Writing about World Music

Davidson College, Fall 2015

Author: corichards

Study Music

Finals week has arrived, which means that students are putting in tons of hours in the library in order to prepare for their exams. Over the course of the past week, I have noticed many students studying with their headphones in, and many others studying without their headphones. It seems like for some, listening to music is a focus aid during study time, and for others listening to music is a distraction. It would be interesting to hear student’s thoughts on why they use, or choses not to use, music in order to prepare for exams.

As for me, certain genres of music keep me focused, while other genres distract me from my work. Specifically, listening to classical music, especially classical piano music, helps me to stay focused. Whenever I listen to music for fun, it is usually in the soft rock or electronic genre, not classical music. However, when I try to listen to my leisure music as I study, I get distracted. I think that music has the potential to be a significant aid to students while they prepare for exams, so long as they find the right kind of music to listen to. I’d love to hear your opinion about study music and what specific genres work best for you as you study. Or, if you don’t like listening to music while you study, explain why.

Thoughts on my 3rd Project

In Friday’s peer review session, Jose mentioned that the focus of my project, which at the time was the assimilation of first year students into the jazz ensemble here at Davidson, was to narrow. What he meant by this was that there are not many people who would care about how first year students are assimilated into a jazz ensemble, besides maybe a few jazz ensemble directors. Taking Jose’s critique in mind, I tried to make my thick description apply to a broader audience.

In order to do this, I focused on the jazz ensemble’s performance during parents’ weekend. During this performance, the jazz ensemble’s director, Dr. Bill Lawing, emphasized that first years were an important part of the show. Several first year musicians were even given solos. This was significant not only for the first years, but also for the members of the audience, who were mostly parents of children here at Davidson. The assimilation of first years into the performance showed the parents in the audience that Davidson is a welcoming community where students are treated like members of a family and given new opportunities to thrive. If I focus research on what the jazz ensemble’s performances mean to the audience, do you think it would broaden the scope of my project?

Jazz Ensemble

This past weekend, my family and I went to the Family Weekend Jazz Ensemble performance. The performance was great on its own, but having my family there to watch it with me made it that much better. In particular, my favorite part of the performance was when a graduate of Davidson, an avid piano player, performed a song with his two sons. Not only did this supplement the performance’s connection to family weekend, but it also made Davidson seem like a place that the family could enjoy together. One of the sons was fourteen years old, and played the trombone like a pro. I think that most of the applause was directed towards him after his family’s song.

In fact, the Jazz Ensemble was full of young players, mostly first years. Because of their large presence in the Ensemble, the freshman played an important part in the performance. There was even one freshman who knew how to play the Vibes, an instrument similar to a xylophone, which added a new, and much needed element to the Ensemble, according to the conductor. This impressed me, because the Ensemble seemed to have great chemistry, which was evidenced by the great music they played. I related to this as a freshman on the soccer team. My recruiting class’s transition into college soccer, and college life, went smoothly because of strong team chemistry. The welcoming and inclusive attitude of Davidson students had a lot to do with this. After the performance, I felt like I was in the right place for college, and that my family belonged here at Davidson as well.

No Lyrics Needed

My favorite music does not have lyrics. When most people think of music without lyrics, their minds probably jump straight to Dubstep or classical music, but I’m not talking about either of these two genres. Im actually not sure how to classify the kind of music I’m thinking of, but I think a good place to start would be guitar instrumentals and soft electronic music.

A few qualities of the kind of music I’m referring to are ascending melodies that climax with a strong, powerful chorus, or ending. When I say ascending, I mean that the notes seem to build up to the more complex moments in the song.  You will notice these elements in the songs I’ve attached to this article. You could point out that some dubstep songs also have softer melodies that drop into a heavy beat, but to me, the transition is dissonant and  the heavy base is jarring. The soft melodies are in no way connected to the base drop, so you may as well be listening to a totally different song once the transition happens. Conversely, the melodies in Late, by Teen Dream slowly lead up to the chorus, and the transition is smooth and natural.

The group, El Ten Eleven, also makes music that includes ascending melodies that are connected to a powerful chorus. The guitarist, Kristian Dunn, plays a double next bass guitar and uses it very creatively. He plays different melodies on both the base and the guitar, recoding them and then looping them back over one another. The different melodies coalesce and create a really cool sound that develops and builds on itself throughout the course of the song.

The fact that this kind of music does not have lyrics is important. It puts more emphasis on the individual notes and melodies themselves. I think lyrics can add a lot to a song in terms of meaning, and they can sound great too. However, if there were lyrics in Late, you wouldn’t focus as much on the progression and climax of the melody, you would listen to the words. This would change the experience of the song in a bad way. The progression of the melody is relaxing and fulfilling on its own, and lyrics would take something away from this.

Im not really sure if the kind of music I’m referring to has an overarching genre associated with it, so I’m always at a loss when people ask me what kind of music I enjoy listening to. Listen to the tracks and let me know what you think of the music and if you think the songs fit into a specific style!

Egyptian Sermons

In “Hearing Modernity”, Charles Hirschkind analyzes the religious sermon in Egypt. One specific focus of Hirschkind’s writing is the impact of Egyptian nationalism on the sermon. According to Herschkind, “A key aspect of this impact involved the gradual introduction of new notions of agency, authority, and responsibility into practices of pious audition” (131). Herschkind argues that the intrusions of the Egyptian government mentioned in the above quote changed the sermon’s rhetorical strategy.

In order to show the change that occurred in the Muslim sermon in Egypt due to nationalism, Hirschkind shows the reader how rhetoric was originally intended to be used in the Islamic faith. According to Muslim scholars, rhetoric is a tool used by the listener rather than the speaker. Hirschkind writes that “the civic function of speech” was not a concern for the the Islamic preachers known as khutaba (133). In other words, orators did not focus on moving a crowd towards a particular viewpoint. Instead, emphasis was placed on the listener. Since the sermons imparted messages from the Quran, it was the listeners job to open his/her heart to the revealed words of God, and no act of persuasion could embellish the beauty and truth of these divine passages by using rhetoric (Hirschkind, 134).

Hirschkind contrasts the Islamic concept rhetoric with its western counterpart. Western speakers use rhetoric strictly as tool for persuasion. The classic Greek orator, Augustine, argued that “no intrinsic connection exists between the eloquence of statements and their veracity,” which means that it is the orator’s job to use rhetoric to connect moral truth to their speeches (Herschkind, 137). Muslim orators would disagree and highlight the “fundamental unity of the aesthetic and the true,” or that the eloquence of statements is connected to veracity (Herschkind, 137). Furthermore, it is the listeners job to use rhetoric to get something out of the speech (Herschkind, 135). Rhetoric means two different things for Muslim speakers and western speakers.

When the Egyptian government began to influence the sermon, the use of rhetoric changed to resemble its western definition. The nationalist movement used the sermon as a tool for spreading propaganda. Herschkind writes that the sermon began to be used as “a device for the production of modem attitudes, desires, and modes of self identification” (143). Thus, rhetoric was no longer used by the listener, but rather by the preacher, who now used rhetoric as a tool to advance the needs of the Egyptian government. Herschkind effectively develops our understanding of rhetoric so that he can display the shift that occurred in its application in Egyptian sermons.

This article made me think of They Say I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein. Graff and Birkstein emphasize the importance of outlining important assumptions the audience may have about a particular subject, and pointing out the significance of the information that is given. Herschkind does just this in his article. He contrasts the well known, western view of rhetoric with the Islamic view in order to highlight his western audience’s assumptions about what rhetoric is. Furthermore, this contrast elucidates his claim that the Egyptian government shifted the use of rhetoric in religious sermons to suit their needs.


Here is the link to Herschkind’s work: http://moodle.davidson.edu/moodle2/pluginfile.php/190134/mod_resource/content/1/Hirschkind%2C%20Hearing%20Modernity.pdf

Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus is one of my favorite jazz songs. I first learned about the song in guitar class my senior year of high school. Our teacher, Mr. Grimshaw, wanted to introduce us to some well known jazz pieces, and Black Orpheus was one of the first ones on the list. The name Orpheus comes from Greek mythology. Orpheus was legendary musician and poet. The fact that this jazz song is named after him comes as no surprise.

I immediately connected with the song once I heard Mr. Grimshaw play it in front of our class for the first time. The chords are played all over the neck of the guitar, so the song not only sounded, but looked impressive. It finally seemed like we were taking steps away from beginner melodies and towards songs that a seasoned professional might learn. I remembered thinking that if I learned this song it would take my guitar playing to the next level.

We worked on the song in class for a few weeks and eventually had a test on it.. I had not mastered the song (I’m still working on perfecting it), but I could play it through from beginning to end with out too many hiccups. It is still one of my go to songs when I pick up the guitar. Whenever I hear it played I think of the guitar classroom in my high school and remember practicing in the courtyard with my friends.

Months later, during the summer, I was vacationing in Costa Rica with my family. We wandered into a restaurant one night and heard a trumpet player playing Black Orpheus. Of course we stayed and ate at the restaurant, and afterwards I introduced myself to the musician and told him how much I enjoyed his performance of Black Orpheus. We came back a week later for his next show, where he gave me a shout out and played Black Orpheus for me again. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The videos below show two other performances of Black Orpheus. A guitar classroom, a restaurant in Costa Rica, and two different jazz clubs with entirely different aesthetics are all different examples of the environments Black Orpheus influenced.  I think it is so cool how a single song can be played and enjoyed in so many different contexts. Could this be a unique quality of music?


Surfing Flicks

As a surfer, one of my favorite pastimes is to watch surfing videos. Often times the videos I most enjoy are determined not by the surfing itself, but by the sound track. The relationship between riding a wave and sound is a profound one, and if harmonized correctly, can create a great music video.

The flick above displays the surfing of Dane Reynolds, one of the best surfers in the world. While the surfing is breathtaking, the music adds another dimension to the video. Right from the start of the video, the music helps you visualize being in Dane’s shoes, preparing to paddle out. The long, drawn out notes of Evening, by TOPS, the first song that is played, remind me of the feelings of anticipation that come in the moments before a sunrise surf. The music even has a nostalgic effect on me, and brings me back to my surfing adventures at home in Charleston, SC. As you watch, notice how satisfied and relaxed you feel when Dane lands a big air. This feeling does not come from his actions alone, but from the soothing melodies of Evening.

The songs change towards the middle of the video, and it is interesting to note how this change affects how you take in the surfing. The first song’s relaxing, melodic tone gives Dane’s surfing a natural and smooth feel. The next song, Underground, by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti  has a much more “rough and tumble” sound, which gives the surfing an entirely different feel for the viewer. To me, the surfing looks more freeform and dangerous when accompanied with Underground.

I encourage you to watch the video yourself and comment on the ways you think the music affects the surfing!