ICYMI: Sally Sommers Smith Wells, “Blurring Categories: Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize”

Remember when the biggest breaking news was about Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize in Literature, not tweets? Dylan’s award was, as Sally Sommers Smith Wells tells us in the most recent TAL essay, “one of the biggest news stories of 2016.” It seemed at the time that all of my music scholar and journalist friends facebooked, tweeted, or blogged about the award; they all had opinions! So why was this such a newsworthy story?

Here’s a teaser from Sally’s essay:

“Some critics focused on the meaning of literature in the wake of this award. Others were far more concerned about whether one could separate an artist’s lyrics from themusic that presents them. The award—and the debate over whether Dylan’s lyrics could be considered poetry—prompted heated discussions about the nature of art and celebrity and served as the centerpiece for an amusing short story in The New Yorker.  Although Dylan did not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm in early December, he ultimately acknowledged the award with a ‘warm, humble’ acceptance statement that alluded to the ongoing philosophical conversation that the Swedish Academy’s decision had inspired, without providing any answers on the subject.”

This essay digs into big issues, such as the problematic cultural prestige of “art” music and the relationship between words and music in song. And, of course, there’s plenty about Dylan’s craft. Fans of Dylan’s music (and lyrics) won’t want to miss this essay. Read the entire essay here.

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

 

New at The Avid Listener: Linda Shaver-Gleason, “Beethoven’s Deafness and the Myth of the Isolated Artist”

I’m a little behind in my blogging, but I want to make sure I draw your attention to our most recent post at The Avid Listener, Linda Shaver-Gleason’s essay about the perennial question: Beethoven was deaf, so how did he compose? In line with her excellent blog, Not Another Music History Cliché, Linda starts with a cliché, something we accept as true but is, in fact, more complicated. (In this era of #AlternativeFacts, we need people like Linda who dig deeper.)

Here’s a teaser:

“Beethoven’s deafness has captivated audiences since knowledge about his condition became public. The composer himself was aware of the irony. In an 1802 letter to his brothers, referred to by historians as the Heiligenstadt Testament, the composer lamented, “Ah, how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed!” Beethoven’s disability forms a large part of our concept of him as the quintessential Romantic Hero, as it is a tragic flaw he must overcome to produce his great Art.”

You can read the entire essay here. Note also how nicely this essay intersects with a previous essay, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller,” by Stefan Sunandan Honisch. We’re working on a line up of new essays to last you throughout the spring, so stay tuned!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

This week on The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Hard Times Come Again No More”: Springsteen’s Vision of Community

music_girl  This week at The Avid Listener, for our final feature essay of 2016, we bring you the 4th installment of Joanna Smolko’s series about Bruce Springsteen. For this essay, Joanna explores Springsteen’s performance history of the Stephen Foster song “Hard Times Come Again No More” and what the song has symbolized in Springsteen’s career. Here’s a teaser:

“As Bruce Springsteen’s career unfolded, he became increasingly overt about his political framework and his belief that music can be a powerful means both for illuminating issues of social injustice and for bringing people together in community.  Springsteen mined the rich lodes of traditional American music in his 2006 album We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006). Here, he found a treasure trove: traditional songs that glimmered and shone as he gave them roots—rock inspired settings and elements that could also be forged and shaped into new works. Following this album, he continued to explore the ways that traditional songs could be melded together with rock and roll. Springsteen’s performance of Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” was part of his 2009 Working on a Dream tour, and his subsequent reworking of the lyrics in new songs shows his process of adaptation. In particular, “Hard Times” can be read as a song of mourning in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 and a call to respond with community-based activism and cooperation.”

Read the entire essay here. If you are a Springsteen fan, you won’t want to miss the fabulous videos embedded in this essay, as well as in in Joanna’s three previous essays. (If you missed them, here are links to essay 1, essay 2, and essay 3.)

We’ll be back in the New Year with more feature essay. If you enjoy The Avid Listener, consider submitting an essay for publication consideration. We don’t exist without our authors, and we have lots of open slots on our spring calendar.

 

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

 

This week on The Avid Listener: Ann van Allen-Russell, “‘Stop Copying My Music!’: The Emergence of Musical Copyright in England”

Do you ever stop to think about how our modern copyright laws came about? Did you know that music was at the heart of some of the earliest copyright cases? This week, Ann van Allen-Russell gives us a peek into key 18th-century court cases involving the music of Johann Christian Bach. You might be surprised at the twists and turns involved in protecting one’s musical creations!

Here’s a teaser:

“Make up a tune. You can hum it, whistle it, play on an instrument—anything you like. It’s your own tune after all. Or is it? Can you own something that doesn’t physically exist? And could you stop someone from stealing it? In modern times, a whole body of law exists around musical copyright, which protects musicians from having their intellectual property used without permission. However, such protection did not always exist. In fact, the modern-day concept of musical copyright can be traced back to mid-eighteenth century England, when Johann Christian Bach—the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach—started a lawsuit to stop a minor theft. Unbeknownst to him, it would end up changing the way we think about music.”

Read the entire essay here. And for our stalwart TAL fans, we offer this November / December digest, which includes links to all past essays, too. We’ll be back with 1 more essay in two weeks before going on December hiatus.

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

This week at The Avid Listener: Joanna Smolko, “Politics and Protest in Springsteen’s ‘Born in the U.S.A.'”

This week we bring you part 2 of Joanna Smolko’s series about Bruce Springsteen. (If you missed the first essay, you can find it here.) In this essay, Joanna takes on Springsteen’s hit song “Born in the U.S.A.,” a song that has been appropriated for many different expressions of patriotism. What did Springsteen originally have in mind for this song?

Here’s a teaser:

“I liked Springsteen before he became political,” a friend of mine commented on Springsteen’s performance at the 2009 Super Bowl. But in actuality, Springsteen has always been political. From the outset, he infused his music with elements of working class identity: unions and families, steel and rust, coal and dust, machines that bind you to a community and way of life, and machines that allow you to ride away in a cloud of exhaust and defiance. But there was a specific moment that galvanized Springsteen’s self-identification as a political spokesperson. As Marc Dolan narrates, “Born in the U.S.A.” was used as an anthem in Ronald Reagan’s 1985 campaign without Springsteen’s permission, and in a speech, Reagan cited Springsteen as a beacon of the “American dream.”

Read the entire essay here. Stay tuned for our next essay, “The Accidental (Musical) Tourist” by Virginia Anderson!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

TAL #TBT and Digest for September and October

In honor of the recent publication of “Colloquy: On the Disability Aesthetics of Music” in The Journal of the American Musicological Society (about which I hope to write more in the future), for this week’s #TBT I offer you Andrew Dell’Antonio’s essay “Intentional Inauthenticity: Performing Disabled Bodies, Disabled Bodies Performing.” Remember this?

“…various kinds of bodily configurations have been understood differently in different historical and geographical circumstances, and musicians have helped to shape those understandings while also working within them. Each body (and thus every operatically performed body) has unique strengths and weaknesses. Some are understood as compatible with the individual’s social role or with the “authentic” performance of a character, while others are perceived as problematic. For example, a character might wear eyeglasses with no influence on the dramatic flow of the opera, despite the visual impairment that is either acted or real, because eyeglasses are common enough prosthetic devices in contemporary society that they pass unnoticed (or might make a character/singer look bookish, nerdy, or intelligent). Indeed, a singer’s visual impairment might be completely invisible to the audience through the use of contact lenses. But other bodily differences are more explicitly displayed and understood as significant by audiences and artists alike.”

Several of Andrew’s essays delve into issues of bodies, disability, and music. We’ll have more about dis/ability in the coming months. If you like to plan ahead, you can find the full list of essays we’ve already published along with our publication schedule for the rest of September and October here, on our September-October digest. Stay tuned!

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.

The Avid Listener Launches year 3!

Celebrate with us! Today we launch The Avid Listener‘s third year! We invite you to celebrate / contemplate Labor Day and our third year with a new essay by Joanna Smolko, the first of a four-part series about Bruce Springsteen. This essay, called “Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger: ‘This Land Is Your Land’,” examines a chain of music and social justice work that runs from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen has long been a champion of workers’ rights; longtime Springsteen fans are no doubt familiar with his political songs. In this essay, Joanna traces the lineage of Springsteen’s performances of “This Land is Your Land.”

this_land_feature

Here’s a teaser: “On January 18, 2009, Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen sang together at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, accompanied by Seeger’s grandson Tao Rodríquez-Seeger and a choir. Seeger invited the crowd to sing along, reflecting his lifelong commitment to group singing; even in staid places like Carnegie Hall, his concerts were less about performing than about community music making. The song they chose was Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” a song much-beloved by both musicians. As they prepared for the event, Springsteen asked Seeger on how he wanted to perform the song. Seeger replied, “Well, I know I want to sing all the verses, I want to sing all the ones that Woody wrote. Especially the two that get left out: about private property and the relief office.”

Joanna has found amazing videos to accompany this essay, including a very charming video of President Obama singing “This Land” to his daughters during his 2008 presidential campaign. Read the whole essay here, and don’t forget to share. We’ll be back in 2 weeks with the next essay in the series.

The Avid Listener: Listen. Write. Discuss. Repeat.