Archive | Music

“Snowden’s Jig”

Though hesitant to interrupt serious discussion with something so frivolous, in light of today’s New York Times’ editorial describing Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and calling for clemency, I offer you … “Snowden’s Jig.”


(Otherwise known as “Genuine Negro Jig,” and composed by the Snowden Family Band, a 19th century African-American musical group based in Ohio that performed for many decades, both before and after the Civil War. The music video is by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a North Carolina-based band devoted to carrying on the tradition of African-American old time string band music, and whose 2012 album, Leaving Eden, is a stunner if you like American roots music. Here’s an alternative version of Snowden’s Jig in a live festival performance by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.) [...]

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“Country Music is … Like Benjamin Franklin.”

Pseudonymous blogger and political theorist “Miss Self-Important” has an interesting and entertaining post in defense of country music that I thought I’d share. My two favorite passages:

Country music’s virtue is its adherence to the view that music has real emotional power, and that lyrics are part of that power. If a song bothers with lyrics, the lyrics must be coherent. They don’t have to be sophisticated or edgy (in fact, they should probably never be so), but they should assume a language-enabled audience that connects words to music and can be moved … by the combination.


The “closedness” argument that country music is about fearing change and clinging to the good ol’ way of living assumes that it’s completely sincere (as angsty pop music is) — it’s really by and for naive rubes who’ve never left Festus, Missourah and are terrified by all the cosmopolitan modernity swirling around them. But country music is much more like Benjamin Franklin at Paris in his fur cap posing as the simple colonial that the French imagined all Americans must be, while securing war loans from them and bagging their wives for good measure. … Country music has in fact heard of and experienced Manhattan and corporate finance and divorce and the importance of whole grains in a healthy diet, and it is not impressed or convinced that these things supersede its own narratives.

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Colin Davis, R.I.P.

British conductor Colin Davis died this past Sunday, age 85.  Davis was an extraordinarily gifted musician – to my ears, the greatest conductor of the last 30 years* (the one possible exception: James Levine).  He holds a special place in my affections because he “taught” me what conductors do, and how important they are.  In ’79 or ’80, my wife and I saw him conduct the Boston Symphony in a performance of Berlioz’ Symphony Fantastique at Tanglewood.  Just coincidentally, 2 weeks earlier, in NYC, I had heard a performance of the same piece by a conductor whose name I won’t reveal — turgid, plodding, and a real snore.  As that was the first time I had ever heard the piece, I (naturally, and stupidly) thought it meant that the piece was turgid, plodding, and a real snore.  Then we heard what Davis and the BSO could do with it.  To this day, it remains the most electrifying orchestral performance I’ve ever heard.  It hit me – that was his instrument! The whole orchestra was his instrument!  He was like a great pianist making a piece come alive, but with an instrument that was 1000 times more complex, with 1000 times more variations in color, and texture, and sound.  He built up a tension over the course of the 40 minutes or so that was damn near unbearable.  I distinctly remember the feeling at the very end – our seats were up towards the front, but somehow you just knew that there were four or five thousand people sitting behind you who were going to erupt the moment the piece was over.  And so it was – it was as though the entire audience had hot pokers applied to their asses at the last chord, every single person in the hall [...]

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Second-Hand Music?

Here’s an interesting development: the ReDigi Used Digital Music Store. Application of copyright law’s “first sale doctrine” — which allows you to re-sell or give away copies that you have purchased of books, records, or other copyrighted works without the copyright holder’s permission (the doctrine that allows, for instance, used book stores or video rental stores to operate without payment of any additional royalties to the copyright holders) — to digital works has always been something of a puzzle. On the one hand, there’s a strong argument that the Copyright Act treats copies of works embodied in digital files the same way it treats copies of works embodied in print or on canvas; on the other hand, the fact that digital files are so preposterously easy to copy means that it’s awfully easy to circumvent the law by “re-selling” a digital file you’ve purchased while still retaining a copy for yourself – which is not within the protection of the first sale doctrine.

So along comes ReDigi. Their claim is that they’ll let you re-sell all that crappy music you downloaded during a drunken spree the other night — if you install their application on your computer, which will do a scan and certify that you haven’t kept any copies of the file around. [See the story in the NY Times here] Clever!! If you really have disposed of your copy of the file in question, it’s hard to see how the copyright holders can complain (though complain they will — book publishers still hate the 2d-hand bookstores . . .).

But there’s one thing I’m not clear about. Suppose I purchase a song at iTunes, stick a copy on my hard drive and a duplicate in my “locker” on the Apple iCloud server. Then, I resell the [...]

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The Top Ten:

So over at the New York Times, music critic Anthony Tomassini has completed his excursion through Western “classical” music to come up with his Top Ten composers all time. It’s as silly, and as interesting, as these sorts of exercises usually are — maybe a bit less silly, and more interesting, given that Tomassini gives a good, spirited defense of his choices (while not over-stating the case or denigrating the views of those who disagree with him).

Here’s his final list:

JS Bach


It’s a defensible selection — but it’s not the top ten. No way. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart in the top three are probably inevitable — a world without any one of them is simply inconceivably dull and lifeless. Filling the next two slots with Schubert and Debussy, though, is mystifying and misguided, to my ears. Schubert probably deserves a place on the list — but not there at the top. Sure, as Tommasini writes, “You have to love the guy, who died at 31, ill, impoverished and neglected except by a circle of friends who were in awe of his genius. For his hundreds of songs alone — including the haunting cycle “Winterreise,” which will never release its tenacious hold on singers and audiences — Schubert is central to our concert life.” Hey, I’m as sorry as the next guy that Schubert died at 31 — as with Mozart, had Schubert lived out his full biblical fourscore and ten we would undoubtedly have been treated to one masterpiece after another, as his later works (the last two symphonies, the late piano sonatas) prefigure breakthroughs to come (that of course never actually came). But it seems wrong to me to give composers credit for the works they didn’t [...]

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Calling All Music Lovers, ChicagoLand Dep’t:

In case any of you is looking for something interesting to do tomorrow (Saturday), my son Sam is giving his Master’s Recital up at Northwestern (Lutkin Hall, 330 PM) performing the complete Bach Goldberg Variations. It should be terrific — Sam’s really a wonderful pianist, he’s always had a tremendous affinity for the music of JS Bach, and the Goldberg . . . well, there’s certainly an argument to be made that it is the single greatest work of art in the entire Western canon. You won’t be sorry if you come, I think I can promise you that — [...]

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For the ‘Too Good To Be True’ File

So let me get this straight: according to the Las Vegas Sun, the Fab Four, a Beatles ‘tribute band’ [a lousy generic descriptor for bands like this, imho – how about ‘murder band’ instead], is suing the Fab 4, a different Beatles ‘tribute band,’ alleging that The Fab 4 is “essentially identical in sound and appearance” to The Fab Four. Imagine that — why, they’re trying to cash in on the popularity of another band!

[Actually, all jokes aside, the Fab Four might have a credible cause of action here — but only for trademark infringement, I would guess. Insofar as the Fab Four sound just like the Beatles, they have no copyright claim against anyone copying their sound – both because they have no “original” work to protect via copyright, and also because copycats can plausibly argue that they’re copying the Beatles, not the Fab Four. But the name “The Fab Four” might well be a protectable trademark, infringed by “the Fab 4.”]

[Thanks to Mark McKenna for the pointer] [...]

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A Musical Interlude:

Loyal readers of the VC know that my son Sam is a very accomplished young pianist — “brilliant” and “magnificent,” I’d say, but then again I’m his dad and, though it’s true (!), you’d probably discount it pretty heavily. Sam’s studying with James Giles at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern Univ., and last month he gave his master’s recital — Mozart, Chopin, and Bach. Check it out, to see if I’m exaggerating — I’ve posted videos over on Youtube (which I had to split up a bit, given Youtube’s 10 minute limit):

Mozart Sonata in C, Allegro Andante cantabilieAllegretto
Chopin Nocturnes (B, F-sharp, C minor)
Bach Preludes & Fugue (A, F-sharp, G-sharp minor, E-Flat)

My personal favorites: the C minor Nocturne, and the fabulous performance of the E-flat prelude and fugue, and the 3d movement of the Mozart. [Actually, my favorite of the whole concert was the last piece, the Chopin B major scherzo — but my damned recorder ran out of memory 1/4 of the way through … :( ] You can never have too much beautiful music around — Enjoy!! [...]

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The Star-Spangled Banner:

NOTE TO SELF: If you are ever asked to sing the Star-Spangled Banner at the Superbowl (unlikely, I realize,but you never know for certain), do not — REPEAT, DO NOT — attempt to sing it a cappella. Remember Carrie Underwood’s gruesome, off-key performance at the 2010 SuperBowl, and resist the temptation to show off your magnificent singing voice and get yourself a backup band.

[Update — yeah, or a guitar . . .
But seriously, my son Sam, over at his blog, pointed me to a truly spectacular dixie Chicks version of the national anthem from the 2003 Superbowl. if you haven’t heard it, check it out . .
.] [...]

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Early Music, Anyone?

Baroque cello

To quote Roger North from the time of the English Civil War, when musicians, facing Puritan disapproval of music in the church and theatre, “chose to fidle at home, than to goe out and be knockt on the head abroad” …

Follow-up to Orin’s post a few days ago asking about our readers’ music rotations …  like reader AT Gavin, I am also highly partial to early bowed music.  I listen to a lot of early viol music and music from the early Baroque.  As I’ve mentioned here, I’m a very bad amateur cellist with a particular love for Baroque.  Anyway, I wanted to thank reader AT Gavin for the recommendation of John Mark Rozendaal’s Breaking the Ground – division music for viol, and a very lovely album.  I myself have been listening intensively to the first couple of volumes of Sainte-Colombe, Concerts a deux violes esgales.   [...]

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The Alternative Theologies of Santa Claus



(Waiting for relatives to arrive on Christmas Day, I have decided to take up the deep theological questions raised by this … Claus, this Santa Claus.)

Last night at the children’s Mass at our Catholic parish in Washington DC, observe the arrival of the fellow up top in the photo, dressed in a red suit, who proceeded, at the end of the service, march down the aisle loudly saying, “Ho, Ho, Ho,” and “Merry Christmas,” and who delivered a special message to the children that he would be by later that night and they should all be Very, Very Good.  (Rumor has it that Tod Lindberg helped with matters, and a jolly good job too!)

But how should we understand this Santa Claus in church?  Here are two possible theological accounts.  I should note that I am not Catholic, and do not make any claims to deep understanding of Catholic doctrine.

The mythological, or the chief deity of sentimental capitalism.  In this version, the arrival of Santa Claus is extra-religious and extra-Christian.  This is the Santa Claus that got going with the ecumenical and eventually secular re-conception of Christmas.  It is not precisely pagan, but it is religion stripped down to a “love one another at least in this season” core that makes it unthreatening and in a sense available to any faith.  I am all for this.  The way in which the great American Jewish popularizers of Christmas – Irving Berlin above all – re-interpreted Christmas and made it accessible as a sentiment to everyone was a great contribution to peace on earth, good will toward men.

This is not inconsistent with a religious understanding of Christmas, or at least it need not be thought necessarily inconsistent. The best way to think of them is as [...]

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