Each of you has sent thoughtful questions to me every week based on the reading that has been assigned. Some of these get answered in class and others in a personal email exchange, but here I will add questions that I think will be helpful for many of you but didn’t make it into the lecture content.
Where does the term “ragtime” come from, and what role did New Orleans play in the birth of jazz?
“Ragtime” comes from the fact that the rhythms in this type of music are syncopated or “ragged,” as the musicians who played this music referred to the style. Jazz in New Orleans grew out of ragtime; musicians adopted the syncopation and liveliness of ragtime for other instruments and ensembles. Here is a good article that details the music they played: https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/jazz_history.htm The significance of New Orleans for later jazz is tied up in other issues in American history, particularly the Great Migration, which was an exodus of southern Black Americans to cities in the north (especially Chicago and Harlem). When Black musicians and authors settled in Harlem, for example, their artistic work helped define and shape the new communities they settled into. The Harlem Renaissance, which was a flourishing of Black artistic efforts based in Harlem in the 1930s, was only possible because so many Black Americans left their homes out of political pressure and threat of physical violence, becoming refugees in their own country and banding together once they established a new home. They brought with them the musical style that had developed in New Orleans (and other migrating people brought different musical styles and artistic ideas from their respective homes in the south, too), and these merged to create the music that we simply call “jazz.”
What are “blue notes”?
Is it safe to say the era of Romanticism was the expression of emotions and how irrational they are, while the era of Impressionism was based more on realism?
- Impressionism is made by French musicians
- Romantic works are made by German/Austrian musicians in imitation of the paragon of Romanticism: Ludwig van Beethoven (there were non-German musicians composing in the same style, but they were imitating Beethoven, as well)
- Romantic works are typically large, long, and loud — large ensembles, loud and extreme dynamics, and lengthy compositions
- Impressionistic works are typically more intimate — the Debussy, for example, omitted the loudest, most aggressive instruments from the orchestra (trumpets, trombones, percussion) and instead emphasized woodwinds and harp
- Romantic works typically are in sonata form; Impressionistic works are simpler (such as an ABA form) or less predictable
- The experience of listening to the two kinds of music is different — one student described Impressionism as music that you absorbed rather than listened to; there is less that you have to actively think about in order to “get it” in Impressionistic music.
In today’s time, are artists still translating impressions into sound or not?
I was just wondering how the twelve-tone method works? I’m still a bit confused as to how it is being developed.
When were music boxes invented?
Forney, pg 249: “Unlike Mozart’s day, when composers wrote concertos to showcase their own talent as performers, Romantic composers often wrote with a particular artist in mind.”
Does this mean that, during the Baroque and Classical periods, it was mostly the composers performing their own work? Was it less common for a different performer to perform a composer’s work?
Yes, that’s exactly it. In the 18th century, composers were their own promoters in a sense — they wrote music that they themselves would perform. It was considered extremely gauche or inappropriate to perform someone else’s solo or concerto. In the 19th century, the skills of composition and performance diverged, each becoming more specialized and demanding, so it was more difficult to do both at a high level, and the compositional portion of the creative process begins to take precedence over the performance/execution side. At least among music critics and music philosophers, the skill of composition is more highly regarded than the skill of performance.
How do I know if I’m hearing a countermelody?
- You’re hearing (at least) two melodic ideas at the same time that are equally interesting
- These melodic ideas are usually contrasting
- Common in classical music
- Special (because it’s more rare) in pop music – often comes at the end of a piece (combining melodies heard earlier in the work), can feel climactic
What does “bass” mean?
- Specific instrument: double bass
- Specific voice range: lowest male voice
- The lowest line in a musical texture — Often changes on the first beat of measure; Establishes a sense of harmony that all the lines above it interact with
- Lowest kind of a particular instrument — Examples: Bass clarinet, bass trombone, bass recorder
On page 65 (of the Forney textbook), a sentence reads as follows: “We often label art music as ‘classical,’ or serious, for lack of better terms.” This label often confuses me. When does “classical” as an era of music end? If a modern-day composer is imitating a classical composer, what would their music be called?
Is music from the Romantic Era supposed to set a “romantic” mood?
I don’t understand why the call of prayer is considered as music? Being a Muslim, I know what the call of prayer is and usually it’s just recited through a loud speaker.
The issue of what sounds are deemed “music” is dependent on how the sounds are made, why they’re made, and how they’re interpreted.
In the case of a call to prayer, there are certainly aspects of the call that are musical: pitch, singing, motives, cadences, scales, melodic contour… There are similar musical sounds in other traditions (Catholic chant, Jewish prayers, etc) that treat their religious music as both a religious object as well as music.
However, as you’ve experienced, despite these quasi-musical qualities the Muslim call to prayer is a religious tool or object, and members of the religion (who create it, use it, and interpret it daily) do not consider it to be music. To call it music would be to diminish its religious power and potentially sully it with the impurity associated with (entertainment) music.
The answer, then, rests on what a culture has decided the term “music” can mean or encompass — is it entertainment, a positive thing, a sinful thing; does it only occur in certain venues, etc.? The Muslim call to prayer is simultaneously music and not-music, depending on who is listening and why they are listening.
In the Titon reading, I learned that the Jewish culture uses an instrument called the klezmer and I know Buddhist monks use a giant bell, gongs, and a stick to hit a wooden block. My question is are there other religions that also use instruments? It seems like Christianity other religions only sing or chant.
Yes! We’ve already heard an example of Christian music that uses instruments in class:
The organ is a common instrument in Christian churches (much of Bach’s career centered on his abilities as an organist in Protestant churches):
A particular sect of Zen Buddhists use the shakuhachi as a meditative tool (hoki) in their daily meditation:
Sufi Muslims use instruments to accompany their meditative dancing: