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Books-Into-Movies: “Lincoln” (based on the book TEAM OF RIVALS) January 10, 2013

Posted by rwf1954 in book synopsis, books, books compared to movies, books into movies, Daniel Day Lewis, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln (the movie), movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Steven Spielberg, Team of Rivals, Tony Kushner.
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(Richard Warren Field wrote the award-winning novel,
The Swords of Faith. Read why this book will make a great movie.)

The credits for the 2012 film “Lincoln,” indicate the movie is “based in part” on the book, Team of Rivals. This Book-Into-Movies post (see below for links to previous Books-Into-Movies posts at this blog) will focus on comparing the “Lincoln” movie to Team of Rivals.

A few comments before I start specific points-of-comparison:

  • The book Team of Rivals covers a much wider period of time than the movie, and really does focus on the stories of Lincoln and the “rivals” who become the team. The book runs from the election year of 1860 (moving to background material predating 1860 as the story unfolds) to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in April of 1865. The movie begins in January of 1865, in the middle of Chapter 25 (of 26 total chapters) in Team of Rivals.
  • Much more is depicted about the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in the movie than is offered in the book. The filmmakers obviously turned to other source material, though Team of Rivals is the only book credited. I know from discussions of the film in the media that expert consultations were involved in making the film.
  • This post concerns specific comparisons between the book and the movie. I am not a Lincoln scholar. I am not attempting to complete a historical fact-check here. I invite experts to add fact-check comments if they wish. My comments will involve only comparisons between the book, Team of Rivals, and the movie, “Lincoln.”
  • Team of Rivals is about so much more than the Thirteenth Amendment. As indicated in the title, the book is about the rivals for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination, rivals who compete vigorously against each other, and are then brought together in Lincoln’s cabinet. This also includes Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, a Democrat who had snubbed circuit lawyer Abraham Lincoln years before in Ohio. The book details the story of Lincoln’s leadership of these men during arguably the most difficult days in the United States history. Team of Rivals is copiously filled with first-hand accounts that document every aspect of the story. Anyone interested in the accurate history surrounding Abraham Lincoln will enjoy this book, a book that widens the scope of the material offered in the movie by elaborating on the men, the former rivals—now teammates—with President Abraham Lincoln.

Comments comparing the book and the movie, roughly in chronological order from the film:

  • The film opens with black soldiers fighting in the Union lines. The issue of how to use blacks—slaves taken by the military, slaves escaping to the north, and freed blacks in the North—is an issue of concern throughout the war. Depiction of blacks fighting at this point in the war, in 1865, is consistent with facts documented in the book.
  • The Confederate decision to execute all black soldiers taken on the battlefield did result in Lincoln approving an order that for every black soldier “killed in violation of the laws of war,” a Confederate soldier would be summarily executed. Another part of this order mandated that for every black taken and re-enslaved, a Confederate soldier/prisoner would be “placed at hard labor.”
  • The issue of unequal pay is mentioned in Team of Rivals. It comes up when President Lincoln assures the great black abolitionist/orator/leader Frederick Douglass that blacks will “in the end” receive the same pay as whites.
  • The carriage accident involving Mary Todd Lincoln is addressed in the book. The accident takes place during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg and blunts Lincoln’s celebration of the Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July of 1863. Mary Todd Lincoln is in a carriage following President Lincoln who is riding on horseback. Screws are apparently deliberately removed by an “unknown assailant,” screws “fastening the driver’s seat to the body of the carriage.” Mary Lincoln “landed on her back, hitting her head against a sharp stone.” This results in an exacerbation of the headaches Mary Lincoln suffered throughout much of her life.
  • I do not recall Team of Rivals referring to Abraham Lincoln dreaming about a ship. The book does document Lincoln’s comment that the pursuit of the Thirteenth Amendment is like “whalers who have been long on a chase.”
  • The push to pass the Thirteenth Amendment during the lame duck Congressional session after the 1864 Presidential (and Congressional) election is from the book.
  • Team of Rivals depicts Abraham Lincoln as a steady, even-tempered leader, a teller of stories, sometimes prone to private spells of melancholy/depression, but slow to immerse in passion or emotion. Daniel Day Lewis captures the Lincoln from Team of Rivals flawlessly. His performance has garnered him an Oscar nomination, possibly a statuette, for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln as represented in the book, bringing him alive on the screen.
  • Democrats as the party opposing the Thirteenth Amendment is from the book.
  • William Seward as Lincoln’s chief adviser and confidante is from the book. The book details the evolution of the relationship—of Seward at first as a rival bitterly disappointed that he does not garner the 1860 Republican nomination for president to becoming a key adviser and admirer of President Lincoln. Seward moderates his views on ending slavery to join Lincoln’s understanding that to move too fast could be to lose the entire struggle to keep the Union together. Slavery would then continue to exist in a separate southern “United” States.
  • The movie accurately outlines the process for the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (for the ratification of any constitutional amendment); two-thirds of both houses of Congress, then three fourths of the states.
  • The fall of Fort Fisher, guarding the North Carolina port city of Wilmington at about the same time the Thirteenth Amendment passes Congress, is from the book.
  • The episode with Francis Preston Blair, a rich conservative supporter and adviser to Abraham Lincoln, is depicted in the book. Yes, he is adamant that with Lincoln’s reelection, another peace attempt should occur. Lincoln seems doubtful, but gives Blair a “pass for Richmond” with the understanding that “he was proceeding on his own, without authority to speak for the president.” Ulysses Grant does meet with the “peace commissioners” on their way north and recommends President Lincoln should meet with them. President Lincoln meets with them at Hampton Roads in a saloon on a ship called the River Queen. There is a weird proposal that the Union and Confederacy should join to fight the French dictatorship then installed in Mexico. The conference breaks up without any agreement, and seems doomed from the start when the Confederate envoys try to refer to two countries, and President Lincoln insists they must acknowledge one country only. Republican radicals are incensed when they hear of the conference, afraid Lincoln will be too generous in negotiations. But their distress turns to praise when reports of the details of the conference are communicated.
  • Team of Rivals does refer to “the story of the peace commissioners, whose presence almost derailed the vote on the new amendment.” But President Lincoln assures James M. Ashley of Ohio, the Congressman introducing the amendment, that “no peace commissioners are in the City, or likely to be in it.” On its face this is true—the “peace commissioners” are not in the capital city. The movie correctly describes the problem—Democrats needed to defect to get the two thirds vote for the amendment, and even some conservative Republicans, would probably have not voted for passage of the abolition amendment because it would be sure to end any prospects for peace. Lincoln cleverly satisfied his friend and supporter Francis Preston Blair while getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed.
  • Other notes about Lincoln’s meeting with the peace commissioners: He is previously acquainted with Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, one of the “peace commissioners.” They share discussion of mutual acquaintances before getting directly to the business at hand. Team of Rivals does not document any proposal that Lincoln allow Southern states back into the union so they can vote down the Thirteenth Amendment. There is some discussion of possible reimbursement to slaveowners from the Federal government, but nothing comes of this idea, an idea sure to be unpopular with most of Lincoln’s base.
  • A word about political terms that have a different meaning now than they did then: “Radicals” were mainly Republicans who wanted abolition of slavery as quickly as possible and the toughest possible approach to the southern Rebel states. “Conservative” Republicans favored a slower, less definitive approach to slavery, and would consider maintaining slavery in exchange for peace. Democrats were primarily in favor of the “conservative” approach, with pro-war Democrats favoring the fight to maintain the Union, and anti-war Democrats favoring peace at nearly any price, including agreeing to two countries.
  • Lincoln’s legal assessment of the Emancipation Proclamation and how the Thirteenth Amendment was needed to end slavery legally is from the book. The Emancipation Proclamation was intended as an executive order at time of war, and might not have been legally binding once the war had ended.
  • Thaddeus Stevens (the Tommy Lee Jones character) is not mentioned extensively in Team of Rivals. The character in the movie is consistent with the few references to him in the book. Whether Thaddeus Stevens in truth had an intimate relationship with his black housekeeper is not addressed in the book.
  • Team of Rivals does mention patronage jobs given in exchange for votes in favor of the Thirteenth Amendment. The movie expands this part of the passage story beyond information provided in Team of Rivals. The book does documents that President Lincoln insists to his House allies that he is President of United States “clothed with great power,” and that the votes of two wavering members were of “such importance that those two votes must be procured.”
  • Many Lincoln supporters crowd the gallery for the House debate the day the Thirteenth Amendment passes. It is hard to get a seat. This includes much of his cabinet. I saw no mention that Mary Lincoln was in the gallery. Mary Lincoln was from a slave border state and had three brothers-in-law who fought for the Confederacy. Her presence for this debate seems unlikely.
  • Mary Lincoln’s devastation over her son Willie’s death during Lincoln’s presidency is documented in the book.
  • Robert Lincoln’s desire to serve in the army is also from the book. The book does not detail any of the emotional rancor depicted in the movie. There is no face-slap. President Lincoln writes General Grant and asks him to place his son in a position on his staff. Team of Rivals does tell us that Abraham Lincoln was not as close to his older son as to his two younger sons, Willie and Tad. When Robert was growing up, circuit lawyer Abraham Lincoln was spending long periods of time away from home.
  • Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s depiction as a serious man, demanding of everyone around him, including himself, is consistent with Stanton as depicted in the book.
  • Lincoln’s leniency with death penalties for Union deserters, issuing pardons for many, and Stanton’s belief he was too lenient, is also from the book.
  • Lincoln’s visits with wounded soldiers are also depicted in the book.
  • I do not recall any part of Team of Rivals hinting at the scene in the movie where Lincoln loudly exclaims to Mary Lincoln: “I should have clapped you in the madhouse.”
  • Lincoln communicating to Grant that he would not mind if Jefferson Davis slipped out of the country without his knowledge is from the book.
  • Stanton’s statement, after Lincoln’s death, that “now he belongs to the ages” is from the book (and is a well-known famous quote from Stanton).
  • Secretary of State Seward is not at Lincoln’s bedside at his death in the movie. This is accurate. The filmmakers did not have time to explain why. Seward had been in a carriage accident that left him bedridden at the time of the assassination. And on the same night, another assassin tried to kill Seward (this was a plot to kill a number of high-ranking Union leaders), and Seward’s life also hung in the balance as he recuperated from his carriage injuries and wounds inflicted by his would-be killer. Seward did recover. But he was not available to be at Lincoln’s death.
  • The movie ends with a flashback to Lincoln’s 1865 Inaugural Address and his famous quote: “With malice toward none; with charity for all.” Back then, Presidential inaugurations took place in early March. So this took place over a month after the Thirteenth Amendment passed Congress, but before the Confederate surrender.

The “with malice toward none: with charity for all” quote, for me, captures Lincoln’s greatness. Team of Rivals, with its detailed account of how Lincoln brought sometimes hostile opponents into his inner circle for the greater good, and with its documentation of Lincoln’s political astuteness, knowing exactly what pace and what sequence of events to take to keep the fledgling United States together while extinguishing the new nation’s greatest evil, adds to the Lincoln legend. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” captures a piece of this chronicle and puts it in front of the public in dramatic form, largely true to the tone and theme of the book. It reminded me that Lincoln’s accomplishments were not a given. If he had pushed for ending slavery too quickly, he would have lost slave border states to the Confederacy, including Maryland, and likely the Union would have lost the Civil War. If he had waited too long, the moral imperatives of the war would have been blunted. He made the right moves at the right times, and amidst terrible bloodshed and withering hatreds, held the United States together—the world would be a lesser place without the United States as the world power it is today. The reach of Lincoln is mentioned toward the end of Team of Rivals. Siberian tribesmen from the early Twentieth Century ask Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy to tell stories about Abraham Lincoln. His greatness had somehow reached remote corners of the planet. Doris Kearns Goodwin and Steven Spielberg have added to the long list of wonderful stories about America’s great treasure, our Sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln.

*******

Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):

Books-Into-Movies: “Water for Elephants” (based on the book Water for Elephants)

Books-Into-Movies: “the five people you meet in heaven” (based on the book the five people you meet in heaven)

Books-Into-Movies: “Moneyball” (based on the book Moneyball)

Books-Into-Film Commentary – “Birdsong” (Part One)/Books-Into-Film Commentary – “Birdsong” (Part Two)

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special 40th Anniversary Edition: “The Godfather”

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

Books-Into-Movies: “Tamara Drewe” (based on Tamara Drewe)

Books-Into-Movies: “Red” (based on Red)

Books-Into-Movies: “Secretariat” (based on the book Secretariat)

Books-Into-Movies: “The Social Network” (based on the book The Accidental Millionaires)

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Hugo” (based on the book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret)

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Sarah’s Key”

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”

Books-Into-Movie Commentary – Special Easter Edition: “Ben Hur”

Books-Into-Movie Commentary: Jane Eyre

Books-Into-Movie Commentary: True Grit

Books-Into-Movie Commentary: Gulliver’s Travels

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Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part X December 19, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in American Indian, Andrew Shahriari, blues, book review, books, Canada, ethnomusicology, jazz, music, United States, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX

PART TEN
Canada and the United States

General Comments: This is the music of my home. I enjoy very much the focus on folk traditions, not on current pop or even concert/classical music which I can experience from other sources. And I found some surprises here. A few of the selections focused on what were obviously Celtic traditions that came to the United States and Canada with the Scottish, Irish and English. In this music, we find the some of the same elements from other traditions, like pentatonic scales—yes, the same pentatonic scales we find in many varied cultures. We also hear some good examples of African-influenced music, and two examples of American Indian music. All of this serves to remind me of the huge stew of musical influences already simmering together, and that my desire to do some more melding is in the tradition of my own home culture. Also, elements of this music help the study of music, physics and metaphysics, and the idea of what might be universal in how humans experience music, and what might be culture-specific.

CD 3, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Canada: CapeBreton Fiddling
This is a basic Scottish/Irish sounding violin ditty. It features a quick triplet rhythm in a minor key, going from i to VII with no hints of the raised 7 found in the conventional harmonic minor scale. The melody cruises along in seconds and thirds, cadencing on a triplet followed by a quarter note, 3-1-1 – 1.

CD 3, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States of America: Ballad-Singing
A solo female voice sings a single line melody in a minor key. It migrates up to III, then winds back to cadence on i. The scale/mode is quite similar to the mode used in the little ditty of the previous selection. Even the singer’s accent feels Scottish/Irish. The end cadence is 4-3-1, also a similar move to the 3-1-1 cadence in the previous selection.

CD 3, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Old Regular Baptist Lined Hymn
This is a choral piece in a major mode, but with a pentatonic feel. There is a soloist and a solo-response feel like some of the African vocal music. There is no real structured rhythm—the lead vocalist sets whatever rhythm there is based on his rendering of the words. The chorus seems to follow, echoing the soloist.

CD 3, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Singing School Shape-Note Music
A chorus sings in a natural minor mode, with a flat 7, no hint of a raised 7 at any point. This music has a very specific rhythm and imitative style, with eighth note figures articulating the rhythm. There is a raw, unrefined quality to the voices that makes this music feel very basic.

CD 3, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Bluegrass
This music features a driving 4/4 rhythm with a basic I-IV-I-V progression, laid out by a plucked banjo, mandolin, fiddle/violin and bass. High voices harmonize in tight third/fourths (fit to the chord) rendering the song’s melody. Between the vocal sections, different instruments pop out with solos over the chords. There is no percussion in this ensemble. The bass and mandolin lay out the rhythm most of the time. I was really surprised to learn that this music comes from the mid Twentieth Century, after jazz, blues, and not long before rock.

CD 3, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Spiritual
This is vocal music in a pentatonic scale, but with a muddy, blues third. There is a soloist, but this isn’t really call-and-response music. There is a trudging feel to this music. This song is in a slow three. There is a clear move to 2 (which implies V) just before the ending cadence on 1. There’s also a move to 4 at the outset. So we have a basic I-IV-I-V-I feel.

CD 3, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: African-American Gospel Choir
Here we have a peppy rhythm offered by an organ, with the bass from the organ driving the rhythm at key points. Handclaps join in from the chorus about midway through. This song is in a major key, but the chords are varied with a II7 chord and some other minor chords supplementing the major key primary chords. These chords often move in rapid succession. The melody line is simple so the melody can be sung by many untrained voices together. The harmonic underpinnings are more complex and challenging than the melody line.

CD 3, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Country Blues
This song gives us the familiar twelve-bar blues, with just a guitar and voice, the way the songs were originally sung. We get a melody phrase twice followed by a third phrase. There is also a point where a variation on the melody adds more lyrics.

CD 3, Track 25 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States/“Nuyorican” (New York City): Salsa
This music sounds Caribbean or South American. We have the recognizable rhythm of the downbeat on one and a pickup from off of two. There are lots of percussion instruments driving the pulse of the music. The bass anchors it. Complex arrangements of brass and woodwinds with prominent flute lines move around the melody. Harmony/chord progressions are adventurous, with the melody sometimes outside the chord. At the beginning, after brass sounding like a train whistle, there is an intro section that goes I to ii to iii then in to flat chords in a circle of fifths to get back to I. Another distinctive feature is the individual piano line in rhythm, arpeggiating the chord structures, as if staking out a middle ground between percussion and pitched instruments.

CD 3, Track 26 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Cajun Music
This music features pounding straight rhythms with a fiddle/violin and accordion. There are strong downbeats with eighths and sixteenths also pushing the pace. There is little syncopation in this music. A whiny, high-pitched vocalist sings the melody, which is then restated by the fiddle and accordion-type instrument. The chord structure is very simple, I to V to I. But there is something captivating about the pure emotion reflected in this music. And despite the accordion, this music does not sound solely European. Unlike the tango example from the previous post on South America and Mexico, there is something distinctively American about this music. This is probably due to the fiddle sound, and the Southern twang of the voice, with a hint of a French accent, but clearly not French.

CD 3, Track 27 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Plains Indian Dance Song
A drum beat drives the rhythm of this simple song, almost like a heartbeat with a quarter followed by eighth/three feel. The chant is very simple, in a major pentatonic scale. It starts up high and descends to a final resting place at 1. In fact, the initial note starts at an octave higher than the final cadence note. There are occasional lingerings at other scale levels, but the end of the vocal phrase always gravitates down to 1.

CD 3, Track 28 from World Music: A Global Journey
United States: Native American Flute
A beautiful flute sound plays a major key pentatonic mode in this piece. The sound is like a recorder, but does not sound quite as delicate. The line also seems to float down to a cadence at 1, similar to the previous selection, but with more excursions than the vocal music. In fact, the passage starts with an octave leap on the 5. And this excerpt ends on 5 (though it clearly is an excerpt).

Personal Compositional Note: I am not sure why, but I loved the thumping basic drive of the Cajun music and will look for way to bring it in to my own work. I’m clearly already influenced by blues and jazz that are native to my country. This Cajun music seems every bit as basic as the blues with the same soul/deep-level feelings. It couldn’t be much more different from the blues, which makes it even more fun that it is also part of my culture. I’m thinking there is a way to incorporate those characteristics into some music of mine in the future. The Native American flute sound would also make a nice melody line instrument. The use of the piano as a combination percussion and pitched rhythm instrument by having it arpeggiate a chord in rhythm, like the salsa music, is also an idea to bring in to other music contexts. Of course, I am already familiar with many of these styles of music, and know they are already part of my own musical vocabulary. But it was nice to arrive “home” again after these stops all over the planet and find some fresh musical angles.

This is the final post of this series within a series. The next post will be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question. I believe my thoughts on his ideas about music will be more insightful now that I have completed this musical journey, courtesy of Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IX December 16, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Amazon, Andrew Shahriari, Argentina, book review, books, Brazil, ethnomusicology, Mexico, music, Peru, South America, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII

PART NINE
South America and Mexico: The Amazon Rainforest, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico

General Comments: As in the Caribbean, discussed in the previous post, we have a blend of styles from different places. Brazilian music combines African and European music. Some other examples seem almost completely European. And, we have examples of Amazonian and Peruvian panpipe music which appear to predate European or African music.

CD 3, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Amazonian Chant
This is totally rudimentary music—no drums, no pitched instruments, just male voices. They chant a pitch, then bend the pitch down, then speak rhythmically, then return to the original pitch. There are no scales, no melodies, no harmonies. This is interesting music because it is music at a very basic level. It can serve to help us understand the nature of music for humans, but there is not much for me to latch onto for my own future music projects.

CD 3, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Peru: Sikuri (Panpipe) Ensemble
This piece sounds like a panpipe marching band. The rhythm emanates from a quick-paced driving bass drum on down beats, skipping an occasional downbeat, but never enough to lose the momentum of the rhythm. The simple melodic line is a pentatonic minor scale—there is no 7 to distinguish it as harmonic or natural minor. The melodic line is harmonized by other panpipes playing other parts of the pentatonic scale. This music would be easily grasped by “Oriental” or Celtic cultures. Because of the pentatonic scales and the flute instruments, the music has a universal feel. Those scales and that instrumental sound can be found almost everywhere. This music may provide an example of universal human music.

CD 3, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Argentina: Tango
An accordion plays a minor key “Western” theme that could be from a Paris café as much as from South America. This example, with a solo accordion, does not seem rhythmic enough to be dance music. I suspect there are better examples of the tango to listen to. (I am not that concerned about finding a better example of the tango for my study of this subject or for my future music projects.)

CD 3, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Samba
The rhythm is the huge defining factor for this music. We have a strong beat one, with an eighth note pickup to a strong three. The two and four also drive the beat, functioning as strong after-beats. The exotic chord progressions add to the effect. We certainly have a tonic, and a basic tonality. But the chords do not come in simple triads, and the moves are smooth but adventurous, not I-IV-V-I type moves. Common tones bridge what on paper could seem to be unrelated chords. I love the rhythm and the chord-moves as something to emulate in some of my own music.

CD 3, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Brazil: Capoeira
This is much more basic music from Brazil. It sounds African, with a solo-response concept. Drums, including almost Gamelan sounding percussion, back up the male chorus. The melodic line is three notes, starting on 3 of a major scale, moving to 1 then back up to 3. This repeats as a basic melodic chant with a soloist moving in and around it. The metallic percussion seems to sound 5 to 4 to 5 of the scale, but the pitches are indistinct. And like the samba, there are some eighth note pickups within the rhythm that give it a fresh exotic feel.

CD 3, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Mexico: Mariachi
This music is like a fast waltz in a major key, moving through a number of chords with a basic I-IV-V-I feel. The B section moves briefly to the V as a key center, using II7 to get there. But it slips back to I quickly. The harmonic structure is tonal/Western European. The Spanish vocalist and the trumpets chattering in thirds identify this as distinctly mariachi music.

Personal Compositional Note: The rhythms of the samba and capoeira music are enticing to me as I meld styles. I also love the sound of the Peruvian panpipes. This could all end up in music I will create in the future. The Brazilian music reminds me of the Caribbean fusion of African and European music, though they do manifest this fusion in slightly different ways.

The next and final post of this series within a series will move to Canada and the United States.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VIII December 13, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bahamas, book review, books, Caribbean, Cuba, Dominican Republic, ethnomusicology, Haiti, Jamaica, music, Trinidad and Tobago, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

PART EIGHT
The Caribbean: Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, The Bahamas, Cuba, The Dominican Republic

General Comments: This music is already a melding of disparate international styles—African with European/Spanish styles. We have complex rhythms underpinning “Western” tonality. This can be diatonic harmonies, and also the exotic modes and instruments of some of the music of Spain, including Arabic-tinged modes and instruments.

CD 3, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Haiti: Vodou Ritual
The solo-response African concept permeates this selection. It is raw and emotional, with a single thin voice emoting, backed up by a mixed ensemble with percussion instruments and a few “bamboo trumpet aerophones.” The melody lines derive from a pentatonic scale, in some places with moves reminiscent of a blues scale. The drums pound out a steady complex beat. The second half slows in tempo. The tonality appears to be the same, but the aerophone emphasizes a different pitch in the scale, making it feel even poly-tonal briefly.

CD 3, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Jamaica: Reggae
This is a familiar style to any casual listener of “Western” pop music, a style that has influenced “Western” pop artists and has also been popular on its own. This song is a tribute to Bob Marley by reggae artist Carlos Jones. The distinctive identifying feature is the off-of-the-beat rhythm section chords following the downbeat in either a quarter notes or eighth notes. The timbale fills at the edges of phrases in eighths and sixteenths. This is basically a I-IV vamp with a B section that slips briefly away, landing in V before going back to I-IV again. The instruments are “Western” pop—drum kit, bass, electric guitar, electric organ, with flourishes of exotic drum sounds added. The drum kit uses rim shots as opposed to snare hits, giving the music a lighter style than a typical rock song. The drum kit acts as a background anchor, a straight man for other, mostly subtle percussive effects.

CD 3, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Calypso
The vocals dominate, giving a philosophical statement in melody, but with the words clearly intended to be more important than the melody. This is a sung recitation over music. The instruments could be playing classical chamber music (except for guitar, bass and congas—but they all offer a quiet background rhythm). We have a piano, clarinet, trumpet and violin sounding melody lines and fills, sometimes in unison, sometimes in counterpoint. The music is minor-key tonal, slipping to the relative major for the B section before a strong V takes us unambiguously back to the minor key.

CD 3, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Trinidad: Steel Band
This is one of the most fun and distinctive Caribbean sounds. We have a percussion sound that plays pitches. These pitches can be used to play all sorts of music. Their detuned sound gives the notes a rich, exotic timbre. The sound doesn’t sustain, so tremolos and trills are needed to sustain longer chords. This selection is a I-IV-I-V little ditty that seems to capture the basic feel of the sound, the “standard” feel. But the timbre of this sound brings incredible possibilities, both on its own and as hybrid sounds realized electronically or by doubling.

CD 3, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bahamas: Rhyming Spiritual
World Music: A Global Journeytells us that “Tories” fled the newly formed United States and took their black slaves with them to the Bahamas. This music lets us know they took their “negro spiritual sound” as well. This is the African solo-response concept. A solo voice sings out a line, and follows through on the song words while a small chorus of voices sings a repeated refrain. There is no percussion or other instruments. The cadences alternate between resting on the 1 and 5 of the scale. The scale is a major scale, but sometimes fuzzes the third, giving us a blues feel. When the lead vocalist reaches for the 7 of the scale, he hits a flat seven, giving us a Mixolydian blues feel at times.

CD 3, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Cuba: Son
Here is a clear blending of Spanish and African. Drums pound out a strong rhythm in four, with complex timbale rhythms filling the sound. The guitar gives this a Spanish feel, as well as the words in Spanish! A wailing, almost whining trumpet moves in and around the vocal lines. There is room for improvisation, sort of jazzy, but not totally. We have a long guitar solo that recalls flamenco and jazz. The tonality is harmonic minor, with a natural 7 and the flat 6. The vocal harmonies are in thirds. The i minor becomes a I7 to move to iv, then to II7 to go to V7 and back to I. The unambiguous third of the V7 chord gives us the melodic minor scale.

CD 3, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Dominican Republic: Merengue
We have a quick tempo here, in four, with accents on two and four. An accordion underpins the solo-response feel of the vocals. The chords are simple V-I, over and over. The accordion breaks into florid but simple scale lines during a break for a solo. The percussion instruments provide lots of motion, lots of notes, to bring energy and drive to the selection. This again is a blend of African and Spanish/Western European influences.

Personal Compositional Note: I love the steel drum sound, a distinctly Caribbean contribution to the world’s musical palette. I will be using that sound as part of the new music I will be creating. Also, there is a lot to learn from the way musical styles have melded in these Caribbean examples. The Cuban music brings together African rhythms with “Western” tonality and language. The example of the Dominican Republic merenge has an accordion playing joyfully over syncopated African type drums. The Caribbean example is an invitation to try anything—nothing is out of bounds.

The next post will move to South America and Mexico.

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII December 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Africa, Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, Central Africa, ethnomusicology, Ghana, music, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, world music, Zimbabwe.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI

PART SEVEN
Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Central Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, The Republic of South Africa

General Comments: When we think of African music, we think of rhythms, of drums and pitched wooden percussion bound together in energetic syncopated magic. And there is a lot of that with these selections. Another African characteristic is the solo-response choral style where a soloist sings a line and a chorus responds by repeating the line or playing off of it in some way. This music also has elements seen in other music—pentatonic scales and even tonal “Western” harmonies. Even with the exotic and distinctive rhythms and sounds, there are more indications here of universal human musical commonalities.

CD 2, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: Polyrhythmic Instrumental Ensemble
A driving rhythm in four moves this piece. Those familiar with Santana (late 1960s Santana) would feel right at home with the way the bongo-sounding drums pound out the main rhythm. A syncopated hand clap springs out of the drum chorus with 16th note drum beats ornamenting the main rhythm. This underpins the singing. There are no pitched instruments in this piece. The singing is carried by a lead male voice (later trading with a female vocalist), with a chorus echoing the melodic lines. The lines are simple—1 to 5, cadencing down to 3, to 2, then resolving to 1. There is a syncopated feel to all of this—yes, the downbeats are pretty clear, but the music jumps and gyrates around the beats. That syncopation is familiar to jazz and rock fans, not necessarily in the comfort zone of traditional “Western” music.

CD 2, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: “Talking Drums”
This is really just a simple recitation. A female speaks (not singing notes, speaking), barely in any kind of rhythm. The drums are the only musical instruments, pitched a major second apart.  They appear to comment on the rhythm of the words.

CD 2, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
Nigeria: Jùjú Popular Music
This is modern pop music in a Sub-Saharan style. We have electric guitars, organ and bass. The song starts with a drum kit, but the drum kit recedes in prominence, with African drums pushing the rhythm. The song is in a basic 4/4 rhythm, but at times feels truncated possibly to accommodate the vocal lines. The vocal lines are simple, almost motivic; diatonic major (though I hear diversions to the flat 3, almost a blues move). What makes this sound African as opposed to “Western” pop? Stanzas found in “Western” pop song construction are not present. The form is freer—the music starts with a little intro that is clear ensemble playing, but then drifts into an ongoing rhythm on one basic. There is a little motivic hook from 2 to 1 to 6 back to 1 played in unison with the bass. The primary percussion is a plethora of African drums. The drum kit stays back—I hear primarily hi-hat with some snare drum sprinkling in. The bass does not join the drums to anchor the rhythm—the bass notes join guitar notes and sometimes the vocals. It is a fun marriage of the pure African style and modern “Western” pop-rock colors.

CD 2, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Pygmy Music
This piece has an exotic, strange-toned vocal line that underpins it—pentatonic motives intertwined to create a shimmering effect. Handclaps are the only rhythm. The rhythm is in a basic four, with a lot of syncopation. The vocal lines are simple, but intertwined in a way that creates more complexity. A solo voice calls over the top of this, mostly singing in a pentatonic mode, but sometimes shouting.

CD 2, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
Zimbabwe: Mbira Dza Vadzimu
Two Mbira Dza Vadzimus lay down the instrumental tracks. They sound a lot like steel drums, though less edgier. The two combine to create a I7 to IV progression that repeats. The detuned quality gives us a quarter tone/microtone feel, though the music is still diatonic major (but with the flat 7 of the scale). The vocalist sings over the top within the I-IV diatonic feel. A rattle taps out the rhythm, holding together the two instrumental lines.

CD 2, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
Uganda: Akadinda
Western percussion instruments play together to create a shimmering pattern.  It’s a pentatonic feel, and serves to outline a chord, but in a frenetic way. World Music: A Global Journey indicates this is easier to follow visually, as we can see what each percussionist is doing. Musically, this is an exotic feel, a wonderful way to express a single chord without just holding the notes sustained. “Western” composers do this, trading lines around different timbred instruments to spice up a static chord or tonality. It gives the music a drive, a life, like atoms/quarks/the energy of existence bubbling—nothing is really ever still—this music captures that.

CD 3, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Senegal: Jali with Kora
The kora is a “bridge harp.” This is again a diatonic major scale with introductory lines offered in cascading thirds. The instrument then goes into a vamp on a I/major chord. A male singer brings us a descending vocal line that seems to cadence on 1s, but sometimes drifts down. The singer hits both the natural 7 and the flat 7, implying a Mixolydian mode and major scale. The kora does not give us a 7 in the scale, so the singer is free to go Mixolydian or diatonic major (or neither, maybe just pentatonic).

CD 3, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Republic of South Africa: Mbube
This piece is performed by an all-vocal all-male ensemble. The soloist sings the line, followed by a big choral response. For some of the solo lines, we hear a low chanting of chords. Everything is I-IV-V-I in various combinations. There are lots of suspensions from the 4 to the 3, leading to cadences on the I chord, suspension-resolution cadences that would make a “Western” church choir proud.

CD 3, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
South Africa: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
This is an internationally popular a cappella choral group. The harmonies involve simple, big chords, meticulously accurate and polished both in pitch and ensemble. The African sound comes from the solo-response style, plus the sounds of the voices. The rhythm is a basic four, but phraseology bends the rhythm at times. Syncopation is evident in the music as well, and a kind of percussion comes via vocal sounds like rolling r(s), tongue clicks, and rhythmic chants of block chords.

Personal Compositional Note: I will be employing rich rhythms as I have in my own music already. Technology gives me access to many sounds from all parts of Africa. And these rhythms are already part of my own musical culture as they were brought over with blacks and incorporated into the American music tradition in blues, jazz and rock. I like the solo and response feel. My melding of music will be instrumental, but there is no reason the concept of solo and response can’t by applied to instrumental music. Harmonically and modally, the African music I heard is not as intricate as some of the other traditions. African rhythms with some of those modal traditions will be fun!

The next post will move to the Caribbean.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI December 8, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, bagpipes, book review, books, Bulgaria, ethnomusicology, Europe, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, music, Russia, Scotland, Spain, Terry E. Miller, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V

PART SIX
Europe: Greece, Spain, Russia, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria

General Comments: This, of course, is one of two areas on this musical tour that I consider my own culture. The selections here are from folk traditions, so this allows me to look at these musical traditions at their roots, unaltered by cultural melding. I was struck by how many of these selections involve drone tones. I know this is a small cross-section (a really tiny cross-section) of European music. The drones serve to anchor us in tonal centers. This is a great musical tool to keep listeners engaged and oriented when the mode is exotic and unfamiliar period. Drone tones may be a part of the universal human musical experience. Even the Tibetan music with its drone followed by a drop of a major 7th, put a drone idea in their unique musical scheme. Otherwise, this small slice of folk/Europe gave me a chance for some assessments of my own cultural roots and generated some food for thought.

CD 2, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Greece: Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) Chant
This is a modal chant with a drone; an all-male vocal chorus sings the piece. My ears settled on the drone tone as the tonal center. That gives us a scale of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6 (and I’m not sure the 7 was played) mode again. But it cadences on the 4! And that is how I heard it—not as a cadence on 1, but as a last-minute, sudden, unexpected move to 4. I have to admit, the drone sneaks in the 4 tone, but not prominently. If 4 is intended as the tonality, then this is a harmonic minor mode in the minor 4 key. But my ears don’t hear it that way. I like it in that original mode with a sneaky move to 4 at the end, like a Picardy third cadence. This music feels deeply spiritual, an attempt to blend with the Divine from yet another area of the world, offering more indications of confirmation that music functions as a bridge for humans from the physical to the metaphysical.

CD 2, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Spain: Flamenco
Guitar, energetic singing and emoting, and lots of rhythmic clapping, dominate the selection. We can almost see the dancing in our minds. As stand-alone music, it lacks a clear shape, as it is accompaniment for dancing. The guitar plays I-V7, with an occasional move to IV. At the end, we slipped in the harmonic minor, with a i-V7 harmonic structure. Flurries of notes punctuate the tight, rhythmic strumming.

CD 2, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Russia: Balalaika Ensemble
This is an ensemble of balalaikas, separate instruments pitched differently to create a sort of balalaika orchestra. The selection is played by a Russian ethnic ensemble in Ohio. They play an obviously structured, composed tune, simple but catchy, with that distinctive twangy balalaika sound. The harmonies are straightforward “Western”: I-V, I-IV-V. Then for fun, the piece modulates to the V and plays I- V7-I in the new key (V- II7-V in the old key). Tambourines come in to accentuate the rhythm, but this ensemble sets that rhythm nicely without it.

CD 2, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Scotland: Highland Pipes
This is one of my favorite selections from this musical tour. We have the well-known drone with the melody over the top. A snare drum wraps out the rhythm. The meter is 4/4 with triplets or 12/8 if you want to notate the triplet notes as 12/8 figures instead of 4/4 triplets. The drone is on the 5, not the 1. This took me a few listenings to understand. The 1 is heavily implied, but not played as the drone tone. The melodic line clearly sets the tonality. During the first half of the piece, every cadence is 3-1-1 on beats 1-2-3 of the 4/4 measure. There is no mistaking the tonality with that move. The mode—major key. The lines slip into circling around other tones, but always migrate back to that 1 at the end. I can easily hear a synthesizer or electric guitar playing a line like this over a synthesizer/electric guitar drone as a compelling musical blend, and on modes other than a major key.

CD 2, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ireland: Uilleann Bagpipes
These are thinner bagpipes (not as familiar to me—not as much to my taste, not as commanding or rich as those Scottish bagpipes). The mode is a major scale, but the melodic line slips into the flat 7 when moving to the IV chord. That is my favorite musical moment in this particular selection.

CD 2, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Hungary: Tekerölant (Hurdy Gurdy)
The instrument involved here is a box that drones like bagpipes. The really exotic thing about this is the move back and forth between the major and minor third. (With a flat 7, we’re talking about a Mixolydian to Dorian move, though this is primarily Mixolydian with a flat 3 in the scale played most often at the end of cadences). There is one tonal center here, but with that changed third scale degree, we have some ambiguity in the music, giving it an exotic feel.  Yes, in the American Blues, the third of the scale is played bending the pitch between minor and major. But this is different because there are no chords here, and the lines are so clearly stepwise that the ear does not hear the adventurous leaps, turns and harmonies we get from the Blues. The third when it is played is unambiguously either major or minor; there is no in- between or bending when the pitches are played.

CD 2, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bulgaria: Women’s Chorus
OK.  I didn’t get it.  Even the drone pitch doesn’t sound consistent. There is yipping, hinting at yodeling, that zips off, but to no discernible pitch. The authors of World Music: A Global Journey say this is some of the most popular “World Music” today. Not with me. This simply does not fit into my musical vision. If someone reading this would care to comment and stick up for this music, I welcome your contribution.

Personal Compositional Note: Drone tones as elements of my musical vision present many possibilities. I can even see shifting drone tones—just because folk traditions stay with one tonality for an extended period does not mean I have to. The Greek Orthodox chant featured that mode again, that mode I have seen in a few traditions: 1, flat 2, (natural) 3, 4, 5, flat 6, (natural) 7, 1/8(octave). Again, I wondered, particularly with the final cadence to 4, if I wasn’t really hearing the top half of a harmonic minor scale. But that doesn’t explain the flat 2. And my ears want to hear this within a “Western” tonal context. The people playing this music, including the Greeks, most likely do not experience the music that way. I know that I enjoy messing with that mode as-is, and I will! Maybe a Scottish bagpipe ditty on that mode! Maybe even a look at that Hungarian mode that alternates major and minor thirds.

The next post will move to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V December 6, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Arab, book review, books, Egypt, ethnomusicology, Iran, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, music, Persia, Sufism, Terry E. Miller, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV

PART FIVE
The Middle East: Islam and the Arab World, Iran, Egypt, Sufism, Judaism

General Comments: In my previous post on Indian/Pakistani music, I commented that the music was based on modes and scales, as opposed to melodic and chordal harmonic ideas. The same is true of this music. We know from history that Indian culture interacted with Middle Eastern culture. So-called “Arabic numbers” actually started in India and came to Muslim Arabia from points east. So is difficult to know if the modal nature of Arabic and Persian music evolved separately or evolved cross-culturally. But there are distinct similarities. Of course, experts in Indian and Persian music would be able to point to many differences between their approaches. I know from my experience listening outside of this book that Indian music and Persian music are very different from each other, and are varied within their own styles. But the focus on modes and scales are shared between these regions—that is undeniable. Is this an indication that the use of modes and scales is some sort of universal musical constant?

CD 2, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Islam: “Call to Prayer”
For a religion that is supposed to be hostile to music, this is a heartfelt solo voice, chanting up and down on what seems to be mainly the first four notes of a major scale. There is a tone of spiritual depth and emotion behind this. My excursions into an international sound are planned to be instrumental, so I won’t be able to tap directly into this. But I will keep in mind the huge musical/spiritual connection in this Muslim “Call to Prayer,”—a call to interact with the Divine, summoned by simple, heartfelt music. To me, the poignancy of this music and its apparent spiritual nature for a religion that is generally considered hostile to music argues for music as a bridge to the Divine, whatever that is.

CD 2, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Arabic Taqasim Improvisation for Ud and Buzuq
This is a non-rhythmic run up and down what seems to be, by my ears, two exotic modes a perfect fourth apart. Cadences imply the second mode, but the tonality never stays there long. We have a flat second and a flat third in the main mode, so this seems to be Phrygian-like. We have a lute/guitar sound and a metallic string sound, different but close, trading lines.

CD 2, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Iran: Dastgah for Santur and Voice
The santur is a “hammered” zither. The voice is a female voice that seems to trade time with the santur. I hear a Phrygian mode, particularly in the voice, which starts on 1, drops to flat 7 then up to flat 3, moving down to the flat 2 and the 1. (Or are they starting out focusing on the 5, and I am hearing flat 7 to flat 6 to 5? Or is it neither, and I am cramming this into a “Western” context?”) The santur sounds “out of tune” at times. I suspect this is by design—quarter-tone tunings for the Persian modes. I still hear this music in the context of a twelve tone chromatic scale. Is this my conditioned “Western” ears? Maybe. But the vocalist seems to sing pure intervals, without discernible quarter tones. I still think the human ear detects only so many scale tones, and seven (eight to an octave) may be a universal human limit. I am not going to attribute this to “Western” ears right now. But, I will admit, even if the evidence points toward quarter tones as a viable musical expression in some cultures, I cannot get there. Whether this is due to “Western” ears, or human ears, that is where my own musical vision remains. I have recently listened to other santur music. Again, clearly the santur was tuned to quarter tones. My sensation of music, developed over nearly sixty years of life, does not allow me to experience these as much more than out of tune twelve tone notes. It may be that people growing up in the Persian culture can distinguish quarter-tones. I will say that I found the other santur music I listened to also focused around the manipulation of scales with the quarter tones. I found the rhythm and inventiveness of the handling of the exotic modes to be musically compelling and worthy of consideration for inclusion in my own efforts.

CD 2, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Egypt: Takht Instrumental Ensemble
We have a really enchanting, exotic ensemble here consisting of a plucked lute, bowed lute, flute, plucked zither and drum. They play the main melody in rhythm in a G harmonic minor, complete with flat 6 and natural 7. The five is definitely used as dominant throughout piece. The listening guide of World Music: A Global Journey indicates their flat 3 is flatter than the “Western” equal temperament flat 3, but I can’t say my ears detected a difference—it sounds like a normal flat 3 to me. This is one of my favorite selections on this musical tour. I’ve played with ideas like this in “Eastern Boogie” from “Issa Music” (and I will play with these ideas more). The musicians do not focus on a harmonic, chordal basis for the melodic lines. That is something I will add in my own musical vision (and did add in “Eastern Boogie”). Otherwise, this is almost like a jazz combo trading solos!

CD 2, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Turkey: Sufi Dhikr Ceremony
This is mainly a chorus with a flute following the melody and a few background instruments. It is a joyous major key melodic line, with syncopations to give the line rhythmic drive and emotion.

CD 2, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Judaism: Jewish Shofar and Liturgical Cantillation
We hear a horn setting the tonality with a tonic-dominant fanfare call. The vocal chants in what is an exotic mode with a flat 2 in it. He dwells on the 5 a lot, coming to 1 only infrequently, and of course at the end. This is another one of these flat second/major third scales (frequent in selections from this region). I wonder if the Jewish and Muslim practitioners of this music know how close in style and spirit the “Call to Prayer” and this cantor’s chant are!

Personal Compositional Note: There is no question that I will be using the mode of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6, 7 and 1/8(octave). This mode offers beautiful sounding harmonies and melodies that will be fresh but not too outlandish to Western ears, and hopefully familiar to Eastern ears. I’ve identified books discussing Arabic and Persian scales/modes. There may be significant numbers of scales. I’m not sure if this is because we’re talking about scales with quarter tones, which I do not see myself employing in my own work. So I’m not sure how far I will go personally into the modal nature of this music. But I have been listening to Arabic and Persian music with the idea that I might pick up some more interesting scales and modes to apply to my own musical vision. Of course, there are exotic timbres from this music that can be incorporated because of the technology now available. I expect to be juxtaposing traditional Arabic and Persian sounds with other sounds from around the world and from different points in time.

The next post will move to Europe.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV December 4, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, ethnomusicology, India, music, Pakistan, raga, South Asia, Terry E. Miller, world music.
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III

PART FOUR
South Asia: India, Pakistan

General Comments: This music is largely built on scales/modes, not chord progressions. Artists appear to be expert at working over the scales, exploring all sorts of possibilities through improvisation, building lines from the characteristics of the scales. Rhythms follow motives and melodic lines. There were a few indications of standard “Western” rhythms following the melodic line whether sung or played. The Sufi devotional song broke into a clear 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a catchy rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the three, giving it a fun, syncopated feel.

CD 1, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindustani (Instrumental) Raga
This piece is based on an exotic mode played by plucked lute over droning strings. The scale is basically a major scale, but with a flat 6th. There is a pulse to the music, but there is not an immediately evident conventional “Western” time-signature. The notes of the scale of the passage are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6, 7, 1/8(octave). The flat 6th gives the mode an exotic flavor and when the music hovers around the flat 6th and perfect 5th, with the augmented second coming up from the flat 6th to the 7th, the music feels like it is revolving around a minor key. But when the improvisations slip back to the lower five tones of the scale, a major key feel is evident.

CD 1, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Carnatic Classical (Vocal) Kriti
This vocal piece has a clear tonal center set by an instrumental drone. It is in a simple major pentatonic mode. There is no chord progression. The singer moves up and down the pentatonic scale with precision, with florid, expert turns, totally accurate within the scale.

CD 1, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindu Bhajan Devotional Song
In this piece, we have a soloist followed by a chorus singing. Again, we have simple melodic moves in a pentatonic major scale. Melodic lines start at the fifth and the tonic, and cadence at the fifth and the tonic. At the end of the piece, it sounds like the singer left the pentatonic scale, though it wasn’t clear whether this was a vocal error, or a real deviation from the scale.  There’s a clear rhythm set by the phrases of a vocal line, but no consistently fixed time-signature.

CD 1, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Pakistan: Qawwali (Sufi Devotional Song)
A harmonium drone sets the tonality and also follows the vocal line in this piece, playing every note of the standard major scale. There are clear tonal centers, but they appear to shift during the piece. The scale for the melody is largely pentatonic, though it is not a strict pentatonic scale. The music goes back and forth from a free rhythm to a clear rhythm. There is a fun rhythmic section in a 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a driving rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the triplet.

Personal Compositional Note: “Western” scales are not the only scales available.  I personally enjoy playing with exotic skips in a scale, dwelling on them, exploring their melodic and harmonic possibilities inside/out, upside/down, backwards/forwards. I’ll definitely be playing with the mode mentioned above as well as other modes derived from similar changes in standard scales or modes. Also, a three rhythm does not have to be a “Western” waltz. That three rhythm in the Sufi devotional song may well show up in future music of my own.

The next post will move to the Middle East.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III November 28, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, China, East Asia, ethnomusicology, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, music, Terry E. Miller, Tibet, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II

PART THREE
East Asia: China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Tibet

General Comments: Of course when we think of Oriental music, we think of pentatonic scales. And pentatonic scales are evident through much of this music. The Chinese music selections offer tamer, less exotic pentatonic scales evoking a major key feel. The pentatonic scales offered in the Japanese selections are more exotic because of the positioning of the tonal center in the scale. The standard major key pentatonic scales are found in most cultures. The Japanese scales appear to be unique to their culture, instantly recognizable as Japanese, or at least as “Oriental,” and certainly offer some opportunities for adventurous music creators. In this group, we also have music examples from Mongolia and Tibet. Particularly the Tibetan music seems well outside the mainstream of conventional human music.

CD 1, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Guqin (“Ancient Zither”)
This is described as an “ancient zither.” The selection plays one musical line. It seems mainly pentatonic, but at times it seems to include all seven diatonic notes of a major scale. Occasionally the line is punctuated with a pitch bend. A general comment about pentatonic scales in Oriental music—they can revolve around an implied major or minor key, and can move back and forth. What is often omitted is the seventh of the implied scale. This makes the music less prone to dissonance away from the overtone series. We still do have dissonance of a sort with movement to cadence points, often implied by a perfect fourth down/perfect fifth up from the tonic. Cadence points on 5 are “dissonant” in the sense that they are not at a final musical destination point, a final resting point. But if we are to include this sort of lack of resolution in the definition of dissonance, we would have to consider this to be a soft dissonance. This is something to keep in mind when looking for universal characteristics of music.

CD 1, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Jiangnan Sizhu (“Silk and Bamboo”) Ensemble
An ensemble plays pentatonic lines with no harmonies. Woodwind/flute sounds dominate the tone up an octave from the other sounds. We can hear plucked and bowed strings. Here’s another example of that classic, quintessential pentatonic feel, with some ambiguity as to whether the tonal center is at 1, or at 6 (which then would be a minor 1). There are little clickity-clack percussions sounds that give us a distinct, strict rhythm pattern, duple, 1-and-2 and 1-and-2. The tonality shifts from different scale degrees according to the listening guide in World Music: A Global Journey. The pace picks up at the end, but there is no real change to the basic music.

CD 1, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Beijing Opera (Jingju)
This music starts out with a gaggle of percussion sounds, as if demanding attention. The music seems to be in a minor pentatonic scale. A female vocalist sings very high, not really shrill, but at an unusual vocal range for “Western” ears. The rhythm becomes less structured as if accompanying something more dramatic. Again, the lines are generally pentatonic.

CD 1, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Revolutionary Beijing Opera (Yangbanxi)
This music sounds very “Western.” Chinese instruments join in, but this is almost completely Western in its feel with tremolo string sections and orchestral trumpets front and center. It a less pentatonic piece and more diatonic. There is a strong tonic to dominant feel in the music. The music can be interesting when it melds some pentatonic moves with the conventional “Western” tonal harmonies. But this is clearly an attempt to “Westernize” “Oriental” music, complete with the big IV-V-I cadence at the end of the piece.

CD 2, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Mongolia: Urtïn duu (Long soing) with köömei (overtone or throat singing)
This music is in a pentatonic minor, 1-flat 3-4-5-flat 7. There are some very strange sounds offered with this music, probably the “overtones singing” referred to in World Music: A Global Journey. There is a simple melodic line with vocal trills. There are no passing tones and the lines stay within the scale pitches. The vocal line is also accompanied with a bowed single string line. The overtone sound is like a high buzzing flute sound, but is difficult to compare to any other conventional instrumental sound.

CD 2, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Korea: P’ansori Narrative
This music features a vocalist accompanied by a drum. She roughly follows a pentatonic melodic line, but there is such emotion in the performance that a raging vibrato obscures the pitch at times. The drama punctuates the phrasing. The vocalist speaks at times.

CD 2, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
Japan: Sankyoku (Instrumental Chamber Music)
This music is characterized by an exotic sound, basically one line but with the instruments approaching it not quite in unison. The music is played by a shakuhachi, zither and lute. The mode is exotic: 1, flat 2, 4, 5, flat 6 and flat 7. Many pentatonic scales avoid half steps. This mode seems to embrace them. The “Oriental” sound comes from the wooden flute up an octave over the plucked lute-like strings. But those half steps also seem to be quintessentially Oriental/Japanese. There’s a clear duple rhythm to the music, binding the musicians together. They do play in a quarter/eighth triplet rhythms through much of the music.

CD 2, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Japan: Kabuki Theater
This music features a very similar mode to the previous selection. There are more instruments playing here, including percussion. The vocalist sings the pitches of the mode. The rhythm is again a duple meter, unifying the piece. And again, we have the characteristic high flute sound and lower string sound.

CD 2, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Tibet: Buddhist Ritual
This music is completely unique. The first sound implies a tonality, but the next tone is a major 7thlower, giving us the real tonality. The first tone is fluttering trumpet sounds that seem to give us an imprecise pitch. Low male voices chant. On this recording, it was hard to pickup the pitches of the chants because the volume was so low. The low brass tones, by virtue of repeating, insist on the actual tonal center of the selection. There are no discernible scales/modes evident for this music.

Personal Compositional Note: Pentatonic scales do offer fuel for composition, for melody and harmony. They can be dull (because of their banal familiarity) but can play supporting roles for other musical adventures. The exception is the Japanese pentatonic scale offered in the Japanese music selections. This could be a fun scale to use to evolve compelling harmonies and melodies, using different sounds than the “Oriental” instruments we normally hear playing this type of music.

The next post will move to South Asia.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II November 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bali, Balinese, book review, books, ethnomusicology, gamelan music, Indonesia, Java, music, Southeast Asia, Terry E. Miller, Thailand, Vietnam, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I

PART TWO
Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Northeast Thailand, Indonesia (Java and Bali) 

General Comments: I think other cultures can offer “Western” music (my own culture’s music) a lot of ideas when it comes to timbre. We have been steeped in the “Western” symphony orchestra for so long that we have become accustomed to a narrow set of timbres.  Popular music has expanded this; electronics even more. But there is so much more to explore. Pentatonic scales crop up over and over again in most cultures and are evident in a lot of this music. (Let’s face it; pentatonic scales are almost a cliché of what we think of when we hear “Oriental” music, though the scales are everywhere.)  But Gamelan music? Throw out conventional pentatonics for this stuff. It is easy to see why “Western” composers for over a century have been going to this well to expand musical visions.

CD 1, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Vietnam: Central Highlands Bronze Gong Ensemble
A clanging chorus of metallic instruments with a clear pulse and with a simple melodic motif characterizes this music. It is the sounds and timbres that make this music distinctive. The only scale notes I discerned were the first five notes of the major scale. My ears heard a tonal center but with the emphasis on a cadence from 5 to 4 to 3.

CD 1, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Vietnam: Nhac Tai Tu Amateur Chamber Music
A number of string instruments, plucked and bowed, move up and down in pentatonic scales, revolving around a clear I and V. The “bowed lute” slides through pitches, though staying with the notes of the scale as primary. Pitch bends are also used on the “plucked lute” and the “plucked zither.” A subtle percussion instrument, a click-sounding instrument, like a finger snap, or a tongue against the roof of the mouth, signals phrases. The rhythm is well-defined, and the notes played by the strings are on and off the beat, giving the music an energetic, syncopated feel.

CD 1, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Thailand: Classical Piphat Music
Xylophones pound out a steady patter of notes in rhythm while a thin, reedy sound gives us a pentatonic scale line over this setting. The xylophones migrate through clusters based on the scale. I read in World Music: A Global Journey that some of this music is based on the octave subdivided differently than seven tones between the octave. (A major pentatonic scale is formed by the elimination of the 4th and 7th tones of the major scale.) My ears hear a conventional pentatonic scale, with changes in what note of the scale the music revolves around. But the exotic, possibly “out of tune” sound implied in an octave subdivided differently is not evident to me here. This music speeds up as we go, then slows suddenly to a cadence, followed by a short coda. It is not far from the feel of a Scottish or Irish fiddle ditty.

CD 1, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Thailand: Lam Klawn Repartee Singing
The khaen (a “free-reed aerophone”) sounds like it could be at home playing Cajun music in New Orleans! The khaen gives us a rhythmic and harmonic underpinning, sliding through clusters on a pentatonic scale, moving focus from I to V (but with a very clear I delineated).  The vocalist sings phrases in the scale, with turns, and with the singing almost evolving to spoken word in places.

CD 1, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey|
Thailand (Northeast): Luk Thung Popular Song
This is a pop song in a minor key, Thai sounds clearly “Westernized” with a bass and drums rhythm section. Over this are Thai vocal stylings and Thai instruments. It is the bass/drums rhythm section, providing a clear 4/4 time-signature, and a clear i, iv, v chord progression (occasional III adds in) that gives the song its “Western” feel. There is even a cheesy synth- sounding solo at the end.

CD 1, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Indonesia: Javanese Court Gamelan
Different levels of metallic percussion sounds (maybe a few not metallic) build a basic tonal center, but the center shifts, often ambiguous. We have notes sounding to my “Western” perspective as if they are in a “minor” key. But the bottom notes, slower moving, in the lower pitched metallic instruments, change pitches, sometimes along the flat 6th of that minor tonality, and staying there long enough to cause me to wonder where we are tonally. There are layers of rhythm that give this music its unusual (to “Western” ears) sound. There are certainly melodic ideas to pick out, but not melody and harmony in phrases as we are used to hearing them. And it is the multitude of timbres, correctly described in the book as collectively making a “shimmering” sound that set this music apart.

CD 1, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Indonesia: Balinese Gamelan Gong Kebyar
This is a quicker paced selection that starts and stops, bringing a frenetic “shimmer” in the upper notes when it is moving. I hear roughly a major scale idea here, with a lot of cadences on the 7th. Pentatonic scales avoid the tritone. Not this piece! There are many melodic moves back and forth from the 4-5-4-5 them to 7, and sitting on 7, that give us that feel.

Personal Compositional Note: I can see many possibilities for the “shimmer” idea presented by this music. Harnessed within harmonic and melodic structures familiar to cross-cultural ears, this music presents a plethora of possibilities. The bell sounds are easily sampled and/or produced on synthesizers and samplers. And the metallic quality of the tones also creates some imprecision when rendering pitches. This is another contributor to the exotic nature of this music. This allows the modern music creator a chance to juxtapose many varied tones in the “shimmer” effects mentioned above. That 4-5-4-5 to 7 move mentioned in the last piece also could lead to something. I do expect to use characteristics of this music in my upcoming new music.

The next post will move to East Asia.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl