Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Month: November 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Finals Music

Due to the honor code and the flexibility that we all have with testing, I find myself taking a lot of exams in the comfort of my dorm room. Something about the silence of my dorm room and me and just the problems I find unsettling, as if the silence is taunting me, daring me to get something wrong. Because of this, I always have to listen to music when I’m taking tests or the silence gets in my head and it adversely affects my testing.

The type of music that I listen to is always pretty consistent, I don’t like to mess with any of my mojo beforehand so I don’t really listen to too many new songs and I don’t listen to anything that will cause me to become uncentered or on an emotional tilt. Usually this consists of some light EDM or rap, something with a good beat, but not something that I’m going to get distracted by trying to analyze or pick out the lyrics from.

If my focus is really high and I don’t need any music to break the silence, I might turn on some alpha brain wave music, my secret weapon.  There are no lyrics to this type of music, no real beat, but there is rhythm and I think it helps. How much of this is actually placebo and how much of it actually helps me, I have no idea, but I find it stimulating to the point where I can take my tests. I also don’t know whether or not listening to this “music” actually helps me better than my traditional  music choices, but I’m willing to try anything new that’ll make me do better. Point is, and I don’t know about everyone else, but I need something to break up the silence when I’m taking tests, and I will be doing that a lot come this finals season.

Green Inferno

Over this Thanksgiving break, I watched the 2014 horror movie “Green Inferno.” I think this movie is extremely relevant, specifically in regards to our class discussions on the use of world music in popular culture. The movie takes place, for the most part, in the Peruvian jungle. A group of young activists find themselves being held hostage by a group of cannibalistic natives after a plane crash.

A couple things about this movie caught my ear, specifically in the intro and the later scenes. The first part of the is a sort of credits scene that is presumably shot from a helicopter as it flies over the dense jungle. In the background, drums play to a very pronounced beat that sounds like it has been used in every Jungle movie. Modern, professional drums were clearly used. I could tell that the music was certainly not authentic to any native culture; it was much too banal and typical of a movie of this sort. However, the real shocker came later in the film, when the group had already been captured by the natives. The same drumbeat was playing, even as the camera focused in on a very specific group of native musicians playing native instruments.

After doing some research, I discovered that the tribe portrayed in this movie is completely fictional. Even so, I am not sure it is completely ethical to portray any indigenous peoples as they were in this film. A number of things were completely incorrect. For example, there is no evidence that cannibalism is ritually practiced in any Amazonian culture. Most reports of cannibalism come from Papua New Guinea and other related tribes. Second, the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) plays a large part in the film. Again, FGM is only practiced in the Middle East and in Africa, not in South America. The incorrect music that is played during this film is only icing on the cake; with all the other incorrect assumptions uneducated viewers might make about Amazonian peoples after watching this movie, the music only adds yet another. In addition to being poorly made, this film really reflects the failure of the producers to do even basic research on indigenous peoples in Peru. Let me know what you think, but please refrain from watching the movie.

Musical Inspiration

One of the questions I have always asked myself is why did I become interested in music? When I was four years old I told my dad I wanted to play the piano, so he signed me up for lessons and after taking lessons for a while my parents bought me a piano. I know that once I began playing the piano, I fell in love with music and wanted to keep learning new instruments. This led me to starting guitar when I was 8 years old and violin when I was 10. I have always wanted to play classical music, which may be the strangest part of my musical inclination. When I was 8 years old and learning to play the guitar, I didn’t want to play pop songs. I wanted to learn how to play classical guitar. The same applied to piano. While I have played modern composers, I have never had any desire to play pop music. I enjoy listening to classical music, as well as playing it. Before I went to boarding school, my dad would often take me to see different symphonies in North Carolina perform. I would have much rather attended a symphony than a concert with my friends. I can never be certain what made me want to play the piano at such a young age, but my mom has always joked that maybe it is because she played me classical music before I was born. Maybe this isn’t a joke though, because I have heard about studies done on the effect of what a baby in a womb is exposed to and their later preferences. I think that these studies will be nearly impossible to draw any conclusions from because of the endless debate of nature vs. nurture. While nurturing the baby with classical music may impact the child’s musical preference, biology will always play a factor. The child could become a musician because the child’s parents are musicians. There are countless factors that could lead to children’s interests in music, so I suppose I will never really know why I wanted to play the piano.

The following is an article I found on the Mozart Effect: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-babies-ex/

Deaf Perception of Music

Many hearing people have the notion that deaf people are unable to enjoy music. However, this notion is false. Deaf people experience music in a non conventional way–visually and physically. There is a physical aspect to all music as you can feel the rhythm and the vibration which allows deaf people to experience the music. There are several Deaf organizations that facilitate the music experiences. One such organization is the Chicago Deaf and Hard Of Hearing Cultural Center, which aims to network and connect the communities of the hearing, the hard of hearing, and the deaf. Music in general is felt physically–the booming of the bass, the drums. In places where the music is loud, one can feel the ground vibrating and the body pulsing with the music. For deaf people, these sensations are even more developed than for hearing people ans this is how they “tune in” to music and what comprises their musical experience. The Deaf community also expresses songs visually in order to enhance the experience of those who cannot hear the music.

This article delves deeper into music in the deaf community and discusses an interesting story of a particular musician.

http://gapersblock.com/transmission/2010/07/22/beyond_vibrations_the_deaf_musical_experience/

Psychology in Music

For our final project I have been studying the rehearsal process of the Davidson Orchestra, so this past week I interviewed the director of the ensemble, Dr. Keith. I asked her some specific questions about what I have found in my research, and she brought up a really fascinating idea that I had not considered. She discussed the psychological aspect of an ensemble and how the mentality of the musicians so greatly influences the ensemble’s quality. She discussed how she will pick which instruments need to rehearse a section sometimes based on who needs a break. When Dr. Keith wants to rehearse a chord from a piece, she has the musicians play the chord note by note, to build up the chord gradually. I had assumed that she did this to determine which notes were out of tune, but she explained that she does it not only for intonation, but also to give the musicians confidence in the dissonance of the chord.

While Dr. Keith informed me of how rehearsal techniques psychologically affect the musicians of the ensemble, I also learned this year that there are music therapists who focus on psychology on the receiving end of music. One of the community members of the orchestra told me that she is in school for Music Therapy, so she studies how music can serve as therapy for her patients. She works with disability, mentally ill, and elderly patients who all can benefit from this therapy. I am really interested in psychology, so I think it is really neat that psychology plays such a big role in musicians’ performances and in how the audience receives the performance.

Keith, Tara. Interview. November, 16, 2016.

The Cuddle Hormone

Music is able to impact us and make us feel certain types of emotions. Different studies have shown that music often improves our mood and reduces anxiety. Is this specific to certain types of music? Different studies point to different answers to this question but for the most part, music has been shown to improve different aspects of our mood and feelings. Music has even been shown to reduce physical feelings of pain in surgical patients. Some patients’ sensations of pain decreased so much that they didn’t require as much pain medication as patients who didn’t experience the same music therapy.

How is any of this possible? How can a sound that has no inherent value move a person to tears? The transformation from sound to a physical sensation takes part within our bloodstream in the form of biological molecules. Oxytocin can be released when singing and can be involved in this transformation. Now oxytocin is no fun to say and sounds like something dangerous that we would like to avoid so it has been dubbed the “cuddle hormone.” The cuddle hormone, along with other neurotransmitters like dopamine can aid in the improvement in mood and the reduction of stress.

Music not only changes moods but can connect different groups of people to the world. Music has been employed in connecting emotions to different scenarios in autistic children. When words failed, music was able to bridge the gap between these children and their surroundings. Music has also been found to improve the memory of patients with Alzheimers in forming new connections in the brain and helping to regain parts of their memory.

Music can also help people to focus in certain circumstances. When studying the brain while listening to symphonies, researchers found that there were increases in the concentration of individuals during hiatuses in the music. This can help the listener to integrate and interpret the music in their mind and allows the listener to more fully engage with the music. Music can also limit our attentions and distract us. Songs with lyrics may distract some people from other tasks, preventing them from concentrating fully on an individual task.

If you are feeling down in the dumps or just want to improve your mood or decrease the stress of your daily life, music is able to help you. So after a long day, just kick back, play your latest favorites and enjoy the flood of the cuddle hormone take over your body and envelope your brain in an environment of relaxation.

Gentrification in Winston-Salem, NC

For the extra credit assignment, I watched a session on jazz music, and the second section centered around the theme of gentrification, and how this process is affecting the jazz scene in Washington, D.C. In case anyone doesn’t know what gentrification is, it is a process in which run down, urban areas of cities are, in a sense, ‘revived’, and given a more ‘modern’ look. This ends up attracting affluent people, which raises property values.

I enjoyed this section, because it connected to what has been going on in my hometown (Winston-Salem) for the past two or three years. Winston-Salem grew rapidly in the early 1900’s because of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which is located in downtown Winston-Salem. However, with the large decline in smoking over the past few decades, many of the facilities closed, deteriorated, and have remained vacant until a few years ago. Winston-Salem began undergoing gentrification, and these abandoned facilities have been renovated into loft apartments, restaurants and bars, and most recently a research park for biomedical research. This area is now referred to as “Innovation Quarter”.

biomedical

In addition, this has also somewhat revived the “art scene” in Winston-Salem. Adjacent to the old Tobacco Company facilities was another deteriorated area, which has now been converted into an area known as the “Arts District”, featuring several restaurants and most notably an “Art Park”. The art park has recently become a notable feature of the downtown Winston-Salem area, as many local teenage girls, who might be described as “basic”, have at least one picture of themselves in the art park on their Instagram accounts. The park features several murals/paintings on a concrete wall, several red metal structures, but most notably, a small amphitheater area with lights that change colors, for up and coming bands to play in.

artpark

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but you can see the loft apartments from the first image in the background to the left. The still continuing process of gentrification in Winston-Salem has brought in new revenue for the city, and is continuing to supplement the “art scene” by stirring up the development of both visual and performing arts in the area.

artpark11

Here is a picture of the art park at night, you can see some of the paintings/murals, but I just thought that this was a cool picture.

My Tuesday’s Blog

My experience in this course:

When I signed up for a writing 101 course I thought I would be getting grammar drills, essay upon essay to write, and dull topics to research. I was pleasantly surprised to find this course to be much more focused on ethnomusicology and world music. Music has always been a big part of my life and I have always been very very involved in various creative and musical groups. This course has been the marriage of that musical passion with my intellectual inclinations. I have enjoyed the challenges this course has given me, in the arena of writing, critical thinking, analysis, and thinking in a whole new discipline.

Now, about this final project… I am observing and studying The Evening Muse, a bar in Charlotte that has live music almost every night. My experience there has been really cool. I’ve dived into an environment I have never had experience with before and have really enjoyed my time. I have gotten to know performers, audience members, and the owner of the place and it has been very thrilling. One musician told me that The Evening Muse really specializes in a niche of live folk music. I have enjoyed observing this musical context and doing some analysis based off of interviews and observations. One key point I have seen is the idea of the story. The Evening Muse brings people together to share stories. Musicians become muses, telling stories through original music that the audience can appreciate, relate to, and enjoy. Every night a new poem is produced, a new tapestry is woven and the fun and banter that takes place in the musical context is proof of the warm relationship that the individuals share in this musical context.

I am pretty sure most of you all have enjoyed this final project and this class in general as much as I have and I look forward to hearing about all the other projects outside of my peer critique group.

Workout Jams

My original project 3 proposal didn’t go as planned. I was now faced with the tough question, what do I do? I thought I had it all figured out, but ended up empty handed. During our peer critiques last week, my group and I brainstormed some subjects I could possibly study for the final project. Although I did not end up choosing it, I found the topic of workout music very intriguing. I’m in the weight room a good amount for football and even though I’m not doing my project on the topic, I couldn’t help but notice the kinds of music being played the past few workouts.

Just over the past week I pinpointed three genres in particular: country, rap, and EDM. Typically the selections in each genre tend to lean towards more fast paced songs for obvious reasons. The most interesting part though, is it appears that the more people in the weight room at once the more aggressive the song choices are. During my Tuesday lift, which is the smallest group, country music is often played. On the other hand, solely hip-hop and dubstep is played during my Sunday lift which involves half the team.

My theory behind this is that people in workout mode are generally influenced to operate at the pace of the music surrounding them. Particularly when dubstep is played, I can easily find myself lifting to the rhythm of the song. Therefore it is more pertinent to have faster more aggressive music playing when larger groups are present to speed up the overall operation of the lift. When smaller groups are present there is less a need to have music playing with the intent of speeding things up because of the preexisting lack of traffic in the room.

Migildi, Magildi, Hie Now Now!

One of the songs I’ve referenced often in my project so far is Migildi Magildi, an old Welsh folk tune that the group I’m observing, Davidson’s Collegium Musicum, sings in English. When I discussed it in my thick description last week, I ran into the issue of knowing that Migildi Magildi was fun to sing, but not knowing exactly why; one of the reasons I wanted to be able to cite was the nature of Migildi Magildi as a song, but, given that it is traditional Welsh music, I had no capability to discuss it as though every member of my group knew what it was. To that end, I will discuss it here.

Migildi Magildi is an upbeat song that gives a bit of story and onomatopoeia from an iron forge during winter in Wales. It is upbeat, jolly, and unassuming; voices convalesce on chords, sung on the rollicking “Migildi, Magildi, hie now now.” The song is fun because of that innocent nature, and, when it is executed properly, because it is actually quite difficult. To explain this difficulty; first, coordinating the “Migildi Magildi” lines can be difficult to count properly so all the lines come in at the same time. Then, there are some more obvious challenges inherent to a capella music; keeping the key from changing (magically!), getting the notes and intervals right, and keeping the tempo consistent all qualify as challenges of the piece. That is not to mention, of course, the stylistically light nature of the song; keeping straight tone with very little vibrato could be a real challenge, if not for the generally short phrases. This is all keeping mind the basics of ensemble singing, that the voices should mix together with little contrast and the volume should be about the same for each. I, for one, have a very loud voice; that alone makes things a little difficult for me.

That said, the music is obviously not impossible–just fun to get right. It being fast and about a pleasant topic helps, and the words sounding a bit silly to English speaking ears helps more. It gives a sort of nonsense to the everyday that clashes with the stoicism Davidson and the world around it can illicit from its students at times. The song makes something silly happen because something silly is good. I think that much is true; silly is good, especially when choral music and especially early music can sometimes feel all about a classical style or a weighty and beautiful sound. Regular madrigals are usually a little silly too but, early in the semester, Collegium had been fiddling with more serious sounding music to perform in a professor’s lecture. Returning to what the madrigal feels as though it is really supposed to be served a productive purpose, then: to have fun singing the music we can’t sing in Chorale. It’s a good purpose, and Migildi Magildi has been a great return to that.

Here’s a version recorded by the King’s Singers, because they tend to be a very very good and I like listening to it:

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