Writing about World Music

Section X, Fall 2016

Author: laguo

Music and its Effects on People

I am really interested in the point Will proposes in his final project, that live music affects the mood of audience. Actually, I think not only live music, but all music plays certain role in regulating people’s mood. An amusing example is that if we listen to some comedy music when watching horror movies, the film will be much less scary and even funny to some extent. The horrible atmosphere of these movies are set up by some musical elements in the background music as well.

Thus that is not weird that people can hear various kinds of music in different occasions. Music represents the characteristics of a certain place, and this could affect people in it. During Christmas all shopping malls plays Christmas music, which makes the shopping area cozy and warm, potentially make customers to consume more. Restaurants often play some soft and elate music, creating a comfortable atmosphere for customers and leaving them good impression of the place, while modernly decorated restaurants tend to play some soft but electronic songs, catering its characteristic and needs of customers. In party people have more chance to hear rock because rock and pop music generates people’s energies for the party, but in good hotels people generally hear classical music, because this usually shows the loftiness and quietness of the hotel, and further demonstrates the connoisseurship of the customers.

The reciprocate process of music between musical players and audience by Will also worth discussing. During the Thanksgiving Break, I took a trip to DC. When riding a bike around the city, I was listening to some music with fast tempos. I was happy that time, and with some extra music, I felt more happiness. I felt refreshed and celebrated. Then I changed my songs to maybe several of my favorite songs, and after listening to them, I became more elated. I am not sure which one happened first, the music affected my mood, or my mood made me choose the coordinate music, but finally they became reciprocal. One the contrary, when I first break up, I kept listening to songs on breaking up. The lyrics and rhythms are depressing, and they remind me some bad things, which makes me even more gloomy.

However, there are some opposite examples of this reciprocal process. People love songs on breaking up. From Adele to Taylor Swift, many of their hottest songs are on this topic and have received millions of responses. The melodies of these songs are sad, or at least not positive, not to mention the lyrics. I always hear these songs when hanging out with friends or on the car to dinner outside. It is confusing, because though they are depressing, these do not affect the atmosphere at all.

When writing this blog, I accidently click on a playlist on Christmas songs in Spotify. As the peaceful and light-hearted melodies arises, I suddenly feel energetic and cheerful. To some extent, music is magical to people’s mood.

Music in Iberia

What is the first impression of most people on Iberia? Answers must include sunshine, passions, food, and soccer. The music in Iberia is just as passionate and open as people’s impressions on the place itself.

My first impression of Iberian music is at an antiquated square by the sea in Lisbon, some street musicians play drums and violins on the square. It was in March, but the blue sky and warm temperature of Lisbon creates a cozy atmosphere which forces people to slow down their steps and enjoy the beauty around. Behind the musicians are the vast sea and gorgeous dusk, right in front of them stands several other people enjoying their music. It is noisy due to the passing cars and pedestrians in the street nearby, but the music grabs the full attentions of me. The music is elating, fast but full of transitions. The players immersed into their own musical world, becoming excited or happy as the music goes. Their performance has a passion I have never seen in other places. Their music sounds like the breeze in the sky or the warm sunshine distinct to Lisbon, getting rid of all my sorrow and depress.

The music in Andalusia, on the other hand, shows another kind of beauty corresponding to the area. Andalusia is wild and ebullient, so does its music. Street music in Andalusia is more wild: the music is more passionate, it is faster, lighter and more energetic. Sometimes a Flamingo dancer dances by musical players. She swings wildly, she steps her feet heavily, she claps her hands violently, she shows all her body strength to demonstrate Flamingo and the characteristics of Andalusia music and dance.

I was lucky enough to witness a formal Flamingo performance in Seville. It was the most passionate music I have ever heard. The guitar player started to play first, with some comparatively smooth music (actually they are really passionate compared with all ordinary guitar music). Then the dancer starts with the clap of hands and the stepping of feet. Gradually, the guitar music becomes so overwhelming that I even worried the string would be broken for many times. The tone changes quickly, the tempo becomes really fast, adding excitement and difficulty to the guitar music. The guitarist keeps creating powerful sounds without even stopping for more than ten minutes, totally immersing in his own music world, which reminds me of the Mbira players who can continue playing their music for hours. Sometimes the dancer takes some break, so the guitar player would stop and play some soft songs, to ease the atmosphere and maybe take a rest, and then restart challenging his physical strength by another twenty minutes’ passionate performing.

However, in Ronda, a beautiful mountainous town in Andalusia, the music is slightly different form music in cities as well. There is hardly any noise, music resonates in the narrow alleys. The white walls of houses stand high above the valley, which is a sheer contrast with the deep blue sky and green mountains in the far away background. The music here is purer, less passionate but deeper, even a little sad, which leaves spaces for people to interpret and think.

How does the MV affect a Song

I watched the MV of Up&Up by Coldplay again this week, and amazed by the construction and creation of it just as the first time I watched it. I love its blurry image quality and the connection between tiny and irrelevant things and historically meaningful moments or well-known places. For instance, at the very beginning of the MV, it shows two whales swimming in the sky above New York. Besides the originality, the image quality that imitates films in 1970s also hold my eyes for a long time. It also reflects about the wars and peace, environmental problems, unbalanced development.  I repeated this MV for three times when I first saw it, and then I started to appreciate the song itself. Meaning of lyrics are arcane, open to interpretation, but mainly emphasizes courage, motivation and insistence; the melodies are good as well.

(The link for MV of Up&Up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPNTC7uZYrI)

The reason I love the song is not only because of the MV, but I noticed this song is completely due to its MV. The breathtaking MV also attracts the attention and appreciation from many of my friends. This makes me think about the function of MVs to the songs.

Normally, singers and record companies only make MV for the several most popular songs, and MVs ranges from pure stories to dances. The publication of MVs often causes another wave of heat about that song, and some top MVs even own more than a billion times of view. For instance, Blank Space by Taylor Swift possesses 1.8 billion times of view. These successful MVs significantly help propagate the song and record sales. In a way, MV sometimes brings more commercial income. However, some MVs do not reach the expected effects of the record company and the singer. For example, the MV of Judas by Lady Gaga, which spent more than ten million dollars, does not create big waves of popularity at that time.

Still, MVs are good promotors for songs and bands. I love MVs of Coldplay. Hymn for the Weekend, which uses all kinds of color elements to create a light atmosphere. A Sky Full of Stars, in which the band goes to a street and turns there into an amusement park. Paradise, the journey of an elephant from London to South Africa (my favorite one, the contrast between the cute elephant and the tiny wheelbarrow is really amusing). Scientists, which is does by walking backwards…… These creative and excellent MVs win so much applaud and appreciation to the band. Some of my friends do not like their songs, but they do enjoy watching the MVs of Coldplay. MVs of Coldplay are different from many mainstream MVs, they say, there are no popular dances or sexy shots, but interesting and original ideas about our lives, our world, about color and sounds, about small elements other singers not usually notice.

I love watching MVs, they open another window to interpret the songs, and sometimes they even heighten the meaning of the songs. I wish there will be more deep and significant MVs coming out in the future.

Active Listening of Qur’an

I found an interesting episode on religion in the Game of Thrones. There people were prisoned by the bishop high sparrow, Cersei Lannister, Loras Tyrell and Margaery Tyrell. In the dungeon, all the them were forced to listen to sermons every day to “purify” the sins in their heart. In the end, Cersei ends up with a shameful marching, Loras in a trial, while Margaery goes out safely with dignity. The reason is obvious, though all of the three listen to sermons by a sister, Cersei listens passively, Loras only wants to go out and survive, only Margaery shows her confession (whether it is true or not), her real sympathy to the poor, her admission of her previous mistakes and her piety to the god, which is shown in her fluent recitation of scriptures and a fear for the bible. She uses her heart to understand its meaning and introspect. That is how she persuades high sparrow that she is no more sinful. Margaery actively listening to the sermons, and think about it with her mind and heart.

This is quite similar to the traditional Islamic hearing culture in Egypt mentioned by Charles Hirschkind in his book, Hearing Modernity: Egypt, Islam, and the Pious Ear. According to Islam traditions, it is the listeners, not preachers, that undertake the task of understanding Qur’an. What convinces listeners is not the rhetoric skills or miraculous words, but the unobvious beauty and truth of Qur’an, which require listeners to feel and explore with their own heart. As Hirschkind says, “Hearing, is not something one passively submits to but a particular kind of action itself.” Passive listener will never hear and understand the truth of Qur’an because the process of passive listening has nothing to do with the heart, people only hear the appearance of Qur’an.

However, Islamic traditions also neglects the importance of speakers and preachers. Who does the sermons is not important, or rather, the form of sermons is insignificant, only the active participation of listeners matters. “It requires not a speaker’s persuasiveness but the instrumentality of God acting through his work on the heart of listeners.” People can skip the agent of preachers, directly connecting with the God, which means, they also need to be responsible for their own behaviors. Sins and corrosions stems people from hearing from the God.

It is unusual to give up the function of an agency. Compulsive and passionate preachers always plays important roles in spreading doctrines. Their steadiness to belief and persuasiveness of their rhetoric words are often the key of their people to believe in God. However, under the Islamic view, this is controversial. Do people believe in the God, or just believe in the eloquence of preachers? Thus, preachers do not need to use strategies to “make” their people believe in something, they only need to convey the spirit and message of the God to people. People need to adjust themselves to understand the meaning of God themselves, and different people have various understandings due to their unique background. People use strategies to better listen to the God.



Music and Transcendence

I want to write about life and death because of two unfortunate and woeful things happened this week. One is the shootings and protesting in Charlotte, and the other one is the death of a girl I happened to know, she died in a bike accident at her first month in North Western University. These two events make me think about the meaning of life and death to us. Life and death are never separated from each other and take place inadvertently. From a remote time, people started to worship life and death. They praise the new life and commemorate ancestors, often through religion ceremonies and worships. A good example is the Shona people in Zimbabwe, who still retain their old musical traditions.

Shona people play Mbira, a traditional instrument, to call on spirits of ancestors. “The bira is a formal, all-night ceremony in which family members come together to call upon a common ancestor for help” (Berliner 187). A bira can happen at any time when there is a need, and people consult for advice when the spirit is associated with the mediums.

Music is essential in the ritual of bira. As Berliner says, “people believe the mbira to have the power to project its sounds to the heaven, bridging the world of living and the world of spirits” (191). Professional musicians play the Mbira from dusk to dawn and even longer to get connected with the spirits in another world, and call the spirits’ presence. In order to successfully call upon the ancestral spirits, musicians cannot stop until spirits advent. This process is long and even painful, because musicians usually need to play several hours and can only rest for a short time to get some beers, which serves as anesthetic for their finger swelling or blooding. “This story epitomizes the great strength and endurance of mbira players, as well as the extent of their devotion to the spirits for whom they play” (199). Only devoted players can get the reply of sprits in another world, and Shona people appreciate the allegiance of musical players to the ancestors. Thus the presence of the spirit is “a credit to the mbira players and testifies to their ability as performers” (203). Better players can call upon the spirit quicker, and intruding and interrupting mbira players are not considered rude or inappropriate; instead, they even replace the current players if they can prove they play the music better. Their music is the means to decide the quality and the success or failure of the ritual.

Mediums and villagers are also important parts in the music of the ritual. Under most circumstances professional mediums associate with the spirit, giving the answers to desired villagers. They feel the contact of ancestral spirits in the music, and sometimes they even dance to show the presence of ancestral spirit. Villagers participate in the ritual by dancing and singing some “non-verbal vocals that does not interfere with the performances”. They are another inseparable part of the ritual because they also contribute to the bira music.

Life and death is an immortal theme in our history. Music always appear in certain occasions to either mystify or help clarify the meaning of life and death in different cultures. We ascend music to the level of transcendence, and music tells supernatural understandings and serious epiphanies for life and death.


Sichuan Opera and Cantonese Opera

Sichuan Opera and Cantonese Opera are two most widespread parochial operas in China. Sichuan Opera originates from Sichuan Province in middle China, while Cantonese Opera comes from Guangdong, southern China, and became the Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO in 2009.

In ancient times, or even in the first half of the twentieth century, both of the two operas are still in the dominant position of local music, just as other operas in China, such as Beijing Opera or Yue Opera. Settled theatrical troupes often played in their own theater houses or tea houses, provides a daily entertainment for city residents. In this way there exists variance in the quality of operas, famous troupe often receive invitation to perform to celebrities, while some mainly play in inexpensive teahouses. There are also iterating troupes, moving from one village to another. They are the low quality ones.

Both of the two operas faces serious problems of losing audience and heritage, just as many other traditional folklores in recent years. Young people no longer want to watch operas, because they are too smooth and “boring”. Few people understand the meaning and songs in operas, and these two operas come to two different ways to survive.

Traditional Sichuan opera still plays in teahouses in Chengdu, but mainly aim for tourists, while Cantonese Opera continues to play in theater houses in Guangzhou. The most well-known part of Sichuan Opera, Bian Lian, in which the performer changes masks in his face for more than ten times and without being noticed when changing the masks, becomes the most popular thing in many Sichuan restaurants and hotpot restaurants all across China. People enjoy Bian Lian, and the essence of Sichuan Opera in an informal way. Cantonese Opera still inherits in a narrow group of people, but much better preserved. Some children and teenagers start learning Cantonese Opera, and the death of any Cantonese Opera Masters takes up the front page of newspapers for several days, often arising a wave of culture study, but Cantonese Opera has never become too popular, though it even has many performances all around the world due to the spread of Cantonese immigrants.

The most significant difference between Sichuan people and Guangdong people is the awareness and the pride on their own operas. I am from Sichuan and I live in Guangdong for more than ten years. In Sichuan people never talk about the opera in any cases and situations, while traditional Cantonese people still feels so proud of their own operas, though few of them would like to spend time and money to watch the Cantonese opera. This culture pride enables Cantonese people to continue their culture heritage, but in another perspective, they need to figure out ways to spread their own culture instead make it a dead one.

Here is a link of a piece of Bian Lian in Sichuan Opera:

Here is a link of a piece of Cantonese Opera:

Music without Lyrics

Hello everyone, I am Lawrence Guo from Chengdu, China. Actually I don’t have much previous experience with music, the last time I played an instrument, a set of drums, was ten years ago. I suppose that’s why I took the writing on World Music. I want to learn more about this fascinating subject.

Most of songs in my playlist have no lyrics. I love listening to the music itself, the variation of tones and rhythms, the render of emotions and the harmony of all instruments. Thus I have many classical music, from both east and west and background music from films. I often subconsciously close my eyes when listening to music; I feel music with my body, imagining the scene the music describes and the stories that might happen there.

Two of the music I love most are The Seasons, Op. 37 June: Barcarolle by Tchaikovsky and Mountains by Hans Zimmer, a soundtrack in Interstellar. The first time I heard the June: Barcarolle was in a piano version, and I was deeply attracted by the first several tones. The song starts with very slow and quiet tones, which brings the serene picture of a river immediately to my mind. It sounds “silent” and peaceful, and even a little sad, just like what a person feels and thinks when walking at night nearby a river. Then it turns lighter and a little faster, adding some human and vital atmosphere to the music. The tones gradually become stronger, which might denote the beauty of a summer night or a rapid flow passed by a city with lights and noises. Then it becomes lighter again. I can hear many feelings in the song, and even some opposite ones, like the gladness and sadness exists even in the same episode. That’s one glamour of this song, different people hold various opinions. You can see it through the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0DdQ-uOsTs

Mountains should be my favorite film music. To be honest, all the music in Interstellar are excellent and worth listening. They play significant roles in creating the solemn aura and building the theme of the film. As most of other soundtracks in the film, Mountains also starts with the same light repercussions and intangible sounds. They repeat for a while, to bring the audience into the mystery of the song, and for the film, leading the astronauts into the new planet. Gradually more sounds start to emerge from the back, then the melody, and everything becomes quicker and louder all at one second, just like the emergent coming of the huge wave that can exterminate everything. The familiar rhythm of the whole film then starts to repeat at the end of this song, which depicts the confusion, depression, suppression and lost all in a whole new but dangerous world. At last the song dose not return to the repeats in the beginning of it as many other songs in the film, but directly leads to another adventurous journey, with reflection, regret, fear and a little hope. That is the greatest place of mountain, because we can find a mix of these humane things in it. And personally, I enjoy the melody a lot. You can see it in the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_Ay_iDRAbc