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Friday Miscellanea

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Friday Miscellanea

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the music theory of pop music: The Secret Sauce Behind Pop-Music Hits.
Why did Rihanna and Calvin Harris’s “We Found Love” top the charts for 10 weeks? Partly because of the song’s unconventional structure, say podcasters Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding. The two examine “We Found Love”—and more than a dozen other 21st-century hits—in their book, “Switched on Pop,” which comes out Friday.
The volume borrows its title from the podcast the two 33-year-old friends began five years ago about the subtle techniques shaping today’s Top 40 hits. Mr. Sloan is a University of Southern California musicologist and Mr. Harding is a songwriter and musician who plays the guitar, drums and keyboards, as well as other instruments. Their podcast and book are filled with sophisticated but accessible discussions of pop hits from the 2000s and 2010s, from the catchy hook of Ariana Grande’s “Break Free” to Drake’s use of simple rhymes in “God’s Plan.”
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The Guardian, on the other hand, takes a look at the characteristics of English music: This isle is full of noises: the trouble with 'English music'
When Arnold Schoenberg died in 1951, Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote that the composer “meant nothing to me – but as he apparently meant a lot to a lot of other people I daresay it is all my own fault.” To English composers working in the 1920s – such as Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and Gerald Finzi – the sounds of European modernism, and especially the 12-tone music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, came to symbolise disorder and chaos. Following the first world war, stability and reassurance, folksong and archaic modality, the refuge of unspoilt rural idylls, had become the prevalent direction of English music. Folksong earthed music in fundamental truths – the very same roots that Schoenberg’s atonality, apparently, weeded out.
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There is something going on at the Grand Teton Music Festival, but what it is ain't exactly clear:
The Board of the Grand Teton Music Festival met last night and decided to reinvite three musicians who had been dismissed for ‘disruptive behaviour’. Two of the musicians, Kristen Linfante and Juan de Gomar, are members of the orchestra’s Players’ Committee; the third, Jennifer Ross, was principal second violin of the Pittsburgh Symphony.
Their dismissal provoked widespread protests, together with a threat from conductor Donald Runnicles to quit the festival. Runnicles Donald flew in to attend this board meeting.
High-profile coverage on Slipped Disc and local media have forced the festival director, Andrew Palmer Todd, to back down.
There are some hints in the comments.

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I'm not the only one to be critical of the Grawemeyer Award: THE WORLD’S TOP COMPOSER PRIZE HAS TURNED INTO A SORRY IN-JOKE.
The Grawemeyer Award – a life-changing $100,000 prize for the best composer of the year – hit rock bottom this week with the selection of a Californian academic, Lei Liang, who had a climate change piece performed in Boston.
But lots of people in the comments think this was an unfair characterization.

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Sometimes really creative promotion can go--horribly--wrong: Cameron Carpenter and the Feedback Loop of Notoriety.
In November 2014, Sony Masterworks released a documentary called “Cameron Carpenter: The Sound of My Life.” Intended to accompany the American organist’s album “If You Could Read My Mind,” released that August, the film included footage of Carpenter ripping off his T-shirt to reveal a sculpted chest; dancing at the once-legendary Berlin gay party Chantal’s House of Shame; and moodily smoking a cigarette while leaning against an electrical pole. And that’s just the two-minute trailer. The footage looks like a cringe-worthy attempt to create the mythology of a rock star—if everything the director knew about rock stars was gleaned, say, from a former groupie’s nephew.
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I'm not finding many items for the miscellanea today, but NewMusicBox has something interesting: TEACHING INEQUALITY: CONSEQUENCES OF TRADITIONAL MUSIC THEORY PEDAGOGY.
Western art music is not a universal language. It does some things well, other things not as well, and many things not at all. And yet, although the majority of undergraduate students do not listen regularly to this style of music, the standard theory curriculum continues to privilege it at the expense of all other styles. Given this disconnect, how can we justify our near-exclusive reliance on traditional pedagogy, especially in situations where it isn’t necessary to do so? What biases do we create in our students when we declare Western art music to be mandatory knowledge for anyone pursuing formal studies in music? What biases does this reveal in us?
There are some characteristic kinds of arguments that are frequently used these days that one should beware of. A typical strategy is to put your most glaring assumption right up front and hope that no-one will notice that it is just an assumption. This is a type of "begging the question" that has become so prevalent that one forgets it is a logical fallacy. Apart from the first sentence in the above quote, which is somewhat true, everything else here is a concocted assumption thrown against the wall in hopes that it will stick. Let's list some of them:

  • the majority of undergraduate students don't listen regularly to Western art music? Really? Why oh why are they enrolled in music school then?
  • "standard" theory "privileges" Western art music in university music departments because they are university music departments. The word "privileges" is a smear because it replaces the correct words "focuses on" or "gives foundational place to."
  • "disconnect" is another clever smuggling in of assumptions through special vocabulary--what is disconnected from what?
I could go on, but these tactics are so common and so ubiquitous and never lead anywhere useful, so why bother?

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Time for our envoi. The Guardian article mentioned a piece by Vaughan Williams I didn't know, his Flos Campi, an elegy to the fallen in WWI. Here is a performance by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta:





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