Slave music and the Civil War

Since the American Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, no survey of Civil War music can be complete without careful attention to slave music. Slave music didn’t arise from the war, of course. It had existed in one form or another for the entire two-century history of slavery. The war itself, while it was in progress, had little effect on slave music. Afterwards, when the slaves received their freedom, most of them were anxious to leave slave culture, including its music and performance practice, behind them. Slavery as an institution In the course of the American Revolution, … Continue reading

Orphans and music education in Italy

Probably everyone who listens to classical music radio knows that Antonio Vivaldi wrote a lot of music as part of his duties at an orphanage for girls in Venice. What might not be quite as well known is similar institutions had trained Italian musicians for about a century before Vivaldi was born. Florence The earliest I know of started in Florence. A wind player at the Tuscan court named Bernardo Pagani began to teach orphans at the Spedale degli Innocenti (the orphanage of the SS. Annunziata). They became known as the Franciosini. Spedale, by the way, is Italian for “hospital.” … Continue reading

The enraged neighbor, or, trombones don’t get no respect

“The downstairs neighbors must have had quite a party last night. It almost sounded like someone was pounding on the ceiling until two o’click in the morning.” “That must have made it hard to sleep.” “It sure would have. Fortunately I was still practicing my trombone” I know I’ve had trouble finding apartments where I could practice, And I’m never up that late. I told prospective landlords that I would do my practicing mostly in the early evening and never practice late at night or early in the morning. Little did I realize that trombonists had had similar troubles for … Continue reading

Quotations on sound and silence

A music appreciation textbook I used to use defined music as sound and silence, organized in time. That’s an awfully broad definition, but it’s right to include silence. Musicians and philosophers have pointed out the relationship between music and silence almost since the beginning of writing about music at all. Here is a selection of quotations. Music is the silence between the notes ~Claude Debussy A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence. ~Leopold Stokowski The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where … Continue reading

God Save the South: an update on Confederate music

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] MRP4SNZYDHBB The Library of Congress Civil War Sheet Music Collection has five different items called “God Save the South!” These are attributed to three different composers. Not all of them name the author of the words. I have searched the collection by the keyword “Confederate,” obtaining a list of 493 items sorted by title. As it is impossible to resort that list, I have been working on a spreadsheet that I can sort in whatever ways are necessary. I am at the step of determining whether items with the same titles represent the same music or … Continue reading

Moses Asch, Harry Smith, and the Anthology of American Folk Music

A dreamer and an eccentric, working together, turned the American music industry on its ear. They issued a revolutionary recorded anthology. In the first half of the twentieth century, so-called Tin Pan Alley composers, who mostly lived in New York, produced the bulk of America’s popular music. Their sophisticated, urban music did not satisfy all the musical needs of the entire country. The singing and fiddling of rural musicians made no impression on the country’s city and town dwellers until the appearance of the Anthology of American Folk Music. Moses Asch, the dreamer, had made it his life’s goal to … Continue reading

American shaped notes tune books and the fasola tradition

When William Little and William Smith published The Easy Instructor (Philadelphia 1801), they started a spate of shaped notes tune books over the next half century or so. Perhaps the best known today is The Sacred Harp (1844). The traditional singing style associated with these books is known as the Sacred Harp style. The four shapes correspond to four syllables (fa, sol, la, mi) that form the theoretical underpinnings for the way these tunes have long been taught. Anyone who knows “Do, a deer” from The Sound of Music knows that there are seven syllables. Where did this fasola come … Continue reading

Opera rocks: Jackie Evancho’s new album

[ad name=”Google Adsense 728×90″] As I was getting ready to leave the gym this morning, the TV news had a story that made me stay to watch it. Jackie Evancho, the 11-year-old soprano who captured the nation’s imagination on “America’s God Talent” last year, has a record out and it has outsold Lady GaGa. Since the record came out only yesterday, who knows how long it will continue to outsell Lady GaGa? And yet Evancho’s success a year after the buzz over her success on America’s Got Talent is great news for real music. Lady GaGa makes her reputation on … Continue reading

Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Saddleworth, and Nostalgia

I decided to look at YouTube for inspiration for today’s post and thought it was past time to mention the British tradition of brass bands. The Grimethorpe Colliery Band, one of Britain’s truly outstanding bands, is one I recalled hearing live when I was in England. So I looked them up and was surprised to find this clip from the 1998 Saddleworth Brass Band Contests, taken in the village of Delph. More on why I was surprised later. By the way, the video has two marches; the first is called “The Cobblers.” British brass bands differ greatly from American wind … Continue reading

Gisele MacKenzie sings Papa Loves Mambo in a holiday setting. 12-18-1954

The mambo, a Cuban dance form, first became popular in the United States in the late 1940s and reached its peak of  popularity here in about 1954. Perry Como’s recording of the song “Papa Loves Mambo,” by Al Hoffman, Dick Manning, and Bix Reichner,  was released on August 31, 1954 and made it to #5 or #4 on the Billboard chart later in the year. Nowadays most recording artists perform their own material, but in the 1950s, the fact that Como scored big did not mean that other stars regarded the song as his. Many performers sought to capitalize on … Continue reading