Introspection Across Art Mediums

This painting found in the St. Olaf Flaten Art Museum suggests an immense feeling of age, wisdom, and timelessness.  The subject, Walt Whitman, is presented in all shades of brown and grey, most of his body in shadow and the background irrelevant.

Walt Whitman, Xanthus Russell Smith

Walt Whitman, Xanthus Russell Smith

The artist, Xanthus Russell Smith, was known to be a Civil War Painter, showcasing the battles and details of wartime.  But a quick search shows that he was also an avid landscape artist, portraying the lush beauty of the New England countryside in rich detail.

New England Landscape, Xanthus Russell Smith

New England Landscape, Xanthus Russell Smith

In fact, a closer look at the Whitman painting reveals more of the earthy tones of the artist.  Whitman is not dressed for battle, but instead maybe for an introspective walk through the forest.

It is this sense of introspection that I would like to focus on.  Many other art forms of the time, including MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches, also were introspective and communicated the viewpoint of the creator.  Nature was a huge source of inspiration for these artists, as evident in Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.”

“Song of the Open Road,” Walt Whitman


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.


Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,

Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,

Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,

Strong and content I travel the open road.


The earth, that is sufficient,

I do not want the constellations any nearer,

I know they are very well where they are,

I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

Nature provided the time and peace for artists to reflect upon their lives and their place in the universe.  Their creations presented an individualized viewpoint of the world regardless of whether or not others understood.  Smith’s painting showcases a man who knows all.  And in his own particular way, Smith portrays how he sees Whitman, as all other artists share their specialized view of the world.

Popular Music at the Pause circa 1977

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For many students at St. Olaf, the Pause is a hub for campus activities and a source of music on weekends (I may be biased as an employee…).  Obviously the genres of popular music have changed, but so has the culture and environment of the room in which we choose to listen to music.  Searching through old Mess articles show just how differently students spend their free time.

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Article about the opening of the New Pause 1977


Currently, the Pause is a big concrete box of sharp angles and harsh corners.  It just screams “nightclub,” in its vibe, and as every tour guide can tell you, it was modeled after the Minneapolis venue, First Avenue.  Events in the space owe their success to the intelligent lights that spin, strobes placed behind the drum risers, huge powerful subwoofers, black lights illuminating the pit, and blinder lights that yes, blind the audience.  In short, very flashy lights and loud sound are used best with DJs and for large dramatic concerts–the recent Betty Who, Matt and Kim, or Hoodie Allen.

But the old Pause was completely different.  Located in the basement of Ytterboe, it was nicknamed a “Hobbit Hole” due to its small entrance and hidden feel.  Articles written when the old Pause was the new Pause say that “the atmosphere of the new Pause is still quite Bohemian” (S. Crumb).  Gold candles and a dark wood stage contributed to the coffeehouse vibe–which it indeed was.  No pizza was served, but coffee, cheese and crackers, and yogurt (?!?).  Performances consisted of many folk groups and students covering folk songs.  Hall and Oates, Seal and Crofts, Joan Baez, Loggins and Messina, Cat Stevens–artists who based most of their music around a voice and a guitar, all singer/songwritters.  The folk revival was in full swing.

Kenny Loggins, House at Pooh Corner

Seals and Crofts, Prelude / Windflowers

As a result, Mess articles describe performances in the Pause as “mellow” and “smooth.”  Students looked for more intellectual, introspective entertainment, and the venue responded to them.  Popular music can totally define architecture and design of a space. Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 11.17.48 PM Sources:

Muss, Solveig, “Mellow on Friday at the Pause.” From The Manitou Messenger:  Volume 093, Issue 007, 08 Nov, 1979.  Accessed 4/21/15.

S. Crumb, “Grand Opening of New Lion’s Pause.”  From The Manitou Messenger:  Volume 091, Issue 003, 29 Sept. 1977.  Accessed 4/21/15.

Did they Walk the Walk? (The Cakewalk.)

The entry on Grove Music Online under “Cakewalk” describes an origin of the contest from slaves on plantations in the American South.  Claude Conyer, the author, explains how the dance became a “strutting parade” parodying the fancy manners of the white slaveholders.  In Conyer’s origin story, the first cakewalks happened around 1850 and inspired the popular comedic minstrel shows that were all the rage.  However, minstrel shows were popular earlier on, beginning in the 1820s and continuing with the Virginia Minstrels’ first show in 1843.

Which came first?  Did slaves dress to the nines in order to make fun of the overly glamorous plantation owners, therefore creating a political statement?  Or did minstrels originate the “Zip Coon” figure, dressed to the nines as a favorite stereotype?

Does it matter?

Conyer’s simple statement is an example of the entire history of minstrel song and the misappropriation of Black Americans in minstrelsy.  He goes on to describe how the dance was performed as a grand parade entrance, dancers wearing ridiculously fashionable attire and exaggerating every gesture.  The accompanying music to the cakewalk often contained characteristics of early ragtime:  syncopated rhythms and leaping bass lines.  One example of a two-step or cakewalk piece is Kerry Mills’ “At a Georgia Camp Meeting,” composed in 1897.


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1st Verse

A camp meeting took place,

by the colored race;

Way down in Georgia

There were coons large and small,

lanky lean fat and tall,

At this great coon camp-meeting.


When that band of darkies began to play

Pretty music so gay hats were then thrown away

Thought them foolish coons their necks would break

When they quit laughing and talking

And went to walking, for a big choc’late cake.

The lyrics to this piece describe a culture without substance, intelligence, or more than base desires.  Every person at the gathering is labeled as a “coon,” and the “foolish coons” walk a cakewalk because no desire could be greater than a chocolate cake.

Although Sterns in Jazz Dance explains that “Negro specialists…everywhere were much in demand” (Stearns 42), it is obvious that even those attending cakewalks were only looking for material to be used as commercial gain.  The endearingly simple “coon” sold seats and gained laughter and applause.  But now the history of minstrelsy, more well-preserved than the history of Black culture, corrupts what we actually attribute to Black Americans.

Now that takes the cake.



Claude Conyers. “Cakewalk.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 14, 2015

Stearns, Marshall and Jean.  Jazz Dance : The Story of American Vernacular Dance.  New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968.

“At a Georgia Camp Meeting.” Kerry Mills. :: Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. Frances G. Spencer Collection of American Popular Sheet Music. Web. 14 Apr. 2015. <>.


Vocalese: A Vocalist’s Attribution to the Cats of Bebop

In Freedom Sounds, Ingrid Monson discusses how many jazz artists of the 50s and 60s were idolized as icons of the Civil Rights movement.  Cats like Hawkins, Coltrane, and Parker were given nicknames like “Bird” and were then lauded as the free, independent individuals many Black Americans wished to be.

The genre of vocalese is one such example of the sycophantic nature of many musical colleagues of the bebop jazzers.  Perhaps the originator of vocalese in 1940, Eddie Jefferson recorded many jazz hits such as Coleman Hawkins’ “Body and Soul.”  In the recording, Jefferson matches exactly Hawkins’ phrases but with added words.

The very first line of the track attributes the song to Hawkins.  “Don’t you know he is the king of saxophones?  Yes indeed he is….Hawkins is his name.”  Vocalese is an entirely different approach to jazz music than the bop stars of the era.  Instead of beginning with a “head” and trusting to the improvisatory skills of the musicians to solo over the chords, Jefferson obviously spent a lot of time carefully listening to Hawkins’ style and choosing the perfect words to correspond to the fragments of melody.  This genre of jazz is a great honor to the original performers, as it carefully matches their original solos while providing lyrics detailing their talents as well as contributing some important history.

Later on, The Manhattan Transfer recorded the same track, using Jefferson’s words, but in a four-part harmony.

This recording travels even further from the improvisatory nature of bebop.  The close harmonies necessitate prior arrangements.  But the group kept the sycophantic nature of vocalese, changing some lyrics to include attributions to Eddie Jefferson instead of Jefferson’s original praise of Hawkins.  They continue the evolution of vocal jazz while still keeping many of the same characteristics.

Then along came Eddie Jefferson

He sang the melody like Hawkins played it

He sang it true, he sang it blue

Made words for it too

The Manhattan Transfer exemplifies the sound of another earlier popular vocalese group: Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross.  A trio, the group was successful for their tight harmonies and accessible imitation of jazz instrumental artists.  One of their most commercially successful tracks, “Four Brothers,” was based on the Woody Herman orchestra’s hit of the same title.

Hendricks’ lyrics feature very instrument-specific verbs.  As in the vocalese style, much is based upon the original instruments.  “Blowin’ that horn” is sung often, as if in their imitation, the singers are becoming instruments themselves.

Vocalese was a way for vocalists to enter the musically complex bebop scene while still remaining commercially relevant.  Popular vocal groups followed the trend of lauding musicians like Hawkins and Coltrane while still exhibiting their own significant talents in imitation and lyrics, a front not accessible by instrumentalists.



(I’ve included youtube clips for convenience, but original recordings are from Alexander Street Press.)

Herman, Woody, performer. Woody Herman & His Orchestra 1956. Recorded February 20, 2000. Storyville, 2000, Streaming Audio. Accessed April 7, 2015. 

Jefferson, Eddie, James Moody, Dave Burns, Barry Doyle Harris, Steve Davis, and Bill English, performers. Eddie Jefferson: Body and Soul. Recorded January 1, 1991. Prestige, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed April 7, 2015.

Lambert, Dave, John Carl Hendricks, Annie Ross, Freddie Green, Eddie Jones, Sonny Payne, and Nat Pierce, performers. Sing A Song Of Basie. Recorded March 13, 2001. Universal Classics & Jazz, 2001, Streaming Audio. Accessed April 7, 2015. 

Charles Ives Startles Bandmaster John Philip Sousa

Probably the most famous story of the Ives family is that of George Ives directing two town bands to walk towards each other in an aural experiment of clashing proportions.  Whether or not this story is true, it does tell how George inspired a desire to experiment in his son, as well as the tradition of band music that comes from the late nineteenth century.

As an adult, Charles Ives became involved in insurance, but remains one of the most prolific American composers of the 20th century.  Much of this acclaim comes from the innovation of his compositions as they experimented with key, quotations, melody, and rhythm.

In 1918 Ives became ill with some sort of heart disease.  As Ives grew sicker, he tried harder to reach the American musical communities by sending out his works to composers and musicians.  Many recipients thanked him generously for the free scores he sent, but likely did not read through the pieces–or if they did, might have been put-off by the strange and new work.  This is why John Philip Sousa’s reply is one of the best.

1 June 1923, John Philip Sousa to Charles Ives

My Dear Mr. Ives:

Permit me to thank you for your kindness in sending me your volume of 114 Songs of which you are the composer.  Some of the songs are most startling to a man educated by the harmonic methods of our forefathers.

Yours Sincerely,

John Philip Sousa”

Sousa’s comment is neither positive nor negative, but reflects the sentiment of a man confronted with something entirely new.  As a composer steeped in the tradition of bandmasters such as Sousa, Ives must have been honored that Sousa took the time to read his work.  Band music played such a prominent role in the Ives household as George led the town bands himself and probably chose many Sousa marches to direct.  The satisfaction of knowing Sousa was impressed by Ives’ work reflects his life desire to write his father’s work.  To Charles, Sousa probably represented a bit of George with his marches.  Gaining the attention of the famous march composer must have been like receiving the approval of George Ives himself.

Burkholder, J. Peter.  “Charles Ives and His World.”  Princeton University Press, Princeton 1996.



Newport Folk Festival: Inspiring Anarchist Revolutionaries?

Folk music is ingrained in a sense of community and expression of the common man that many young people of the 60s and early 70s found as representative of the times and themselves.  Folk artists played simply–typically a voice and guitar, with perhaps a harmonica.  Listeners could collectively identify with the simplicity, and would feel connected to their peers.  Folk music conveyed a peaceful time of long hair, free love, and a bohemian lifestyle.

But underneath the easy-strumming guitar and speak-singing voices were lyrics against the establishments that folk artists were so against.  In 1967 festival singer Tim Buckley’s song, “The Earth is Broken,” government figures are called thieves.


But soon love is broken, they’ll take you away

Oh the wars they been growing as no relief

And the old men who ruled them oh they’re just like thieves

They rob from the sunshine, oh the air ain’t so clean

Our rivers are dirty where once we could see


A smile from your lady friend looking down

Look at that river hey did you ever shiver

Well the earth is broken there is no one to save


The “Home on the Range” era of sunny skies and seldom-heard discouraging words is definitely over.

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 9.59.20 PMIn this article from East Village underground magazine The Other, Jerry Rubin presents his account of the 1967 Newport Folk Festival.  Rubin is so against the idea of paying for music that he decided to attend the festival by creating a fake press pass. Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 9.37.51 PM “Music concerts should be free,” he says.  “Profit is pornography.”  Rubin then gets himself kicked out of the festival by passing out “a copy of the free Yippie newspaper…(spiritual thoughts from our anarchist-revolutionary point of view)” to a pair of nuns.  The magazines are deemed to have pornographic images themselves, and the festival cops escort Rubin out, Rubin blaming it on his hippie appearance.

What this account illustrates is the atmosphere of festivals like the Newport Folk Festival.  They were attended by a variety of groups, but all came to experience the community spirit so often found in folk.  In unity, concert attendees were able to band together and share ideas.  In addition, the values of folk music are passed to the people.  While folk music quietly discusses political issues, listeners took these complaints to heart and acted out against the closest representation of the establishment–in Rubin’s case, the festival security.  The sense of community gave a feeling of strength to festival-goers which was heavily expressed in their actions.

While folk music is overall peaceful, its political undertones were strong enough to convince listeners to act out upon the messages they heard.  Political events of the time period combined with the inclusive underground communities created an acceptable atmosphere of dissent and resistance.



Rubin, Jerry.  “Yippie go home!”   East Village Other, Vol.3, no.3.  December 15, 1967.  Accessed from Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950–1975.


Romanticizing the Struggle of the Common Man in Folk Music

For black Americans in the 1930s and 40s, Jim Crow laws made it impossible to forget the color of their skin, even for celebrated musicians performing in upscale venues.  Lead Belly, discovered in a penitentiary, was no stranger to these racial prejudices.  In a trip to Washington DC in 1937 requested by Alan Lomax, Lead Belly wrote the song “Bourgeois Blues” in response to the unfair treatment he received.

Me and my wife went all over town
And everywhere we went people turned us down
Lord, in a bourgeois town
It’s a bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around …

I tell all the colored folks to listen to me
Don’t try to find you no home in Washington, DC
‘Cause it’s a bourgeois town
Uhm, the bourgeois town
I got the bourgeois blues
Gonna spread the news all around

Prison compound in Louisiana, Lead Belly in front.

Prison compound in Louisiana, Lead Belly in front.

Although his life contained many of the hardships described in blues and folk songs, Lead Belly was never quite portrayed as a poor folksperson.  Instead, to gain the respect due his talent, he adopted a more professional persona, working extremely hard and finding passion in every aspect of life.  In an interview with PBS, Alan Lomax said that “he simply felt that he triumphed over everything”  (PBS).  In this, he left his early life in the penitentiary far behind.


Huddie Ledbetter and Martha Promise Ledbetter. Wilton, Conn., Feb. 1935.


Woody Guthrie, on the other hand, tried to embody the folky image, but never achieved it fully.  He became a spokesperson for the hardships of ordinary Americans but due to his popularity was never a common man himself.  And, as a white American, his persona never needed the sort of professionalism that Huddie Ledbetter needed to adopt.

Woody with his guitar.

Woody with his guitar.

Alan Lomax, a champion of folk music and a believer in its romanticism, spent years recording both Ledbetter and Guthrie and championing their cause as remnants of true American voices.  Many Americans who listened to folk music idealized the singers as tortured souls moaning out their troubles.  But while Lead Belly and Guthrie experienced the sorrows of racial prejudice, the Great Depression, and dustbowl-era America, neither one completely represented the hardworking common man so heavily lauded in the work of the Lomaxes.  Their fame and status as alternative folk heroes lifted them way beyond the label of common man.  Instead the common man remains in his dusty home, toiling his hours away and singing folk songs to bring up his spirits.


Lomax, Alan.  [Prison compound no. 1, Angola, Louisiana. Leadbelly (Huddie Ledbetter) in the foreground].  Photograph.  Louisiana, 1934.  From Library of Congress: The Lomax Collection.

Lomax, Alan.  Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and Martha Promise Ledbetter, Wilton, Conn.  Photograph.  Connecticut, 1935.  From Library of Congress: The Lomax Collection.

Aumuller, Al.  [Woody Guthrie, half-length portrait, facing slightly left, holding guitar].  1943.  From Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Division.

Evolution of a Battle Cry

In modern society, copyrights prove claims to authorship in music.  In the past, too, great songwriters are immortalized as the formants of a genre–Cole Porter and George Gershwin are among the composers who churned out music to popular consumption.  However, folk songs are traditionally passed along orally, and often authors are lost amidst the many additions and changes.  Does embellishing and editing a previous author’s work remove the credibility and culture of the original message of a piece?

“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is typically a piece played in a militaristic style–a strong brass section, lots of snare drums, and in this YouTube clip, an obnoxious animated American flag.  Its patriotism is not a new appropriation, but rather began during the Civil War when marching soldiers of both sides sang what was then “John Brown’s Body.”  Although the John Brown the lyrics were written for was a soldier of the Massachusetts regiment and therefore a Civil War figure (PBS), he was not the one immortalized in the song.  Rather, the abolitionist John Brown became the martyr the lyrics remember.

Both sides of the war sang this song, changing the words to fit their message (Library of Congress).  But perhaps it is most appropriate that the northerners, with their message of freedom for the slaves, won the war and the song, as it had descended from fragments sung at ring shouts by the very slaves themselves.

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HELEN KENDRICK JOHNSON. The North American Review, 1884.

According the Helen Kendrick Johnson and The North American Review, the earlier version of this tune was found in a “colored Presbyterian church in Charleston.”


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Say, Brothers

Say, brothers, will you meet us (3x)

On Canaan’s happy shore.


Glory, glory, hallelujah (3x)

For ever, evermore!

The score for this hymn is not the complete beginning of “Glory Hallelujah,” but rather only the version sung by congregations at revivalist meetings and in stricter church settings.  Some scholars attribute the musical phrases and lyrics to ring shouts (Soskis 24-5).  It is easy to imagine the call-and-response singing of the Biblical lyrics, along with interjections of “Glory, hallelujah!”  In addition, the same message of escape, travel, and lands of ‘happy shores’ is evident in this piece as in many other slave songs.

Like many folk songs, spirituals, and hymns of early America, authorship is highly disputed.  Claims of ownership come from many different sources, and usually the privileged, educated members of society have the most lasting paper trails.  But the strong presence of a black musical tradition is evident in the very roots of music in America.  White Northerners may have appropriated the traditional tunes and modified the lyrics, but it is a grand image to imagine soldiers singing a song reminiscent of the cause of freedom to its very core.



“History of ‘John Brown’s Body,'” PBS. 2010. Web.

Johnson, Helen Kendrick.  The North American Review.  May 1884.  Accessed from Proquest.

Library of Congress.

Linder, Douglas O.  “Famous Trials,” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.  2015.  Web.

Soskis, Benjamin and John Stauffer.  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song that Marches On.”  Oxford University Press, 9 May 2013.