Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Spring 2016

Ethnomusicology

Before every baseball game, home or away, both teams line up, remove our hats, move our attention to the waving flag, and listen to the National Anthem.

I have grown to really appreciate these two minutes of focus on our flag as we pay our respects to our country and those who protect her. I think the song is beautiful. Not because I like the beat, or tone, or lyrics, but because I was raised to embrace it. After learning about the beginnings of our country, I have found the song to be the most universal representation of the perseverance of Americans to become an independent nation. And baseball being America’s pastime, the song is so perfect for every game.

When I hear the song, I become very locked into the flag. Often times, the flag seems brighter to me while the song plays than the rest of the surrounding area. In this moment, I am so thankful to be alive, to be at the field with my teammates, and to be a part of the country. This song is also a time in which I connect with my faith. This often is a time for prayer, thanking God for the opportunity to play. I connect religious worship with hymnals and other worship songs, but the National Anthem serves the same purpose.

The song is also a method of preparing our team before the game. It is played before each game, so our routine is built around it. After the anthem, we gather as a team, and a captain gives us some sort of pep talk to get us ready for battle.

This Friday, when we played St. Louis University, we didn’t hear the National Anthem because their speakers blew out. We ended up losing the game 2-1, but I am not attributing the loss to the lack of the song. What did result was a lot of uneasiness and frustration in the dugout as the respect for that song by SLU was questioned by my teammates. The song really does have an impact on my entire team, and it should be the same for all those listening to it.

Matt and Kim

On Thursday night, Matt and Kim came to campus to perform for the students. Since there was a chance of rain that night, the venue was moved from outside in Patterson Court to the Duke Performance Hall. This inhibited many students from attending the concert because the Union Board could only hand out a certain amount of tickets and also deterred many people who originally wanted to attend. I was not particularly excited for that the location of the concert had been moved since I had seen Matt and Kim before at a musical festival during the summer and did not imagine that the energy would be anything like that, especially in a small enclosed space filled with theatre chairs. I decided that I would attend the concert anyways since I enjoy their music and think that Matt and Kim are both great performers that interact with the crowd unlike most other artists that I had seen live. My friends and I arrived at the concert, and all of the lights were still on and less than fifty people filled into the theatre chairs. A man who played somber sounding music on a keyboard sang while everyone sat, waiting for the main act to come on. I was disappointed and disinterested; my friends and I ended up leaving and waiting for the first act to finish before returning.

After receiving many texts that Matt and Kim had just come onto the stage, my friends and I raced back to Duke Performance Hall. By this time, the lights had gone down, and the seats and the pit had filled up. We squeezed our way into the pit through the screaming fans. I was quite surprised that I enjoyed the concert despite the unique environment. The small indoor venue with seating created an intimate setting, and Matt and  Kim’s energy radiated throughout the hall. The confetti that fell from the ceiling and Kim crowd surfing were elements that I thought would not be possible with an indoor concert. They were able to put on a performance that was comparable to the one that I had experienced at the musical festival this past summer.

New Music Davidson

While enjoying the many compositions of my fellow colleagues at the concert last Friday, it was difficult not to think about an ethnomusicological perspective on the event and the process. From the event, one could not fully understand what was really going on around them. I could not begin to guess what an ethnomusicologist would make of a piece with elements from ragas, a piece that was a dance mix to a reading of a Dylan Thomas poem, a piece that sounded like an acoustic, singer-songwriter single until numerous effects were introduced, and many more. None of these seemed similar in the overall scope of the concert. It seemed as though the ethnomusicologist would almost have to observe every one of our pasts to understand why we chose to do what we did, and the context it took in the concert and class, as well as in our personal lives. I still don’t fully understand why those people chose to do what they did after observing them every step of the process of composing and deciding what to compose. These pieces from nine people in the two sections of the class certainly would have seemed random to any outsider, but for the four other people in my section it made some sense. The composer who made the raga-like piece was in the professor’s world music class at the time, the composer who made a dance mix to a poem was always interested in mixing and mixing software, and the composer who made the singer-songwriter type piece had taken the songwriting class the previous semester and was part of a band on-campus. This was very interesting and fulfilling, as an insider, to observe this culmination of ideas expressed early on in the semester into a final presentation. Throughout it all though, I couldn’t help but wonder what this would mean to an ethnomusicologist or someone just coming to the concert to support their friend. Without the background knowledge, they would not have understood, and even with the knowledge that I had I still felt like I needed to know more to understand what they produced. All in all, this was very distracting during the concert, but it made me realize just how much someone needs to observe a musical context or musical setting to understand it, even if it is only at a basic level.

How do you discover music?

I find that I never really seek out new music; rather, I just end up listening to whatever happens to fall into my lap by way of radio or whatever my friends happen to be listening to. I guess I don’t really mind this, because I enjoy the music I do listen to, but at the same time I’m sure there’s an ocean of music out there that I would enjoy if I was exposed to it. My problem is, I’m not really sure how one goes about discovering less popular songs and artists without sinking an excessive amount of time into searching. Additionally, I saw Leonie mention in her post that we would never be exposed to the musics we discussed in this course if ethnomusicologists didn’t actively seek it out. However, they do such things for a living, which really isn’t an option for us. So then, how does one go about discovering new music?

Like I said, this is something I don’t do particularly well with, so maybe take my answers with a grain of salt. A few things that I have imagined working, although I haven’t acted upon them at any great length, are listening to something like Pandora or Apple radio, both of which will play songs/artists similar to ones you like and/or choose, or searching through playlists people create on Spotify. Discover Weekly is a good place to start, but that’s just 30 songs a week, many of which you may already know or may end up disliking. I find that one of the main ways I’m exposed to new music (new to me, anyway) is by listening to other people’s playlists and then looking them up afterwards and taking songs that I like. Again though, that’s hit or miss, and it requires lots of luck and quite some time as well. Im still sure there are better ways to discover new music that may require some more active effort, I’m just not really sure what they are. The benefit of listening to radio or playlists is that they require minimal effort, but I’d be willing to put in some effort if it meant I could discover music as a much faster rate; I’m just not sure where to start. Any suggestions?

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Dear Artists: Please Stop With the Tidal Exclusives

Dear Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, Rihanna (and any other artists that put their music exclusively on Tidal),

 

Before I begin, I’d like to start by saying how big a fan I am of you guys and the music you make. You guys are four of the most dynamic, influential artists in music right now. You all sell out massive arenas and garner constant attention on social media.  You start fashion trends and coin popular phrases.

 

You also release your music exclusively on Tidal. And that really makes me mad.

 

For those who don’t know, Tidal is a fairly new music streaming service. Similar to Spotify or Apple Music, Tidal allows an unlimited amount of listens for a monthly charge. Lately, the service has been trying to drum up membership by signing deals with artists so that they release new music exclusively on Tidal. For the 99.9% of us who use streaming services other than Tidal, this is slightly annoying, because it prevents us from listening to music from our favorite artists. Kanye, you drew a lot of attention back in February with the release of your album, The Life of Pablo. I love the album. It’s a work of art. But you made it a Tidal exclusive, forcing me to sign up for a free trial account that I knew I was going to cancel. You essentially used the album as a bargaining chip to force people to subscribe to Tidal. It worked at first; massive amounts of people signed up for Tidal the day your album came out. But what you soon found out is that after their free trials were over, people dropped their Tidal subscription like a bad habit. No matter how many times you tweeted that the album would only be available on Tidal for all of eternity, you still could not force people to use the shoddy music service. Your fans called your bluff, and you were soon forced to release the album on iTunes and Spotify in a meager attempt to make back some of the profits you lost by putting TLOP on Tidal. Additionally, you lost even more profits due to the record-setting amount of illegal downloads on your album, due to many people’s unwillingness to subscribe to Tidal, even for a free trial.

 

Beyoncé, this past weekend, you released a highly-anticipated visual album, Lemonade, on HBO. The premiere drew massive amounts of praise, and was heralded as one of the great musical features of our generation. However, after the premiere was over, you decided to release your album exclusively on Tidal. This slowed the momentum of the album’s popularity, due to the lack of people willing to sign up for a Tidal account. The exclamations of praise were muffled by the complaints about Tidal. Lemonade, similar to The Life of Pablo, is being widely illegally downloaded, thanks to the continued unwillingness of people to pay for a subpar streaming service. Once again, a great work of art was damaged by Tidal exclusivity.

 

On behalf of basically everyone everywhere, please stop putting your music exclusively on Tidal. It hurts your bottom line, annoys your fans, and limits the potential widespread popularity of the music. And I’ve ran out of email accounts with which to make free trial accounts on Tidal.

 

Sincerely,

 

Sean

Final WRI 101 Comment – Bidding adieu to World Music… for now

For the final post on the blog of the course I wanted to reflect a little on the course as a whole and how is may shape the future.

I didn’t quite know what to expect of the course when I signed up. All I knew was that I had to complete the WRI 101 requirement and that I was a musician… so why not complete the requirement in World Music. If I am honest, I didn’t exactly understand the spectrum of World Music before the course even though I like to think of myself as a good well-rounded and knowledgeable musician. I didn’t really know what an ethnomusicologist does or how/what he or she studies. But the course has definitely opened my eyes in that regard. I learned much about the principles of how to study non-Western music and obviously how to write about it.

But what struck me the most was how many types of music there is that nobody will ever learn about unless they are literally aiming to study it. There is no way I would have been exposed to the Peruvian musical culture in Conima or find out about the extreme nature of riaz. To learn about these cultures you have to want to learn about them because it is very unlikely that you will be exposed to that type of music and practices on your “discover weekly” on Spotify. It is kind of sad to conclude this statement and I was thinking about ways to change the nature of world music. However, I wouldn’t exactly know how the different musical cultures would get greater exposure, especially because many are based in small-communities with very diverse practices.

Furthermore, there is another element that I noticed that I do not approve of: I don’t like the absence of female ethnomusicologists. I believe there were one or two chapters written by women but it was generally very male dominated. The only conclusion that I could reach to explain the absence of women is that in many cultures, that are not Westernized, women are not regarded equal to men, which is why women researchers may not be allowed to follow the different musical cultures. I remember that riaz is only male dominated and women aren’t even allowed to participate. Or perhaps women are not taken seriously when they want to learn about the different musical cultures, which is reflected in the way they may interact with them.

So, now that the course is almost over I have to say goodbye to world music for a while. I did not realize how unrelated world music was from my understanding of music. But this doesn’t mean that I haven’t been exposed to the different nature of music but simply that I never understood the concept. For example, a couple of years back I went to Namibia and Botswana and listened to the music produced by the Bushmen that would constitute part of the world music. Now that the course is over, I hope that in future I will draw those connections to world music and ethnomusicology much sooner and discover the field that I only just learned about.

 

 

Intro Blog Post

Music has always been a significant part of my life. When I was in fourth grade, I started playing the trombone, which I continued to practice and perform until twelfth grade. My favorite type of music to play was jazz, because I loved the screeching solos and bouncing bass lines commonly found in the genre. Although I don’t play the trombone anymore, music remains a presence in my life. My favorite genres to listen to are hip-hop, alternative, and electronic. I love these kinds of music because they evoke emotion out of me. This notion of emotional connection to music is exemplified in the song “Home,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, because it helps me remember my family and friends while I am away at school.

Music Therapy

It is a point in the semester where a lot of stuff is just thrown onto our plates. School work, extracurriculars, ethnomusicological observations, and leisure time all need space in my day, but I only have 24 hours. I found a common denominator in all this stuff: I listen to music through all of them. The last on the list, leisure time, is the most interesting to me because music has become a bit of a therapeutic device. I never thought of music in this light, but some songs really clear my mind and allow me to slow everything down. When I decide to take a 15 minute break, I have compiled a few songs that I play in my room to allow me to catch my breath as I power though this busy time in my life.

My first semester ended with a very stressful week. an exorbitant amount of work blindsided me, and I shut down. I sat in my room, quiet, and calculated how low my GPA could get depending on how poorly I did on my 4 exams and 3 papers in the final week. In my second semester I realized I needed a new approach. I do my best to live stress free, and it seems the biggest change I have made is my short decompress sessions accompanied by my favorite songs.

The playlist I have been listening to consists of a wide range of genres. “Volare” by Dean Martin, “2 phones” by Kevin Gates, Bruce Springsteen classics, “Hay al Amanacer” by Nicky Jam, and “3 Peat” by Lil’ Wayne make for a well rounded grouping of songs. I won’t do work while I sit on my futon, I just listen.

I did a little research to find out if music is actually used in practice to be a therapeutic device, and I was pleasantly surprised that many have used it to settle down. I found that

  1. Music can decrease pain through sensory, attentional, and emotional/affective

    sytems

  2. Music can enhance initiation of movement through innate responses to the

    rhythmic elements of music.

    These are just the technical reasons behind why music can work in this way, but I highly recommend just chilling out, and listening to some great tunes at this time in the year.

Works Cited: “Therapeutic Uses of Botulinum Toxin.” (2007): n. pag. Web. 23 Apr. 2016.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeep” v. “1906”

Imagine two hundred women squealing out the highest possible pitch all at the same time. This was my reality when I stumbled upon a Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated conference.

My fraternity brothers asked us to attend a performance at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, but we didn’t expect to be welcomed by some many Sigma Gamma Rho sorority sisters. However, I was able to experience for the first time a “call off.”

Each historically black fraternity and sorority has a set of distinct calls. This allows for brothers and sisters nation wide to audibly detect who is from which organization. All the sororities have eardrum-rupturing calls, while the fraternities utilize ground-shaking bass in theirs. A “call off” has a similar structure of rap battle. One organization starts off a call and another organization responds with one of their own.

The constant back and forth between the two hundred Rhos and the fifteen Alphas eventually lead to a concoction of noise. The roar of the room could be heard from across the whole campus. High-pitched calls were ringing my ears, but our call still made the air shake. It ended with both organizations holding their ground until the MC of the night abruptly stopped it. Partaking in something like this was amazing because it showed the unity amongst the each Greek lettered organization. Even though the Rhos and Alphas were from all over we still where able to unify with our calls.

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