Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Author: maseagle

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/

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.

Cat Music

This week my dad sent me an interesting article about music for cats. I had never thought about this idea before, but it is quite interesting. Humans respond to music differently than cats, so maybe a different type of music would stimulate cats. I looked some more into this idea and found the following video, which although largely promotional, brings up the point that music is founded on rhythms of the human heart beat.

While I am not entirely sure how valid this is, the concept makes sense. Based on this same principle, since (according to the video) cats develop their musical perception after birth, they will be stimulated by sounds of nature (birds, a cat’s purr, etc.). Music like this is being researched for a variety of animals. Some of this cat music can be found on Spotify, so I plan to see how my cats respond to it when I am home for Thanksgiving.

Here is the original article I read: http://www.npr.org/2015/03/07/391377916/these-tunes-are-music-to-your-cats-furry-ears

Active Listening in Different Languages

This week’s discussion on active listening made me think about my music-listening habits. As I mentioned in class, I pay very close attention to lyrics, thereby actively listening. Even when music doesn’t have lyrics, my background in music has trained me to carefully listen to the song. Whenever I listen to classical music, I imagine myself as a part of the orchestra and think about the different bow techniques, dynamics, and styles incorporated in the piece. Because I so attentively listen to music, it is very difficult for me to listen to music while I do school work. I can’t possibly concentrate on my work as much as I need to while also paying attention to the music. However, in boarding school I discovered a type of music that I am able to listen to while doing work. My roommate in high school loved French rap music and she frequently played it in our room. I speak absolutely no French, so I never know what the songs are saying. Because I can’t pay attention to the lyrics since I don’t understand them, I figured out that I am able to listen to French music while doing homework. It is interesting that because it is in a language I do not speak, I am able to completely block out the words and make them simply background noise. I have tried listening to Spanish music and even though I am certainly not fluent in Spanish, I know enough that I pay too much attention to the lyrics to listen to it while working. It makes sense that we are unable to truly actively listen to something that we cannot comprehend. I had never thought about why I am able to listen to French music until our discussion this week, so I am glad that I now understand that it is because I very actively listen to music and am unable to actively listen when the music is in a language I do not know.

Culture Collaboration

This week’s discussion on Western versus non-Western music reminded me of my orchestra’s performance with the Research Triangle Park Chinese Music Ensemble. For the collaboration, our orchestra director told us we needed to think about how we could make our Western instruments sound non-Western. I never really thought much about it until our class discussion, but I think it is interesting what types of sounds our director associated with non-Western. He used terms like “sharp” and “nasally” and “crisp.” These tones are very different from our normal playing of Western music where we use vibrato and many times legato bow strokes to produce “warm” sounds. To accomplish making these sounds we sometimes eliminated vibrato (like the singers in the advertisements we watched), made our pizzicato more staccato, and used less of a legato bow style. The following video shows one of the pieces we played with the Chinese Ensemble, so you guys should check it out!

Dancing to the Beat

One fundamental question of dance is, “Does dance inspire music or does music inspire dance?” My entire dance career I thought that I knew the answer to this. I thought that music inspired dance. My teachers whenever choreographing a piece always picked the song first and then decided the dance based on how that music inspired them to move. When I choreographed for the classes I taught, I used the same technique. I was either given a song from the head of our dance studio or I chose a song and studied it until I could choreograph a dance I thought represented the music. I felt that this applied less to ballet, because as long as the tempos line up, a ballet dance could potentially be performed to a number of other songs. Last week in my Intro to Modern Dance class, we learned about Isadora Duncan who had a vision for America’s dance. She believed that modern dance would be the dance of America and music would be developed based on her modern dance. While her opinion might be in the minority, I think she brings up a good point. What if I choreographed a dance I thought reflected my personality and then found music to go with it? Is this even possible? I’m not so sure that it is possible, which is why today spoken word dances and dances in silence are not uncommon. For these dances that want to carry a heavier meaning than that which most songs possess, there is no music. Whether that is because there is no song powerful enough to represent the messages in spoken word pieces (racial equality, justice for sexual assault victims, etc.) or because the dances are more impactful without sound, I am not sure. Either way, the idea that music is an inspiration for dance is quite incredible. Tap dance especially brings up an interesting idea, because tap dance is music. The rhythms of each dancers’ tapping makes music. Sometimes these rhythms are used to supplement a song, but other times the tapping is a capella, creating its own music. Choreographers certainly pick movements that are familiar to them, ones that they have learned and practiced, but they pick those particular movements from an infinite amount of possibilities and music is a huge factor in their decision for why they pick each step. The relationship between music and dance is an intricate, fascinating one that I hope to continue exploring through different styles of dance.

Duncan, Isadora. “Vision of America Dancing.” I See America Dancing- Selected Readings, 2685-2000. Ed. Maureen Needham. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002. 196-199.

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From Manilow to Berlioz

My parents always joke that my musical career started when I was in a high chair. My mom is an avid fan of Barry Manilow and my parents shortly found that I too loved Barry Manilow- especially “Copacabana.” Whenever my parents played “Copacabana” I would start bouncing and dancing to the rhythm in my high chair, so within a few years my parents started me in dance and piano classes. Little did they know that these music lessons would create a large foundation for the woman I am today. As a kid, I really had no appreciation for music. It was just a fun activity and something my friends thought was cool.


Barry Manilow- Even Now

This began to change in the fifth grade when I joined my middle school’s orchestra as a violin player. I signed up mainly because my friends were doing it and the teacher seemed really fun. However, as I matured I found that orchestra led me to a much deeper meaning behind music. In high school, as I sat in the front section of the first violinists during our tuning procedures, I heard different instruments, pitches, tunes, intonations, and voices. I heard the low registers of the bass, reminding me of my lessons with African drummers in elementary school. I heard the beautiful, low vibrato of the cello, producing goose bumps from the remembrance of Yo-Yo Ma performing Bach’s Cello Suite. I heard the high squeal of a violinist tuning the E string, taking me back to mandatory recorder lessons. I noticed not only the differences in the noises of a talented orchestra, but also the diversity in the backgrounds producing these noises. The orchestra was just students from one school and contains only five types of instruments, but we all came from different areas and were composed of several races, each with our own heritage, beliefs, and goals.

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Although music started as something that I certainly enjoyed listening to as an infant, now music allows me to understand cultural differences and to appreciate the reflection of different cultures and personalities in a musician’s art. Music has also been an outlet for my personality, as I let my character reflect in the subtleties of violin and piano playing. Even in dance class, I have an alternative approach to the music embodied by our movements. The music is not just simply background noise to me, but it is the inspiration for the choreography and by dancing to a particular song, we are producing an image from sound. I am endlessly thankful to my parents for providing me with the means to express my personality through music and dance.