Monday, November 23, 2009

Monday Links and Bullets

  • The academic blogosphere's two most famous fathers duke it out: Michael Bérubé versus Dean Dad on questions of tenure and academic freedom. So far Michael is winning the "sense of humor" points.
  • Ah, so that's why Terry Teachout did a Louis Armstrong biography. I was wondering what his angle was going to be.
  • I forgot to link this earlier, but Tamara Levitz's expanded commentary on the annual meeting program selection process is a fascinating read. Not to drag out and again beat a certain dead horse, but remember how one of Ilias "Will Never Work in This Field Again" Chrissochoidis's complaints about the annual meeting was that "Derrida, Bakhtin, and Adorno are topics more welcome than composers and their work"? I always found that statement particularly amusing, and even went to the trouble of doing a simple keyword search of the program booklets of the last three annual meetings. You'll be happy to know that the word "Derrida" does not appear once. Anyways, Tamara's commentary is very thought-provoking along some of these lines.
  • An friend of mine was tasered during the protests of the UC Regents meeting last week. Tasered on the back, while sitting down. No link here, because there seems not to be much coverage. Just wanted to tell someone about it.
  • I hear the SEM annual meeting in Mexico went well! Slim attendance, but to be expected with the way travel funding is these days. Kudos to SEM for crossing the border, and more valiantly then say, meeting in Quebec City or Ottawa.
  • The Teh-Drinking Musicologist has a characteristically interesting and idiosyncratic take on the "Ecomusicology" study group session at AMS.
  • A tale of copyright infringement gone wrong: Awhile back, I went to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and in my report on the show I included a picture of Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky chatting with each other. I had cheerfully scanned that photo myself out of the show's catalogue, no doubt breaking all sorts of copyright laws. And thus I seem to have invited karmic retribution. There is a horrible little web site called Conservapedia, which purports to counter the liberal bias of Wikipedia by offering a politically sanitized peer-edited encyclopedia to the world. (One of their more notorious projects includes attempting a new translation of the bible that leaves out any language that might imply Jesus was a liberal.) Well, somebody on that site has now stolen my stolen image (with attribution to me, to be fair), and is using it as an illustration on their articles about Trotskyism and Diego Rivera. Sigh.

And finally something to wake up on this dreary, rainy, Monday. I can't say it enough: God bless YouTube. I haven't seen Peter Greenaway's film since my first year in college, and here it is for free on the internets.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More on Music and Segregation

My, that was a busy conference! A good one, but busy. In what is probably a sign of getting older, I was busy enough schmoozing that I feel like I barely saw any papers. A few highlights however: David Paul looking at the politics of Ives reception, Chairman Bob on the Disney Concert Hall, Albin Zak on Mitch Miller, and of course my comrade on Sunday morning, Ryan Dohoney on Julius Eastman. I also very much enjoyed the amusicology cocktails, and the gigantic Saturday night schmoozathon. Best of all, of course, was catching up with my diasporic community of grad school friends who, our temple destroyed, now find ourselves in exile around the world. (We smuggle handwritten copies of Feminine Endings with us wherever we go.)

And my paper went very well, and I'm very appreciative of all those who dragged themselves in to hear it early on a Sunday morning. In one of my rambling answers to a question I touched on the subject of what sort of music was important to the Civil Rights Movement in its early days, before Brown v. Board of Education. A few years ago I actually once spent some time looking at this issue, in some tangential research in the NAACP papers at the Library of Congress, and since I don't think I'll be publishing or presenting it any time soon, I thought I would sketch out what I found in a blog post.

As a matter of organizational support, the national office of the NAACP really only supported two kinds of music: traditional arrangements of spirituals, and African American classical musicians. The executive secretary of the NAACP from 1931-1955 was the rather patrician Walter White. White was personally a big fan of the conductor Dean Dixon, who as I mentioned earlier would later suffer some blacklisting. In the early 1940s, White was quite vigorous in using the NAACP name to promote Dixon's career, writing letters to people like Leopold Stokowski and Virgil Thomson to help arrange concerts and reviews. (Thomson gave him a favorable review, and wrote back to White "I do hope you will continue to bring to my notice interesting musical events in which colored people are involved.” White's support for Dixon lasted at least until 1952; I would be curious to know if the blacklisting brought it to an end.

The other official musical promotion was of spirituals. There may at one point have been an NAACP choir, and in 1949 the organization sponsored a benefit album organized around the tune "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" (which, incidentally, was originally written by an NAACP activist.) There seems to have been a disagreement over how best to record the song; Roy Wilkins wrote a letter agreeing that "the rendition should be one of dignity and thankfulness. It is not a protest hymn and cannot be made such no matter what a recording group does to it."

What about popular music? Well, it's pretty clear that for the most part the leadership of the NAACP could care less. Oscar Hammerstein and John Hammond were both on the board of the NAACP, and there might have been a brief attempt in 1948 to deal with the issue of record companies having "race" departments, but I didn't much evidence that they did anything about it. One interesting little incident came in 1949. The manager of the Ink Spots wrote to the NAACP basically asking for some sort of recognition from the group for having desegregated several night clubs in the south. The main office balked at this, and clearly didn't really know who the Ink Spots were or if it was appropriate for them to recognize them. Finally, in place of a more official proclamation that would need to be ratified by the board, White wrote a letter to the Ink Spots commending them for their work:
Please accept my heartiest congratulations upon your successful appearance in Miami Beach. By breaking the long-standing ban on Negro entertainers in this resort you have opened up new opportunities for the race and have contributed significantly to the whole struggle against racial barriers in any field. This is a valiant struggle which you share in common with freedom-loving Americans of all races, creeds and regions. Your demonstration in Miami Beach should facilitate the presentation of Negro entertainers in theaters and nightclubs in other southern cities heretofore closed to them. May you continue in this pioneer work of surmounting barriers while contributing to the gaiety of the nation through the high quality of the entertainment you offer.

The basic theme of the NAACP's work in the late 1940s and early 1950s was one of slow, painstaking activism. In addition to the epochal work being performed by Thurgood Marhsall's legal unit, the bulk of the organization's files from this period is dealing with the ramifications of McCarthyism. This meant expelling Commmunists from the organization and dealing with recalcitrant local chapters while putting out small fires around the country--White was kept busy writing letters to draft boards, universities, the military, and other institutions assuring them that the NAACP was not a Communist front, and that membership was not a sign of fellow-travelerdom. For this he was later castigated, but unlike many other progressive organizations of the period, the NAACP made it through McCarthyism alive, and with its basic mission intact.

The story of Walter White's complicated relationship with Paul Robeson is a whole other story, but I'll leave that for another time!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crying in the Chapel on a Sunday Morning

Worried that this weekend's meeting of the American Musicological Society will interfere with your religious observance? I have a solution for you! This Sunday morning, instead of going to church you can come hear me talk about church, or at least, about somebody crying in a church.
Crying in the Chapel:
Religiosity and Masculinity in Early Doo-Wop

In the early 1950s, as a diverse assortment of African-American musical styles began to coalesce into the category of “rhythm and blues,” one small subset of this new genre began to strike into unusual terrain. Vocal groups, rooted in the pop quartet tradition of the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots but inflected with a new post-war sensibility that would later be called “doo-wop,” went through a short fad of singing on religious, or at least pseudo-religious, lyrical topics. The most famous such example was the Orioles’ “Crying in the Chapel,” which made it to number thirteen on the pop charts, but the Cadillacs, the Drifters, and many others contributed similar songs as well. It might be easy to associate this fad with the contemporaneous popularity of gospel quartet singing, but these R&B musicians were performing in avowedly secular context, and from their own perspective there was little confusion between gospel music and their own pop creations.

This paper therefore attempts to understand the popularity of religious subject matter in early doo-wop. I approach the question from two angles: first from the songs themselves, showing the important musical differences between these pop numbers and similar songs understood as being “actually” religious. Secondly, however, I look more broadly at one important market for this music, the so-called “black bourgeoisie” of the United States prior to desegregation. Examining magazines, fanzines, and oral histories, I argue that rather than a statement on religion—even in the heightened discourse of religiosity in the early Cold War—this use of spiritual topics was a means by which some African-American men constructed for themselves an alternative masculinity, differentiated from the more overt sexualization of others on the R&B charts.

Ultimately, I find that the use of religious topics in this early doo-wop is a precursor to a more well-known later fad—the adoption of de-sexualized lyrical subjects and increasingly younger singers as a means by which to counter public fears of African American masculinity. This topic is important not only in and of itself; it also address one of the major points of inquiry in post-war African-American music—the shifting duality of the secular and the sacred. It also provides insight into the relationship of music and politics in the early Cold War, and the complex cultural work behind the famous push for desegregation triggered by Brown v Board of Education in 1954.

This will be an an open and affirming presentation.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Thinking Musicologist's Guide to Philly

I am not a Philadelphian, but I have spent the last three years observing their ways, and here is what I have learned. I'm sure the AMS has this all up online somewhere, but people keep asking me the following questions:

How Should I Get to the Conference Hotel from the Airport?

The R1 regional rail line runs from the airport to Suburban Station, which is about three blocks away from the conference hotel. It'll cost you $7 one way, which you will want to pay in cash on the train. And, you'll be happy to know, the regional rail system is NOT on strike, although you might want to bring a fire extinguisher.

How Should I Get to the Conference Hotel from the Train Station?

The 30th Street Station, where Amtrak lands, is about a mile away, and is a pleasant enough walk. It would also be a cheap cab ride, easily obtainable at the taxi stand outside. I wouldn't recommend trolley or subway, as you'll end up practically walking a mile anyways. Plus, they're on strike.

Where Should I Drink the Alcohol and Eat the Food?

The neighborhood immediately around the conference hotel is slightly dull, thanks to that whole City Beautiful thing. BUT, a mere ten minute walk due south will get you to the Walnut Street/Rittenhouse Square part of the city, where bars and nightlife abound. People in Philadelphia tend to think of this area as full of yuppies, but that's only true within the context of Philadelphia; if you are from somewhere else it's basically just kind of normal. OR, if you walk about four blocks east and then five blocks (or so) south, you will be in the heart of the Gayborhood, where there are, well, lots of gays. And the bars and restaurants appropriate to their kind. AND, if you walk about five blocks due east from the hotel, you're in Chinatown.

A few nearby places for a meal:
  • Sabrina's (18th and Callowhill) I haven't been to this location, but the original is cozy and friendly, especially good for breakfast, and the new location comes recommended to me.
  • Vietnam (11th between Race and Vine) Great Vietnamese food, and a surprisingly nice bar/lounge kind of thing, although only open until 9:30 on Thursday and 10 on the weekend. Yes, even the bar.
  • Sakura (10th and Race) One of the better Chinese restaurants in Chinatown
  • Tria (18th between Walnut and Chestnut) Popular wine/tapas place down near Rittenhouse Square.
  • Reading Terminal (Filbert between 10th and 11th) Big indoor food market in a former railroad station with lots of little food stands and things, sort of like the Fairfax Farmer's Market in LA.
Philadelphia has lots of places for the drinking. It's what we do. You can't go too wrong. I'm not even going to try and make a list; feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Where I Should I Not Drink the Alcohol or Eat the Food?

The main nightlife part of Philly for tourists and annoying teenagers is "South Street," which refers to the easternmost ten blocks of South Street on the other end of the city. Not only is it full of tourists and annoying teenagers, but it is hard to get to on public transportation. Why bother? You can get better cheesesteaks elsewhere. And if you want to visit actual South Philly, which is quite an experience, walk down Broad Street below Washington. Well, take the orange line, it's a hike. Tell the dancers at the Dolphin I said hi. Just kidding. Or am I...

What should I do while people are droning on endlessly about things I don't care about?
  • I'm a sucker for eighteenth-century touring as much as anyone, so knock yourself out. It's probably about a half hour walk to Independence Hall. You'll need to get a free-ish ticket, preferably in advance but you can also usually walk up. Seeing the Liberty Bell, on the other hand, requires airplane-style security screening, all to see, well, a bell.
  • The former Wanamaker's department store on Broad Street now houses a Macy's, but they kept the in-store organ, all 28,250 pipes. There is a 45 minute recital every day at noon, and again at 7pm on Fridays and 5:30 on Saturdays. It is totally awesome.
  • I've never been, but if you like looking at freakishly deformed things preserved in formaldehyde, the Mutter Museum is for you.
  • I'm going to be honest: the Philadelphia Museum of Art is not very good, and definitely not worth the ridiculously high entrance price. But it is pretty to look at from the outside. And you can take your official picture on the Rocky steps without paying a thing. If you keep walking past the museum you get to the lovely walk by Boathouse Row and the Schuykill River.
If you all have any other suggestions, put 'em in the comments! I don't think we need two blogger meet-ups, so I'll hopefully see you all at the Amusicology party. With any luck we'll run into Jennifer Carroll.

And of course, at my paper--Sunday morning at 9am, so don't get too rowdy at the parties the night before.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Morning After

Unlike California, it's hard to argue with the efforts of the pro-marriage campaign in Maine. Perhaps nouveau Mainer KG will chime in, but from a distance it looks like they did everything right: strongly grassroots, an emphasis on personalized, door-to-door activism, as much engagement with faith leaders as possible, the works. And in Maine you certainly can't blame the defeat on imaginary black homophobes!

Which makes the defeat all the more disheartening. It's one thing to find fault in your own activism, but it is actually much sadder to find fault in your fellow citizenry. Like everyone else I take some solace in the results of the youth vote, and in the fact that after all, almost half of the population voted affirmatively for gay marriage. Can you even have imagine such a thing five years ago? But as much solace as that is, it is not enough. I don't want to stop there. I don't actually want older people, and religious people, and even conservatives to be defeated at the polls. I want them to be on my side. And, because I'm greedy, I don't actually want to win equal rights because of a libertarian, live and let live attitude. Sure, I would appreciate the material political gains that can be made because of that attitude, but it's not enough; "live and let live" is another term for segregation. I don't just want toleration, I want full communion. Call me greedy, but why is it so radical to want that?

Where from here? Unlike some of my brethren on the left, I do actually think that the right to marriage is an important right, and worthy of our attention and work. But since find ourselves now at a lull in that battle, I would respectfully point out all the other battles that have been gathering dust these past few years. Like, what happened to ENDA? Last time it came up, it died a quiet death in the Senate. Now that we have a more solid majority, could it pass? I think it could, and in a rigorous, trans-inclusive form. The right not to be discriminated against in employment and in housing is just as fundamental as the right to marry, and in fact applies to a much wider cross-section of our community than marriage. And as Lisa Duggan pointed out in her important article from last summer on the fight for gay rights in Utah, this is an excellent moment for such legislation. After all, the anti-gay marriage people go out of their way to say that their position is just about the institution of marriage, not about civic equality. All right then, let's see them back that argument up by supporting the rest of the equality equation!

And on a similar note, I'll tell you what battle could use a queer voice--health care reform. The queer community needs health care reform just as much as everyone else, if not more so, from the disproportionate number of gay kids living homeless on the streets, to those unable to get insurance because of the inability to marry, to the special and very expensive medical needs of many transgendered people. True, robust health care reform is a cause that can build bridges even between the NGLTF and the Catholic Church, and we need as many bridges as we can get.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


I doubt I will make it up there myself, but I hope Bostonians are seeing the Carpenter Center's exhibit Act Up New York: Activism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993. (h/t to Signal Fire)

I had a throwaway line somewhere in my dissertation about how ACT-UP clearly had a different perspective on the meaning of "silence" then did John Cage. Different times call for different political aesthetics, duh.

Monday, November 2, 2009

After the Deluge

Having conquered Einstein--hey, the Einstein documentary is now available on DVD!--my minimalism seminar has arrived at that nebulous moment known as post-minimalism. This week we somehow are doing early John Adams, late John Luther Adams, and some Mikel Rouse. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

(Image "borrowed" from Mixed Meters.)