attend.
Choreographing the Black Bourgeoisie: Masculinity and Sincerity in Live Performances of the Orioles

The early R&B vocal group the Orioles is often credited with launching the musical style later known as doo-wop, especially with their 1949 crossover hit “It’s Too Soon to Know.” A smooth romantic ballad featuring the hugely popular Sonny Til as the lead vocalist, the song turned the Orioles into objects of adoration for African American teenagers, and their live performances often became frenzied scenes of adulation. This paper will analyze these early performances, looking at them in the context of the emerging African American middle-class after World War II, the so-called “black bourgeoisie” famously critiqued by E. Franklin Frazier in the mid-1950s. Crucial to the success of the Orioles within this environment was their performance of masculinity, which in turn hinged upon creating a convincing affect of “sincerity.” Drawing upon methodologies from Performance Studies, I use interviews, recordings, and contemporary coverage in the black press to examine this affect through various artifacts of their embodied performances: hairstyles, costumes, stage choreography, and vocal gestures. In a historical moment where the newly-invented category of “rhythm and blues” had yet to coalesce into a coherent musical style, the Orioles helped create an alternative to the more aggressively sexual masculinities emerging out of jump blues. Their choreography of masculinity would become highly influential on popular music of the later 1950s and 1960s, in musical scenes such as that of Motown.

Dear god, I think I misspelled "bourgeoisie" when I submitted this abstract.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bernstein in Virginia

Doing anything this Saturday? Happen to be driving through central Virginia? I'm giving a paper at the fall meeting of the Capital Chapter of the AMS. It's at Randolph-Macon College, and I appear to be speaking at the oddly precise time of 2:50 pm. It's a surprisingly good program overall; I forget that on the east coast, AMS chapters tend to be more vigorous than those in California. (It has to do, I imagine, with the geographic proximity of musicology programs in the East.) My paper is on Bernstein's second symphony, The Age of Anxiety, and more broadly on Bernstein's relationship with the symphonic tradition of Copland et al. This is the first time I'm airing my work on Bernstein in public, so wish me luck.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue

Your Sunday evening moment of zen:

Mitch Miller, 1963.

I've never followed Miller's career beyond the end of my dissertation (1954), where he was the impresario behind "Come on-A My House" among other great hits. My adviser introduced me to this truly frightening spectacle from later in his career. What would Hans Eisler say about this mass song?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

College Music

The Philadelphia Orchestra recently had a "College Night." It was a nice idea in some ways--up to two tickets could be reserved online, and as long as you flashed your college ID at the door, it was free. (Of course, I wonder why this event is only limited to college students, when those younger people who are not in college might perhaps be even more in need of free tickets, but don't mind me, I get grumpy like that.)

But basically a good idea, and as the above-linked Inquirer article says, it's one of many such activities the Orchestra has been engaged in recently, trying in reinterest the city in classical music after the long somnambulance of Christoph Eschenbach's reign. (Memo to the NSO: really?) Definitely worthy. A bunch of my students went to this concert as one of their required attendances at a performance of ye olde classical music. For the most part, it seemed to have gone well. The band played Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra and Tchaikovsky's Tempest overture, both fine choices for the occasion, interesting and challenging. But the middle work of the program was....Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major.

Don't get me wrong. I love Haydn. I have spent many a happy hour sawing away on my viola through the string quartets. The late symphonies are divine. There's a lot of great scholarship on Haydn. Yadda yadda yadda. But...if the Philadelphia Orchestra think this particular piece is a good piece to introduce college students to the glories of classical music, or even just to the glories of eighteenth-century music...well, I'll let my ellipses speak for themselves.