Bias and Sexism in the Search for the Great American Symphony

When I was working on the readings for our upcoming class, I was perplexed by the choices made in order to procure the definition of ‘American’ music.  It just sounded to me like no one knew what they wanted, criticizing composers for sounding too European while accepting music from foreign enemies into the American cannon over those from marginalized groups of Americans.  Fauser’s and Shadel’s articles do an especially good job in complicating the relationship between American music and European opinion, as the idea that American music must be differentiated in some way came from the Europeans and was put into practice first by Dvorak in his New World symphony.

Beach Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32 ‘Gaelic’

I was interested in the portion of Shadel’s article on Amy Beach’s response to Dvorak’s symphony and how she created her own interpretation.  Having been born and raised in America, one would think that Beach would have a leg up on Dvorak in composing American symphonies.  Her Gaelic Symphony, being the first symphony composed by an American woman, fits much of the criteria proposed of the idealized ‘great American symphony’; However, alongside the thinly veiled racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was thinly veiled sexism.  She was not taken seriously by critics due to her gender, despite her symphony being adored by audiences.  Compared to Dvorak and Chadwick, Beach’s music was described by critics as “delicate”, “beautiful” and “tender”, while “other early reviewers… did not comment at any length on the expression of a national identity given the works clear dialogue with Dvorak” (Shadle 255).  It was striking that many of the quotes, whether positive or negative, couldn’t help but mention Beach’s gender in relation to the music, while “the most negative critics displayed heightened anxiety over the emergence of a truly valid American symphonic voice capable of speaking to international audiences” (Shadle 255).  This is what people had been hoping for in the ‘great American symphony’; however, for some, the fact that this voice was coming from a woman was the sole thing rendering the attempt invalid.

Beach, Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, “Gaelic Symphony”, I. Allegro con fuoco:

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/playfer.asp?br=320&tl=75616

Dvorak, Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, “From the New World”, I. Adagio- Allegro molto

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/player.asp?br=320&tl=371713

Chadwick, Symphony No. 3 in F Major, I. Allegro sostenuto:

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/player.asp?br=320&tl=260155

Chadwick purportedly told Beach after her symphony’s debut, “I always feel a thrill of pride myself whenever I hear a fine new work by any one of us, and as such you will have to be counted in, whether you will or not—one of the boys” (Block).

American music has a long history of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, etc.  When we think about American music, we must also stop to think about who’s experiences we are validating and invalidating.  Who are we letting participate and why?  We cannot tout the idea of an American “melting pot” of musical culture if different groups are not all respected equally.

 

Works Cited:

Annegret Fauser, Sounds of War

Beach, Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, “Gaelic Symphony”

Block, Adrienne Fried, and E. Douglas Bomberger. “Beach [Cheney], Amy Marcy.” Grove Music Online.  October 16, 2013. Oxford University Press. Date of access 16 Oct. 2019,

Chadwick, Symphony No. 3 in F Major

Douglas Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation

Dvorak, Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, “From the New World”

“Naxos Music Library – Invaluable Resource for Music Enthusiasts and Collectors.” Naxos Music Library – Invaluable Resource for Music Enthusiasts and Collectors, https://www.naxosmusiclibrary.com/.

 

The role of the Medicine Man in Native American Music

A Native American Medicine Man standing beside a sick woman, c. 1870. Photographed by O.C. Smith (American, active 1860s – 1870s).

In almost every Native American tribe, there is a medicine man or healer, as seen in the picture above. These men, and occasionally women, had to go “beyond human power” to use their herbs and chants to heal ailing tribesmen. A medicine man gained his power to heal through dreams, visions, and even during the song, as discovered in class while looking through many primary sources. During visions and encounters with the Great Spirit, healers were told how to heal ailments and advised on which herbs, roots and plants to use, and which to avoid. To aide their power, healers often lived in quiet seclusion to be in tune with nature its power sometimes giving them the name “forest folk”.

A traditional medicine mask used to scare off evil spirits and disease in tribe members. https://indianspictures.blogspot.com/search/label/Navajo%20indians

Ely S. Parker, born in 1828, was from the Iroquois tribe and in newspapers, recounts the practices of the medicine man through public and private ceremonies. Native American medicine men treated the sick and ailing in public ceremonies followed by a private meeting. The public ceremony was attended by tribesman of high power and influence and took place over several days. During those public and private healing sessions, the medicine man may have told narratives, chanted, and sing. A “sacred song” is chanted only by one medicine man. If anyone else chants the “sacred song,” it is expected that evil events will follow.2   To further aide him, he may have used tobacco pouches and the herb of choice sent to him by the Great Spirit. There are times when the the medicine man is not able to heal the sick, but this is viewed as the will of the “Great Spirit” who is asked to “guide the red man and choose for his best, always.”

Most songs were accompanied by a regular drumbeat, dubbed as the heartbeat of the Earth, to help calm and relax the sick. Additionally, the drumbeat expanded the mind of the medicine man to the awareness of self and spirit. Other instruments like the rattle, shook away disease, and bells borrowed from Christianity invoked God’s healing power.3  It is told that “he who holds the medicine has time to die.” That is, they can choose their successor because their death is never sudden and “has time to die.” This background of the medicine men’s rituals which were alien and exotic to foreigners such as John Smith helps shed a light on what outside visitors encountered.

1 Hofmann, Charles. American Indians Sing New York: John Day Co., 1967. 46

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2 Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, © The Newberry Library, 96 http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/55?searchId=c2aa61ad-bbdf-48e6-a160-bba150f8d14e#VisualMaterials

 

1980’s Music Censorship: NWA vs. FBI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pu3ByHBeU0

“So police think they have the authority to kill a minority.” -Ice Cube

NWA

In 1988, the famous rap group called NWA received a letter written by Milt Ahlerich, assistant director of the FBI office of public affairs. The letter enveloped the idea that NWA was advocating for violence against local police officers. Later, NWA clarified that their music was not advocating for action, rather reflecting on their personal experiences with police brutality. This letter was perceived by many as a means of artistic censorship, which caused much controversy across the nation. Many people felt that their amendment of free speech was being threatened by the FBI. According to Ahlerich, he felt that he was representing the sentiment of all the police departments across the nation, stating, “I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community.” Ahlerich was specifically referring to the censorship of the song, “Fuck The Police” which was written by rapper Ice Cube from NWA.

The entire incident reflected the oppression of expression at the hand of the government. Whether the claim was racialized or not, the FBI’s decision to write such a letter actually worsened attitudes among minorities because it showed that the government will censor any form of personal expression. It created an “us vs. them” feeling among many people.

Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Hochman writes this particular article from a 3rd person perspective. When you read the article, you get to hear all sides of the story, including the FBI member, Milt Ahlerich. Ultimately, Hochman does end up including an argument that music should not be censored by government entities by utilizing quotes stated by Danny Goldberg, chairman of the Southern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and a recording industry executive. The article was written in 1989, which gave the writer some time for more information on the incident to arise, since the letter was sent to Priority Records, the label that represented NWA, in August 1988.

Although this source highlights the overall story from all angles of the issue, there are more articles that may highlight or focus on the controversy that immediately followed the publication of the FBI letter to NWA. This incident surely created some heated debates across the United States, and only brought NWA more recognition for their art. Hearing from those sides would be paired well with this primary source.

 

Sources Cited:

1973eazyme. “N.W.A. vs. the FBI [1989].” YouTube. March 20, 2010. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pu3ByHBeU0.

 

Hochman, Steve. “Compton Rappers Versus the Letter of the Law: FBI Claims Song by N.W.A. Advocates Violence on Police.” Los Angeles Times. October 05, 1989. Accessed April 29, 2018. http://articles.latimes.com/1989-10-05/entertainment/ca-1046_1_law-enforcement.

 

K-Pop’s EXO: Can Music End the War Between the South & North?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

 

Oh, does this song ring a bell? Welcome to K-Pop Music and it’s global takeover.

 

Did you know that Korean Artists are hand-picked by entertainment companies and created into full-time, untouchable, superstars? No other country in the world takes their pop music more seriously than South Korea, sorry USA. According to VOX.com, South Korea’s music industry is a $5 billion industry, and is one of the most significant exports from the country. SM is the largest entertainment company in South Korea, and is responsible for growth of some of the most famous K-Pop superstar music acts in the world.

 

In the United States, and everywhere else in the world, an artist needs to work their way up to proving themselves worthy of the attention of either a record label or their own fanbase. Although this happens in South Korea as well, it does not stop there. South Korea has institutions that train the artists to perfect their performances, essentially grooming them to be performing machines. This business model is not utilized anywhere else by any other entertainment industry.

 

Picture of EXO

 

Just to begin, one major artist group from South Korea is EXO, which is a Korean-Chinese boy band. The band 2018 Winter Olympics was the first time that North Korea opened its doors to influence from entertainers outside of their country. EXO was chosen to perform for the 2018 Winter Olympics. How is this significant? Some may argue that having a South Korean band performing in North Korea allows the two nations to relieve a bit of tension. The band is essentially in a position of sociopolitical influence to an extent.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw

 

This leaves me to ask the question: can music heal the tension between two nations at war with one another?

 

After reading up on our history of war, I am left with the impression that it is impossible for music to end war. However, music has played a huge role in empowering people and regenerating cultures of unity in a time of segregation. An example of music uniting a culture amongst the horrors of war was during the Vietnam era. Artists such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs helped to develop morality for Americans. Moreover, this particular generation of artists was unique in that they did not aspire to unite American against their wartime rivals, rather to establish harmony and a peace of mind in the midst of confusion, disappointment, and devastation. Music alleviated a culture of people who needed answers.

 

Here is a picture of EXO taken with North Korean dictator: Kim Jong Un

 

Now that South Korean artists EXO, have expelled some of their influence in the Communist North Korea, the culture of entertainment has planted a seed for acceptance of change. EXO has new fans in North Korea. However, will things truly change simply because of a boy band’s historic performance in a Communist country that’s blocked all forms of outside entertainment for over 20 years?

 

Sources:

Officialpsy. “PSY – GANGNAM STYLE(강남스타일) M/V.” YouTube. July 15, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0.

 

Olympic. “EXO at the Winter Olympics – FULL Performance – PyeongChang 2018 Closing Ceremony | Music Monday.” YouTube. March 13, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw.

 

Romano, Aja. “How K-pop Became a Global Phenomenon.” Vox. February 16, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/16/16915672/what-is-kpop-history-explained.

 

Sklaroff, Lauren Rebecca. “During Vietnam War, Music Spoke to Both Sides of a Divided Nation.” The Conversation. September 13, 2017. Accessed April 17, 2018. http://theconversation.com/during-vietnam-war-music-spoke-to-both-sides-of-a-divided-nation-83702.

 

Music as a Cultural Weapon: Indian Schools

Indian Schools were designed by the United States government to eliminate a threat of a generation of people whose predecessors they had slaughtered by assimilating them into the dominant Western culture. Part of this ‘Westernization’ was the role of music in the lives of the students.

1
This text from 1915 is a review of an Indian School in Pennsylvania that had been put in place to train them into the “American” culture. What is of note is the focus on music as a form of entertainment as well as education. Another example is this:

3

As can be seen in this other guidelines of an Indian School, music is a part of the total enculturation of the students. Music had become a cultural weapon with which the United States established it’s authority. Although it never explicitly states the institution’s intention to erase and replace an entire culture, this can still be seen in the rhetoric used. One can read at the bottom of the image that these student associations that management is required to “see that the true purpose of the associations is maintained.” For those managing the school, the true purpose was the study and practice of Western music.

Music in the Indian schools had to fall within the ‘Course of Study’ prepared by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, in 1915 wrote “Music opens the way to a new world of joy.” but a sentence later explains this music must be “only good music” and then lists a series of operas and patriotic music to use.2

All of these examples set up the framework and intention behind the use of music in these institutions. Music was used as a two-pronged weapon to encourage assimilation. On the one hand, it did attempt to increase an appreciation of Western music because then the students would be less inclined to look elsewhere for that fulfillment. At the same time, it worked to ignore and eliminate the multitude of Native American cultures that had existed before it. This was necessary so these students would not have these other cultural practices that could define them and create a distinct identity separate from an “American” that could present a threat against the government.

Music and these schools were a part of the larger cultural narrative that encouraged the supremacy of Western culture over anything that had been produced by the indigenous people before it and created these schools to asset that. These Indian Schools were a powerful tool that used music as a way to eliminate a threat the US Government saw to its power.

1.Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

2. Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

3. United States Indian Service. 1913. Rules for the Indian School Service, 1913 / Department of the Interior, United States Indian Service. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1913 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

Women in Music and Male Clothing…and Frankly Just Society in General

Before posting, I acknowledge that this post doesn’t directly relate to music, but I am also of the opinion that this topic can be spread to music among many other aspects of life.
The video that I kept getting drawn to was one that seemed as though it was going to discuss the act of being a man, or the requirements and limitations that society imposed on being male. Unfortunately, it seemed that I was wrong and that the video simply discussed the silly limitations that women placed on men in the form of clothes.
(Sarcasm warning) Of course, as the video stated, this was unreasonable as women had no idea what male fashion was and could not have chosen proper clothing to save their lives. In fact, it seems as though they are to be ridiculed for even attempted to aid in the choices that men made regarding their clothes.
As mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, etc… I find it tough to see how someone associated so much in the lives of the males in their families could have their opinions on such a small matter ignored, let alone ridiculed. The video seemed as though everyone agreed, presenting to the audience a completely disdainful commentary that looked down on women. This type of commentary cannot be flaunted on what believed to be a reputable program and it’s shameful to have been put forth at a time where such trivial disagreements such as clothing shouldn’t have been associated with sexism.
This type of argument can exist within music as well, spanning both women in music in the past as well as our learning now. The idea that women could be professionally involved in music was often disputed and, such as women choosing clothes for their husbands, laughed at. Even now, in learning about music history women are often ignored by what we consider to be the reputable sources, and their importance and involvement is still downplayed as we learn from curriculums that we trusted because we simply did not question them.
Overall, trivial matters such as clothes isn’t important, but rather an issue in the broader discussion of women’s opinions, ideas, and sheer existence in the public and male dominated sphere of being laughed at, downplayed, and downright ignored. It is in fact an issue that cannot be ignored and must be addressed, and we cannot perpetuate it within what some would consider to be reputable and trustworthy sources.
http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792619

Amy Beach: musician in spite of her family

Today many listeners of classical music are familiar with the music or at least the name of Amy Beach. A prodigy from a very young age who came to fame through her virtuosic piano performances made her lasting mark in her compositions. Her life was defined by her gender because women, especially those of Beach’s social standing, were not to support themselves. Even though her parents were distinctly aware of Amy’s talents, they stuck with the status quo plan for young women of the time: some formal schooling, lessons in the arts, and marriage.[1]

In her article published in many women’s magazines in the early 1900s she does not fault her family for so obviously holding her back when she had so much to do in music. Rather she saw her mother’s education style as a way to ease the young prodigy into music without becoming overwhelmed. Beach’s article almost exclusively focuses on the relationship between Amy and her mother, as well as her career as a performer and composer.[2]

Beach’s success as a musician almost depends on this sort of frame that women were expected to live in. There is no doubt that Beach could have done amazing things if afforded the right to a fancy musical education that men had available to them. However, her affluent family history and unique life story allowed (or forced) her to stand out among other women. I mention forced because Amy hardly had any choice in her study of music or the path it would take.[3]

Beach had the opportunity to become a self-taught musician after her little formal training because she did not have the duties of a domestic wife like many other women. After her husband’s death in 1910 she was able to take many tours of Europe and make her name even larger.

All of these facts make for a confusing picture of Amy Beach. On one hand we have a woman who is a prisoner in her time where women aren’t allowed to study music at high levels and must submit their wills to their parents and husbands. On the other hand we have Beach as a child prodigy who has led the way for other women composers after her and succeeded because of her circumstances, but could have thrived even more in a more accepting culture.

 

[1] Adrienne Fried Block, Amy Beach: Passionate Victorian, (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1998), 298.

[2] Judith Tick ed., Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 323-327.

[3] Walter S. Jenkins, The Remarkable Mrs. Beach, American Composer, (Warren: Harmonie Park Press, 1994), 66-68.

The good book says you’ve got to reap just what you sow

The blues tradition started with emotion. Albert Murray, a black novelist, commented that the blues were a way for one to “[Confront, acknowledge, and contend] with the infernal absurdities and ever-impending frustrations inherent in the nature of all experience.”Drawing from the oral music traditions of “field hollers” and call and response, the blues had a strong presence and role of importance in black American communities starting during the Reconstruction period before segregation laws.

One of the early recordings of Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin’s Down-hearted blues was done in 1923(the YouTube recording below is from 1939). It follows the typical AABA structure the blues would follow and makes use of call and response primarily between the singer and a clarinet. One thing that can be noted is the inflections Hunter uses as she sings. Many of the accents and emotive inflections she uses in her phrasing would not be written down in the music––such as shortening a note at the end of a phrase, sliding into or between notes and adding accented vibrato to a sustained note.

The subject matter deals with the singer being unhappy in the romantic situation she’s in. Hunter specifically sings about “the man that wrecked her life,” but beyond the relationship, the man could be extended to representing her job or position in society (especially important given the time this piece was written in). In the first verse, Hunter sings that “the good book says you’ve got to reap just what you sow,” which is acceptance for the situation that she’s in––something she could have arguably had very much or very little control over to begin with.

 

1. Hogue, W. Lawrence. Discourse and the Other: The Production of the Afro-American Text. Durham, North Carolina, NC: Duke University Press, 1986.

2. Hunter, Alberta and Austin Love. Tennessee Ten: Down-hearted blues. Victor, 1923, audio recording, http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/9323.