Writing about World Music

Section F, Fall 2016

Page 2 of 10

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”.


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.


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.


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:

Homesick Solutions

At this point in my first semester of college, I can quite honestly say that I miss home—in fact, I can’t wait to get back to Texas and see my friends and family. As such, I’ve found myself watching old westerns and listening to a lot of country music lately. The funny thing is, those things aren’t even particularly popular in Austin, Texas—however, they are popular in my family. I grew up listening to country music and watching old Westerns with my grandfather. As such, these two entertainment genres seem to bring me a little closer to home. When I hear a certain song comes on the radio, I can remember singing along to it in the car on the way to my sister’s basketball games, or listening to it as I fell asleep on a family road trip. Personally, music has an extremely strong connection to my memories; I can never seem to have a favorite song that doesn’t have a memory attached to it. As I approach the end of the semester, it seems I’ll just have to listen to some more country music as I wait for December 13th to roll around and I can be back in the good ole ATX.

Similar to this, in my travels the only other place I have felt completely at home was in Zambia, Africa. I can honestly say that in the eleven out of twelve months of the year that I can’t be there, I commonly get quite homesick for it. Having gone five different times—starting at the age of twelve—I have forged some very close relationships with locals, even if I only get to see them a couple weeks every year. To tide myself over, I find myself listening to voice memos of the music we recorded from over there, and singing along as I was taught in the villages. When I exhaust the limited collection of voice memos at my fingertips, I then look to Spotify for other African style music and melodies to sooth my longing for my summer trips.

However, in this class I have learned a lot about why sometimes this is not really what I should be doing. After all, most often when I look for African style music it will probably won’t be authentic Zambian music, or even authentic African music. Therefore, I find it extremely amusing that in the past I was able to settle my longing for Africa by listening to music that doesn’t even necessarily originate from there. I sometimes wonder if—after this class—I will still be able to get over my homesickness the same way, or if I will have to resort to other measures. I just find it extremely interesting that the progression of chords and the interplay of melody and harmony—as long as I perceive it to be non-Western—could be able to fill my gap for African music just because it falls under the realm of ‘world music’. As such, it also makes me wonder if I truly have as strong a connection with the music I have learned over in Zambia as I thought, or if I were simply superficially connecting to the non-Western elements of the music and accepting anything unfamiliar to myself as Zambian music.

Grinding through the Final Project

Going into this project, I knew the journey throughout wouldn’t be easy and I knew there would be some difficulties like the ones I pointed out in the proposal, but this really has proven to be a tough project. Evaluating freestyle rapping, something I have participated in before, seemed to be an easy gig when I formed the idea as soon as I heard we needed to evaluate a musical context; even though it still has its benefits, evaluating rapping with a group of friends has proven to be challenging in some respects.

One of the biggest issues with the observations is how the gatherings are unorganized. For something I need to witness at least once a week, it’s not easy finding a time when all the guys are available and “in the mood” to rap at the same time. There have been weeks in the past when I was not working on the project where we got together almost everyday even though it was unplanned and we rapped. On the contrary, there have been a few weeks where the work load in our classes was tough and the times just never came together for all of us to freestyle at the same time. With this project, I have to subtly encourage them to get together when times are getting tough to discuss their problems and just release their emotional burdens.  Sometimes this may not be the case, as sometimes times are really great after finishing a project and the rapping focuses on the joys of life, but that is beside the point. These guys are definitely not easy to deal with sometimes and a lot of the time the project idea is just something for them to blow off.

Although I got kind of negative with the project and expressed the unforeseen difficulties I have had, this has proven to be one of the most interesting, fun, and exciting projects I have ever done. The freedom of the project somewhat tripped me up at first, as I was looking for a strict prompt to follow for the final project, but I am so happy I was surprised. Getting the opportunity to do ethnomusicological work for a project around the people I know and love and evaluating something that interests me is great. When I can finally get all the guys together, it’s a great time and I love listening to some of the material they can come up with without having to worry about thinking of lines myself. Even though I want to join in a majority of the time, it’s still a lot of fun to watch, experience, and be a part of. With this new and exciting project, even with it’s bumps along the way, I am eager and determined to finish this right and accurately depict the amazing moments I’m experiencing.

Regional Preferences

For my second observation, I went to a blues jam in Greensboro on Wednesday. The way jams usually work is you find whoever is running it and put your name and instrument on the list. At some point in the night you are called up on stage and you play three songs with people of each instrument. For instance, I was playing with a bassist, drummer (the drummer tours with Bob Margolin, which is pretty awesome), and two guitarists. There was also a singer for part of my first set. Blues is easy to improvise and play spontaneously, so it usually isn’t too much trouble playing with people you don’t know. It’s part of the “feel” of the blues that I am having so much trouble articulating. After my first set, they had me stay up for the rest of the night. Partly because I was the new kid in town, and because they were impressed and liked my sound.

When I was playing, the singer told me to play all over him, and to not stop playing. I have been expressly taught NOT to do this. Playing over the singer and playing too much is bad form, at least on the Atlanta blues circuit. I may be biased, but the people I’ve played with in Georgia are more professional and more skillful than those I’ve met here, with a few exceptions. Here people love it when I don’t stop, but at home, the mark of a good artist is leaving space, and knowing when not to play. Playing all the time detracts from the beauty and the power of what you play. You have to bide your time and wait for your moment, instead of just playing the whole time. I played how I was asked on Wednesday, but it was profoundly unsettling and felt wrong. The differences in preferences between relatively close locations is something I may be exploring in my final paper.

Researching the Music Culture of Parties

Within the context of our final project for this course, I thought it would be a good idea to update you guys on how my project has been progressing. I’d first say that its been really interesting to observe these type of weekend activities from a scholarly standpoint. Some of you in this class have even come across me when I’m doing these observations. One critical part of doing research this way involves not only watching people and their activities, but also participating in them throughout the night. Something that was continually brought up in my discussion group was the evolution of the party and the music as the night progresses. What sort of differences do we observe about the music at 11pm versus the music at 1am? I feel that one of the best ways to understand these differences is to participate in the very activities themselves: to dance with the crowd, to play drinking games (staying sober if desired) and to talk freely with the other participants. Only then can we really understand how communication occurs at this time; is it mostly physical or verbal communication? In what ways does music affect the crowd and its tendencies? I have been focusing on some of these questions and a few more as my project progresses.

However small, one of the downsides of this project is that I can only observe on Saturday nights (Fridays are tough because I have practice the next morning) and thus I only have a few hours to write and edit my paper before submitting it to Moodle.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else doing this project feels similarly or has other observations they’d like to share!

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