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: 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 TAL: Stefan Sunandan Honisch, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller”

The Avid Listener is back!

This week we bring you a beautiful essay by Stefan Sunandan Honisch about Hellen Keller and music. In this essay, Honisch unpacks a new concept he has called avid touch. As a central, organizing question, Honisch asks: “what might it mean to cultivate an avid touch in our own musical activities?” Here’s a teaser:

“On April 24, 1916, the tenor Enrico Caruso sang Vois ma misère hélas! Vois ma détresse from Camille Saint Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila in a private performance for Helen Keller. Keller experienced the music by touching Caruso’s vocal apparatus as he performed, reportedly telling the singer afterwards,“Though I cannot see your face, I can feel the pathos of your song.”

Contemporaneous newspaper reports make much of the fact that Keller’s fingers did what her ears could not, thereby rendering her touch as silent. An equally noticeable tendency in the press reception of Caruso and Keller’s musical encounter is skepticism. Commentators doubted that Keller could experience music in the ways she herself claimed, waving away the sensations she described as figments of a deceptive touch…”

But her touch was not “deceptive,” as Honisch shows. There’s a complex play here between the emotional and physical aspects of “feeling.” To see how Honisch develops this argument, read the entire essay here.

Avid readers of our blog may see connections here between avid touch and two major themes of our blog: disability studies and listening to / experiencing music (in a word: musicking). Here are some related essays:

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

This week on The Avid Listener: Joel Zigman, “‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’: Building (trans)Masculinity Through Top 40 Country Music”

This week at The Avid Listener, we’d like to introduce you to yet another new author: Joel Zigman.* Joel’s essay, called “‘Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)’: Building (trans)Masculinity Through Top 40 Country Music,” is personal, a reflection of his love affair with Country music, a love affair that bloomed at a transitional moment in Joel’s life. This essay is about Top 40 Country, but it’s also about how gender, class, and place work in Country music. It’s about Texas, and cowboys / cowgirls, and self-representation. And it’s about the ever-relevant truth that music helps to shape how we see our connections to society.

Here’s a teaser:

“Country music is the communal property of this proud, resisting working class, belonging to the everyday life of its primary audience far more so than the Nashville stars and executives that produce it. It also serves as a cultural symbol and proxy for the country persona. This means that all who care to listen are served an open invitation to take ownership of and participate in the fantasy of the country boy or girl. Because country music sounds out a working-class subjectivity, it projects all the aspects of that perspective. For example, because working-class people often perform jobs that involve manual labor, they tend to rely more on nonverbal communication through gestures and body movements. This focus on actions makes gender in country music practical, performed, and tangible. There’s a transparent formula to follow: beer, whiskey, femme worship, trucks, hats, sweet tea, boots.”

Read the entire essay here. Stay tuned for our next essay, “Deaf-Blindness and the Avid Musical Touch of Helen Keller” by Stefan Sunandan Honisch. This essay is scheduled to be published on October 17.

As a reminder: we are always looking for new authors. If you have an idea, you would like to pitch, contact me!

*Avid readers may recall that another essay was slotted for publication today. We had to make a substitution and moved Joel’s essay up by 2 weeks in the schedule. We apologize to readers who depend on the digest for class preparation. We will adjust the digest in the coming weeks to reflect the changed publication schedule.

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.”


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.